Hi, all. I know things have been crazy lately, and it’s a shame we don’t talk more outside of anonymous message boards and semi-literate Twitter arguments, but it’s time to fix that. Some of you may have noticed a a petition making the rounds regarding the state of our community. It seems that one of our friends at Blizzard, Mark Kern, is concerned for us and the public perception of us after an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit portrayed some of our more rambunctious brethren as domestic terrorists. I suppose the label may apply. You don’t threaten people with rape and murder because they don’t align with you politically without fitting the bill, after all.
While I appreciate Mr. Kern’s passion for stopping the insanity that has defined online gamer culture these past months, I have to disagree with him when he places the blame at the feet of journalism. It was not Kotaku, nor Polygon, nor IGN or anyone else who made it this way and allowed it to distract us from what we all love. It was us. I’m not a journalist, I’m not a developer; I’m simply a fan who occasionally writes on the internet for fun. I’ve got no horse in this race, I just want to see this go away and I know I’m not alone.
There are a lot of factors at play here that not everyone is aware of, and a long history of sectarian isolation and persecution complexes in geek culture that have combined to become a perfect storm of cringe-inducing online behavior that’s gone beyond the “lulz”, oppression complexes, and the profiteering of various online entities and threatens to become part of the fabric of a culture that has more reason than any to pull together and celebrate inclusion.
Why do gamers have so much division in our ranks? Because we are everybody. Think about it. You go to a Justin Beiber board, you expect a certain kind of person. Go to a Star Trek convention, you know more or less who you’re going to find. But in this up and coming generation, everybody plays games, and more of those games than ever are online, throwing together people who are utterly ignorant of one anothers’ cultures. A Tumblrite who takes every thing she sees seriously would never normally wander into a 4chaner’s domain, where the object of the game is to say the most offensive thing possible and double down on the first person to express discomfort for maximum amusement. Yet they have a love of video games in common, and that is where worldview’s collide.
As the internet becomes a larger and larger part of everyday life, it’s become harder for a generation who grew up with it to differentiate what happens here from the real world. But we need to separate the way people act in real life from their internet pastimes. In real life one person is just one person and they’re limited in their ability to damage any given community, but on the internet it’s all too easy to exploit social media and anonymity to make a virtual molehill into a mountain and freely fill as much space as you want with any sort of madness you choose. And once you create the illusion of a movement, it’s human nature that others will hop onto the bandwagon and turn what may have began as a spiteful joke into full-on warfare.
And that’s where we’re at right now. It’s gotten to the point where nobody can even tell what’s going on anymore between inflammatory false-flag posts, people choosing to take sides and repeating whatever other people are saying rather than thinking this through, and a mainstream media that doesn’t really understand any of it. Thankfully, we have yet to see a single instance of real life violence linked with this online strife, but ask yourself if that’s what it will take before we can all calm down and stop this feedback loop of cyber warfare over nothing.
It’s an entertainment journalist’s job to discuss and report goings-on in a given community that are of interest to that community. This not only includes the entertainment itself, but the people of interest surrounding that entertainment and any relevant trends. I may be critical of many aspects of modern journalism, but to lay the bad behavior of the gaming community or the choice of a television show to create a fictional story demonizing political extremism in the gaming scene at their feet is not helping. At all.
It’s the gaming press’s responsibility to inform us of what’s happening in the gaming scene, not to moderate or take responsibility for the behavior of each individual gamer. Sure, they could choose not to cover topics such as the harassment of women in the industry by certain elements, but in doing so wouldn’t they seem at best indifferent or even complicit by ignoring it?
Gaming is a massive and growing market, and everyone wants a piece of that. Most gaming journalists are a part of that community and their choice of career matches their passion. They write about gaming because they love it. But you can make just as much or more from hating it.
Rest assure that more people are talking about SVU right now than have even thought about the show in a long time, and that translates to views, ratings, and revenue. And if you don’t have network resources, it’s been shown that you can sit in front of a camera and simply list all of the political things you don’t like about video games on Youtube for a half hour at a time and become an overnight celebrity with millions of views and an army of financial donors and supporters.
Which brings us back to the problem at hand: rogue elements of our community using the internet in an attempt to harass and silence the critics. It’s not only indefensible, but it’s extremely childish to take something so personally when the clear goal of attacking us is to make money and the attention garnered from making violent threats on Twitter, doxxing people, and threatening them in their homes does more to further their financial and political causes than any fictional TV show or internet rant could. Loving video games shouldn’t mean you can’t grow up.
It’s not journalists who’ve fostered social chaos in gaming, it’s our own insecurity. A lot of us grew up with our relatives and peers mocking our passion and have used it to escape from a reality that isn’t always kind to us, and we’re fiercely defensive. Others are upset at the implications regarding the clear under-representation of women, minorities, and LGBT characters in the medium, and they feel the same. As video games are moving to address the latter, both groups have become increasingly vocal and have fed off of each other in the worst way to create this schism.
But we’re all gamers. There’s room for everyone, and we need to remember that. There’s no ceiling to how big gaming can get, and it’s already threatening to be the biggest and best entertainment medium in the world. There’s no need for any of us to feel threatened. None of us are going anywhere and we need to get used to it.
Anonymous online threats aside, gaming is one of the most violence-free communities out there. There’s violence surrounding sports all over the world, violence in bars and clubs, violence in the streets, violence in shopping centers. How often do we get a legitimate report of violence linked to gaming? Almost never if mentally ill people who happen to play video games don’t count, and they shouldn’t since only the first part of that equation is relevant. And online shit talk definitely doesn’t rate.
If we want games, it’s up to the developers to keep making them. If we want to know what’s going on in gaming, it’s up to the journalists to keep us informed. But if we’re going to heal this rift, it’s up to every single one of us to treat one another with the same respect we desire for ourselves. If somebody says they want better representation for women in the industry or an LGBT character start shows up in your favorite RPG series, it doesn’t mean “social justice warriors” are taking over the industry. There will be another Grand Theft Auto, I promise. Please sit down.
And if an anonymous troll starts baiting you with childish insults or over the top threats, giving them the attention they apparently crave so desperately is only going to encourage them. Take a second to laugh at and/or pity them and then move onto something more worthy of your time. Please. It’s natural to pay more attention to the maniac running naked down the street screaming obscenities than to the people just going about their business, and he’s a lot more likely to be in the news than the others, but you shouldn’t assume that his behavior represents everyone just because he gets more attention.
We can do this, and nobody else can do it for us. We’re making nobody happy as we are and even our beloved devs are worried about us now. Hardcore gamers have always been subject to extreme stereotyping, but it seems like only recently we’ve actually been earning that disdain. I’ve even been considering leaving the online community altogether so I don’t have to hear about it anymore. But you know what? No.
Every last gamer I know in real life is defined simply by their love of games; they couldn’t care less about gender politics and they sure as hell aren’t threatening to rape or kill people. Game store clerks are some of the nicest and most helpful employees I’ve ever encountered, and my wife’s experiences are the same. My son and my niece argue over who gets to play as Wyldstyle in the Lego Movie video game, and that’s about as nasty as I’ve seen gender warfare get offline. I’ve never had anything but positive experiences with fellow gamers young and old, male and female in real life. It’s a small group online trying to appear big who are skewing peoples’ perception.
The internet brought together previously isolated gamers into a public community and if we all walk away, the only ones left to represent us will be the fools who started and perpetuated this mess and that’s what people will think of us. I suspect we’re only one generation away from mainstream gaming domination, but I’m not giving up on this one yet. We built this scene and it’s up to us to represent ourselves as the adults we are and let the world know that these people do not speak for us. It’s not up to journalists to represent us. If we’re silent, they don’t have anything to represent us with. It’s time to represent ourselves and respect each other. Loudly.