I’m currently writing my thesis on the subject of narrative in video games, a crossroad project between literature theory and games studies, so it is safe to assume that I love video games. But there are moments where I loathe those who play video games, the gamers, especially when there are situations like the one that has been playing out lately, namely the “Zoe Quinn Scandal” (And no, you don’t have to tell me that it isn’t all gamers. But it is the most public and visible face of gamers and gaming culture.) An angry mob, hiding behind the anonymity and safety of the internet, attacking and spreading hate towards her for her personal life and the fact that she is a gaming media celebrity. Here is a short summary of the situation; an angry ex posts on his blog about her alleged infidelity and her relationships with several people in the gaming news industry, which re-ignites the hate-campaign that was aimed at Quinn earlier on, in connection with the release of her game Depression Quest. She is accused of using sex and contacts to promote herself and her work and for actively destroying other people’s work, of using friends in “high places” (i.e. forum mods) to silence opposition against her and more.
I can go further into the details, but I won’t bother, there are few facts and too many conspiracies and too much hate, and it all started with a biased post by a person making public what is their private life. Yet none of this actually matters; this blatant attack on her and her person is just a disgusting witch-trial. The focus should be on the state of video game journalism, not her sex- and private life. The focus should be on how the gaming-community handles the situation. I’m not trying to defend Quinn and her actions, I don’t care about them and I don’t really care that much about her; if you’re not her or sleeping with her, then it’s none of your concerns, simple as that. Her sex life has nothing to do with you; the accusations of corruption and the state of video game journalism are the only things that should be discussed. No matter the gender of those involved. Gender has no part of this.
The fact that video game journalists, and others in similar positions, open them selves up for such accusations of corruption (whether they are true or not) point to a need for change. While I am a firm believer that no one can truly be objective, it is a goal to strive for where it comes to journalism. Do not put yourself in a compromising situation, be open about the situation and make sure that your audience knows it. If you have a connection with the person or company in question, be upfront about it, so that no one can question your legitimacy. It’s as simple as that. It is journalism 101.
If the accusations concerning Quinn and the journalists et.al. are true, then that is a horrible case of corruption and a loss of integrity for all those concerned, both individuals and businesses. What Owen Grieve discusses here is rather important:
“There are campaigners out there who genuinely think that any friendship between journalists and developers is an immediate conflict of interest that illegitimises their reporting. I can sympathise with this sentiment, although I have to add that I think it’s kinda misguided. I basically see two sides behind this line of thinking – people who have no experience of game development or journalism (who simply don’t know what they’re talking about) and developers who are angry because they don’t know any journalists and feel unfairly ignored (which is a valid criticism of an unfair system, but I don’t consider it a sign of moral decay – people can’t write about you if they don’t know who you are, and sadly there isn’t some Meritocracy Fairy who will get journalists’ attention for you, which is one of the many reasons I hammer on about the importance of networking in Advice For Students).” [Source]
Connections and the use of connections lies at the core of journalism, it is how you discover content to publish, but the reverse is also true; connections with journalists and the use of those connections is necessary to get your own content (be it a product or an opinion) put forward. It’s all about working the angles. But there is a limit to how far you can go before you lose your integrity, when you end up in a conflict of interest.
Another interesting point to all of this has been put forward by Carolyn Petit:
“Inherent in the statement that, by being an “activist”—which, here, I take to mean “someone who has attempted to raise certain questions and concerns about the meanings present in some games”—I’ve failed at being a “journalist,” is the idea that journalists don’t ever try to challenge existing power structures or political ideologies or give a voice to the voiceless or any such thing, that the role of journalists is always to simply dryly report the “facts” in such a way that never favors one “side” of an issue over another, but always presents both as equal, even when those sides are not equal at all.”[Source]
And I agree with her. Journalists can be activists; as I mentioned earlier, nobody can be truly objective, and you should not be. We need journalists to have a critical voice and to present causes and subjects to us. That means that they will have their own causes, that mean that they will be biased. There is no getting away from that. But I will also repeat myself: There is a limit to how far you can go before you lose your integrity. Petit goes on to say: “Games are not politically neutral. Neither are mainstream romantic comedies, or action films, or any novel I’ve ever read. They may sometimes appear politically neutral if the values they reinforce mesh with the value systems of the larger culture, but our culture is not politically neutral, either, and it is not outside of the role of a critic to comment on or raise questions about the political meanings embedded in the works one evaluates.”
But the witch-trial against Quinn and against Sarkeesian? That has no place anywhere; if you are against their opinions and what they stand for, discuss it, do not attack them, and do not threaten to rape them or to murder them. Do not fucking force them to leave their homes because you make them feel unsafe. I’m surprised that this is something that people have to be told. Seriously. It isn’t Quinn and Sarkeesian that is ruining gamer-culture; it is gamers who do shit like this. Something that has become a rather hot topic lately, where several people have begun discussing the term “gamer” and gamer-culture.
I’ve written about this ugly side of gamer-culture earlier [linkie] and it hasn’t changed much since then, unfortunately. It also shows a side of gamer culture that is a far more serious situation than this scandal; it shows the ugly face of it. The fact that gamers are willing to attack someone in this manner, that gamers are willing to whip themselves into a frenzy over this. If we focus on Quinn, we see but a minuscule part of the greater picture. If the accusations put forward are true, her actions and those of the others involved are at best questionable and at worst critique-worthy. Quinn’s actions, if verified, are largely a domestic situation, the journalists’ et.al. actions are a question of journalistic integrity or business etiquette. But the outlash, the attacks against her as a person, the threats and the hate, this is at best deplorable, likewise in the situation with Anita Sarkeesian. This is the greater picture; how gamers react in the situation.
