Pewdiepie Might Not Be a Racist, But He’s Something Worse

Let’s say that you have over fifty million pairs of eyes upon you. Let’s say that you’re such a pop culture sensation and voice of your generation that you inspired an entire episode of South Park about you and played yourself in it. Let’s say that you’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars doing nothing of value and Disney is knocking at your door with even more. Picture this is you, dear reader, and ask yourself: “if this was my life, and the world was watching, what would I have to say for myself?” Now pretend you decide the best foot to put forward is using the N-word and calling for death to all Jews.

The internet has ushered in an age of obnoxious unaccountability that has been coupled with an obnoxious backlash and calls for censorship. It’s why things are how they are right now. Growing up in a world you no longer have to look in the eye and being able to say whatever you want from behind a monitor has bred the nastiest generation since cross burning was a thing, and it’s burning itself at both ends with endless feedback loops of rampant online abuse and political correctness taken to laughable extremes becoming the new cultural norm. What used to be considered internet troll culture is now occupying the White House. And people like this: they are the reason.

Pewdiepie (aka Felix Kjellberg) has emerged as the face not only of the millennial generation, but of gaming as well. And oh my, is it a punchable face. I may not understand the appeal of watching a human Spongebob character with the faculties of an edgy ten year old screech while playing video games or do a whole lot of nothing on camera when the world is filled with incredible art, beautiful film, talented people, books crammed with knowledge, and video games that I could damn well play myself, along with literally endless possibilities, but it’s plainly a fact that at least fifty million people see value in this, so let’s go ahead and call that battle lost.

Let’s move on to the real topic at hand: with so many people out there who love what Pewdiepie and his lot do, does he owe it to anybody to not say whatever he feels like saying? Can he or should he be accountable for anything he does online? In case you have been living under a rock without an internet connection, Pewdiepie has caused some controversy using racial slurs and calls for genocide as humor and then aggressively playing the victim when the media has drawn attention to it, citing “clickbait journalism”. And nobody has shut up about it for what seems like months.

I hate to tell you guys this, but clickbait has always been the only kind of journalism. Even before “clicking” was something you could do. Racism, sexism, child molestation, rape, murder, and general deviance have always been the front, middle, and back pages of the newspaper because that’s what the people pay to see. And if somebody is willing to pay for it, somebody else will always be willing to sell it. And on the internet, if people are willing to watch it, and advertisers are willing to pay because people are watching it, some idiot will post it on the internet. So accusing the media of doing something just to get attention/money while you film ignorance on Youtube for a living? Yeah, not a great defense. 

Shall we burn this Swedish millennial at the stake as a racist before he brings on the fourth reich? Prolly not. You see, I don’t really know that Pewdiepie even has a racist bone in his body. And unless you know him personally, neither do you. But I do know he’s the face of the largest video sharing website in the world and he’s using the platform to disseminate utter stupidity and ignorance to millions of kids, and whatever his intention, that makes him worse than if he really did want to kill all Jews (assuming he never actually puts it into practice). I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t care about what he thinks about anything whatsoever. But I do know his “humor” has an internet history that I’m going to relate here and put into its proper context to hopefully illustrate why the social issues that people like Felix cause go far beyond simple-minded racism.

Racism is a basic evolutionary and social feature. It’s lizard brain stuff that we as humans are fully capable of intellectualizing away once we’re aware of it, but it’s a fact that people are naturally inclined towards things that look and behave like themselves. Remove intellectual functionality and YOUR country automatically is the best country. YOUR political candidate is the best political candidate. YOUR mom is the best mom. YOUR local sports team is the best sports team. YOUR favorite show is the best show. YOUR way is the best way. YOUR race/gender/sexual orientation is the best race/gender/sexual orientation. And we are not exactly an intellectual people these days. But still, we had at least learned to put a polite face on it for the most part; out of sight out of mind. Civility is the best we can hope for and we had largely attained that, at least in some places.

But the resulting taboo that has sprung up around racism has served to make it fodder for modern edgy humor. In recent years, “death to all jews” and “Hitler did nothing wrong” were mottos bandied about on the internet by trolls for the sake of irony. On 4chan, they used to play a game (and probably still do) where people post links to videos and whichever post number has double digits at the end of it, that video will be targeted with ironic Nazi spam. The randomness of it was the funny. My guess would be that Pewdiepie was once targeted by this and became an admirer.

