Sunday, November 2, 2014

On #Gamergate and what it means to be a modern Gamer

Back in the 1990’s when video games were under attack from the media and landmark titles like ‘Doom’  ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Quake’ were all the rage, many concerned parents were wetting their collective panties regarding the overt violence and gore exposed to their fragile, sheltered youth. The target audience of your average gamer was between the ages 8-24, male, and either hung out in Hot Topic at the local mall or Chuck’E Cheese.  The popularity of mall arcades were dying, while PC and gaming consoles were ubiquitous trappings in the cheetoh’s coated realm of the common nerd. Many characters were often over-sexualized and overtly macho to the point of parody. Duke Nukem wantonly swung stacks of Benjamin’s at skimpy dressed pole dancers while spouting crude one liners (Gasp: Objectification of women!) and Leisure suit Larry introduced us to the art of seducing two dimensional broads with artistically rendered bosoms (Simply Abhorrent!) all the while, the bloodletting effects in your arcade style fighting games had more pixelated red squares than a Minecraft server:

I am taking this opportunity to weigh in on ‘Gamergate’ as well as segueing into the progression of  video gaming and the direction of the industry as a whole.

Running the spectrum

The proliferation of console gaming into truly mainstream culture really began in the late 90’s early 00’s and delineated a shift from a mere child’s ‘toy’ and curio-gadget of the niche hobbyist to a fixture of the social nexus essential to any modern home entertainment center. Video gaming itself is one of the hallmarks symptomatic to what so called ‘social psychologists’ have dubbed the ‘Millennial’ generation. Along with the internet, social media , smartphones, and the influx of anime and Japanese culture injected into the veins of the Western adolescent,  it represents one of the underpinnings our generation just inherently ‘get’s’ without having to exacerbate its significance. While all of the aforementioned technologies and cultural assets were developed in the mid to late 20th century by preceding generations, they weren’t embedded into the social fabric of their upbringing in quite the same way.

The term ‘gamer’ has also changed. To put this in perspective, your average six year old playing angry birds in mom’s minivan could be considered a ‘gamer’ just about as much as your average senior citizen playing video poker in Vegas while wearing black oversized shades and a sun-visor: Both examples are a radical departure from the grizzled gaming enthusiasts leveling up their Paladin to level 80 in DOTA 2. So sure, the prevailing stereotypical tropes  will enjoy the medium of gaming to their own degree, just as much as your average Joe-moviegoer  chortles on his extra buttery popcorn while watching ‘Jackass’ appreciates cinema in the same way as a jaded, balding film-buff does while critiquing the finer points of ‘Citizen Kane’ in his studio chair. 

This only becomes a problem to the self-identified ‘gamers’ who have adopted the title as an identification label, nothing more than a dispute of terminology that they have made exclusive to themselves which is largely irrelevant outside of their social strata. No longer is the traditional core audience being targeted by the major marketing developers: Therefore affecting the sensibilities of hardcore enthusiasts who have been playing video games for their immersive plots, creative gameplay, artistic visuals and moving soundtracks or just for the thrill of competition, stress relief and escapism, or to vent frustration and anger playing GTA5 rather than recreating the missions on the streets, pacified by the warm glow of their LCD screens.  This was the inevitable repercussion of gaming going main-stream and appealing to a far wider audience which was once largely the realm of young male teens, and 20 something’s.  And yet, there persists a relevant analogy that can be applied to any other form of entertainment media: The more widespread it becomes, the more it becomes oversaturated with content that the initial audience cannot relate to as it garners a fan-base that is just as estranged.