This toxicity that is running rampant in gamer culture, or at least what some people want gamer culture to be and who claim to have the power to define what gamer culture is and isn’t, what a gamer is and isn’t. This is the greater picture.
What I’ve seen so far shows this: People are conducting a witch-hunt against her, they’re not being critical or making a stand against her and her opinions, they’re building a fucking firepit in the middle of the town square and getting ready to put here to the bloody torch. Not because she did something wrong, but simply because they don’t like her. Though I’m sure some of those that feel struck by this will argue otherwise.
This is the filth let off its reins. The beast hungry for its spectacle. The mob smelling blood. This is the ugly face of gamer culture, and more and more its becoming the public face of gamer culture. Unfortunately. We’re creeping closer and closer to the ugly caricature that Jack “Games-cause-serial-murders” Thompson claimed we were.
Is it any wonder that people have begun calling the term “gamer” dead? [link] That people are beginning to see the way we describe ourselves as a pejorative? Personally, I’ve begun to disdain gamer culture because of situations like this; how we treat the new voices in our medium, how we treat those of our own that have the guts to criticize and to innovate, how we refuse to let others come into our playground, how we treat the Other and see ourselves superior to it. This disgusts me. We need debate and we need criticism.
If you are outspoken and critical about games, especially if you’re female, you’re a target. You’re not taken seriously, you’re attacked. You’re not debated with, you’re ridiculed. The angry, anonymous mob is attacking the messenger, not the message. This has to stop if games are to grow as a medium, we need to be able to discuss games and what games are if games are to evolve and not stagnate, as both an art form and as a form of entertainment. We can see it in both of the campaigns against Zoe Quinn and we can see it in the campaign against Anita Sarkessian, of Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs Women in Video Games-fame. If you say something negative against video games, if you criticize them, people will hate you and they will attack you. Why? Is it that they are afraid that someone will come and take their toys away? That they are afraid that they’ll have to share their toys with women and girls? Video games are not above criticism, nothing is above criticism. Personally, I think it is a symptom that video games as a medium and cultural product is growing up, becoming more refined, but that a lot of people are having trouble keeping up with this growth, seeing all change as a danger to themselves and their identity, their sense of self. Change after all, can be scary. Mind you, this is not a defense of these people and their antics, merely a hypothesis on where it comes from.
Video games and games culture have not seen as much criticism and study from within its own ranks as it has the last few years, and this is a good thing. We’re starting to see what we are and who we are and how we fit into the larger picture of the world, as nothing exists in isolation. We’re coming into territory where other cultural products, film and literature for instance, have already been living for quite some time. It hasn’t destroyed either of them and it won’t destroy us. We need more voices in gaming, fresh voices with fresh perspectives. Even if that scares some people. We need not only to allow other voices than those that have so far been dominant, both on the consumer end and the producer end, to have a go at the medium, but to actually encourage these other voices. Race and gender issues are amongst what we need these voices to bring. The rampant voices that shout that women can’t be gamers and that women don’t actually enjoy video games are horrifying.
This isn’t an attempt to censor content or stifle creativity; this isn’t the purpose of critique. Critiques are reflections on the medium and the content of the medium. Criticism is essential for further development; this is true for all aspects of human culture, we critique and review in order to evolve our culture. Criticism is not telling game developers what they can or cannot do, but it is giving them an opinion on what they do. Sexism and objectification of women is one of the headlights on video game critique the last few years, which are valid topics, especially as women are making a greater foray into gaming, both as consumers and producers. This is the foundation of Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency, for instance. It is both a thorough interpretation and analysis of video game past and an attempt to broaden video game future, to further establish room for exploration of the medium. Allowing new voices does not mean that the old voices are pushed away, but the medium is growing and there will come a time when old voices become irrelevant to the current situation. This does not invalidate them, be they opinions or content, but it means that the medium and the community has evolved to a different place, where what that voice says no longer is relevant. We simply need to look towards film as a medium, where there is now a long tradition of criticism and interpretations, where theories, interpretations and forms of criticism has grown and evolved, leaving some behind as new theories et.al. have appeared. Film and film creators have not had their creativity stifled, but their content and their message is open to criticism and we need the same situation with video games. But the important part to remember: Keep it civil.
I read somewhere that the average gamer is in their late 20’s and early 30’s, i.e. the Nintendo generation. We’re growing up and we need the medium that we love and cherish to grow up with us and we need to be open about this, open and upfront, public about this.
This is an open letter to the gaming community, from several game creators, from both triple-A studios, indie studios and academics:
“We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.
If you see threats of violence or harm in comments on Steam, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook or reddit, please take a minute to report them on the respective sites.
If you see hateful, harassing speech, take a public stand against it and make the gaming community a more enjoyable space to be in.”
The letter can be found here
We need that those people who love games are vocal and make it known that those spewing this sort of hatred are not all there is to “gamer culture”, even if it might seem that the term has reached the end of its life. We need to be able to discuss and debate what games are and what games mean, both as content and to us as individuals.
People who play games are all ethnicities, all genders and sexual identities, all ages, all political viewpoints, all economical situations, and all nationalities. Games are a way to allow all these voices a channel in which to express themselves, where we can learn their stories and their ideas. There is room enough for us all. That means that there will be content that you, personally, might not agree with or like, but there is room for it none the less and even if there wasn’t room, we should make room for it.