I was originally planning to put another self-indulgent post about an old SNES rpg and how it relates to literary theory, but I felt like I needed to say something about the recent bullshittery that has taken place online.
This has not been a good week for “games.” As in any field or medium, the games “community” is full of fighting, bigotry and prejudice, but there is also a huge streak of defensiveness and denial. Perhaps it comes from the idea that games and “gamers” are still a fringe activity, rather than the dominant cultural force that your grandparents play that makes more money than film. Frankly, I don’t really care where the defensiveness comes from. Too many conversations about abuse and harassment in gaming circles devolve into trying to explain why good people defend bad people or why we need to be delicate to the precious feelings of dominant cultural forces. Enough ink has been spent on that, we need to spend more on talking about the harassment itself and how we can work to stop it.
What kind of harassment? Well this week we saw an explosion of misogyny at the news that Might No 9, a popular kickstarter where the creator of Mega Man was essentially creating a new Mega Man game without being sued by Capcom, had hired a new community manager. Dina Abou Karam, the woman hired, was immediately assaulted with anger and scorn from a subset of male fans. Why? Well as far as I can tell it stemmed from the following: 1. She drew fan art of the main character as a girl, 2. She hadn’t played the old NES Mega Man games, 3. She had said nice things about Anita Sarkeesian. That’s it. That is all it takes to get people to demand a refund and withdraw support from a game. That is all it takes to launch a massive hate campaign against a person. That is fucked up.
I’m not a real gamer by most definitions. Oh sure I can make obscure biology joke articles based on Mario characters, but I have literally never played a single Xbox or PS3 game. I have never played Halo. I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed. I played exactly one GTA game, and it was Vice City and all I did was either try to get cars on top of buildings, listen to 80s music or be a vigilante firefighter. I’ve never even watched someone play a Bioshock game. At this point if I was in vicinity of someone who started playing Bioshock I would excuse myself from the room, just because WHO GIVES A SHIT? And yet, I have never had my credentials questioned. I have never been told I am not “gamer” enough to write what I write or to make games. Meanwhile a professional woman is hounded and decried because she hasn’t played the “correct” games in a series. A series, mind you, that is tangentially related to this game she is working on in a NON-DESIGN aspect. She is community manager, he job is to run forums and listen to people and relay data to the developers. But even so, she has to prove her credentials and her “gamer-ness” and “not feministness” to every random dude online before they will continue to support this game.
The fact that her tweeting about Sarkeesian being proof that she is an “evil feminist” deserves mention as well. Sarkeesian has been subject to endless abuse and fearmongering for the crime of… Playing video games and making movies about them? Being critical of uncritically used and repeated plots and designs? Seriously, the actual substance of her videos are the least controversial criticism of sexism in games possible and yet she is still held up as somehow destroying games with her feminism. The level of anger and bile not at the substance but at the existence of her videos continues to be so ridiculously over the top it defies parody. The misogynist sect of gamer culture is so foaming at the mouth that they only need to be told that a woman is “a bad feminist” to justify any harassment that takes place, even if they aren’t the ones performing it. “Well, I heard so-and-so is a jerk feminist, so both sides are probably wrong.”
If you are already considering making a comment that “this is just one isolated event, not all gamers-” please don’t because I’m not done and also I don’t like you. Zoe Quinn, the maker of Depression Quest which I discussed previously, has been under harassment for daring to try and get her game up on Steam. This is key because so often when women in the industry or who are fans ask for more representation they are told “just make games then!” Well Zoe did… and hey look, it just led to more harassment. No matter what women do, once they are targeted as “enemy” or “the bad kind of woman” then they can expect nothing but constant bile.