Now in small doses, this anarchic brand of ironic racism is worth a chuckle. I mean, a Taylor Swift music video getting raided by mass Nazi propaganda posts out of nowhere is Kaufmanesque humor to a T. But in keeping with the theme, I’ll offer up this historical quote: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The origin of the quote is in question, but it’s usually associated with Hitler and Goebbels. The layers of irony are getting hard to peel away, though, because what began as a series of definite and distinctly ironic jokes has officially blossomed into an actual political creed over the years of mindless repetition. A generation raised on irreverent shitposting has ceased to understand the difference between ironic humor and actual politics due to years of hearing the same garbage in an online echo chamber over and over.

I’m the father of a ten year old son. Every once in a while he does something really insane and gets a room full of people to laugh. Then he does it again and we chuckle politely. Then again and we maybe are still smiling. But eventually I have to tell him to stop because nothing stays funny forever and by repeating it over and over again, obnoxious humor ceases being humorous and becomes just plain obnoxious. It’s like I broke his heart, but it needs to be done if he hopes to learn how to function in social situations.

Likewise, racist humor in small doses can be very funny. But through repetition of the same jokes, eventually the humor will leave and you’ll just be left with the racism, and that’s what has happened to Pewdiepie. He’s taken something that was amusing years ago and has since been spammed into meaninglessness out of the context where it was ever funny at all and repurposed it to impress his audience with his ability to do whatever he knows he shouldn’t just to prove he can. That’s not comedy. That’s childishness. And for an adult man with a massive viewership consisting mainly of children, it’s fucking dangerous.

Children don’t understand the inhuman history of phrases like “death to all Jews” and can’t possibly comprehend the pain it can cause to somebody who was imprisoned for their ethnicity by madmen and then starved and tortured as a scapegoat for a culture that lost its way, or somebody who lost their parents and/or grandparents in an ethnic cleansing so some fascist politician could consolidate his power. These are real people who are walking among us right now. If you can’t see why hearing the hate speech that created that situation in the first place presented to children over and over because some douchebag thinks it’s funny would be a problem, then there is something extremely wrong in your brain.

There is no part of me that supports censorship. If somebody wants to say something racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever then I thank them for advertising their stupidity to us. It’s like a billboard that tells you whose points of view you can’t take seriously right off the bat. If real life were always that simple and people were more honest about their bullshit, it would eliminate a lot of problems outright. I’m as big a free speech advocate as there is and you will never catch me endorsing laws that limit it.

But here’s the thing: free speech is for everybody. Yeah, you can say “Hitler did nothing wrong” and whether you are joking or dead serious, you’re entitled to that. But we are not obligated to listen. We are entitled to come at you with whatever non-violent response we feel like because freedom of speech isn’t just for you. So if I want to say “Pewdiepie can choke on Hitler’s only testicle and die”, I can do that too. If I happen to be a business owner and Pewdiepie is my employee, I can send him on his merry way because I don’t want him representing my company. And if he’s posting his nonsense on my website, I can delete it and tell him he’s not welcome anymore.

Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from reaction or social consequence. It means the government can’t prosecute you, but it leaves you wide open to whatever “free expression” the rest of us deem fit. And that is why respect and basic decency is important. It’s not only the proper way to interact with your fellow humans, it’s important to your social well being.

So maybe when Disney -a company with a long, shameful, and persistent history of pop racism- decides it’s embarrassed to associate itself with you or a blatant neo-nazi website becomes your most ardent defender, it’s time to reassess who you want to be and how you want to present yourself to the world. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about not being a completely reprehensible piece of shit and modeling for a generation of children to do the same.

There’s a world of difference between the adult-oriented cartoonish social satire of shows like South Park (whose creators have gone on hiatus after determining that real life has become more of a satire now than anything they could make) and Boondocks or Mel Brooks films engaging with racism to portray its ignorance and a real life celebrity spamming hate speech just because he can. The cost of the internet and the freedom of communication it affords is idiots having a platform to say and do whatever they like.

Artists and comedians can construct entertainment that can make us laugh and think at the same time,and in the past only those who could pull it off would rise to the public consciousness. The world is a better place with films like Blazing Saddles in it.  But now anybody and everybody with a computer can appropriate and twist things they don’t understand into something moronic and hateful. And anybody and everybody with a computer can watch them do it.

