Saturday, October 25, 2014

On #GamerGate

As a routine part of every #GamerGate article, I will say I am against harassment and bullying of anyone.  Those people sending death and rape threats to anybody are the scum of the earth.  I hope they’re caught and locked up.  The world would be a better place without them walking around free.

There’s been a lot said about #GamerGate over the last two months or so, but I thought, why not add my voice?  I’m pro-#GamerGate, but why is that?

Well, as a fiscal libertarian, I’m typically against the feminists criticizing video games as sexist.  But, beyond that, the gaming press, as a whole, really seems to hate its audience, i.e. gamers.  That needs to change, along with the developer bribes and other undisclosed freebies.  And let’s reform the Metacritic bonus structure that seems to exist under AAA game development (but that’s getting off-topic now.)  That’s not really good for anybody.

Video games aren’t sexist.  The video game industry isn’t sexist.  Are there fewer women in the video game industry than in the nation at large?  Yes.  There’s a simple explanation for that, though.  The fields where video game companies hire employees from, such as computer engineering, are largely filled with men because men get most of the degrees in those fields.  Even though more women are getting undergraduate degrees than men at this point, the fields aren’t 50/50.  Why should we expect them to be?  Imposing a female quota, even informally, is not the solution.  Encouraging more women to go into those fields is a start, but why have more men naturally flocked to those fields than women?  Let’s get some more research on that.  I imagine more men are interested in computers as a hobby than women, so they’d naturally want to get a degree in something they’re already familiar with or interested in, but I don’t exactly have evidence to prove this.  It just seems more computer hobbyists are men.

Video games get derided as sexist and racist and a whole bunch of other bad words.  Yes, women in video games tend to be dressed revealingly.  Why is this bad?  A majority of hardcore (play video games ten or more hours a week) gamers are men.  And men like attractive women.  Not really that hard to figure out.  There are plenty of other women in gaming that don’t fall under the Dead or Alive standard.  But the existence of over curvaceous and busty females is supposed to be a bad thing.  Why?  Games are fiction, why do all women in them have to conform to the average female?  There isn’t any reason for this to be so.

Now, as to the racism charge.  A lot of protagonists in AAA game titles are white, brown-haired (usually very muscular) males.  OK, but that’s not always the case.  Steve, the stand-in avatar in Minecraft (one of the bestselling video games in history,) is black.  And that’s for the games where the race is actually distinguishable.  We never even see any actual part of Shovel Knight.  And what about the games where you play an alien species?  And then there are all the games with character customization, like Skyrim where your species is even up to your choice.  Why do a lot of AAA games titles feature white male protagonists?  Western nations are the primary audience for video games these days, and the majority of those countries are white.  With men being the primary target audience for these games to begin with, putting two and two together makes that obvious.  Hell, most action movies feature a dark-haired white protagonist.  (I don’t really understand the lack of blonde or other-haired protagonists.)

The current slate of feminists criticizing video games, most closely represented by Anita Sarkeesian, is not good for the video game industry.  What they ask for doesn’t seem to be in the realm of suggestions or wanting more of things that aren’t seen much.  As the simple response to something like that is, hey, make a game that fits that, nothing stoppin’ ya.  Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms exist to get the funding they seek.  No, what they seem to desire is censorship or preventing future games that have tropes or themes they don’t like from ever existing in the first place.  It’s not very helpful that Anita and others make this case with shoddy research and opinions.

Anita, like Jack Thompson before her, likes to claim that video games influence players’ behavior in the real world.  Instead of violence though, Anita claims video games make gamers sexist, somehow.  Why she wasn’t laughed away like Jack Thompson was, who also received rape and death threats, is a mystery.  It may have something to do with the subset of gaming journalists who sympathize with her political views (which are clearly liberal to far left in leaning.)  But the brand of feminism she preaches seems to follow not the Sex Positive “liberation” feminists of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the anti-pornography crusaders.  That school of feminist thought has some pretty radical theories, which not all followers of it espouse, of course, but are still there.  Some claim that all heterosexual sex is rape of the woman.  This is the school of thought where objectification of female sexuality came from.

The Sex Positive feminists believe in the “liberation” school of thought.  In short, breaking free of the puritanical views of sex asking women to cover themselves and wear dresses below the knee is a good thing.  Women can dress how they like, say what they like, and do what they like.  If somebody has a problem with that, well, they can stick it in their pipe and smoke it.  They want to wear pants?  Fine.  They want to wear dental floss-thin bikinis on the beach?  Go ahead!  They want to wear a frumpy sweater and sweat pants?  Why not?  This is not the school of thought that Anita espouses.  In truth, her views tread closer to the prudish social conservatives of yore.  She’s John Lithgow in Footloose.  The Sex Positive feminists are Kevin Bacon.

Are certain tropes overused in video games?  Sure.  Is this a bad thing?  Not really.  Yes, Link still saves Zelda every time (outside of a couple where she isn’t present.)  Since Twilight Princess is my favorite video game ever, I can understand where Anita is coming from, but I don’t really care.  The reason Zelda even gets taken “captive” (her body is taken over by Ganondorf) in that game is because she sacrifices her physical form to save the life of Midna.  I could go over examples in other Zelda titles, but I don’t really see the point.

In short, these tropes exist.  Similar tropes exist in movies, television shows, and books.  One can say the writers are just being lazy, but I say, nay, there’s a good reason these clichés are used.  They ingrain certain morals in people.  A simple man from humble beginnings rises up to save a woman kidnapped by a clearly evil douchebag teaches chivalry, a good thing.  Honestly, something not a lot of boys are taught these days in formal education.  The other tropes are just common elements of stories where a good force does battle against a bad one and, generally, ultimately succeeds.  Most video games follow that framework because the player controls the protagonist (usually.)  If one really has a problem with these tropes, make a game that doesn’t.  Or buy games that don’t.  If enough people do that, developers will make more games to fill the demand for games like it.  I’m very much in favor of free markets, so that’s the approach I’d go with.  The problem as it were will correct itself eventually.

I could get into all the other myriad ways Anita is wrong or incorrect, but plenty of people before me have done that.  I just focused on the broad, sweeping points.

Ethics in gaming journalism, well, just doesn’t seem to really exist.  Developers pay for positive coverage or demand it in exchange for early access to games.  This is bad.  But the problem is already starting to correct itself.  The rise of the YouTube Let’s Player has led to massive fanbase of people who have become millionaires posting video game footage with commentary to YouTube.  This is a very positive development.  The fans of these people such as PewDiePie and the Game Grumps seem to trust these people more than the gaming journalists.  And the YouTubers love them back!  Why shouldn’t they?  Their living is dependent on views.  These fans send them fan art and other gifts and even strips the audio from their videos to make animated shorts.  With Disney buying Makers Studios for a cool half billion, many popular YouTubers even have a major movie studio behind them now.  Video gaming on YouTube is serious bidniz.  At the same time, gaming journalism is faltering as more people trust these YouTubers than the gaming press.  A mass migration to YouTube over gaming sites has been happening for a long time now.  And I doubt much will stop it unless the gaming press seriously reforms itself.

What would these reforms look like?  Apart from the ones I mentioned in the third paragraph of this rant, there are probably plenty of good ideas.  Disclosure of personal or financial relationships with the games and developers these people are writing about would be nice.  But a conversation is the start.  Something the gaming press is steadfastly opposed to.

I may write more on this later, but these are my thoughts as of now.  I’m assuredly pro-#GamerGate and little could change that.

NOTE:  I’ll add links later.

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