Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Two Three: Basements

There's some sort of war going on inside the gaming community. I've glanced at a couple of the articles about it, but it's all very much like reading about a civil war in some country I've barely heard of and might not be able to find on a globe. I know that it's ugly and complicated--- as nasty and internecine as the Syrian civil war, anyway. But reading about it is like reading about something distant and vaguely exotic--- unknown names, pointless-yet-savage battles, unclear aims, and causes that mean almost nothing to outsiders.

I'll be clear. I've never bought a video game. I've never played a video game. I've never owned a gaming system or console. I suppose I must've played an arcade game or two back in the day, but I can't recall any particular games. I remember playing pinball at bars when I was an undergraduate, but I've never played anything that's played on a computer monitor or a television.  I probably have a fair amount of liberal arts-graduate snobbery about gaming. So this really is all alien to me, all about reading stories of wars and politics in some country I've never seen and have no interest in visiting.

Now--- just to be on record here, my understanding is that there are vile and unacceptable things happening. People have received death threats, people have been driven from speaking engagements, people's identities and addresses have been posted on the web, efforts have been made to get people fired. Vile and unacceptable. (And, yes, the worst of it does seem to be coming from one particular faction) It's all too easy to quote the old remark about academic in-fighting: the battles are so nasty because the stakes are so low and the wars so meaningless.

What does catch my eye is that the gaming wars are one more front in the gender wars. I don't have any sympathy for people who make death threats or doxx others. Let's be clear about that. I don't have any sympathy for gaming culture--- I'm not a part of it and don't want to be. My interest is strictly in the idea of seeing the gender wars spread to one more front. And it really all does remind me of someplace in WW-2 or the Cold War where local tribes or factions in some horrible, godforsaken part of the Heart of Darkness get co-opted into outside wars and causes.

The faction that seems to be doing the most vile things seems to be arguing that it's all about "ethics in gaming journalism".  That of course means nothing to me. I won't even make the obvious point that they seem to be using that slogan as a poor enough screen for real issues. I can't be worked up about gaming journalism, and I've always taken it for granted that the trade press in any field--- automobiles, electronics, gaming, sports ---has an incestuous and hand-in-pocket relationship with industry.  That's just a given. So what?

But there are gender wars issues here. Some of it is about jobs--- not enough female game developers hired, not enough female faces in boardrooms. Some of it, though, is about culture, about what kinds of games are being played and what kinds should be played or marketed.

If you look at the history of this particular front in the gender wars, the language becomes moralized early on. The debate gets framed in terms of moral corruption--- and I don't mean anything to do with bribery or favours in reviews.  There's the idea that games need to be purged of...well...male sexual desire, of imagery that might appeal to young straight males. And there's also the idea that the stereotypical gamer is both morally corrupt (straight, white, male) and physically corrupt as well (obese, neckbeard, basement-dwelling, fedora-wearing, yellowing underwear, covered in Dorito dust, sexually inept).

I'll admit that I probably see gamers as looking like that--- or looking like skater boys who play heavy metal, which may be worse. But it does strike me that what might've been an argument about developing new games and new marketing niches so very quickly became an argument about moral evil. The gender warriors seem inevitably to see anyone they define as an opponent as morally corrupt--- as vile people. And they seem to argue by berating their opponents as being exactly like the things they're most afraid of.  For gamers, that's the obese-virgin-neckbeard-in-the-basement thing.  Is it tactically wise to tell your opponents that they're exactly what they've always been accused of being, what they're afraid of being? Though...if you're looking at the world in terms of moral fault lines, do tactics matter? Isn't the point to simply purge the world of evil?

I'm always baffled by the gender warriors' insistence on trying to make the world less sexual (or "sexualised"). They want to drive sexual fantasy out of video games (or at least straight, male sexual fantasy) and out of...what else?  And replace it with...what? I don't care so much whether video game heroines or comic book superheroines wear costumes or armour that might've been designed at Frederick's or Victoria's Secret, but I am put on edge by the idea that players (or readers) shouldn't see characters as sexual and desirable. Or see the world we move through as being filled with possibilities and images.

Anyway--- I suppose if I'm going to read about civil wars, I'd rather read about wars in actual countries than wars on the web. I still won't play games myself, or hang out with gamers. But I suppose that even if I can't sympathize with them, I can understand why they're angry. They've been told that they're morally corrupt for being the dreaded straight-white-male thing and for liking scantily-clad shield-maidens in their games, and they've been told that all their fears of being personal and aesthetic and social failures are true--- and that they deserve their social exclusion. That doesn't excuse the death threats and doxxing (or the neckbeard look), and nothing does. But I can understand why they're angry. No one likes being told that they're morally corrupt, no one likes being told that the things they find important are politically unacceptable and should be replaced with something that would probably exclude them altogether.

As for me, I'll still read books and look at films that appeal to my own dreams and desires.  I'm sure the gender warriors will get around to attacking all those things soon enough.

No comments: