‘Mansplaining’, One Definition: a word often used by social activists and radical feminists to label someone’s opinions in such a way that they can be disregarded, based solely the gender of the holder.
Being neutral is about either not caring or it’s about asking questions. Why is there a fuss about a Storm Trooper’s colour? Why should Katniss Everdeen have been black? Why are the current sexualisation and depiction of women in games ‘bad’? And why are those who support gamergate feeling under attack from some radical feminists and social activists when it’s women who’ve been abused and threatened?
Gamergate was birthed as conjoined twins: the harassment of some women and the issues around game journalism ethics, or lack thereof. One side wants to say it’s all about the former, that the gamergate tag has no legitimacy except as another label for misogyny. The tag should be condemned and buried. The other side are crying out to be heard as they use the moniker ‘gamegate’ as a touchstone for the shared values of gaming culture, and even community. On both sides there are those who say their gamergate is the definitive one. I’m neutral and have to disagree. Gamergate is as messed up and mixed up as discussions about the value and nature of religion, and arguing exact definitions as pointless as debates over which gender is better.
And it isn’t even as simple as that. The abuse and harassment some feminists have received online and blame all of gamergate for is only one of the fuels for the fire; it’s the righteous indignation that illuminates the torches, but something else sharpens the pitchforks. A classic mantra of social justice activists (and the rad-fem movement) is ‘the personal is political’. It’s about the relationship between the lived personal experience of an individual and the social and political structures they are surrounded by, and hence that either empower or oppress them. One practical outcome is believed to be that culture influences people’s attitudes. Not unreasonable, but some state the belief as proven fact and that culture dictates attitudes, as if people who aren’t ‘clued up’ are mindless automatons.
Modern culture is expressed, often, through the group sharing of media, i.e. movies and television; online vlogs, blogs and audio; music, books, and games. The reasoning goes: change the content of the media, the ethnicity of actors in films, the lyrics of music, the plots and characterisations within books, and the representations of women in games, and you have the opportunity to change people’s attitudes and make the world a better place. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Activists advocating social change, or Social Justice Warriors (depending on which ‘side’ is doing the describing) having been campaigning for years: protests, petitions, and now blog posts and Youtube videos. The aim of activists is to reach as many people as possible with their message and, once accomplished, for that message to be effective, i.e. enact change in those who receive it. The activists’ problem has always been one of reach: those people who see a local peaceful protest might number in the tens, maybe a few hundred. Those in power who could be influenced by a petition are surrounded by layers of gatekeepers to prevent the decision makers from being overloaded. It’s questionable whether the message will even get through, let alone be given enough attention. Online, the problem is appeal: it’s so easy to access the content people want that the only ones that will receive the message are either a curious casual few or those already sympathetic to the cause.
The challenge, from an activist’s viewpoint, is to access and influence those in the mainstream. ‘Normal’ people, by and large, are interested in living a peaceful life, earning enough money to see themselves and any loved ones are comfortable, socialising with other likeminded people, and just getting on and living their lives. They may watch the news a couple of times a week, or skip between a few favourite websites and delving into their social media opiate of choice. To ensure their message intersects with the sphere of life surrounding your average ‘normal’, activists will sometimes go to extreme lengths. So we see radical feminists faking anal sex with crucifixes outside the Vatican. Why? Because it’s news-worthy. Stage one accomplished: you’ve just got yourself into someone’s front room via the TV or onto their mobile phone. Next comes the message. And now the activist hits a problem: mainstream media will show people hauled off by police with three or four word slogans plastered over placards, t-shirts, or chests. Occasionally the media will ask members what they were protesting about, but any quotes are often distilled into a two sentence summary:
‘And today police removed protestors from outside xxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Those interviewed stated they were making a stand against xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx.’
And that’s pretty much their lot. The response, generally, is apathy or, ‘Look at that crazy bunch of *insert derogatory term of choice*.’ A few might be moved by curiosity to research the cause, and maybe a proportion of those may become converts, but overall Jo/Jane Normal just want to carry on with their comfortable lives. (Unless the cause is a heart-string puller: animal abuse, starving children, mass rape in a certain country. But the media are savvy at knowing what Jo & Jane are interested in and emoti-news causes often get more airtime than an activist’s despite their intervention.) If your cause doesn’t intersect with the values of Jo, Jane and friends, you’re stuffed. In fact, extreme protest and activism can harden attitudes against the cause, something fundamentalists, evangelicals, radicals, and loonies often forget. For them, the message is so self-evident, so powerful, that mere exposure to it will convert the unbelievers. When the ‘normals’ reject the extreme presentation of the message, and so the message itself, they are vilified by activists as being part of the problem. So, protesting: notoriety gets you noticed but often negated. A recent Greenpeace stunt highlighting world climate change was timed to coincide with a summit already set to tackle the issue in Peru. In the process, the ideologically myopic dissidents damaged an ancient national monument—way to go.
With protesting’s reach curtailed by apathy and antipathy, politicians and power-brokers often unreachable, and online Jos and Janes only accessing the content that they’re already invested in and comfortable with, and little else, how do you bridge the mainstream culture gap if you have a cause that doesn’t immediately leave the publics’ whiskers twitching like the latest cute cat meme? To feminist and social activists, the key is media, and it’s being done one subculture at a time.
In most subcultures there are usually a few ‘targets’: whatever mainstream media interest can be gained; specialist news outlets, sites, wikis and blogs that have a large amount of exposure within the subculture; fringe websites and individual blogs, YouTube channels etc., and those who involve themselves in the subculture. (Within gaming, that’s the gamers and content producers: games publishers and developers.) If a subculture’s values are allied to the activist’s then ideas are easily transferred, but what if there are differences? From a ‘normal’ viewpoint, it makes little sense to try to communicate your message to those who don’t care or are overtly hostile. But activists are invested in their cause: emotionally, temporally, and even financially. More than that, they identify with their cause. To be apathetic to the cause is to ignore or disrespect them as individuals. To express a viewpoint different to the dogmas of the cause is to personally attack them. Moreover, they believe in the rightness of their cause and believe that when their values are those of mainstream culture the world will be a better place. If the activists’ value system becomes normalised in the subculture, then another chunk of mainstream culture has been colonised.
Gaming is now one of the biggest subcultures there is, game sales outstripping music and movies combined. It’s also free, creative, chaotic, and often not politically correct. Looks like a prime target, even to a neutral.
But what do these social activists and rad-feminists stand for? There seem to be three primary fronts that they wish to move forward: representations of women and minorities in games, women gaining acceptance within the gaming culture itself, both personally and professionally, and ending all harassment and abuse directed against women. For most people, there’s nothing too shocking here. Who could reasonably object to an agenda like this? For the reasons why many gamers object, we have to come back to activists’ methods and medium.
When influencing gaming culture, an obvious place to start is with the specialised gaming press. They already have a huge reach into the gaming culture. The audience activists are trying to reach is already listening to what the press have to say. It started years ago, way back in the 90s. Gaming media editorials and game reviews became more politicised. Games were sometimes down-rated because they didn’t incorporate social justice values. Fighting games were criticised for being violent. First person shooters were derided for not having enough backstory to rationalise the death and gunfire or for not offering any social critique on the cost of war. Theatres of war had to be politically correct—games should not be set in conflict zones where it set a white ‘hero’ against an array of any ethnic group. The objections to many of gaming culture’s norms and staples were piled up. If a few games journalists and their outlets openly championed this viewpoint then there would have been no problem. But most of the games press seemed to extoll the same values, and it wasn’t just praising different perspectives but a steady push of ideals. The implementation was also somewhat covert, as if social activism reflected what the gaming culture at large was already interested in and talking about—sort of like slipping a reference repeatedly into a conversation, hoping the participants won’t notice but begin to pick up the refrain. This is where the activists went wrong. As a group, humans are often predictable; scientists studying this call it sociology:
- Push and you get pushed back.
- Attack and it will be countered with retaliation
- Analyse and criticise and you’ll face the same.
- Attack another’s values: blame, shame, and label from a self-defined moral high ground and you’ll encounter defensiveness and your own values and character will be questioned.
- Redefine or attach external/‘alien’ terminology to mainstream words and subculture-specific language and you’ll be seen as subversive, divisive, critical, sneaky and be walled out. Now a pariah, distrust will prevent further dialogue.
- Attempt the destruction of any culture disputing your values, demonise and misrepresent your opposition, and they’ll rally against you. You’ve just lost your opportunity to win them over and picked up an enemy that will do their very best to return every disservice you do them, with interest.
Welcome to gamergate. Gamers felt they were being preached and lectured to. They complained. They wanted reviews about gameplay, levels of engagement, plot, characters, and machine specifications. They wanted to know what games would be fun. Broadly, there was rejection of the political message. Why? Because most gamers aren’t interested in someone’s gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality—people are people, and they just wanted to play games. They already saw themselves as inclusive, accommodating, and accepting. They wanted games journalists to… erm… maybe write about games? Gamers wanted their media to represent their interests. Over years, the tension between the journalists and the gaming community grew until the journalists were almost their own subgroup within gaming. At best, there was a reluctant accommodation on both sides. Gamers put up with their press because it was the only one they had and journalists, grudgingly it often seemed, continued to pander to a customer base for which they’d lost respect. The journalists were moving gaming forward on to brave new frontiers but the people weren’t following. The advance of social justice into gaming stalled.
Another attempt to enact change came via feminist/activist critique of the games themselves. The most widely known, both in and outside the gaming community, is Anita Sarkeesian’s video series. The underlying messages are simple: women (and as an aside, ethnic groups) are under-represented as lead characters. Women are characterised as victims: of male violence, objectification, of oppression, and sexism. Women characters are represented as overly sexualised. Women gamers are subjected to abuse by the male, patriarchal gaming culture.
There are issues here worth discussing, but the videos are poorly executed. Games are misrepresented by cherry-picking gameplay scenes, often out of context or with the context twisted. They are held out as academic research, but references aren’t given and opinions are stated as if they are accepted scientific fact. The same points are illustrated repeatedly without the discussion moving forward. And almost everything is negative. The games made over the years that are positive examples according to the critique are often overlooked or de-emphasised, seemingly to highlight the depravity of the current status quo and underline the need for radical change. And discussion of the content is stonewalled. Blocking comments stops idiots posting abuse, but it also shuts down debate. To my knowledge, Sarkseesian has agreed to appear in interviews and at seminars, but never in a public debate. It’s as if the videos’ series target audience appears to be feminists, not gamers.
There is no effort to dialogue with gaming culture, only lecture to it that Sarkeesian’s particular brand of feminism is the way it should be. Again, this effort carries the same message as gaming media bias: we are right and you should listen. An earlier video even shows Sarkeesian stating she was not a games player and her dislike of games. Her message blatantly originates from outside gaming culture. Unsurprisingly, many gamers rejected it, and not just because of the high-handed way in which it was delivered:
The critiques by activist commentators and journalists extended from games to the developers who made them and the publishers who distributed them. Any violence or depictions of women that activists deemed unacceptable were labelled with the relevant ‘ism’. By extension, the developers of the game were labelled as the relevant ‘ist’. Pushes were made for a change of content. Some contacted devs and publishers with reasoned arguments and requests for change. But many used the crowbar of naming and shaming: because of GTA V, Rockstar is a sexist organisation as they permitted violence against women as a possibility in the game—a game that recreates the rough, dark life of gangster culture in city backstreets. There’s nothing in the game that can’t be seen on the news. The violence isn’t directed specifically at any one group, gender, or demographic. Anyone, regardless of age, sex, sexuality, or ethnic group is a potential target. Labelling the developers of a game with mature-rated content as sexist or racist is the same logic that sees actors getting abuse shouted at them on the street for the actions of characters they play on screen.
Issues like this are raised by all creative media. Whatever you think of his films, Quentin Tarantino defends the use of insulting racial terms on screen by citing their everyday use in historical or contemporary contexts. One question his movies pose is: should society choose a ‘sensitive’ revisionist approach to avoid offence, or do you shine a light on the issue and display events clearly, allowing people to see how and why they affected those caught up in them? By framing events in their setting as ‘entertainment’, are you glorifying violence, or sowing some seeds of truth and promoting discussion amongst those who would not otherwise be interested? How you respond is probably indicative of whether you support gaming culture as it now stands or the way social activism is pushing for change. Do you let created media speak for itself, or do you approach everything with a predefined set of values, a nice safe filing system to box every new idea, conversation, or experience into? If it’s ‘harmful’ or ‘toxic’ then it should be banned.
Activists argue that exposure to media and acting out things in the fiction setting of a video game leads to acting out for real, in the real world. That it’s somehow dangerous. I’ll leave it to you to search out Jack Thompson and his attempts to legislate against violent games in the 80s. More recently, the US Supreme Court found there was no convincing evidence fictional violence in games translates into the real world and awarded game content protection under the First Amendment. There has been no definitive proof since, even as graphical fidelity has increased. Activists have decided it’s dangerous—as a belief not a fact—and have decided that other adults are incapable of distinguishing reality from make-believe. The same argument is used for dictating what are ‘acceptable’ depictions of women in games—that what players experience on-screen affects how they behave towards, and view, real women. Again, we see social activists’ belief that people are passive and unable to filter and process things they encounter, in this case game content. But psychology studies stand against this. Even adolescents vary their communication styles depending on who they talk to, i.e. most people, as social animals, show different sides of their personalities to different people. This is common sense, something we see everyday and do ourselves. The relevance to gaming? If people unconsciously regulate their communication styles, they are doing so in response to the people present and not in response to some game content they encountered ten minutes ago. Evidence that games dictate behaviour? Zero. Evidence people moderate their own behaviours depending on those they’re with? Check.
The burden of proof that depicting sexualised women in games has real-life consequences still lies with social activists, but let’s assume there were some new, verifiable and thorough studies released that proved they were right all the time. Then we encounter the classic censorship issue, where to draw the lines. Even with feminism, there is little agreement on what constitutes sexism or what is ‘sexy’. Some sex-positive feminists assert sexualised women, when not depicted as acting subserviently, are icons of empowered feminine strength and free self-expression. Many women dress as these characters, cos-playing at conventions. Why? Because they identify with the characters and find the act of becoming them for a day or two is liberating and affirming. Other women acknowledge looking at curves is a guy thing and shrug. Others opine that it’s simply a reflection of attitudes in society in general, but no one seems to absolutely state what those attitudes are for everyone, with the exception of some social and feminist activists. So, as a neutral, I have to ask, which group of women gets to speak for all women gamers and women in general? I know many activists want the job. Which one, or which group, should everyone listen to?
Activists are firm in their belief everyone has to be protected, and they get to decide the content that is censored and what is allowed. Except they can’t even agree about what is ‘correct’ and allowable between themselves. Online blaming and shaming, labelling and vilifying for not living up to the current, ever-changing politically correct standards go on between differing factions of the rad-feminist movement, even when every human effort is made to be ‘correct’, ‘sensitive’ and ‘aware’. The game of political correctness can never be won, the issues it creates never resolved, the questions it raises never answered because radical feminists and social activists are human beings, too. That means they are fallible, variable, often divided and dissenting . What is ‘correct’ depends on who you ask and when you ask them. It’s subjective and arbitrary and many gamers don’t trust activists or feminists to be the gatekeepers of creativity and the games they enjoy. Creative freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom to follow your own moral guidelines are long and dear-held values of gaming culture—and not for one group but for anyone who plays games. Gamers, largely, already saw themselves as an inclusive before social activists came along to tell them they weren’t.
The sides dug in and now activists try to get games banned and gamers fight for them to remain uncensored and available for adult players. No one is talking about ‘what can we do so save the children?!’ except some activists (and some gamers). But age ratings have been mandatory for games in most western countries for years. Content controversies could be discussed, but again dialogue has been locked down by labelling, blaming and shaming. Whether talking could resolve these issues, however, seems doubtful when open-mindedness is viewed as opposition. In the current conflict climat we’re left with no middle ground, only rigid authoritarianism and chaotic liberalism that seem mutually exclusive.
