Wow! Right into the deep end! Here we have my first opinion post that collides head on with a massive hurricane that swept up the gaming world: #Gamergate. I could have closed my eyes and, at random, plucked any topic off the gigantic tree of rubbish that the modern gaming industry forces down our throats on a routine basis, but no, I went for the gold. Naughty I know, yet why the hell not?
I think it must have been… a sunny Wednesday afternoon, in a shopping arcade lined with tall maple trees that dappled the quaint little cafes with polka dots of shade. Look closer and you will see two young men sipping on cappuccinos and Americanos at one of the many rickety little tables. One of two men is dark-haired, and he absent-mindedly prods his slice of lemon meringue pie with a little spork all while wearing an expression of sincere concern. He is listening good-naturedly to the other, light-haired, man (his friend) relating his story of a lost lover. The dark-haired man is me FYI and, for the umpteenth time, I was patiently listening to… let’s call him Jeff, going on about how the so-called ‘love of his life’ dumped him.
“Wait, hold on,” I interrupted suddenly while dropping my mini fork after a particularly long session of good friend listening. “You didn’t… call her… then, did you?” “Uhm… yeah I kinda did,” said Jeff shamefacedly staring down at his cake, “I couldn’t help it man! I love her and she said she still loves me!” But I certainly wasn’t falling for that again, and I had now reached the end of my tether.
Without warning, I slammed my fist on table in rage, making my pie dramatically launch a foot into the air. The performance was so flamboyant that the shop manager poked a scowling face out from behind the POS terminal to see what the all the noise was about. “DAMMIT JEFF!” I bellowed while he regarded me as if I had gone mad (during which the waitress nervously went to dislodge my spork that had impaled itself in a picture hanging on the wall). “What – the hell – is wrong with you!? You were making such great progress! Why can’t you see her for the manipulative ingrate who just wants you as a backup for when she is home alone!?” “I told you to stop talking about her like that,” said Jeff defensively. “You’re just jealous that you don’t have what we have!” I left him with the cheque.
Secretly I resent my behaviour on that day (as I begrudgingly admit that I too occupied the role of Jeff once), but a man has his limits. For our own sake, there comes a point where passively listening to our friends whinge on about their lost loves simply will not do them any good. A thorough scolding then is the only last resort. So can anybody please tell me why, in the name of dear, sweet oblivion, did everyone take Eron Gjoni so seriously? I mean, who is this guy? I can’t find anything on him apart from a Twitter account and a Facebook page. He seems to be little more than an insignificant blip on the radar of the gaming industry, yet the trouble he would eventually cause with his blog would come to gain some serious momentum.
And HOE-LEE CRAP have you read Gjoni’s blog, The Zoe Post? I got about halfway through this… nine thousand word… I don’t even know what this is. A rambling online essay (to quote the New York Times)? A five year-old’s attempt at a romantic tragedy? I just knew that if I had to digest one more word from Gjoni’s bizarre attempt at doleful self-indulgence, I may just lose the fight against the overwhelming urge to defenestrate myself.
In essence, this spectacular waste of time is this guy’s one-sided ramblings about how his then girlfriend and video game designer, Zoe Quinn, cheated on him with quite a few guys which, understandably, caused them to end the relationship. Moreover, it would appear that the infidelity was strategic as Ms Quinn seems to have offered her pot of gold to journalists and reviewers that gave her text-based game, Depression Quest, some unfair media favouritism. For me, however, reading this protracted sob story instantly forced me to relive Jeff droning on and on about “She told me no other guy could make her feel like I do” or the classic “I thought she was the one. Yadda yadda moan moan.” Chin up you contemptible waste of oxygen! Move the hell on like the rest of us normal human beings and we honestly do not care that much about your love life! Then again, long whining expositions on a breakup seems to be compelling in popular media. Just look at Annie Hall, Adele, Taylor Swift, Twilight, Sinéad O’Connor, etc., etc .
In the poor sod’s defence, I don’t honestly think for one second he could have foreseen what this junk would eventually amount to, because we all know perfectly well what happened next. For reasons that I still cannot quite fathom, Quinn gradually began receiving the most abominable threats and misogynistic images from numerous anonymous online harassers to the point where she actually began living in real fear of being attacked. The online abusers claimed their angle of attack was rooted in an endeavour for ethics surrounding honest journalism for modern video games.