We can’t adequately police the world wide web or stop children from coming across ignorance there, but we can teach them what is and isn’t right and the difference between the way people act online when they want to earn money for acting stupid and the way they behave in real life when they want people to enjoy being around them. Personal accountability and integrity starts at home and we can’t afford to let kids be raised by Youtubers.

I’ve got a distinctly sick sense of humor and I want to be free to enjoy that, but it’s important that I understand the time and place to express that aspect of myself. With friends in private or on message boards where such people gather to share is fine. Outside of their proper context, these jokes are as likely to be understood as an old school 4channer running around shouting “desudesudesu” in public. You won’t see me making jokes about dead babies in front of my boss who may have lost a child, using the term “rape” carelessly in public, or declaring somebody “my nigga” on social media because I understand that there are people whose life experiences are not the same as mine and what might be amusing to me could be an emotionally devastating misunderstanding for them. Not being an asshole means respecting that.

Doing these kind of things just because you can is creating an environment that none of us is going to want to live in. The cycle of insensitivity and hypersensitivity is getting old and every one of us has the capability to break it, at least for ourselves. It sickens me that the gaming community has become such a focal point of this phenomenon and it has set us back long enough already. We’ve suffered in the underground being labeled as virgins and losers long enough, and with most people playing games now we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be represented en masse as bigots or man-children.

If nothing else, Pewdiepie’s antics have given us a starting point for this conversation. Yes, he and his have lowered the level of what constitutes entertainment to record lows with their spectacular lack of having anything of value to say, coupled with the willingness of millions to spend hours on end listening to them say it is helping to make this world a shittier place one inane video at a time.

And maybe the mainstream media and those modern day Don Quixotes cartoonishly referred to as “social justice warriors” are panicking at this loss of control and reacting poorly by witchhunting for the symptoms of racism and the like when we should all be addressing the disease of a society that has willfully allowed its standards to be lowered to this point. And the only way to do it is the turn our attentions elsewhere. Find better ways to spend our time, and encourage our children to do the same. Hopefully someday we can collectively see somebody acting doofy on Youtube for attention and think “nothing to see here, folks. Just some dope with a webcam with nothing interesting to say.” Now that’s something I’d subscribe to.

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Minority of One: Orwell’s Unique Approach to Dystopian Politics

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We’ve had a few months to digest one of last year’s premiere story experiences now. It was a pretty weak year for AAA gaming in terms of pushing the envelope, but with indie hits like the affable Oxenfree, mind-meltingly creative Pony Island, and artistic Inside it was far from a total loss. Among the indie class of 2016 was Osmotic Studios’ “Big Brother simulator” Orwell, which thrust the player into the role of a government agent whose job it is to spy on people online.  

While lacking in other games’ style, presentation, and gameplay, Orwell’s bare bones approach of turning your own PC into the protagonist’s PC and pushing the immersion factor that way as if you literally were the character as well as the game’s extremely nuanced and realistic approach to the morality involved with invading peoples’ privacy for the always-nebulous “greater good” offered up more food for thought than anything else I played last year to the point of questioning its own legendary source material. And that is a very special thing.

Orwell’s greatest strength is its inspiration, George Orwell’s novel 1984. To understand how bold the game it inspired is, you really need to have read this work. And quite frankly, if you want to pretend to understand governmental or social politics on any level, 1984 and Animal Farm are possibly the most important works of fiction ever committed to print. When you title a game after their author, you are already burdening yourself with a lot of expectation, and combined with tackling such a hot and current topic, this game put a lot of pressure on itself.  

But the game was not content with reproducing the well known dystopian masterpiece and its rather black and white morality. Instead, it chose to flip the script and make you the “villain” of the piece -or at least a cog in its machinery- and put you in a situation that governments likely find itself in all too often these days. Terrorists are bombing public places and killing people and it’s your job to find them and stop them using a new program that allows you to create profiles on individuals based on the information you find about them online. Should you succeed, the program will become part of the government’s standard operating procedure and we will all be subject to being monitored. Should you fail, the terrorists win. Choose wisely.

