Happy Sunday, dear readers. Welcome to another edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging. This week brings us new insight into the ever-permuting face of a certain ongoing campaign which invites us to ask whether we are “winning” a cultural war, what that might mean, and where we can go from here.
General content warning: many of the pieces in this week’s post contain explicit discussion of misogyny and violence against women.
Wars and Battles, Inches and Miles
Laurie Penny perceives the ongoing kerfuffle, and by extension all the vitriol directed to women online, as signs of an ongoing process of positive change. Trolls harass because the views they represent, Penny writes, are losing in the long run (additional content warning: misogynist slurs):
They can’t understand why their arguments aren’t working. They can’t understand why game designers, industry leaders, writers, public figures are lining up to disown their ideas and pledge to do better by women and girls in the future. They can’t understand why, just for example, when my friend, the games critic and consultant Leigh Alexander, was abused and ‘called out’ as an unprofessional slut, a lying cunt, morally and personally corrupt, just for speaking truthfully and beautifully about all of this, it was Alexander who was invited to write her first piece for Time magazine, Alexander who got to define the agenda for the mainstream, who received praise and recognition, whilst her abusers’ words will be lost in a howling vortex of comment threads and subreddits and, eventually, forgotten.
Their rage is the rage of bewilderment.
They can’t understand why the new reaction to nude selfie leaks isn’t ‘you asked for it, you whore’, but ‘everyone does it, stop slut shaming.’ They can’t understand the logic of a world where ‘Social Justice Warrior’ just doesn’t work as an insult, because a great many people care quite a lot about social justice and are proud to fight for it.
They can’t understand why they look ridiculous.
Certainly, a thin silver lining in all of this is that mainstream press outlets, not confined by the pressures as gaming websites, have largely been more able to name this situation for what it is. At The New Yorker, Simon Parkin profiles Zoe Quinn in the wake of the harassment campaign against her, as does Alex Hern at the Guardian. Both pieces frame #GamerGate well within the context of this ongoing abuse, speaking on both the nature of harassment and on Quinn’s life as a professional female artist while under this sort of duress. Both also, in profiling Quinn at precisely this time, inadvertently reveal an uncomfortable truth that we tend to only pay significant attention to women when they become the subjects of hate campaigns like this.
Putting Things in Perspective
But before I speak too soon, the Rock, Paper, Shotgun staff has soberly but boldly provided a line-by-line response to #GamerGate allegations, simultaneously debunking the misinformation spread about the site, condemning the harassment it has been used to justify and clarifying their own collective position on the issues raised:
We’re against sexism, we support feminist arguments of various kinds. We encourage you to disagree with these arguments, but we are not obliged to disagree with them ourselves, or to publish arguments attacking them at any level of vehemence. We do not have to present anyone else’s argument. RPS is a curated space, privately owned by individuals. It is our own website, which we use to say the things we want to say. That is bias, and we are completely happy to accept that. We are not objective robots, or a corporation trying to be “neutral”, and wouldn’t want to be. Yes, we invite some discussion, but we also get to police that, and decide when enough is enough. We have a huge platform with millions of people reading it. There are many things we just don’t want posted on our site, because this site is not for them to promote themselves. In 2014 people of all kinds have all manner of platforms to work from, they don’t need this one, and we’re certainly not obliged to allow free reign in using it.
Kelli Nelson has posted a succinct comic at Cheap Paper Art that nicely breaks down the way payola schemes and conflicts-of-interest actually work in entertainment businesses. As Nelson reminds us, it’s wiser to follow the money if you want to know where and how money is flowing.
Game design legend Greg Costikyan’s strongly-worded denunciation of #GamerGate is being archived for posterity at Stochasticity. (Additional content warning: the post definitely contains some problematic language, particularly with regard to trans women, which is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise powerful essay.)
Alex Layne at Not Your Mama’s Gamer reminds us that feminist activism and criticism is not a political or methodological monolith, describing how her focus differs from that of many other women in her field.
In last Monday’s Jimquisition, Jim Sterling makes the persuasive case that a genuine argument about standards, ethics and transparency is impossible to have as long as harassment remains an omnipresent factor in online communication.
At Zen of Design, Damon Schubert refuses to allow the identity label of “gamer”, and the gaming community, to be co-opted by a small and reactionary contingent of bullies. In his piece, he echoes Laurie Penny:
I am a gamer, and this is my Tribe. It’s experienced remarkable social progress in recent years. And what’s fantastic about the games industry is that different artisans continue to create new, novel and interesting games that stretch my brain and make me think in ways that I didn’t before. I love games for this, and I love my tribe, because the REAL gaming scene gets that. It’s all about the games. It’s all about the community that loves games. It’s a community that is coming to the (sometimes painfully) slow realization that anyone, no matter their gender, race, sexual predilections and political leanings, are welcome in the tribe so long as they love games and respect those that do.