And then came the big one. As if to add a gigantic drum of napalm to the fire, Feminist Frequency produced and released the now famous ‘Tropes vs. Women’ videos a few months after The Zoe Post. In these videos, the essential argument was made that women are being represented, treated and sexualised in problematic ways within many popular video games that we all play. The frontrunner and face of Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian, almost instantly met the same fate as Quinn in which a torrent of cyber-bullying and abuse soon came crashing down on her as well. At a certain point the anti-Quinn/Sarkeesian abusers would loosely come together and adopt the name #Gamergate for their campaign. You know, like the species of ant?
Aside from how this entire debacle really started or gained momentum, the undeniable truth stands that for the first time in history, feminism had finally, and most probably irrevocably, entered the arena of video games. The opening that the world had been waiting for had finally revealed itself Never before until now had the underbelly of video games, the industry and the very identity of being a gamer been so publicly challenged and scrutinized. The result: Every person seriously interested in video game culture and its effects, at some point, has to take a position in relation to the #gamergate phenomenon.
Now I know that, to date, the entire issue is already about two years old. So I am what is known in the business as ‘late to the party.’ But it was something so huge, and it shone one of the most negative spotlights EVER onto our beloved past time! I guess I would just like to give something of my response here to how people have broadly reacted to the whole Feminist Frequency/Quinn incident because it was situation that both intrigued and astounded me. I therefore won’t give a detailed critique of the feminism or the Fem Frequency videos here since others have achieved far more humorous and meticulous attempts than I ever could. (Thunderfoot is my favourite! Man did he make it his mission to disprove this whole thing…)
First, the matter of Feminist Frequency. Now on the one hand, I begrudgingly admit that Anita Sarkeesian and whoever else compiled the research for the Feminist Frequency videos made an argument that gets notably weak at the knees in a few places. Accordingly, the handful of critics that compiled civilized and constructive counter-arguments could easily draw attention to the fact that their analyses left a few holes in the claims they were making.
For instance, I agree with the problem of applying feminist discourse onto the realm of the fantastical. This was probably the number one objection with gamers everywhere who claimed that you simply cannot superimpose words such as “patriarchy” or “unequal gender binaries” onto polygons that ultimately boil down to silicone chips converting them into ones and zeros. We are not talking about real lives or real things, which means we need a completely different conceptual framework to analyse abstract entertainment, such as video games, by. This was a particularly sad missed opportunity for Anita and co. because it would actually have been awesome from an academic point of view if they had provided such a framework. In fact, video games are a domain of popular culture that we actually do not have a proper lingo for yet. Their varied and complex nature means that they are a phenomena that haven’t been studied and scrutinized nearly enough for us to say we can apply real life categories to them.
They also made the unfortunate yet surprisingly common mistake that many feminists make, which is to confuse their actual target, i.e. patriarchal representations and ideals of women, with ALL men in general. Feminist Frequency, like far too many other social justice warrior movements, forget that the normal, sane human being of the masculine persuasion will always be a humane gentleman towards woman, whether he is in a patriarchal social system or not. We as normal sane men fully comprehend that it will never be okay to inflict gender based violence, ascribe to gender based discrimination or regard women as sexual objects to be gained, even if this may feature in the video games we play. Just because the men who are more rotten in the head than a three-year-old protein shake do such things does by no means make it a universal tendency. That link is drawn far too readily and casually, leading many a feminist to assume that men far to easily adopt certain tendencies from their patriarchal context.
For me personally, their main overall mistake lies in the broad and generalised approach they took, which is a pity because I think they missed the another solid platform to draw something really useful from the critical lens they applied to the games they found problematic. They almost unmindfully painted all games with the same brush, while an individual case by case analysis was left unattended. It is as if they follow some weird graph along the lines of “1) Is a woman the main character in the game? a) Yes – Game is sexist b) No – Move to point 2. 2) Do women, at all, get hurt in this game? a) Yes – Game is sexist b) No – Game is probably sexist, but move to point 3 just for the heck of it.” True, they have done some reviews on certain games and they have done videos on well-represented female characters. Yet just because a
Yet this is where my contentions stop, and I must also concede to the fact that the videos did prove a point. It must be remembered that despite being comfortably settled in a modernised, secularised world that benefits every day from horrible vampire movies and faster download speeds, INNOCENT WOMEN ARE FAR TOO OFTEN STILL BEING TREATED LIKE SHIT. Things are looking better than ever for many women of the world, yet gender based violence and harassment are still ever-lingering and very real problems (like those few remaining fleas that laugh at you from your dog’s back after you have subjected the poor boy to a cocktail of chemicals).