You may still be thinking “oh but that’s not all gamers. That is just the chans/reddit/anonymous trolls.” Maybe you’re right that most “gamers” are not like this. One a good day I’d even say its likely most aren’t. But if so… So what? What good does that do us? The harassment is still happening. If you are being eaten by a crocodile and you see someone watching, what would you rather have them say? “Hey most crocodiles never eat a person, just thought you should know” or “OH A CROCODILE IS EATING YOU! ARE YOU OK? CAN I HELP?” This is a very simplistic analogy (I don’t like insulting crocodiles by comparing them to gamers) but really, going “but not all gamers-” adds literally nothing to the conversation and dismisses the pain and experience of others. Literally no one is debating if games make people bad or arguing that you playing games makes you a harasser. LITERALLY EVERYBODY PLAYS GAMES. That conversation is over by several decades. The medium of games doesn’t need people to defend it from the fact that some people who play games are disgusting abusive jerks. Why not join the actual discussion which is: Hey! It is fucked up that harassment and abuse like this gets enabled and perpetuated, what can we do to stop this?
Well other than not trying to hijack the discussion to defend video games or the internet from reality, what can we do? Well one thing is listen. I don’t know a single woman who works or appreciates games who hasn’t been shouted down explicitly for her gender or harassed. Yes, of course, men will get yelled at online too. But that isn’t the same as a stream of constant death or rape threats, or forums tracking down your address and personal information to harass you offline. I’ve been yelled at or called names! Mean ones even. But I’ve never been the target of a harassment campaign, and I’m damn sure that were I am woman it is much more likely that I would be. It is all well and good for those of us who never have to deal with anything worse than an impersonal “you suck” to say “don’t feed the trolls” and smugly look down on those who decide to do anything about it. For many people, the internet is their livelyhood. It is where they do business, where they showcase their work, where they meet their friends, where they want to be able to relax or have fun. “Well, everyone is an asshole, don’t give them attention” dismisses the fact that people are driven out of the industry by this behavior. It effectively grants total control of the internet, and the debate, to the worst people possible. And how do people BECOME so horrible? Maybe because we have normalized this idea that spaces like the internet HAVE to be horrible, and have gifted harassers with carte blanche to define these spaces. The internet is AWESOME, so why give it up without a fight? So far all we’ve been doing is yelling “TOUGHEN UP! CREATE YOUR OWN SPACES!” at victims and then continuing to yell that at them when they do create their own spaces and still get harassed.
It also dismisses the fact that all trolls are people. They are people who have lives and families and existences offline. Their actions have real world consequences, and how we respond to those actions shapes the offline world as well. I’ve been online since forever, and it does feel more hostile now than it ever was in the 90s. I would scarcely be surprised if part of that was due to how much we as a society have enabled and supported this kind of behavior. People were always assholes, but they didn’t always have as much protection or rewards for it.
I’m not sure how much good if any me writing this does. It all seems so bloody obvious. But I’m lucky that the bubble I live in offline is one of people who think harassment is wrong. I’m certainly not the first or only person to say any of this. And yet, here we are, seeing the same shit again and again. Many of the people I follow or turn to for game advice are women, maybe even most of them. Most of what I am saying has already been said by writers and developers such as Zoe Quinn, Mattie Brice, Merritt Kopas, Samantha Allen, Jenn Frank and many others. If we dudes want to help our friends and the people we admire, what we should be doing is supporting them, boosting their voices above the din, standing by them when they ask for help, standing up to other dudes who either actively try to harass women or who enable it by their fear of games being judged or whatever. This means standing up to our friends when they fuck up too (and if you can’t tell a friend that they fucked up, what kind of friend are you?).
But most important, I think, is recognizing that there is an active force that is trying to keep their voices from being heard. I don’t mean active like some kind of mustache-twirling super villain, I mean the simple societal forces that work to maintain any status quo. More important that speaking out can be signal boosting. It doesn’t matter if we dudes feel ashamed or sad or guilty that this level of harassment takes place, maybe our voices just aren’t going to be as important as the victims all the time. This doesn’t mean don’t speak (I mean, fuck, look at all I’ve written so far), but it does mean that sometimes the best thing to do might be lending our support and voices another way. Recognizing that harassment isn’t easy to deal with, and so its not up to use to tell anyone how they should or should not be getting through it. Recognizing that our needs and feelings don’t need to come first when someone else is suffering. Recognizing that the larger system doesn’t want some people to be heard, so maybe the most subversive thing we can do is use our voices to let those voices be heard.
There’s more than enough time for indulgent posts about Bahamut Lagoon and Toni Morrison later.