Stalling on yet another front, social justice activists seem to have become frustrated. Gamers weren’t swallowing the pill they were being force-fed. Did circumstances present activists with an opportunity for an all-out attack? Yes and no. Gamergate started because of a nasty blog post airing a female developer’s dirty laundry (alleged or real, who knows?) in public. Collusion with the gaming press was easily believed when gamers had been witnessing ideological bias there for years. Zoe Quinn became a lightning rod for all the pent up tension between gamers and the press. A-holes and trolls waded in, attacking Quinn. Some of it was vicious. Death threats and harassment followed. Realistically, it seems most likely the trolls are gamers. Otherwise, how did they find out about Quinn?The internet is a big place, after all. That these were the actions of a minority doesn’t matter to Quinn. From her perspective, she was a member of the gaming community. Gamers attacked her personally, and I gather there was little to no defence from the broader community (not of her character, but simply to denounce the abuse and harassment), except from those within her circle. Gamers number in the millions, and a fraction of one percent targeting you will feel like the world is against you. With little sympathy from those outside, journalist friends rallied to defend Quinn. I don’t doubt they saw it as standing up for a beleaguered friend .Gamers interpreted this as proof of their bias and lack of ethics and any common ground between the sides was ruptured at this point. From the gamer side, you have a clique perceived to be in league with each other. The extent to which this was true, or not, prior to gamergate will always be debated. What’s not beyond doubt was gamers, as a group, didn’t find it within themselves to defend Quinn from the harassment even while they questioned her ethics. It’s a difficult thing to do when groups split acrimoniously there’s a huge pull to choose a side. The pull was to accuse Quinn (if you were a reasonable human being) but not side with her by decrying the abuse she was under. I don’t know Quinn, she could be quite a scuzzy individual or really misunderstood. But either way, the abuse and harassment outweighed any wrong doing on her part. On Quinn’s and the journalists’ side, they must have felt like a small wagon train surround by the entire Native American Nation (if the term offends, it’s because social activists keep changing them so fast I can’t keep up). They pulled into a circle and fired out at the orbiting horde outside. Gamers saw the shooting and took it as a defence of the journos vested interests. That was probably part of it, but people are rarely utterly evil, except in games. From their perspective, the journos were ring-fencing Quinn to show her not every human, and especially every male, on the planet hated her. From their perspective, gamers were an uncontrolled, vicious mob. The minimum they were throwing were accusations and uncomfortable questions, but these got lost in the abuse barrage. What Quinn and the journos perceived was an all out, no holds barred, vicious assault. How could they not? If someone attacks a friend in your group, even justly, if they’re rabid about it, most people will defend their friend. The onslaught was too much for any journalist to put down their weapons and come out waving a white flag to negotiate. If one had tried, would gamers at the time have stopped the attack long enough to listen? I doubt it. And if some of the journos weren’t sure where they stood ethically, it would take more courage to come clean to a hate-mob (Don’t get angry, GG, that’s how it would have appeared to Quinn’s camp at the time.) than they could find within themselves at that moment. With no-to-little compassion from outside, not enough courage from inside the encampment, we ended with group-think and tribalism. Being under fire promotes simplistic views of the situation, humans tend to think in black and white under stress or attack and groups are even more prone to doing this. Both sides locked down, until the next escalation.
What the journos did next was influenced by their values and belief system; social activism upped the ante. On 28th August, 2014, around ten popular gaming websites published articles declaring ‘gamers are dead’, or variations on that theme. The gamer identity was declared sexist, misogynist, and toxic. (An understandable conclusion, when you put yourself in the journos/Quinn’s shoes and all you can see are angry gamers.) But as an added little ideological insertion, the 1980s stereotype of all gamers being white, heterosexual, immature and emotionally stunted ‘neckbeards’ who lived, unwashed, in the parents’ basement, was revived. The journos were beleagured, yes, but this was a cheap shot. What they thought they would accomplish with this counter-attack, I’ve no idea. All I know is, it was a really stupid idea. Those gamers who did not shrug it off went ballistic. For me, this was the real beginning of gamergate as a large-scale phenomenon. Gamers not interested in Quinn and many who sympathised with her were galvanised. In some quarters, any good will for the three feminists evaporated (UPDATED: 01:23, 28/12/14: Brianna Wu having been dragged into the fray after she had previously retweeted a fan’s meme image that criticised gamergate.) Attacking gamers’ identity had alienated them. It’s kind of ironic, when these feminists and their supporters espouse identify affirming politics. Their first major salvo… attack the identity of another group, my group. And at that point, I wasn’t even involved. I think the military terms are ‘acceptable losses’ and ‘collateral damage’. I empathised still, but any respect I had for the feminists and co. pretty much disappeared at this point. The hypocrisy of social justice and the complete lack of, well, anything except blind ideology and bigotry was what made me sympathise with gamergate. Indiscriminate use of social justice rhetoric, and ideology more highly valued than individuality, was what push me, and many others, towards gg. Quinn, and Wu and Sarkeesian when they came onboard, were no longer victims—victimhood was a mask. It appeared they were out for self-righteous vengeance. Having been wronged, anything was now justified. I’m open to another interpretation, but I doubt one will be forthcoming.
Daily GG tweets rose from a few thousand to tens of thousands, and have remained at least around 20-30,000 every day until December, dipping around Christmas time. Male gamers were angered at being called proto-rapists because of their sex and judged by the actions of a few of the worst type of a-holes. Women and minority gamers resented being so misrepresented by the very people who purported to be protecting their interests from white, male oppressors and the gaming patriarchy. Appeals from gaming moderates to reason and not generalise were ignored and rebuffed by Quinn’s camp: everyone who identified as a gamer, and especially with GG, was evil and to be shot on sight. Women and minorities who sided with gamergate were accused of being traitors to their ethnic group, sex, or gender or to feminism. The rhetoric of blaming and shaming a whole group of gamers because of actions of a few, despite clear denunciations of harassment and abuse as awful was continued by journalists and sympathetic bloggers. The moderates and their denunciations of abuse, came too late. The journos and Quinn’s supporters weren’t convinced, or no longer cared. Any illusion that journalists and gamergate gamers were part of the same community was utterly broken. Some neutrals went on the defensive, trying to reason, some on the attack. Human nature means it’s hard to advocate for your enemy, to have sympathy for your accusers and abusers. This was amply demonstrated by both sides and most who were sucked in joined one side or the other. Like trench warfare, from this point on everything got muddy.
As tensions grew and the mainstream media became interested, feminist activists took their narrative to the newspapers, popular magazines and television: that all gamergate were to blame for the harassment, even the women and minorities. Even those who decried the harassment. The narrative was that gaming culture, gamers, games, and especially gamergate were all fundamentally sick. Yes, these women were victimised, which is terrible. But when the opportunity came they didn’t want only their harassers caught, they took every opportunity to demonise gamers and push the idea that the whole culture was about harassment, misogyny and sexism. There’s no denying these are present in the gaming community, but it’s arguable whether it’s more represented in gaming than in the mainstream or other subcultures. What the gaming journalists, mainstream presses, and these ideology champions achieved was to further push aside any chance of meaningful dialogue. The issue was politicised. Collectively gamers had been judged by the radical feminist values held by the beleaguered Quinn and her supporters. Radical feminism and social justice provided Quinn et. al. with a way to conceptualise their situation: they were right and any opposition could be justifiably dehumanised, because sexism=power + prejudice. To remain consistent, all three women had to adopt the role of victim. Their ideology demanded it. It also appeared to offer a solution. The activists wanted change; they wanted it now, and radical feminism offered it on their terms. From a neutral’s perspective, that’s what an ideology does. Encounter a novel or difficult situation and a strongly held ideology acts as a How-To Manual. Quinn and cohorts followed the manual because they thought it would help them ‘win’. Social activism and radical feminism had been successful at squashing opposition in other areas of culture, so why not in gaming, too? That attitude persists.
