In recent months, you could not even peek at a social media stream without catching talk about feminism, offensive video game tropes, journalists selling out, and inauthentic game reviews. That was just the tip of the iceberg. All these things culminated in what is affectionately (not really) called GamerGate.
Do not confuse #GamerGate with #GamersGate – they are two VERY different things!
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GamerGate went beyond the issues of feminism, alleged “sex scandals”, and the need for reformation in the gaming industry as a whole. It is culmination of the desperate outcry of gamers, consumers, and even industry professionals who are tired of the BS. We feel cheated, used, underappreciated, and deceived. Those feelings were sadly focused into fear of change, finger-pointing, dirt-slinging, and other petty drama.
Many attribute the GamerGate fallout to the Zoe Quinn debacle. I won’t re-hash the whole thing but it sure got ugly. Certainly, there are double standards when it comes to adult relationships but people sure LOVE jumping to extreme conclusions. The trolling was real. Heck, the whole thing went beyond trolling.. Hacking, Total Biscuit, Phil Fish, and more craziness got thrown into the mix!
I would say the breaking point really came thanks to Anita Sarkeesian. Her web series, Feminist Frequency, may have served as a catalyst to the turmoil and resentment. Opponents felt she was merely playing the self-righteous role (i.e. #SJW, Social Justice Warrior) to draw attention to herself. The reality is that all the debate and angst came from tension long in the making, through no fault of her own or any specific parties.
I do not wish to downplay the personal attacks Anita got for speaking to issues she feels are important. Discrimination and objectification are very real things in any medium or industry, not just video games. That said, there are deeper issues here that the PC (political correctness) police are tucking away in favor of their own agendas. Right or wrong, it feels like the outspoken few are holding on to their own biases and skewed worldviews.
Let me be clear: it is wonderful and worthwhile for folks like Anita Sarkeesian to encourage perspectives that focus on the artistry and social issues driving or driven by video games. It’s equally important to remember to have fun and not assume every creative work is ridden with offensive material or tropes. It’s easy to find issues when you dig deep but is that really what we should be expending our energy on? More importantly, women should not aim to be the equals of men.. That is setting your sights too low. I kid, I kid.
The core issue here is one of trust, not social hierarchy or constructs. Even for more casual gamers, there is a substantial investment of time and money which we all feel justifies our serving as keepers or critics of our gaming hobby or lifestyle. The dissatisfaction and distrust with gaming journalism is a reflection of the course corrections we are seeing in social media, communication, and business [ethics] as a whole.
Change Is A Scary Thing (Not Just For Insecure Men)
Sure, there are many men who feel threatened by women rising up the ranks in the gaming space. We see this resentment and bitterness on Twitch, where female streamers with any level of success are approached with dismissive attitudes…
Great.. Twitch has become a glorified cam site.
Whether it’s cheap gimmicks or real substance in content that drive growth of audience will always be a matter of debate. What we are seeing now is a delayed reaction to trends that have been in motion for well over a decade. Somehow, people are still surprised to see that gaming has hit the mainstream.
Social media, perhaps, has brought more awareness to these matters.. Or perhaps we are just hearing the vocal minority more. The shield of anonymity sure does enable great negaitivity! Again, change scares people, especially the early adopters and veterans (I like to call us “the old guard”) since we tend to get protective and, at times, elitist when we are passionate (or just plain over-zealous) about things.
The gaming industry is riddled by a strange dynamic or, better yet, a paradox of sorts. On one side, gamers cry out for fresh new intellectual properties and innovative gameplay but, on the other side, we freak out when we get something very different, something perhaps frightenly unfamiliar. We want change but we do not welcome it. Perhaps the real problem is that we gamers have become insatiable?
Social Media And The Gaming Journalism Paradigm Shift
Social media has driven a greater desire for authenticity and transparency. Big brands, traditional journalists/marketers, and massive media outlets simply cannot catch up.. Yet we want them to be something they cannot be, at least not without going broke. Financial needs usurp integrity, artistry, and freedom of expression.
Truth be told, only a handful of journalists and media outlets really report breaking news as it happens. The rest of us just help the news spread to wider audiences. This may be why we are seeing more op/ed pieces over news and reviews.
What we are seeing is a shift towards fan sites, smaller media outlets, and feedback straight from the communities surrounding the games we love (or hate). Big still has it’s place but trust is on a steady decline.. They have the reach but not the trust or engagement.
Traditional video game reviews are dead. Meta critic and review scores are fun to think about but I don’t think many people put much stock in those things. If anything, reviews usually help support our buying decisions, not trigger or influence them.
In spite of all the madness, death threats, trolling, and salty dog rants, video games are in a good place. The video game industry now spends around $100 billion a year. This creates jobs in many places. That’s a good thing.. The industry will only keep growing and growing. That’s good too!
I like how Forbes tackled the events surrounding #GamerGate. They did not take an official stance, which allowed them to explore all sides more thoroughly. What’s better is that Forbes is not your usual gaming journalism outlet so we see a more objective breakdown. Even so, they missed some of the biggest points and focused more on the facts and figures. What about the social issues at the heart of it all? We went a smidge deeper on HorsePLAY! LIVE EP 40, if you want more details (and rants)…
Data from Gartner Group and the ESA hints that a lot of the gamer outrage is misguided. Gamers are split about 52/48 between male and female. The median age hovers around 34 years. This should remind us that, in spite of our issues with the industry, everyone is still voting with their wallets.. And everyone is represented. There’s something for every type of gamer. Just look at all the successful crowdfunding projects and mobile games out there – the breadth of content is significant, friends!
- So can it all really be THAT bad?
- Is it just the vocal minority being salty?
- Are we simply digging or making up things to be bitter about?
The Blind Joining The Over-Zealous
#GamerGate escalated quickly simply because everyone hung onto things that they liked or agreed with. Ironically, one of the core compliants of GamerGate proponents is that the gaming industry and journalists are biased yet it’s okay when we favor our own biases. I deliberately tried to avoid doing a hashtag search but kept getting flooded with tweets using the tag #GamerGate. What I saw was a slew of seemingly unconnected ideas, complaints, and statements.
What I find with social media is that it helps ignorance/misinformation, angst, and negativity spread faster than ever before. It’s become quite anti-social, actually. The good news is that there is still plenty of opportunity to create meaningful, authentic conversations. We can connect with people who really care about the subject matter, regardless of personal gain.
It should also be noted that just because someone benefits from sharing content doesn’t make the content any less relevant or authentic.. At least not by default. Do not blindly question someone’s love, integrity, and passion just because there is monetary gain or other interest involved… Everyone deserves to make a living doing what they truly love!
I find it most entertaining that people are actually shocked at the prospect of favoritism in any industry. Is it really news that people sell out or exchange favors to sway opinions and influence? Heck, that’s a core competency for any politician and most suits. It doesn’t make it right but it is the reality of human nature, the ‘ol “it’s who you know, not what you know” adage in action.
Many of the #GamerGate proponents joined in not knowing the events that transpired beforehand. I get it: you see a trending topic and it’s too tempting to ignore completely. We all enjoy the limelight or zeitgeist to an extent.
Sadly, blind #GamerGate followers hung onto the little nuggets and small kernels of truth that appealed to them. They may not have noticed that their support of singular points extended to the whole. It fueled a battle that created more division rather than unity. You could tell that many using the #GamerGate unofficial Twitter chat were taking things out of context and only addressing segments of ongoing conversations. This approach leads to misinformation, misdirection, and misunderstandings. It’s very superficial and unproductive, if you ask me.
I would liken the behavior displayed by GC advocates to what we see with distrusting companions. If you’ve ever been with someone insecure, paranoid, bitter, or just plain broken, you know what toxicity can do to your soul. One can only be blamed for offenses that they did not commit for so long until they finally break. Eventually, if provoked enough, you give in and become the very thing you hate.. Or you just give up all together. What’s worse is that the slightest mistake vilifies the accuser and keeps the cycle of bullying and torment going on and on. It is a story as old as time.
This sort of ignorant, blind loyalty happens all the time. GamerGate is a pseudo-movement with good intentions but it is quite misguided, mainly because there is no worthwhile end-game (pun intended) or shared values. There is no real centralization or structure. Essentially, a few over-zealous, outspoken people united virtually to stir up the shit further. Once the initial issues saw some closure, they dug for more things to complain about and more people to call out.
We have seen similar divisive behavior recently with the Ferguson case. People rally to fight for equality and unity but, all too often, their over-zealous ways create even greater rifts between people. I feel GamerGate is an extension of a fundamental urge for reform. We need to erase boundaries, listen better, and embrace our similarities, not our differences…
What’s In A Name (Damn Labels)
Consider what we lead in with when introducing ourselves. Then consider what others use to identify us. Some folks hate the label “gamer” or labels as a whole. Labels have their place but, when they become inauthentic or forced, problems arise.
We are not the sum of our labels or affiliations. Those things should help us connect with others, not ostracize ourselves. They should start, not end, conversations. After following #GamerGate and poking around unrelated Twitter conversations, I saw many donning the #SJW title. There is nothing wrong with fighting for social justice but is this who you are or are trying to be? Or is it a facet of a more dynamic personality? I hope the latter.
You see, sometimes these titles only exist to welcome trolling and pick fights. Some folks actively seek out arguments and altercations. My mom always tells me, “Everything in moderation.” She is quite wise. Healthy debate is nice. Picking fights, not so much.
When we are preoccupied with labels, titles, and avatars, we do a disservice to our causes and movements. We close our hearts and minds to beautiful possibilities. The same happens with some feminists in gaming. They pursue a noble cause but making enemies to prove your point only discredits otherwise valuable social commentary and observations.
I’d love to see gamers excited about gaming again. The sub-cultures beyond “gamer” can co-exist if we focus on the things that make us alike, not different. Consider Twitter bios. You can say “I am an X gamer” or simply ” I am a gamer”. The latter is more welcoming and encourages collaboration, open-mindedness, and compassion.
I feel like we get stuck on silly little badges of honor and minute distinctions. We get mad when we see cliques and favoritism, but then we turn around and create our own exclusive clubs. It’s madness! Doesn’t anyone see this?
Video Games Are Doomed… NOT!!!
All this hoopla somehow helped people arrive to the most ludicrous of conclusions:
The video game industry is doomed. Gaming journalism is dead and big business does not care about us. We will never be the same!
Slow down there, buddy!
There is some truth in all that but the video game industry is in a really good place right now. Look at all the goodness:
- Visionaries can design games with little to no coding experience.
- Bootstrappers can fund their projects without involving close-minded, money-first suits.
- The variety in offerings is more diverse than ever.
- Every platform offers a unique experience worth exploring.
- Social media makes mass marketing and big media less relevant.
For the myriad of disillusioned gamers and game developers out there that feel the corruption in the industry limits opportunities, stahp eet. We live in a wonderful time where anyone with enough drive can turn an idea into reality. We don’t need megacorporations, brand power, or even established media outlets. Those things are a bonus but not necessary. We can have the posture to say, “Thanks but I will pass.”
Really, there is *SO* much good to hold on to. There is so much hope to believe in. Why are we digging so hard to unearth ugliness?
The harder we seek out injustice and evil, the more we perpetuate those very things. I am not saying we turn a blind eye to such disparity and wrong in the world.. But let’s not assume everything or everyone is corrupt.
I am all for holding people accountable for their actions but crucifixion… That’s a bit much. If we allow angst to guide our actions and beliefs, everything loses it’s beauty and everyone loses. We entrench ourselves deeper against each other and ourselves if we focus on the bad exclusively or even mostly.
How about we have some fun again?
How about we just enjoy video games?
How about we work together, rather than against each other?
How about we celebrate the successes of others rather than hating them?
Let’s stop dissecting the industry to the point of destruction. Let’s appreciate the stories, experiences, mechanics, and communities we can enjoy today. We can build those things up over time but let’s not take for granted what is offered right now.
It’s easy to identify everything that is flawed or wrong in the world. Do not take for granted what some offer so lovingly or at least eagerly. There will always be opportunities, folks. Gratitude and compassion… Those things take an ongoing effort. Perhaps that is what #GamerGate should aim for.
What makes you most happy about video games today?