Attack of the 50 foot SJW

Now, along comes a small but growing group of very vocal fringe feminists that seek attention, publicity, and most importantly of all, money, by lambasting the gaming community and exposing what they perceive as misogyny in gaming by putting it on par with its history of violence and sexist portrayal of women. In opposition to this, actor Adam Baldwin coined #Gamergate to rally gamers against this onslaught, witnessing that their inclusive hobby (and some may say life-style) is under attack by outsiders. For anyone already familiar with the debacle, Gamergaters have long touted that the integrity of gaming journalism is the core issue and the legitimate talking point, not misogyny in gaming; further confusing matters since both issues overlap. But this has been overshadowed by the accusations of misogyny, in particular, those made by Anita Sarkeesian, an active critic and blogger. These involve harassment and trolling of female game developers and game ‘journalists’ in the workplace, objectification of women in games, and general violence toward women, claiming that the gaming industry is inherently sexist against them. A small part of the self-professed ‘Gamergaters’, who, in actuality, represent a pretty insignificant portion of ‘Gamers’ as it stands, have responded in kind by posting death/rape threats to Anita and other ‘feminists’ involved in the over-arching scandal including Zoe Quinn and Brenna Wu, giving them exactly what they wanted: The fuel for the media outrage they needed to acquire talk-show appearances on TV, dialogues with radio hosts, and publications with magazine editorials giving them the money they wanted. The seedier underbelly of the internet has spawned endless flame-wars on chan-boards, twitter feeds, and tumblr forums in response. This form of online harassment has been ongoing since the internet itself went mainstream, and has been directed at every single race, ethnicity, gender, orientation and subculture that has ever existed. It is nothing new, it is not excusable to those making the threats, but it is not exclusive to women. These threads are highly effective at attracting the lowest common denominator of both Gamer and SJW (Social Justice warrior) alike who thrive off conflict and drama, festering like flies on a shit-pile.  

Gamers have awakened to the fact that they do not have traditional news media outlets to represent themselves; only a handful of crackpot websites, blogs with PC police pushing personal agendas, youtube video commentaries, and a smattering of community forums which provide the only real platform for them to voice their concerns. There is no legitimate foundation for gaming journalism or reputable news sites to cover what is now a multi-billion dollar a year industry. I personally feel the ‘core’ gaming community provides an easy target for radical left wing social extremists that harbor a quasi-political feminist agenda to spew their vitriol without much backlash, mainly because the traditional ‘Gamer’ stereotype is quite negative, and that young, ‘privileged’ white males represent the core audience of that stereotype are at a disadvantage when addressing these issues because their inherent attributes are used against them by these fanatics much like a race-card is used when hot-button issues about race are discussed. Conversely, some of the ‘Gamergaters’ are to be just as reviled since they have brought out the worst aspects of the gaming community.  Many of the harassing tweets made by some Gamergaters have proven counter-effective and have played right into the hands of these radical feminists who have used this broad-stroke victimization as a PR example to justify their accusations and vilify Gamers as a whole.

All in all, this is further marginalizing the adherents of a hobby that has been under siege for decades now. The result is typical of human behavior, as we are using overgeneralizing labels to describe sweeping social ideologues that pander to the simplistic human dichotomy of an ‘Us-Vs-them’ mentality. The fact is, some ‘social justice warriors’ as well as some ‘Gamergaters’ are equally repugnant, and are to be held just as responsible for souring the well.   For the details of the scandal, I refer to the following youtube videos for those interested.

The gaming industry is being hijacked by con-artists and feminist radicals, and this is bad.