Against demonization, against vilification, against stupid generalisations, against political sound bites and rhetoric, gamergaters only had three stances possible: submission, disbanding, or opposition.
And so gamergate continues, professing its innocence as each new accusation is fired, as each offence committed by one of its members is taken to be representative of everyone as a whole. Everyone who does/says something stupid is automatically assumed to talk for the bulk of gamergate or be one of the leaders of a leaderless consumer revolt. The counter-attack from some gamergaters has been vicious, too, but most want to discuss ethics in games journalism. Many are open to discussing gender identity issues and representations of women, but things seem to have gone too far. It’s a simple tale of escalation. It’s sad for gamers as it split the community. It’s a failure for the social justice activists as they’ve hardened attitudes into a vocal and determined opposition by conflating issues of harassment and abuse of women in gaming with a radical ideological agenda. As a neutral, I deplore the former, but assert, strongly, that ideologies should never have been weaponised with victimhood. They are points for discussion, which cannot happen when meaningful exchange is torpedoed by conflating grey-shaded issues with absolutes.
The time when it was gamers versus Quinn and co. were long gone. Now it was gaming culture versus the values of social justice and radical feminism. A lot of what’s happening now is a war of morality, the goal: to gain and keep the high ground. The individual threads of the argument are too numerous and varied, so I’ll go with one contentious one to illustrate. (I’ve summarised, without references, so if I’ve misrepresented any- one/side please comment and I’ll make any necessary changes.)
Pro-Gamergate threads are cut from 4chan, a discussion hosting site. GG moves over to a new host, 8chan (set up, I believe, in late 2013, well before GG started).
Activists start looking into 8chan; suddenly there’s storm of protest that 8chan hosts some child pornography threads: sick comments written by (obviously) anonymous users. The pictures are also pretty sick, although stopping short of actual child nudity and being illegal. (The info and images were posted online and blurred by Dan Olsen—considered by GG as an SJW—and no, I’m NOT linking to it; it’s way too close to promotion for my liking.)
Activists contact Patreon and attempt to get funding for 8chan blocked.
Activists also link gamergate to the child porn on 8chan. Their logic: gamergate and the CP are hosted on the same site so GG must have something to do with it. If GG was against child porn they would act to get it banned, or GG should move to another website in protest, or GG should back activists’ attempts to cut 8chan’s funding and get the site shut down. Any member of GG commenting on the issue that did not follow this line was blamed and shamed for approving of CP.
Now, here’s my problem with this approach. (And for any morons, debating the issues DOES NOT CONSTITUTE APPROVAL OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY—LEGAL, OR NOT, I PERSONALLY FIND IT REPULSIVE.)
- The social activists concerned followed GG across from 4chan. They weren’t shouting about any CP content present on 8chan prior to GG, so they can’t have been aware of it. They were looking for something, anything, to link to GG. The phrase ‘witch hunt’ comes to mind.
- When they found the child pornography, they didn’t just report it to 8chan’s moderators and to any law enforcement. Some posted outraged Tweets and blog posts linking to the content and even reposted some the content on another site, therefore spreading it wider. I thought the point was to get it off the net, to have it taken down quickly and quietly? Apparently not. Their need to destroy gamergate seemed to have deflected their moral compasses away from destroying online child porn.
- Even though the only provable link between the CPers and gamergaters on 8chan is that they are hosted by the same site, the social activists were tweeting their outrage that gamergate approved of the CP, therefore implying that anyone associating with gamergate approved of CP. There’s also been a recent post which included pictures and names of several right-wing people, not all gamers, who have supported GG. I don’t necessarily agree with all their views, but do they deserve to be associated with child pornography just because they associate with gamergate? And GG is only (provably) associated with CP because 8chan hosts both? The post was about CP and gamergate and the inference was obvious. Associate with GG, and you, too, are a monster. Blame and shame. Link GG with something horrible for ammunition. Lump separate/disparate individuals together with the ‘terrible thing’ that is being used as an ideological projectile and demonise (and even slander) everyone. Slander by association may not be illegal, but it’s still a scummy tactic.
- INSERTED AT 19:50 GMT, 27/12/14: One commenter made a pertinent point as to how the boards and moderators work on 8chan. Limitations mean that there can be delays between material being inserted, and it being detected and taken down. I reference it here for completeness.
- State that anyone not agreeing, and instead objecting to being misrepresented or defamed or having a problem with the social activists methods, is defending child pornography, ‘Because if you really hate child porn you’d agree with us, obviously.’ Maybe the activists would have garnered more sympathy if removing the porn had been a higher priority than their ideology and proving a point.
- And, again, the activists bring up another moral issue and state that gamergate is guilty because they aren’t constantly saying how awful it is. ‘GG isn’t constantly denouncing child porn. They’re perverts and molesters!’ Name any sports team you like, I bet that it doesn’t have a statement saying how exploitation of minors is terrible on the front of its monthly fanzine. Does that make all the players paedophiles? Hardly. I’ve read plenty of tweets from GGers wondering what moral outrage the activists are going to throw at them next. I’ve read tweets by rad-fems using the tragedy of a school shooting to promote their cause and justifying their blaming of the social construct of ‘toxic masculinity’:
Again, a whole gender and the entirety of western civilisation is evil because some individuals are clinically insane and could buy guns over local shop counters. It’s true that well over 90% of serial killers are male. Fact, but how does that justify hinting there’s something inherently wrong with the male psyche and society in general? Here reasoning comes unstuck.
A cornerstone of rad-fem theory is socialisation. These killings happened because boys are brought up in a patriarchy and so, emotionally repressed, become psychos. (I’ve simplified, but that’s what it boils down to.) But billions of boys, according to rad-fems, are brought up in patriarchies all over the world. If it’s a socialisation problem, then isn’t it common to all men, and so why are we not seeing greater numbers of society-bred male mass-murderers? Wouldn’t we have an epidemic? Again, we have inflation of individual cases, not representative of the group as a whole, used as evidence to comment on men and society as a whole because it fits the ideological narrative. As a percentage of population, serial killers and mass-murders are a tiny number. How is it valid theory to use statistical outliers (i.e. crazy men) to draw inferences about the state of a massive majority (i.e. normal men)? It’s not valid psychology, and a sociological framework is NOT valid when studying individuals. We need to treat each case individually and compare how each killer’s upbringing differed from those of a similar background and that lived locally to draw valid conclusions about actual societal causality.But that’s pretty much impossible. In simpler terms, it’s impossible to gain enough detail about an individual’s life to give valid reasons for their murder sprees based on their upbringing. But, somehow, Sarkeesian appears to be able to establish causality by belief. Guilty by association, maybe? Because there aren’t any female serial killers, noooo…. But, of course, all these women probably internalised the misogyny of our patriarchal system so society and men are to blame, again. And the most amazing thing, they’ve no idea how insane their ideology sounds. Still, I’m just a cis-white neckbeard who can’t think straight due to being overloaded by privilege, so what would I know?
Aside over, repeated exchanges like this meant GGers weren’t indifferent to the issues, just tired and bored with fending off another guilt-by-association stream that had nothing to do with them. Commentary came by way of humour: ‘When the sun dies and all life on Earth ends, it will because of #gamergate.’ ‘Today, a lion ate a baby antelope and a killer whale a baby seal. That must be because of us. #gamergate.’ Self-deprecating humour and gentle mockery: the despicable refuge of those women-hating gators. Oh, the horror.