Believe it or not, we’re winning the culture war.
Some are apparently threatened by this – by the idea that some people (mostly, those who simultaneously have vaginas and opinions) may come into their club and RUIN EVERYTHING with the worldrending message that maybe, just maybe, people should be able to play games, sometimes old games and sometimes new and wondrous games, with a modicum of civility. They are throwing a tantrum rather than have to share their toys.
The Work Women Do
At Pixels or Death, Joshua Dennison interviews satellite software engineer-turned-game-designer Adriel Wallick. Wallick talks about her life prior to choosing game design as a path and speaks warmly of her professional community as a whole:
This wasn’t a driving factor in my career change, but I love how supportive the game developer community is. We all seem to come together very well to help build each one another up, which I think is amazing. Because this is such a creative industry, we tend to put a lot of personal feelings into our work. It can be hard to deal with that without a support structure, and the fact that there are other developers out there who can talk about struggling with the same things makes me feel not so alone when I am struggling. Especially in the indie side of things, none of us are competing with one another, so we all just work together to feel wonderful.
At Polygon, Danielle Riendeau talks to game designer llaura dreamfeel about her new game Curtain, a meditation on an issue that receives little mainstream attention: domestic abuse in LGBT relationships.
Our own Mattie Brice discusses the unfair pressure of being foisted into activism, clarifying her position to quit games writing without abandoning her interest in play:
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s obvious the games industry isn’t the place for me. It is too narrow and slow moving for the ideas and needs I have. There’s a reason why my only income is coming from readers, not corporations or customers. A place that has such a rigid view on how to be successful is going to exclude a lot of people, and I’m one of those. There are many other people who might fit into this, though, that can be loud voices while they game the system. I think of Leigh, Zoe, or Anita, or many of the newer voices that will crop up now that larger ones are moving out of the way. They really care about video games as a medium and industry, and want to make it a better place. I’ve found out that I really care about the expansion and reclaiming of play as a medium, bringing new forms of expression to people who didn’t know they had it. To be honest, talking about the video games industry is boring for me now; we’ve had the same problems, just with varying scales of drama and mainstream attention. I don’t want to be treated like a victim, and it’s only when I’m abused that people will listen. I’m more proactive, generative, and loving; this just isn’t the place for me.
Jenn Frank goes into detail on her decision to quit games writing as well. It’s a decision that, while it’s a huge blow to games writing, means something more liberating to Frank than initially thought:
It’s almost ugly to say, but I’m actually grateful to GamerGate. All this time, I’ve felt beholden to video games, and to the people who make them or play them or read and write about them. Maybe it really is a conflict of interests: my own. It’s conflicts all the way down.
And really, my God, I don’t have to do this. I’ve been given permission to move on to another audience. I have faith in my abilities to do something, anything else, without feeling inhibited or limited by my hobby.
We Critique Because We Love
At Pop Matters, Jorge Albor writes about living, embodied folklore in Year Walk.
Robert Rath takes to The Escapist to explain what Destiny can teach us about terraforming a planet like, say, Mars.
Shira Chess writes about moral panics, Slender Man and the “Tulpa Effect” at Culture Digitally.
And Now, Foreign Correspondent Joe Köller Has The Floor
Forgive my long absence friends, but I made the grievous mistake of sorting my schedule alphabetically, so I had to address academia and beach reading before being able to return to correspondence. Fortunately I’ll now be able to continue the streak with dispatches, emails and findings.
In the pre-postapocalyptic times of last month, before ethical concerns in games writing were about who did what with their genitals, an anonymous source took to Video Game Tourism to discuss the all-too-cozy relationship between games PR and bloggers and Youtubers. You know, real ethical concerns.
On the subject of internet outrage mired in misogynistic shit, Lucie Höhler wrote a nice summary of events and the changing currents of games culture that inspired them. Katrin Gottschalk also talked about the reception of Anita Sarkeesian’s latest for Spiegel Online.
In happier news, here’s Rudolf Inderst applying strollology, the science of talking walks, to video games. Meanwhile, Christof Zurschmitten talks about the short film/short game project Short Peace.
Gamopolis is the name of a new podcast about games and politics by Daniel Ziegener and Yasmina Banaszczuk, who also wrote this lovely piece about kids growing up in post-apocalyptic worlds.
And lastly, while he has yet to complete one of his famous supercuts, Sebastian Standke has already shared bite-sized vignettes on over 230 Ludum Dare games, now collected in this two-parter.
Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye!
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One last link for the road? Kate Reynolds at Storycade offers a brief review of Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai’s Quing’s Quest made for #ruinjam, and which you should definitely play right now.