Conventional morality suggests that of course you have to save lives and catch the bad guys. And the question of the game’s success becomes whether Orwell does a strong enough job of explaining the central philosophical conflict to the player. On one hand, a lot of gamers are going to come away from the experience feeling like enacting mass surveillance was a victory while others will be upset that this wasn’t portrayed as a demonic evil. But on the other hand, the game by its very nature is inviting the player to think for him or herself, which is always the more effective artistic approach, even if it leads to the majority of the population misunderstanding it (see also: Bioshock: Infinite).

Corporate-advertisement-vehicle-masquerading-as-gaming-magazine Game Informer gave Orwell a vapid two sentence review and a meager rating after months of ignoring it altogether in yet another entire issue spent endlessly pimping the likes of Overwatch, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, and Uncharted. But that’s why you have us, dear reader. Surely some of you understand the irony of criticizing a work for retreading a different story’s ground in a publication that writes the same articles every month, yes? The brief criticism was that the story has already been told better. But has it really?

The fact that Orwell chooses to ask the gamer the questions rather than handing them the answers it wants you to have is part of what makes it so fascinating. As you surf the web putting together pieces of peoples’ lives in an attempt to determine who is responsible for the terrorist acts and try to determine which characters represent an actual threat and which are just ranting online, the wheels start turning. Could somebody do this to me? Are they doing it right now? If a stranger read all of my Twitter and Facebook rants and message board arguments, how would I look to them? The answer to that last one for at least some of us is likely “like a complete goddamn psychopath”.

George Orwell foresaw a lot of the conflicts currently arising in our society, from the degradation of language leading to rigid and impotent thought processes (for example, when you hear words like “conservative” or “feminist”, do you think about their objective meaning within the context or is your initial reaction automatically a positive or negative emotion? If it’s the latter, congrats: you’re part of the problem), endless warfare as a tool to distract the population, and of course governmental surveillance.

While 1984 clearly missed the mark in terms of time frame, the fact remains that on some level, most of it has come to fruition, albeit in a much more subtle manner. And these subtle mannerisms of morality and manipulation, rather than the broad sinister strokes of the original work, are where Orwell the game challenges both Orwell the author and the player. The surface of hunting terrorists and uncovering the pasts of the potential suspects by tracing their online history is an interactive way of stimulating the thought process rather than a typical one-sided morality tale.

That is to say that rather than using the story to state that all surveillance is bad just because it’s bad, and here are bad things to prove it’s bad, the story relies on the unspoken threats to make its point. In reality, things are seldom as starkly contrasted as they are in fiction. Lines are blurred and shades blend together, making morality a confusing, subjective, and fluid thing more often than not. But what could be bad about something that can catch terrorists before they kill people? Orwell isn’t telling. At least, not outright. The best you’ll get is multiple characters expressing differing opinions that all seem to make sense although they say opposite things.

One conclusion you may arrive at is that while surveillance certainly has its practical uses for stopping bad people from doing bad things, nobody can be trusted with that kind of power over others’ lives. The capacity for everyday abuse is nearly infinite; far beyond the rare catastrophes it could theoretically avert. And those in charge of surveilling and judging us based on our past as it’s presented online? Who judges them? And who judges those who judge them? And who holds those judgements accountable? And if anybody is held accountable for any online wrongdoing, shouldn’t everybody? Even the ones doing the judging? Is anybody entirely innocent? Shall we turn the entire country into one big airport where every joke or aggressively exaggerated opinion is taken as fact and literal threat? Perhaps all mass surveillance really amounts to is a tool for those in charge to pick and choose who they want to prosecute and subjugate.

And all of that is still not taking into account the general unreliability of online information. How hard is it to make an account as another person? Not hard. You could be looking at somebody’s face and name and the words could be somebody else’s entirely and you’d never know. This is one aspect I really wish Orwell had brought into play more as false flagging is pretty much standard procedure in online trolling and when you take that into account, the concept of online surveillance becomes even more untenable, leaving only the open and honest as potential victims.

Orwell may stop short of the mind-blowing prophecy of the literary masterpiece that inspired it, but as a more practical and nuanced alternative, it’s pretty exceptional in itself. The titular author wrote “being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad”. And the game clings tenaciously to its own principles of truth, which are not necessarily those of its inspiration. Like i said before, Orwell the author wanted to teach you his truth. Orwell the game wants you to teach yourself and find your own truth. And like in real life, there’s no real way to win. Just various ways of accounting for yourself as you inevitably lose, whether you realise it or not.

In many ways, it feels like Orwell could have pushed its story to further extremes and done much more to illustrate the potential evils of government surveillance, but instead of beating us over the head with the axe-grinding fiction we’re used to, it chose to take a more nuanced approach that mirrors the potential real life situations that could arise and, in fact, may very well have already arisen. After all, this is no longer a dystopian science fiction dilemma. It is here and now.

Unlike 1984, Orwell isn’t a dark look at the future, it’s a look at the present. And if anything, it’s in-game internet is a brighter place then the cyberspace we’re living in right now. And that, friends, is a thought as scary as a rat eating through your face. It’s also why a lot of people may overlook the thoughtful indie game as a missed opportunity rather than one of the most unique and interesting experiences of 2016 in any medium. But being misunderstood is all part of being in a minority of one, and that is exactly what Orwell is. There simply isn’t anything else like it and that is always reason to celebrate.

Time to Put the “Keep Your Politics Out of My Games” Fallacy To Bed

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Another week, another childish gaming controversy so silly it would have been taken as satire ten years ago. Right on the heels of Blizzard changing a female character’s victory pose in Overwatch from a classic over-the-shoulder gun pose that tends to show one’s backside as a matter of course to a reproduction of a classic pin-up pose in profile (which also has booty, go figure) as a response to complaints about sexualization and the usual over-the-top reactions to those complaints came the Baldur’s Gate expansion, Siege of Dragonspear, which traumatized some gamers with an extremely brief optional exchange in which a non-player character mentions being transgender.

I know, right? A transgender person in popular media in 2016? Simply terrifying. The real world suddenly seems so big and scary now that a video game world filled with monsters and bizarre non-humanoid sentient races also has stuff from real life. I, for one, am simply mortified. Oh, wait. No. I actually can’t imagine a single thing in the world that would bother me less. Why is it people care again?

baldurs gate transgender mizhena

Good job, Mizhena, you just ruined an entire game with four sentences. The industry will never recover from this travesty of writing.

Oh, right. The infamous “SJW shit” being shoehorned in. And written by an honest-to-goodness female, no less. NOW I’m pissed! Who are these female creatures to create and contribute to MY video games? Do they not realize how hard it is for me to get out my bed to play the game they worked to make and have to see people representative of the the world I live in who aren’t me? Some people just have no empathy.

In all seriousness, though, the primary complaint among the sayers of nay is an objection to the writer, Amber Scott, daring to put her own thoughts, feelings, and political leanings into her art. Or as they so clichely put it, “keep your politics out of my games”, as though the thought of politics in entertainment is some new thing just now gaining traction among radical thinkers.

Well, that’s a load of bullshit. I probably don’t have to point out that any statement that begins with “I have nothing against [race/gender/sexual preference/etc.] but….” is an inevitable cringe factory and has no purpose being in anything claiming to be an objective review, but just in case, humor me while I put this ridiculousness in a shallow grave, relieve myself upon it, and be done with it. You know, just in case you aren’t aware of how ridiculous this idea is.

Let’s just assume that the very existence of an individual of any given minority class in a work of fiction even qualifies as a political statement. Even if that extremely flimsy assumption were universally accepted truth (and if we’re accepting that then we’re also accepting the pseudo-feminist assertions that Donkey Kong is a celebration of patriarchal oppression since all things are now apparently political statements), it’s entirely beside the point. The harsh, inescapable truth is that personal politics always have and always will be an integral ingredient of any and every form of art. If you can’t divorce from your own biases enough to get over that fact, then you are divorcing yourself from a genuine appreciation of the finer things in entertainment. This is as true of Gamergaters as it is of Anita Sarkeesian.

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White Knight alert! Turns out the entire fantasy gaming genre was just a subterfuge for the SJW revolution from the get-go. #GGTruth

A Christmas Carol? Anti-capitalist tripe. Portal? A post-feminist parable. Freebird? Faux-sentimental ode to male non-commitment. Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Vegetarian propaganda. Bioshock? Totally jealous of Ayn Rand. Call of Cthulhu? Born of xenophobia. X-Men? Minority oppression much? Layla? Muh sanctity of marriage. Popular art and fiction of every type are fueled by human thoughts, feelings, and values. In other words: politics.

Not a lot of great works ever come into being without their creators putting their own heart and soul into them. Bob Dylan? George Orwell? Stanley Kubrick? Alan Moore? Joss Whedon? Johnny Cash? Would we know any of these people’s names if they didn’t create the things they wanted to see created from their own point of view, off-kilter political values and all?

I believe that some day, gaming developers will earn their place in popular culture among the legends of cinema, literature, television, and music, but only if we let them. It’s time for gamers of all stripes to recognize that whether or not you agree with the thoughts being expressed has no relevance to the value of the work itself. These expressions themselves are a vital part of what separates true art from the chaotic scribblings of toddlers.

So don’t go telling people with a straight face that artists shouldn’t be able to put the things they want to see into their creations. It’s a bad look for an adult. And gods help you if you can say something like that out of one side of your mouth while the other side claims to be anti-censorship. Point is: if an artist can put a shot of a girl’s ass into a video game, the same rights are afforded to a writer who wants to create a transgender character. You can’t have freedom for what you like AND freedom from what everybody else likes at the same time. It’s a two-way street.

When Ms. Scott was asked about her reasoning for putting a transgender character in the game, her response included the following statement: “I consciously add as much diversity as I can to my writing and I don’t care if people think that’s “forced” or fake. I find choosing to write from a straight default just as artificial. I’m happy to be an SJW and I hope to write many Social Justice Games in the future that reach as many different types of people as possible. Everyone should get a chance to see themselves reflected in pop culture.”

steam review transgender baldurs gate

Remember all of those bad reviews for Skyrim carrying on about guards blatantly screaming disabled veteran rhetoric about how they used to be an adventurer ruining the entire game? Me neither.

As hard as it is to take anybody who uses the term “Social Justice” unironically (and as a proper noun, no less) completely seriously, you can at least admire the honesty there. If you’re going to create or contribute, do it unapologetically and openly or don’t do it at all. Honesty equals integrity.

On the other hand, if you’re saying you don’t have anything against LGBT people, but you express offense when a single one shows up in a video game you are playing, then there’s not a person alive who isn’t going to know you’re full of shit. Ditto if you claim to respect women and yet the only people in the gaming industry you feel the need to criticize this excessively happen to all be women in spite of the fact that they make up less than a quarter of the developer workforce.

So sorry, guys: no safe space for you. Reality is a thing and you can’t keep it out forever. Video games are increasing in both sophistication and diversity and no amount of poorly thought out Steam and Metacritic “reviews” that are nothing but semi-coherent off-topic rants barely fit for a message board are going to hold back that tide. Maybe if you speak honestly instead of making up fictional reasons why you’re offended, they’ll put trigger warnings in so your delicate sensibilities can remain unoffended. Probably not, though.

If we want games to continue to progress the worlds of interactive fiction and art to match and exceed other mediums, we need to give the developers the freedom to put themselves into their work without fear, and to do that we need to treat the medium and its creators with the same respect we want for ourselves and learn to tell the difference between our own problems and somebody else’s.

Criticism is fine, but it needs to be warranted and “keep your politics out of my game” is not a valid criticism or request any more than “stop liking things I don’t like” is. We all have our own preferences and the right and ability to indulge them, but we have neither the right nor ability to alter anybody else’s preferences and we need to recognize that and learn the difference between actually saying something and just making noise. And lately, gamers haven’t been saying much but they’ve been making a lot of noise.

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ACTUALLY, IT’S ABOUT TRANGENDERISM IN GAMES JOURNALISM!

Video games are fun for everyone, all sorts of people like to play them, and it’s a natural progression that as the means to create deeper worlds and characters would bring, you know, more depth. That means more nuanced ideas, more diverse characters, and more stretching of boundaries of all sorts.

If you’re going to let a little thing like traditional gender roles from the 1950’s hold back your enjoyment of gaming, then I wonder what kind of gamer you are. Getting past obstacles is our stock and trade, and as far as dilemmas go getting over fictional representations of transgenderism in fantasy worlds in order to enjoy a video game is no Dark Souls or Battletoads. When one approach doesn’t work, we try another and another until we find one that does, and this nonsense simply is not working. So let’s get past this level and move on to the next, yeah?  

Only Gamers Can Heal ‘The Rift’

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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.

Are Politics Ruining Gaming Culture?

politics

Gotta love the internet age. When I was younger, people had to take the time to at least listen to the radio or watch television before they pretended to indulge in half-baked politics. Sometimes I swear that the Internet is the greatest of mankind’s inventions. Everybody in the world can communicate anything now! Then I end up swearing that it’s the worst invention in human history. Everybody in the world can communicate ANYTHING now.