Before looking into GG and social activism (and the associated threads of radical feminism), I didn’t know what ‘manufactured outrage’ was. Yet, I’ve never seen an activist or radical feminist who commentated on GG also tweeting as often that destruction of the environment is a terrible thing . So, what am I supposed to assume, that no social activist cares about the state of the planet? Or maybe I’m supposed to think that all activists and rad-feminists support deforestation because they focus on feminist issues rather than defending trees? Erm, no. The lack of common sense in this type of reasoning is quite astounding. When gamergate states that they are focused on the lack of ethics of certain game sites and journalists, the attack is that, ‘You’re not defending the women who were harassed; you use a hashtag that some harassers hide behind, SO YOU, TOO, MUST BE MYSOGINISTS!’ (Capitals are a good indication of outrage level.) Does that make me, a neutral, a woman hater, too? I don’t decry abusing women every few minutes, but I believe it’s wrong. What about the UK’s national debt, families forced to use food banks, unemployment, sexism, racism, corporate sponsorship of political parties, bullying, treatment of immigrants, the blaming of Muslims for the actions of extremists, the blaming of Catholics for paedophile priests, the loss of coral reefs world-wide, copyright infringement… You get the point? If anyone took on every issues they would not be able to live a normal life. It doesn’t mean that they approve of what’s horrendous; they may even be sympathetic to your viewpoints. The world’s a big, complex, place. GGers have selected journalist ethics as their issue. Feminists have selected the rights of women. Can we judge someone for what they’re not emphasising or saying? What does that make you, or me, guilty of? Pretty much everything. It’s not logical, just insane: blame and shame.
And, why do we have to judge a group by its extremists? Do I say I don’t agree with what feminists are fighting for because there are man-haters and racists that choose to use their label, or affiliate with their movement? I’ve read quite a few comments, articles and posts online that say my opinions shouldn’t be given weight equal to another human being’s simply because I’m white and male. I’ve read a few that say the world would be better place if I, and those like me, were dead. (I’m not kidding or being melodramatic, here’s just a sample. Their original context pretty much rules out the quotes as provocative humour and several of their authors are held in high regard by many who identify as feminists. Try swapping ‘wome(a)n’ or ‘black(s)’ for man or men and you’d be lynched and probably arrested for hate-speech under UK law if you posted the amended quotes online.) There are all kinds of justifications used by some radical feminists, like ‘Racism or sexism = power + privilege, so it’s okay for us to be prejudiced but not you.’ Nice. I’ll stick to Standard English definitions of those terms, thanks, not some twisted, self-defined justification for bigotry. Back in the real world, racism and sexism can be directed from any group towards any other; it’s easy enough to find examples online.
I could respond by denouncing all feminists, but mainstream feminism defines itself as working for the interests of women in order to gain equality with men in all spheres of life. Some even go so far as to equate egalitarianism and feminism. As a writer, I have a problem with arbitrarily redefining words to make an ideological point, but I still take how mainstream feminism wants to represent itself at face value—sounds good to me. I get several women feminists have been harassed, threatened and abused. Does that justify labelling a huge number of people as misogynists because they attach a different emphasis and meaning to a hashtag? Does it justify vilification because, out of the millions of things wrong with world, they have exercised their rights and chosen journalists’ ethics as their cause and don’t promote anti-harassment and feminist issues to the extent that some social activists think they should, i.e. to the exclusion of everything else? I don’t think so.
For me, ethics in journalism is important, but arguing for it specifically in gaming is a relatively niche interest, so I don’t consider myself a gamergater. I do, however, agree that cleaning up gaming journalism is a good cause, and as they are passionate about gaming, then who better to take up the challenge than gamers? They have the right to choose their causes, the right to identify/associate with whatever label they wish to. Some may disagree with their choices. Some may hate that the label they use was one of the labels under which the abuse and harassment of women started and continues. But lumping everyone together and equating a group to an individual is, well, just a little stupid, but that’s what some rad-fems believe. One radical feminist is found guilty of attempted murder, assault, and illegal possession of a gun. What? Label, judge, shame, and target all radical feminists, even mainstream feminists? Do we ban all radical feminism? Ban mainstream feminism? Of course not, it would be a massive generalisation and overreaction. If history had gone that way, feminism would have been outlawed in the late 60s in the States. Instead, one woman was declared insane. So why should judgement of gamergate be different? That some nasty pieces of sh*t abuse and harass women online doesn’t reflect on a diverse group, because it cannot. Activists are quick to point out the variety of elements they disapprove of who are ‘joining’ gamergate. Politically, ideologically, many of these groups’ beliefs and values are antithetical. But there is commonality around the issues of ethics in journalism and censorship. Is the activists’ stance really that these diverse groups associate with gamergate because all of them hate women? Apparently so.
Gamergate has been widely discussed by a mainstream press that have barely mentioned how GGers see themselves. The media exposure is high enough profile now that openly declaring yourself a supporter can get you fired from your job, harassed, abused, threatened and doxed. Women within GG have suffered this, too. High-profile feminists who have been on the receiving end of abuse choose to take their experiences and make them about gender politics and blaming gamergate, and then appear on national television shows. Personally, it’s common sense that nothing will paint a target on your head faster—not because gamergaters are more vindictive than any other online community, but because anyone who makes a strong statement on a controversial subject online will be attacked, and the rocks thrown are aimed at the issues cared about. I doubt a single e-celeb from teen-boy YouTubers to political conservative male politicians hasn’t received something really nasty via social media or email. In fact, some research suggests men may get more abuse online than women, but as much abuse towards women comes from other women as it does from men. It does appear that overall more trolls are males, but that’s about as far as evidence goes in validating the prejudice inherent in the social justice and rad-fem movements. In the cases of the e-celeb feminists opposing gamergate, trolls will do what they always do: look for weak spots. With feminists caring about gender identity and women’s equality, rights and safety, the attacks will be sexist and threatening. Threats against men are also individually targeted, the trolls picking whatever ammo will cause the most damage. Online harassment isn’t solely a gender issue, it’s simply an issue.
And now there’s gamergate. Some trolls may also believe in the ethics of game’s journalism, even as they type their latest hate-mail. That’s human nature; it’s often paradoxical. But someone trolling and sharing beliefs with others doesn’t make the others monsters, unless they know who the troll is and are shielding them. But the internet is anonymous. The right to anonymity is a massive debate in and of itself, but you can’t blame feminists or gamergate for the effects of anonymity. The net is a place where anyone can be who they want to be but there are consequences. Anonymity allows easier depersonalisation. The medium itself hides the perpetrators of hate. It also hides many who’ve suffered abuse—physical as well as psychological—but still want to engage in this all pervasive aspect of modern life. Anonymity is what lets them get that part of their life back. It protects people with poor social skills, political dissidents fighting oppression; it creates the biggest melting pot on the planet. It’s necessary but can be abused. No one in gamergate can wave a magic wand and have all the trolls magically appear in a police cell. That this hasn’t happened seems to annoy those against gamergate. It hasn’t happened because it’s extremely difficult/almost impossible to do if the troll is careful. Law enforcement struggles with this, so how social activists expect gamergate to be somehow better at policing the internet than the FBI or Metropolitan Police, I’ve no idea.
‘Well,’ scream the outraged, ‘what about social regulation of your own community, gamergate?’ Some trolls hide inside gamergate. Some count themselves as gamergate, but don’t represent it. Some oppose gamergate and will pose as a GG supporter to spout anything to make GG look bad. But you can’t regulate a hashtag. It’s a few letters denoting a trending topic, anyone who wants in, is in. Most would assume that #StrictlyComeDancing would be family friendly, but if someone wants to comment on the size of the male dancers’ trouser-equipment or pect-packs, or the way the women’s breasts bounce as they run up the stairs under the boob-cam, who can stop them? What does it say about those who love Strictly Come Dancing as a group? Absolutely nothing.
I know I’m belabouring the point, but generalisation and misrepresentation are probably the most common attacks against the people in gamergate. If these attacks were justified, or even logical, I’d side with the attackers. I don’t hold with broadly generalising feminists either. Whatever their politics or views, people are individuals. Forget that, and you reduce your humanity, not theirs.
If, despite all its protestations, social justice doesn’t offer a better alternative culture to what gaming can achieve on its own, then why adopt it? If gaming is going to move forward and leave abuse and harassment (as far as possible) behind, then what are the solutions? Apart from marginalising, blocking, reporting, and arresting the worst of the scum, I’d advocate two.