Once predominately male, the title of ‘Gamer’ is far more encompassing now than it was in past, and now many Gamers are women. This is a great thing, all told. I feel that female gamers and developers have every right to voice their input and participate in the industry, putting their unique talents and perspectives into the fold. Many women in this field have sided with Gamergate, realizing that the radicalized absurdities vomited by Sarkeesian and her ilk are generally reviled by sane individuals. 
Sure, straight men tend to enact a ‘power fantasy’ of white-knighting for a damsel in distress. It’s an inherent, embedded genetic trait for masculine archetypes to protect women, and appeals to the tribal, hunter-gatherer male psyche when we apply this to entertainment. There is nothing wrong with this. Sex sells, and women have been catering to this since the dawn of time. Straight men view women as sexual beings, and radical feminists believe this somehow enforces objectification, in the same way that cheerleaders on the sidelines of the football field are ornamentation to the male libido. This drive is expressed in typical heteronormative dominance over women, viewing them as something to be seduced and conquered: This is what radical feminists hate. They can’t stand healthy, straight, male energies projected toward females in any form, seeing what they view as enforcing a patriarchal hegemony.  This is the heart of the issue.  Ethics in Gaming journalism, while just as valid in hindsight, ties into the issue because Zoe Quinn used her gender to have affairs with numerous men in gaming journalism. A writer for Kotaku is the notable example and she allegedly did this in exchange for positive reviews of her game ‘Depression quest’, and was exposed by her Ex boyfriend for her wrongdoing. Gamers have seen the ongoing corruption taking place in gaming journalism and realize that it should be exposed for what it is. The SJW’s want the public to believe this has provided a false flag to cover for their supposed misogyny toward women, but the fact remains that bribery for biased gaming reviews, while little more than a sideshow for an already overinflated issue, is a serious problem that is undermining the industry. This has been widely arraigned by the entirety of Gamergaters , touting “Ethics in gaming journalism!” as their battle cry.  

 Am I a Gamer? Absolutely. I love games, and always have. The Metroid series, featuring female protagonist Samus Aran, is one of my favorite franchises of all time. It is refreshing to see plot directions take a different twist from the ‘save the princess’ re-hash not for its own sake, but because it is crucial for character development and unique storytelling and that is what should be explored in this day and age. Games like Bayonetta, Remember me, No one lives forever, Tomb Raider, Beyond good and Evil, and Portal all possess female protagonists, and can appeal to male and female Gamers alike.

I grew up playing video games; it was a joyful part of my childhood as much as it was a part of those awkward, angst filled adolescent years where retreating into a virtual world was the most appealing option when faced with dealing with the life of a high school student and the social hardships that come with it. Being a teen outcast is something many past generations can identify with, and although I used gaming as form of self-imposed virtual isolation and escapist therapy, it had its merits in helping me cope and eventually become more social and branch out. Only those who have experienced this form of alienation will find sympathy in the plight of young gamers today, where others will merely scoff, abject to their own ignorance and lack of empathy for the issues that teenagers must struggle with.

We must collectively realize what is at risk; the backlash from the current Gamergate controversy has the potential to alter future game content through political lobbying and enact content laws that would put more pressure on the gaming industry should this SJW movement gain any more momentum, destroying mainstream gaming as a realm of virtual experimentation and fantasy. This would inhibit artistic creativity in gaming by forcing more concessions by game developers to appease fundamentalist social extremists, as well as further stigmatizing gamers.

Rather, I’d advocate on behalf of gamers of all stripes to be able to enjoy a socially acceptable hobby without the unwarranted ridicule or hostile preconceived notions projected at them by contemporary society and feminist fanatics, partaking in a past-time that is generally shared in the collective social unconscious typical to their peers.  Interpreted in the context of communication and media theory, video gaming would have been termed a ‘Hot’ medium by Mr Marshall McLuhan, a renowned philosopher of the digital age. Objectively, video games are immersive, interactive entertainment that engages all the human senses at once save for smell, and this mode of interaction externalizes the psyche into a transmigrated state while reducing awareness of surroundings to varying degrees. Gaming can tie people together, expand their imagination and horizons, and provide rejuvenating escapism and avenues to vent negative feelings, sharpen deductive powers and problem solving skills while honing situational awareness, hand eye coordination, timing, and mental reflexes outside of the game.

While I strongly advocate artistic freedom, I validate the safeguards keeping violent and sexual themes from being viewed by underage players are quite necessary as well.  In the kangaroo court of public opinion, fact checking and credibility are thrown out the window and decisions are based on emotionally charged, knee-jerk reactions. This is a dangerous prospect to those who push the boundaries of artistic creativity for shock-value and for adults who can appreciate adult themes. This only helps to levy strength in the hands of powerhouse publishers such as EA, which exploits these issues to their benefit by launching ad campaigns that will play both sides of the field for profit, since their bottom line is to outperform the competition through any means necessary. This is also highly polarizing in an industry where Indie developers simply do not have the funds and backing necessary to compete with the big house publishers, and while they may not possess crack-dev teams and the massive licensing agreements and capital investment that the major houses get, indie developers are crucial to keeping the industry fresh, and producing truly unique content for the modern gamer to enjoy. Some of the best games in recent memory are indie titles, and this is a breath of fresh air in a industry bogged down by innumerable 'variations on a theme'.

State of the Industry

It is small wonder that today’s youth are more familiar with the mythology of the Kingdom of Hyrule rather than that of Troy and Athens.  Video games spin intricate lore that speak to the modern psyche in a way that the old tales cannot, and yet these interactive stories often possess powerful symbolism that used to be expressed in these old stories that still taps into that subconscious mind, continuing the proliferation of modern myth in different form. 

Gaming has changed drastically over the years. It has become ‘piecemeal’ since the advent of DLC  (downloadable content) for profit that has been milking as many intangible virtual commodities from a game as possible. This tactic has been successful in maximizing revenue for the gaming houses even on titles that may be incomplete, only to be patched at a later date. This is very much a double edged sword with positive and negative consequences. DLC (and expansion packs) are often met with mixed reactions by gamers, but can also be used as an excuse for developers to cheapen the initial release of their game with sparse content and hook the core audience of a popular game while dishing out an endless stream of virtual trinkets, maps and updates.

There is also no question the US military has embraced video games and see’s their value as a propaganda tool, loosely using the ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Battlefield’ series to glorify warfare and help boost their ROTC enlistment numbers in high schools around the country, preparing the American youth for combat scenarios. How hyper-realistic will first person shooters get until they stop being a game and start becoming a gore simulation that would make even the most hardened players flinch as they pump virtual bullets into a virtual hooker? Where do we draw the line?

If there is one major shift that underscores the ‘au courant’ of modern gaming, it is the fact that it has become predominately mobile to the ever growing mainstream audience: The vast majority of mobile, java and flash based games on smartphones are more popular than ever, providing highly accessible, cheap, and, most of all, extremely addictive distractions: little more than a delivery platform of a Pavlovian reward mechanism flooding the primitive ape-brain with bright colors and gratifying sounds and jingles for advancing game progress, thereby hooking the deductive centers of the mind and providing only the illusion of input, ala ‘Candy Crush’, or ‘Tetris’. Many of the gameplay factors in these types of games are completely left up to pure chance in the same way gambling does in making addicts out of players.

Perhaps this could also be said of the early titles like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, which are just as stimulating and repetitive, yet we hold these titles in high esteem as the cornerstones of classic gaming. Granted, this was mostly due to the novelty of gaming during the early 80’s and the fact that there were many technical and graphical limitations at the time. Doubtless to the sensibilities of your seasoned gamer, that it would seem though desecrating a masterpiece to compare them to something as pedestrian as Candy Crush, yet they all essentially fuel the same reward centers of the brain while triggering the same addiction pathways, and influx the conscious mind with a façade of immersive escapism.

I would venture that video games can be as moving and emotionally charged as a feature length film or a book of prose; and yes, some works in particular I would strongly consider have so elevated their craft and inspired us that they invoke the senses as a work of Art. This may be contrary to what some feel is accurate to their worldview, but I digress. This, however, can be exemplary of any consumption media which requires active participation, (Film, books, music, graphic novels) and it is noteworthy that Gaming in particular has one Achilles heel that robs the end-user of a certain virtue: Video Games have the peculiar quality of forming chronic addiction, and a very wide range of personality types are susceptible to it. Procrastination and eventual stagnation is the inevitable product of this type of addiction, and those who have succumbed have found themselves squandering away their lives away playing video games in a sordid cycle that they might not even consciously realize they are trapped in: Perpetually consuming media rather than creating it.

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