Unfortunately, the fantastical world of video games is not immune to this epidemic, and sometimes, it is particularly visible in the case of online gaming. O, you want proof you say? I think it would be hard to dismiss the gaudy examples that are preserved on the Fat, Ugly or Slutty website. Here women actually post repugnant, but admittedly somehow humorous, screenshots of the arbitrary verbal abuse and lurid sexual advances they have had to endure during session of online play. Its disgraceful; you have been warned.
When we look at them through a certain lens, video games can stand as legitimate case studies with the potential to reveal how the messed up parts of our reality raise their ugly heads in entertainment media. The part that grabbed me most was how Feminist Frequency could point out so many in-game examples of vivid, bodily violence against female non-playable characters for the sake of adding a certain degree of shock value to the gameplay experience. In certain cases, even the player is given the option to perform violence against the women in the game.
I must concede to their argument that lazy shock value has indeed become an unmistakable cliché in an abundance of modern games. The theme of violence against women is frequently invoked because developers know real gamers are a sensitive, caring bunch who like to feel good about stopping atrocities.
I would be the first person to admit that the modern gaming industry is growing in a space right now where creativity is at an all-time low (and profitability is priority numero uno). Cheap tricks (usually in the form of recurring quest objectives or gameplay elements) are constantly incorporated into new IP’s for the sake of keeping the players engaged in games that, while pretty, employ story telling techniques that are in fact rather dull and almost unapologetically repetitive. If anything, when women are being treated horribly in games, the effect is somewhat lost on gamers these days not because we are monsters, but simply because it has been done to death.
Even if Quinn did actually get overly favourable reviews for her game, why did everyone truly believe that reporting on video games is entirely objective and accurate in ALL cases? And even if dishonesty is uncovered, since when is the appropriate reaction rape and death threats? What is in actual fact a humorous but shocking irony, is that internet abusers typically and rather moronically try to disprove a theory by proving it. “Games are not sexist and they do not make us treat women badly! If you say anything against our precious games, I will kill you, you feminist ignoramus!” Yet I still cannot actually grasp why it was Quinn that merited such harassment. Is it because, secretly, internet abusers collectively had a huge crush on her? Was Depression Quest really that good/crap?
Moreover, I also do not believe that the actual core of #Gamergate seriously meant any harm to anyone despite their inappropriate reaction. I think it is a classic case where people got a little too carried away at the prospect of being a part of something and then jumped the bandwagon for but a little bit of action in their lives. This happens all the time with protests in South Africa. This is also perhaps why a random figure like Quinn received such harsh harassment, or why Sarkeesian was the only one that was vigorously threatened when in fact two additional people contributed towards the Tropes versus Women videos. To paraphrase Anton Taylor, lazy stalking is just annoying. I feel very sorry for victims of this kind of mass-orchestrated harassment. It is undoubtedly the work of a small number of inconceivably socially disturbed people, and I do not think they comprehend the true effect of their damage.
Besides, I never rely on reviews for whether I will enjoy a game or not. I am a special, unique individual (just ask my mum) and I have an equally unique taste in my electronic entertainment media. I absolutely loved DEVOURED Condemned: Criminal Origins and Murdered: Soul Suspect and I did not particularly enjoy Gears of War, but the former two were overlooked and slain with vigour by critics respectively, while the latter was largely praised as the best game ever made. Yet in the end, there is certainly no need to revaluate the notion of ‘gamer.’ Misogyny is undeniably a character trait of certain gamers, but not all gamers are misogynistic. Kind of like beagles are dogs, but not all dogs are beagles. Now excuse me while I call Jeff and ask him how much I owed him for that coffee.
P.s. Thanks to metro.uk, theguardian.uk, nichegamer.com and quickmeme for additional images.