Feminism based on egalitarianism works. It’s historically proven. First-wave feminism, based heavily on the concepts of French égalitaire philosophy, kicked some seriously pompous male arse. Second-wave feminism saw gains, but the Equal Rights Amendment in the States was never passed. My understanding is that some objected to the tactics used by parts of the feminist movement at the time, but the main issue was that legislating for absolute equality would lose women some of the protections they had then, such as shorter working hours. The National Women’s Party, advocates of absolute equality, lost. The ‘protectionists’ won. I’m from the UK and, however patriotic, I cannot deny the influence of the USA on modern Western culture. Today we see women-positive quotas, drives, protections, and legislation to ‘compensate’ for actual and perceived sexism. We have white, radical, western feminism characterised by emphasis on women as victims and brainwashed objects, seemingly at odds with the self-empowerment messages of earlier times. If the ERA, an egalitarian feminist proposal, had been ratified, what would the political and societal landscape look like now between the genders? An interesting thought.
But now the mainstream is becoming increasingly influenced by white, western radical feminist ideologies that stifle discussion, blanket individuality, divide humanity. Saying a woman is daft to wear a miniskirt around a rough area of a city is called ‘victim blaming’. Some feminists say a man can wear what he wants, where he wants. Common sense says, go dressed in certain outfits, in certain inner cities, at certain times of night, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are, you’re in more danger than in bright daylight in a busy shopping arcade. Yes, obviously, anyone should be able to wear what they want down that cold, dark, deserted alley just north of the canal with no street-lights on it. That neither sex is safe doing so doesn’t reflect the culture. Ask any room of normal people to put up a hand if they think rape is okay at any time, under any circumstances, and you won’t see one raised arm. Do it via anonymous questionnaire and you’ll not change the result. Culture is the prevailing customs, values and behaviours those making up a society. Our culture hates rape. Men and women hate not just the experience of rape but the thought of it, the mere fact it exists. I hate rape; it’s a violation of not only someone’s physical being but their very sense of self. How does our culture promote rape? Approve of it? The reasoning goes that women are raped because we live in a ‘patriarchy’ that doesn’t care, or that holds implicit values that are communicated subconsciously across the generations that say, ‘Rape is okay.’ Tell that to UK footballer Ched Evans who was convicted of rape. Over 166,000 people at time of writing have signed a petition requesting he not be allowed back into football. I’m not defending him, only using the case as an example of our collective cultural outrage, enough that it fed the media for weeks. By social activist thinking, if the media is a representation of its culture, an indicator of the values of a society, then our society can be judged on the responses of the media and the outcry of the public. Of all crimes, rape is one of the hardest for our society to forgive. Talk of rehabilitation of offenders is drowned by those wanting to keep rapists off the streets. Given the devastating nature of the crime, it’s easy to see why. Are scantily dressed women out clubbing late at night to blame if a rapist forces himself on them? In absolutely no way. In no individual case can this said to be true. The rapist is responsible, always. These people (mostly men) chose to behave, at those times, like animals. Being streetwise has nothing to do with fault or blame, it’s about not attracting an animal. Aim to change society all you want, but violent rapists who stalk women won’t care. Most can’t be reasoned with, reached, or taught unless it’s in an institution where they can get some serious therapy.
Are rapists products of our society? In the UK, in the year to June, 2014, there were 22,116 recorded cases of rape and 45,689 of ‘other sexual offences’. Let’s say we take a broader, non-penetrative definition of rape as used by some radical feminists. That’s 67,805 recorded rapes that year. The closest estimate of population mid-2013 is 64.1 million. A rough look at the graph, and I would guesstimate that that means there were around 24 million rape-capable males by age in the UK around that time. Looking at the figures, that means approximately 99.7% of rape-capable men in 2013 time in the UK did not rape a woman that year, that we know of. Serial rapists will increase the percentage of innocent men. We can’t know the number of unreported rapes, but how high does the number of unreported rapes have to be before male rapists are the cultural norm? How do the numbers back up a rape culture? How does our culture cultivate rapists? How does it excuse rapists? Rapists are people who choose to rape. Men, as a whole, do not make this choice. Mostly, women are subject to rape and it is never their fault, but neither is it the fault of society (at least, not provably, only by belief). Rape is a sick, horrendous crime. It is a violation committed by an individual (or small group) against another. But how is denying the existence of rape culture, denying rape? On the flipside, acknowledging the horrendous reality of infant and elder rape, that means around 99.8% of women and female children who could have been raped were not in that year. This isn’t a victory, or something to celebrate, especially as the actual figures will be higher, but we do not live in a rape culture. Other than as a sociological construct, there is no evidence rape culture exists. But there is still too much rape.
Some instances will be by perpetrators known to the victim. Is society not educating people? Well, not in formal education, yet. Here we have a case. Consent isn’t part of sex-education in schools in the UK. Personally, I think teaching about the issues of consent—that rape can happen between any combinations of sexualities—in schools is a good idea. That our society isn’t doing so now, however, hardly makes it a rape culture. It’s a concerning omission and should be changed, but parents and community leaders are talking about consent. The media is increasingly talking about consent along with government. I.e. the biggest power structures in our society, a so-called patriarchy, acknowledges that educating on sexual consent is an issue and is acting. This is a sign of a rape culture?
Why rail against rape culture as a concept? Because it casts society and men, and not sick individuals, as the criminals. Some brands of feminism portray women as victims of an uncaring and self-invested patriarchy. It’s not that pockets of institutional patriarchy don’t still exist, they do. But mainstream society now casts the misogynist dinosaur as the monster. Our sons are growing up in a gender-aware culture, more so than at any other time. The old guard are, quite literally, retiring and dying off, replaced by ‘new men’, sensitive and fem-centric. This is mainstream culture. Are men still as emotionally repressed, because of what they were taught by ‘the patriarchy’? Just watch any episode of the X-factor or similar reality TV show. You’ll see about the same numbers of men crying as women. Some may dismiss these shows as pap, but they feature everyday people from all walks of life. It’s our culture, in microcosm. Examination of such cultural artefacts is standard methodology in academic feminism. Look at movies, TV shows, and use analysis to assess societal attitudes. Now do the same thing, watching society’s response to events on the news, on reality shows, in discussions, online and off. Not believing in equality is abnormal, and hidden. That this can give rise to instances of sexism is undoubted, but to say that enough people harbour strong sexist attitudes to count as cultural is a reach, surely? Advocating for women’s rights today is social breathing—try not doing it and see how far you get.
So, why does some feminism label males as oppressors and objectifiers, and so label women as victims, servants and objects? Why does radical feminism assume women who disagree with their belief system have internalised the patriarchy’s misogyny and are no longer capable of thinking for themselves? These aren’t societal or male terms and ideas, they originated within some strands of feminism. Tell my wife she’s oppressed, an object, and she’ll tell you, politely, where to go. Tell her she’s internalised misogyny and she isn’t aware of what’s going on in her own mind and she’ll raise a measured eyebrow in that ‘don’t you dare condescend to me’ way. She earns more than I do. She manages more people than I do. She advocates for the rights of both sexes in drives for childcare etc. where she works. She identifies as an egalitarian feminist and I admire her for that. And she advocates the inherent moral agency of women; believes firmly that women can be the equal of any man; and that women have it, within themselves, to become empowered. They don’t need external help from ideologues or moral crusaders because they each have the capacity to be their own crusader, their own best advocate.
For me, this is history repeating. My wife, and other women who hold this high-ideal of the inherent strength that a woman can find within herself, have a lot in common with first-wave feminists. If sexism is encountered, it can be fought—legally if necessary—but there is no abdication of individual responsibility or blaming fifty percent of the population and other ‘complicit’ women for their circumstances.
