How do we deal with #GamerGate - the TDF position...
The last few weeks have been the most damaging the video games world has seen - in terms of trust and community engagement at the very least. The problems we've seen are the result of a number of different issues that have come to a head at once relating to perceived corruption and have seen the our favourite pastime split straight down the middle with gamers in one trench and the journalists and developers in the other. This is a gross simplification and generalisation - there are gamers that are entrenched on the journalist side and journalists who can sympathise with the gamers points but for the most part we can see where the majority of each sit.
The two core issues that are at the heart of the current earthquake are that of corruption and sexism. They're unrelated but both seem to have contributed to a massively polarised argument - gamers believe many journalist are corrupt and journalists are thought to be accusing gamers and the industry of sexism. Slap bang in the middle of this is the thorny and delicate issue of a developer allegedly offering sexual favours to a number of journalists in return for positive coverage.
Corruption has long been a perceived crime in all types of entertainment journalism and it's easy to see why. There are close links between journalists and developers and there HAVE been proven instances in the past where studios have blacklisted writers or whole publications due to negative coverage. However these instances are an extreme exception to the norm that have stoked a fire that looks a lot bigger that it is. Those proven cases of corruption are few and far between. It is understandable for journalists to feel aggrieved that they're being tarred with the same big brush and many have taken defensive positions that appear patronising and offensive to gamers. This is disappointing.
Likewise, gamers feel that outsiders are trying to change their hobby for the worst with the implicit help of a some journalists they have termed 'Social Justice Warriors'. However, we can't consider this issue without looking at the context of how video games have grown and changed.
In the last decade, gaming has morphed from being a niche hobby to something that people of every age partake. During the same time games have been increasingly recognised as art as much as entertainment and are considered, at least in terms of cultural significance, on an equal pegging with music, film and television. This is great news and the growing audiences for video games means that there is more money than ever available to create massive and spectacular products for us all to enjoy. However, this increased exposure means that video games are now rightly being viewed through new eyes of what is acceptable and what isn't and we feel it is a necessity that we welcome external criticism in terms of how games are viewed by others.
No one can deny that sexism and misogyny have been rife in video games over the years - and there's nothing stopping us from enjoying games whilst recognising that they can and should be criticised in this way. Enjoyment of gaming isn't reliant on sexist tropes so what harm is there in identifying these and asking for developers to do better? We accept some of these tropes are brought in through the international nature of gaming - what is acceptable to some national audiences could be considered to have crossed the line to others and it is important to take these cultural aspects into account.
We're all passionate about our hobby. Journalists write about games because they love them, not because it's a way of making a lot of money. We'll let you into a secret - it isn't. The amount of money trickling down to journalists is minimal - there are so many competing sources for reviews, news and features that advertising money is spread thinly. Journalists do receive games to review - usually from PR agencies - but this isn't and shouldn't be looked at as being corrupt. What IS corrupt is if a studio or agency then leans on a publication with threats of blacklisting if they don't turn in positive coverage and where there is evidence of this it is only right to call it out.
Journalists welcome criticism too; its how we improve. We're also more than happy to talk to gamers and admit if we're wrong. The unfortunate circumstance at the moment is that those gamers who rightly feel they should be heard are finding themselves grouped together with those who hurl threats and spread fear and abuse. This isn't their fault - as with any public unhappiness there are those who exploit situations to their advantage or for their own gratification. Peaceful protests can quickly turn to violence because of the actions of a tiny minority and it's the responsibility of the majority to identify these people and remove them; do that and your cause instantly becomes more sympathetic.
We all love games and that is WHY we're in this mess. Rather than attack each other and look for corruption where there is none, we should be working together to make our industry and hobby better. Make it more inclusive, more tolerant and as a result more enjoyable to others. We're not suggesting censorship of games - they should be taken in the context of their setting and we'd happily argue that while the characters of games might have undesirable traits, they are just characters and their actions, much like those of actors aren't representative of an overall product.
We shouldn't look at cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian as the enemy - they aren't. They're just highlighting where developers and gamers AND journalists can do better and we should embrace that and improve. There are huge differences to contextual sexism and misogyny and needless gratuity and gamers are clearly able to see that so why not tackle the latter and protect the former? Where's the harm?
Video games are played by everyone and we should recognise that. But in order to cater for the growing audience we need to work together to present games in a way that is welcoming to outsiders. After all, why do we enjoy games? Is it because they offer base titillation OR is it because they give us a chance to experience things we otherwise couldn't - new worlds and new adventures and to interact with others within the context of something that brings lots of people together?
As for the corruption - we don't doubt it exists, but legitimate journalists are as keen to stamp it out as gamers. We don't want our industry tarnished and it should be exposed when it happens. We'll always support that and genuinely believe that the reason there are just a few proven cases of corruption is because it isn't actually rife at all.
The above graphic, taken from this feature by @upstreamism encapsulates everything that we should be fighting for. The most interesting thing in all this is when you look at the position of the majority on both sides, they all want the same things; supporting women in gaming, promoting inclusivity and stamping out corruption in journalism - those three things are core to what we should all be aiming for and if we can tackle the extremes who use harassment, abuse and heckling to further their cause we'll be doing a lot to achieve those aims. Lets work together and make gamers and gaming stronger than they've ever been.
If the #GamerGate supporters can separate themselves from the extremists that have hijacked their cause, and if the more aggressive journalists stop patronising and insulting gamers we can get over this hurdle and it'll become a minor skirmish. If we don't then to the outsiders, that maturity and acceptance we've all been keen to encourage in gaming will be damaged and gaming will continue to be looked down on as just an antisocial nerds pastime. Which do we want?