Like I said, back in the day you had to at least get the official line of bullshit regarding the goings-on in the world around you if you were too lazy to read a real book on the subject. That or you could listen to the ravings of homeless people and Christians with signs protesting devil worshiping outside of heavy metal concerts on the streets of major cities. If you wanted to publicly participate, you had to…you know…actually do stuff.

But now that we’ve got the internet, political education begins and ends with social networking posts that are derived entirely from other social networking posts that were made by people who don’t appear to ever leave their home and presumably have no practical interest in the outside world and politics anyways. At some point, this human centipede-like process of education based on tweets, message board posts, and status updates became the cornerstone of modern discourse in nerd culture.

What does this have to do with video games? Well, have you been on a video game message board in the last few years? One where everybody is an expert on human rights and hell-bent on bending the entire world to their will without leaving their keyboard? Every major game is now a political battleground between feminists with a massive checklist of demands that must be met lest they buy the game anyways but complain about it lots and misogynistic tools who may not even know themselves if they are trolling or not since online douchebaggery has become such a reflex at this point.

ninjas

I want to kick their asses SO HARD right now.

When I was little and my mother would throw me out of the house into the countryside to get me away from my Atari 2600 or NES for a few hours, I used to pass time in a little wooded area behind our house. I would pretend I was saving the world from something only I could defeat with my skills learned from watching Kung Fu Theater matinees: evil ninjas.

I’d spin kick and punch the air in all directions like a teenager hardcore dancing, convinced in my imagination that if I stopped, the world would be overrun by these ninjas that nobody else could see. It was good times, but thankfully (hopefully) nobody was around to see this immature maniac spastically lashing out in all directions at nothing. The thing is, as gamers we don’t play outside anymore and as citizens of the internet everybody can see us now. And too damn many of us are still fighting metaphorical invisible ninjas online.

It seems like every major game release comes standard with ridiculous manufactured controversy from the lunatic fringe these days. Grand Theft Auto has always had its share of controversy, but usually from people who are political idiots for a living. The last entry saw a series that has always been the very picture of over-the-top satirical misanthropy in hot water for making fun of female characters. Yeah, GTA. The satirical games known for juvenile humor where almost every character is an irredeemable piece of shit. I know. Try to contain your shock at this revelation.

When one reviewer pointed out this game-changing observation, it kicked off an epic torrent of hate from series supporters that blew up the internet. How do you make a single flame war between idiots in a community that is pretty much a lake of fire at this point actual gaming news? Well, if the article was written by a transgender individual it helps. Being an indefensible prick to a cisgender person is business as usual, but it sucks extra being transsexual and only widespread internet commenting can balance those scales.

Early images of Bioshock Infinite led to a public outcry over Elizabeth’s evil cleavage. A busty girl in a low cut top, you say? To arms!

  I can see your dirty pillows.

                  dirty pillows gif

When her bust size was decreased (which suited the character better, for the record), another outcry over feminism taking over the world resulted. When Bioshock Infinite actually came out, it was labeled “White Guilt: The Game”; presumably by people who either didn’t play it or were angry that the plot mussed their hair when it whooshed right over their heads like Rodan over Tokyo. How do you win?

It’s not all sexism, racism, and homophobia. That’s not First World problem enough to maintain middle class white rage over. Hating people based on that stuff is for edgy teens and FOX News viewers. Let’s talk BioWare. One of the most beloved video game companies in existence. At least they were. Then Electronic Arts bought them.

The torrent of Mass Effect 3 hate speaks for itself. BioWare has sold their soul! They’re the Machine, man! Day One DLC! Worst. Company. Evah. And that was all before they even got to the ending. The game itself: pretty much the same as the last one everybody loved to pieces. But why let things like whether or not it’s extremely fun and brilliant for dozens of hours up until the last few minutes influence you opinion on a video game? It’s EA!

ea evil

No, Shepherd. I am your father.

Here on Gamemoir, we have a smaller audience but a pretty high quality of clientele. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a comment or two on our articles, but zero threats of rape or questioning of sexual orientation or any of the other usual gamer talk. Maybe I’ll egg a few more comments out of somebody by arguing with them, but overall it’s pretty civil. Usually.