It’s been a long-about, but I’ve seen the same thing in gaming. Gaming has its roots in arcade culture. Games were a paid-for, three-lives-and-you’re-dead rush for the highscore. No saves, no character development, no story, no continuity except a number and your initials scrolling across a monochrome screen until the machine was switched off at the end of the day. You had to get good to play. The immaturity of the medium, manufacturer hunger for more coinage in the slot, and the limitations of the technology meant competition was the rule without exceptions. Gender causality arguments aside, more men embraced the medium and women, generally, did not. However, back then, gaming was a niche hobby with gamers often taunted and bullied for their passion. A culture grew up: male, competitive, and bonded. Gamers were versus the mainstream, not part of it. It took nearly twenty years for this to change but some of the established gaming culture norms remained. As more women came to enjoy gaming and gaming itself broadened, some men shrugged their shoulders. Many gave an online nod or virtual handshake to any female gamers encountered online—I know because I was one and I saw others do the same. Others saw any female presence as an invasion of their exclusively male space, any magazine column inches or webpage space dedicated to reviewing ‘bullsh*t feely games’ as some sort of breaking of The Code. Some women experienced harassment based solely on their gender—I saw that too. It varied from offence taken at the mildest comment, to mis-intentioned joshing, to nasty, overt sexist hate-speech.
Some women toughed it out and gave as good as they got. They also got respect; I saw harassers stop, and even become friends with these women. For me, these women were real feminists. Hint that they were oppressed, a victim, or needing protection from men or a group of women insisting they knew better and they’d tell you where to shove it. They were independent, intelligent, and hammered home their equality with banter and headshots. I saw men and boys change their behaviour as a result of these women. It didn’t take censorship, sanction, control or policing. These women got results, on their own terms. They loved games and converted male gamers without demonising them or perverting gaming culture. They fought the negatives of the culture from within, by example. And. It. Worked.
Contrast that with some of today’s whiny, entitled white, hipster rad-feminists who want every social encounter regulated by rules and games that don’t match their outlook, banned. To be honest, compared to some of the tough cookies I knew, I’m not sure I they even deserve the title ‘feminist’. ‘I don’t like it, so I’m going to tell teacher on you.’ You go, girlz. Way to show the world and prove to yourself how empowered you are: stop the boys from playing their nasty, rough games and get everyone wearing pink and plaiting blond-haired dolls’ locks instead—because doing that in games will cleanse the real world of all ills. We’ve already mention any lack of evidence. (Sorry for using that dirty word, again.)
Most women I know, and those I’ve read historical and contemporary accounts of, are so much better than this. They’re stronger emotionally and more than psychologically equipped to deal with anything some immature prick throws at them. Yes, real abuse exists, real threats exist. Call in the police/FBI but don’t whinge just because banter is standard male communication. Form a group that’s politically correct if that’s how you like to game. Get it moderated, and kick out out those who are too rough or uncouth. Why does everyone have to play by the same games by the same rules, in the same playground? Can’t devs incorporate separate ‘NSFW’, ‘moderately fruity’, and ‘nice and cosy’ options for separate group play in their games? Find people you like online, play with them and block the rest is the practical, how-to advice I’ve heard from many female gamers. See how they’ve managed to handle it themselves, without conflating it with gender politics and censorship issues? Women and male gamers want to game. Social justice activists and rad-fems want to remake gaming in their own image:
It’s a game. It’s virtual. Where’s the evidence games impact reality to the extent they are harmful? Some radical feminists believe this to be true. Some weaponise their victimhood to underline, validate, and justify this belief to the public and the media. It’s like they say: ‘See, I’m abused by some gamers. Gaming culture as a whole is male only and toxic.’ The first is a true statement, the second is misdirection, conflation, and, frankly, manipulation. That’s why women gamers online are objecting. Some women gamers don’t want Sarkeesian as their spokesperson. Why?
Where’s the stand-up-tall, straight-talking, ideals-backed-by-evidence feminism of the past? Where are the arguments so powerful that they stand on their own, where victimisation of e-celebs and anyone online can be dealt with as it’s own issue, and not just one affecting women alone. This builds no one up, and how is that supposed to be a positive image to girls? That girls can only win if they don’t fight fair? Kicking-in-the-crotch PR campaigns and demonisation of men to justify censorship are the only ways forward? Are self-reliance and independence and strength of character completely out of fashion? Are the ideals of radical feminism and social justice not strong enough to stand on their own? Fight the scum and the internet in general on the issue of harassment, sure, but don’t link it to video game content without something concrete to back that up. If you want to critique game content, go ahead. But treat as the separate issue that it is. ‘The personal is political’ is not a universal truth, it’s a concept that needs to be critically applied to each new situation and culture. At the moment, some feminists’ (admittedly awful) experiences are currency in a debate in which they have no part. Like cards up the sleeve, unless you can justify the reason you get to play them, they’ve no right to be on the table. Sneaking them in sends all the wrong messages, about character and about feminism and activism. Why must a patriarchy exist? Why must all men be into power over women and exercising their privileges? I wrote this post which is probably not going to be read by more than a few people. Each of the three e-celeb feminists have journalist friends, mainstream media contacts, and at least ten times the social media following I have. So, who wields the power here? Are more people going to listen to me than Brianna Wu, or Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian just because I’m male and white? Or are far more people going to listen to them because they have a massive following online? Do I really have more privilege then they do? I’m not, currently abused much online, but is that because I’m hardly known? Because I haven’t piled into a cultural conflict with a high handed message and a massive media splash? It comes down to belief. Do you believe that everything that happens to you and around you is solely, or predominantly, down to your gender? Does gender and race dictate every aspect of an individual’s life experience? If you wear pink glasses, then everything looks pink. If you allow individuals and issues to speak for themselves, you see technicolour, complex shades and patterns. I’m not more intelligent than these feminists, I just choose not to view everything through one idealogical lens. Not everything is about sex or sexuality. Some games are, just, well, fun. Privileged white, western radical feminism is rife with trivia at the moment, and it’s no wonder versions of Third-World feminism reject some First-World variants:
‘This [Womanism] represents an expectation and experience of the black woman as one filled with the quest for knowledge, competence, and authority that surpasses the individual, but encompasses the group. This idea of community rather than individuality is further illustrated by the portrayal of a woman as the embodiment of her environment. In this way womanism does not focus indiscriminately on the experiences of black woman, but desires the reconciliation of all people to their spirituality, their relationships with each other, and their relationship with nature. It characterizes women as willful and capable thereby contrasting the image of a women as subservient and inferior. In doing so, womanism empowers women, and challenges them to break from the traditional definition of womanhood.’
(‘Womanism’, Wikipedia, 16/12/14).
A vision of the whiny, weak female who can’t play fair? Hardly.
Womanism also comes from within its own culture. It’s one thing that makes local, grassroots feminism such a powerful agent of change. Social justice activists see so much ideology, they seem to have lost sight of a few basic human truths, one being people don’t like things forced on them. The social activists and rad-fems say it’s male gamers resisting an influx of women into gaming. Male and female gamers counter with: ‘Stop telling everyone what we believe. Everyone is welcome, any race, creed, colour, LGBT, whatever, as long as they don’t try to push their censorship and rigid morals down our throats. We’re quite capable of making up our own minds, thanks. You go your way, and let us go ours.’
So, it’s choose your definition of feminism.
As a female gamer, do you accept descriptions of yourself as passive, labelled as politically correct because you’re ‘oppressed’ or a ‘victim’ or you’re so defined by a male-dominated society your internalised misogyny is stopping you thinking straight? Do you want a feminism that will look after you, and tell you what to think, what to like, what to wear, what to approve and disapprove of? Think I’m exaggerating, it’s all on the web. You don’t even have to look that hard for instances of rad-fems censoring other women’s choices. And why? Because everything is held up against a list of ideological concepts. Go against the currently approved ‘correct’ way of being a women and a feminist and watch your ‘sisters’’ reaction. Tolerance isn’t the word I’d use. Radical feminism sets women against men and other women. By ideological labelling and policing conformity to group ideals and concepts, it limits individual women’s freedom and demonises men. It’s the feminism that equates being looked at by a man, being ‘stare raped’, with the horrific act of actual, physical rape. Real rape. Like that doesn’t demean real survivors’ experiences or renders the word ‘rape’ next to meaningless. You’re going to spend possibly the rest of your life getting over being looked at? Being stared at is uncomfortable, and creepy, but surely it’s not possible to compare this with actual rape? I shouldn’t even need to precursor the word rape with the word actual, but go far enough down the rabbit hole and this is where we end up.
It’s the feminism that blames lack of women in STEM jobs on the t-shirt one man wore as being indicative of a whole oppressive systemic collusion to keep women out. I can’t remember which woman said it, but it was along the lines of: if you’re so fragile one t-shirt is going to keep you from pursuing the career you want, you don’t deserve a place in that career.
Or, do you choose an empowered, powerful, active feminism that ‘…desires the reconciliation of all people…’? Feminism like that embodied by womanism describes most of the female gamers I met over the years—community minded, strong individually. They’re awesome people.
(A note: the video above was added during the last edit of this piece, I'm listening to it as I quickly type-check the post. Some of the points these women discuss are ones I've also made. Make of that what you will.)
Activists, let women gamers make any changes; trust them to do it. It’s their turf, their passion. And if they disagree with what rad-feminism considers to be ‘correct’, show them enough courtesy and respect to dialogue with them and not tell them what to think, insult them as being puppets of the patriarchy, or accuse them of being traitors to their gender because their viewpoints differ.
With a robust positive, egalitarian feminism in gaming being empowered by women who value the medium’s freedom and creative potential, and other gamers of all sorts, gamegaters or otherwise, gaming is only going to get better, become richer. Empowered developers can create all sorts of games, sexists a-holes will find themselves blocked, reported and marginalised and can huddle together on servers hosted in some dark corner of the net. And maybe gaming can regain the relaxed inclusiveness that many who’ve enjoyed it over the years say is their norm.
And my the second suggestion?
Pretty much any online game now available has blocking and reporting facilities. Use them on the hardcore abusers. Bring the law in when necessary, but use a proportionate graded approach, not the knee-jerk condemnation that is the hallmark of many a social activist. Some immature and young men need to grow, to change, despite most gamers already being ‘there’. I like the idea of community mentoring. It can happen unconsciously and in an unforced way when men, women, and boys interact, and could work well in the medium of gaming. Mine is the first gaming generation. As we grow older, another ‘older’age-group becomes hardcore gamers. Psychology states that children are socialised primarily by their parents at an early age and by their peers as they grow older. The average teenage boy can be a hormonal minefield. Sometimes awkward around females of any age, some struggle with social skills and instead posture and tough-talk, displaying many of the behaviours women describe as harassment. One option is to vilify them, demonise them; the other is to teach. These awkward boys are now my peers, and I’m theirs. I learnt how to treat women by watching my dad, and then interacting with girls and women as I grew older. Older men and women have the opportunity to teach by example, with a gentle prompt when needed. For many lads, that’s all they need. Some of the conversations I had with my mates at sixteen make me cringe now, but I wasn’t the devil incarnate. I grew up and many online harassers hiding behind the anonymity of the net need that chance, too.
As gamers, we face some choices: destroy or build community? Condemn, censor, and dictate to abusers, or try to teach be example? How we decide these questions will set the tone of the gaming community and what it feels like to be a gamer in community for years to come.
I hope, collectively, we, the gamers, make the right decisions.
Why I Count Myself as Neutral Towards Gamergate and Feminism
If you’ve got this far, congratulations! I was wondering if anyone would.
If you’re curious about where I’m coming from, or wonder how I can call myself neutral after writing such a strongly opinionated post, my answer is this: cleaning up ethics in gaming journalism is a noble goal, and from results obtained so far, an achievable one. Gamergate has already made a difference and can continue to into the future, if… One reason I don’t identify as pro-gamergate is there is too much in-fighting, too many circular discussions with those anti-, and there is a proportion, albeit a minority, of people who identify as gamergate who are not, frankly, my kind of people. This, I think, is one of the things that could destroy the movement.
Some of the curious and neutrals taking a look have stated they’ve been won over by the reasoning of GGers over those anti- . Those anti-GG are constantly pointing out any nastiness, hatred or fighting within GG. Now, you can protest that it’s all just ‘Muh FEELZ!’ so who cares? That’s your right, but it won’t win over outsiders or make GG new friends. Participation in GG is demanding for many; it’s a heavy investment of time and emotional energy and I applaud those who’ve decided to make it… but… it’s also burning some out. Some people are quitting GG from fatigue or because they have other demands on their time. GG needs to attract new people; it needs new blood. And when people do come back after a break? If the reasonable side to GG isn’t in evidence, if the sense of community they remember has evaporated, they’ll switch off and leave. Tone-policing each other won’t work as it just ends in online bickering. Members of GG have to hold up the cause as more important than their own needs and impulses. Keep it reasoned, keep it welcoming and gamergate will grow. Preachy? I hope not, but it seems some in GG need a heads-up on how broader society works and communicates. Do you guys and gals want to be a little irrelevant huddle in a forgotten corner of the web? Thought not.
The atmosphere and some of the hatred has cooled me towards gamergate, yes, but these are not the primary reasons I haven’t turned pro. The main one is what I discuss above: the choice of cause. People who can be bothered to care have one, or a few, causes they feel passionately about. Gamergate is quite upfront that it’s primary goal is reformation of the gaming press and journalism. It’s a noble goal and a worthwhile one. Ensuring the gaming press are open, honest, and have at least some who are on the side of gamers and represent their interests will benefit gaming and gamers, no matter whether they agree with GG or not. But, for me, journalistic ethics isn’t my cause of choice. (You’ve probably already worked that out from what’s written above.) I have two passions, gaming and writing. I no longer solely consume; I’ve found I also want to create. Writing, for now, is the way I choose to explore that side of who I am.
In terms of issues and causes, the intersection of gaming and writing occurs around censorship, free speech, and creative and artistic freedom. Now protected by the First Amendment in the US, games can legitimately call themselves art. Some art is enjoyable, pleasant, and ‘nice’. Some is provocative, uncomfortable, and even offensive. Art has been that way for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. As a gamer, I want the freedom to explore a vast panorama of others’ alternate realities and to be challenged to think in new ways. As a writer, I want the freedom to explore my imagination and let it lead me wherever it will, without fear of censorship, without being shamed or declared immoral because what I create runs counter to another’s sensibilities. If people don’t like my work, they are free not to read it. If they read it, they are free to critique it. But to say I can’t write? Some say I should not express myself, especially because of my gender and colour (that would be pink or blue in winter, and brown in summer) while I uphold their right to express different opinions to mine? That’s what gets me riled, and that’s my cause of choice.
On feminism, I imagine I hardly come over as neutral, probably more of an anti-feminist from what’s above, but that’s not true. I’m anti- hatred, bigotry, sexism, and racism. I’m anti-extremist. Some branches of radical feminism, no matter what words they try to redefine to justify their actions and beliefs to themselves, are all those things. They’ve embraced hatred as a way of life, as part of an identity. That’s their choice, but I won’t accept or be part of sharing that mindset. If I’m any label, egalitarian is the closest fit, and so I embrace any feminism, including much of the mainstream, which advocates and promotes genuine gender equality. I’m happy to ally myself with the interests of women on many issues, but not all. When some feminist thinking works against freedom of expression, then I will advocate for the latter. Where men’s rights are lacking, I’ll side with men. In fact, any human group or individual whose rights are under threat or are under-represented will have my sympathy. But as I won’t promote the rights of women above all other considerations, I don’t count myself as a feminist.
Egalitarianism can be demanding, but looking at each issue on its own merits and listening to other viewpoints (even ones I don’t like) means I need a frame of reference that gives me that freedom. Egalitarianism does that.
For what it’s worth, that’s me. Maybe, if there’s a next time, you’ll see me on your side of the debate, or not as the issues change. Until then, be excellent to each other.