In one author’s legendary debut post, she reviewed Europa Universalis IV with part tongue-in-cheek humor and part delightful loopy and antagonistic political rantings over eurocentrism that translated roughly to “flamemeflamemeflameme”. To date, that one post has received nearly 130 comments, almost all different posters, almost universally negative. I’m not sure if the ones that got deleted once the discourse turned anti-Semitic (don’t ask) count on the total, but I think the word “shitstorm” is appropriate either way.

I kind of miss the days where controversy meant rich old people declaring that Mass Effect was hardcore pornography and Grand Theft Auto was a murder simulator. We had a good laugh together at these uneducated dimwits fighting battles against nonexistent problems, didn’t we?  It’s only been a few years, but in that time fighting the war against people who are wrong on the internet has somehow become more important than the entertainment culture we share and now we are the dimwits lashing out blindly at each other while accomplishing nothing aside from making ourselves look stupid.

Being pampered First World residents who can afford to spend all of our time playing video games and pretending to be all deep and stuff by typing about privilege on the internet until our fingers hurt while other people starve and freeze to death or dodge bullets and bombs in their neighborhoods doesn’t really show how socially aware we are so much as it highlights how unspeakably immune to irony we are to have nothing better to do with our time. And yes, I am doing it right now. You’re learning.

If making the world a better place was the goal, I suspect there are better ways to go about it than spreading politically-correct fascism or donating over $150,000 that could have been used to feed the hungry for the pleasure of watching a

sarkeesian gif

The Hiltons and Kardashians are currently in a bidding war to bottle her sweat for a new fragrance.

cartoonishly indulgent Youtuber who never played video games before list stuff that happened in video games where female characters aren’t the most awesomest.

Who knew that all that time I thought I was playing Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong in my youth because the games were fun, it was actually all part of a brainwashing conspiracy to make me hate women?  Well it didn’t work in the slightest, but Anita Sarkeesian appears to have made more inroads in that direction with a few videos than a thousand video games ever could for some people. Irony does not have to be our enemy, friends. A little self-awareness goes a long way.

In a world where somebody who rapes a 14-year old girl can get off with a misdemeanor child endangerment charge and the only way we find out is because a hacker collective spams the net with it, I’d say we have bigger fish to fry than video game characters’ fashion sense and internet trolls where misogynistic behavior is concerned.

dragons crown sorceress

Just to be clear: this is utterly ridiculous.

Fiction is almost by definition a place where we can get away from real life for a while. We can be someone and somewhere else and experience things we can’t normally experience and do things virtually that we have no real interest in doing in real life like pay hookers for car sex and then running them over and taking the money back to kick off a citywide mayhem spree that ends with being blown up by tanks. In other words, it’s not real life. Not even comparable.

Fantasy entertainment is a place where we can indulge our id to its utmost without any consequence in a society that has become so super-ego driven and unaware of itself that it’s practically a satire. By choosing to ignore the real world and transplanting its problems into fantasy fiction, we are doing both a disservice and shitting where we eat.

Will the invisible ninjas we call political differences ever go away? Nope. Idiots gotta idiot and jerks gotta jerk. There is no controlling this. As long as humans have been able to communicate, they’ve been able to miscommunicate and the internet has made worldwide distribution of brain vomit as effortless and simple as the thought processes that spew it. There is no changing our fellow humans.

Remember the last time your political arguments were so convincing that the opposition bowed down and told you how right and smart and superior you were and would you please teach them to be so knowledgeable?   Exactly. There is no mission to accomplish here; just a lot of delusions of the other side taking over the world if we don’t stop them using the letters on our keyboards and social media-driven education to right their grievous wrongs.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this stuff is worth discussing. But there is a time, a place, and a balance. Spending all day looking for a gaming journalist who made a faux pas so you can gather the troops and bully them for using a word you have collectively decided you do not like or some other nonsense adds to the community about as much as an 11-year-old on Xbox Live screaming racial and sexual slurs.

If we can all just agree to be responsible for our own behavior, I think it’d make our little community a lot more livable. When we accept the fact that we can’t change other people and that many of those other people enjoy saying and doing things we may not like to say or do, we’ll understand the actual meaning of tolerance. Until then, feel free to try and beat Gamemoir’s flaming record telling me how dumb I am. 130 comments is your goal. Alternately, you could use this handy guide to gauge your own personal rage level.

internet comment guide