Archive for Industry Musings

Response to a Response on Anita, Turtles All The Way Down

@FringeNerd asked me to respond to his response to my article generally praising Anita Sarkeesian’s work.  As mentioned previously, I agree with a lot, but not all, of what Anita has to say. I do definitely think she has an important voice, and that she was a worthy recipient of the GDC Ambassador’s Award.  Even if I still like boobplate.  (Note, I cut out a couple places in order to shrink this down)

> Games should show more women capable of strength, agency and power in your game world, instead of being relegated to simply being background props or quest objectives that could be replaced with a sock monkey.

Same could be said for male NPC characters. Yes, I’m whatabouthemen-ing, but only to point out that there’s a distinct lack of context in her videos. A significant number of the criticisms she levels at video games and developers apply also to their treatment of male characters, and gendering and/or ignoring half of the context of those points is disingenuous and misleading. This circles back to your remarking that she doesn’t understand the constraints of development; but it’s more than that. She doesn’t have a firm grasp of the topic she claims to be an expert in, either.

Not really.  There are only so many strong characters in most games, and in most games (much like most action movies) they go to men.  And in many games, it goes even further – for example, in Far Cry 3, there are no women at all that hold a gun.  This is pretty significant in a world where guns are the expression of power, control and liberty. (Yes, that article does make a feminist point based on Anita’s work that you should be able to shoot more women).

> find ways to depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles.

I’m not convinced this isn’t already happening all the time. Tropes exist for a reason. One could even call them archetypes.They’ve been used since the beginning of time, and each generation has brought something a little different to its interpretation of the roles. Granted, I no longer play a lot of “AAAs” because most are poor excuses for games (and I’m a Linux user), but those I have played seem to be making a concerted, if calculated, effort to stretch beyond the way women have been portrayed in the 90s– and the 90s made an effort to move beyond the 80s, too. Archetypes aren’t going away, sorry. But the industry changes. There’s something about Anita’s laser-focus on proving misogyny and sexism and patriarchy and victimhood that pisses people, including me, off like very few other critics manage to do. She’s in the “rarified” company of the likes of Patrica Hernandez.

Those tropes do exist for a reason, and Anita is the first to say that she doesn’t expect these tropes to go away.  However, while the tropes for men tend to be empowered: the hero, the supervillian, etc, the tropes for the women tend to be about being an object.  See Princess Peach and Zelda in most of the platformers Nintendo makes.

Also, there is a massive variety in the kinds of roles that male characters have, vs. a tiny variety of roles for the female characters.  Her Ms Main Character video really described this clearly.  Now, there are some caveats here: there are more men than women in most male-oriented films, just as there are more women than men in chick flicks, and clearly Sucker Punch shows that you can go too far in the other direction into panderland.  But right now, most female characters just fall back into a handful of very familiar roles.

And to be honest, I’m less bothered by the percieved sexism than the SLOPPINESS.  The clip that Anita showed of a string of a dozen games where your wife dies and you have to rescue your daughter made me feel guilty about all the times I’ve just been party to a design team that just ‘phoned in’ its character design.

> Game designers should keep in mind that a lot of people (and not just women) have a viscerally negative reactions to scenes showing violence against women (particularly as many have first-hand experience with it), so maybe we shouldn’t just throw these scenes in casually.

And here I’m going to whataboutthemen again, because there’s something seriously fucked up about a world that doesn’t mind men being tortured, killed, and generally abused but gets up in arms the second a woman suffers the slightest harm. That Anita doesn’t address this in her videos at all is a HUGE failing. The lack of context is, again, disingenuous and misleading.

Let me make this more clear.  How often have you seen a man raped in a video game?  Very fucking rare.  In fact, I can only think about it happening in Far Cry 3, and even then, it’s purely offscreen and implied.  Why?  Because men find this shit icky as shit, and men make the games.

>Seriously, all the dead, spread-eagled naked women in games are kind of creepy.

And what of it? Art and entertainment has long been a way for society to grapple with its psychoses and fears and the darker aspects of itself. It’s good that you think it’s creepy. It says something about you as a person. At the same time, it’s deeply worrying to me that the West is so paternalistic when it comes to the way women are treated in video games.

Let me make this more clear.  How often have you seen a dead naked man hogtied and with a ball gag in his mouth in a video game?  Very fucking rare.  Why?  Because men find this shit icky as shit, and men make the games.

>Times which she says that all games are problematic: zero. In fact, she frequently makes it clear that she means the opposite:

That’s really, really undermined by how she never has anything good to say about games. Why doesn’t she have anything good to say about games? My theory is she doesn’t actually know enough about games to feel comfortable being positive about them. (Cf Bayonetta. What a ridiculous video that was. Which she’s since removed, without acknowledging she was wrong or apologising for it.) Sorry, not good enough.

She has talked about games the thinks are good examples of working with the tropes, and also discussed games that she thinks tried to subvert the tropes but failed.  I think the third Damsel video is where you can find that.

>This one point caught my eye in particular, about how relegating stories of trauma and sexual abuse to being crappy side quests trivializes one of the greatest crimes and fear that many women have:

And all the other crimes that are relegated to side quests? Again, there’s a remarkable lack of context here.

Here’s her point – a lot of games are very cavalier about domestic abuse and sexual abuse – rape or attempted rape.  Her example is Watch Dogs, I believe.  In that game, the same domestic abuse side quests are just cut and pasted across the world, in order to make the world more ‘edgy’.  She points out that a lot of women, completely reasonable and not particularly feminist women, have a visceral reaction to seeing this AT ALL, and filling your world with it is going to invoke a visceral negative reaction.  This is the sort of thing you should think about if you’re a game designer.  You may decide ‘screw it.  We didn’t want that audience anyway’.  But it deserves an iota of thought.

>I’m not saying stories seriously examining domestic abuse or sexual violence are off-limits to interactive media. However, if game makers do attempt to address these themes, they need to approach these topic with the gravity, subtlety and respect they deserve.”

Why? Quentin Tarantino makes irreverent movies of horrifying subject matter all the time. Holy cows are stupid–and dangerous.

Yep, and he’s gotten a ton of criticism for it from feminists!  Note: he still gets to make those films, and they still fill theaters.

Here is my biggest criticism of Anita: her perspective is distinctly American, in an industry which is increasingly without borders. Her understanding of Bayonetta, for example, betrays the sex-negativism that is the hallmark of America. There is a way to see Japanese games as sexist and misogynist, and certainly there are those games, but really the Japanese industry is more fetishist than it is anything else. Look to anime just a decade or two ago and you’ll see men treated with the same sort of lens, sexually, as women are. (Yes, the roles of that sexualisation differed, but the lens was the same.) What changed? Anime became international, and had to tailor itself to the regressive attitudes of Americans. The same has happened to gaming. It’s colonialism by economics.

I would generally agree with this, actually.  Japan is its own world in terms of cultural norms, built upon a bizarre mix of fetishism and repressed sexuality.  Comparing American sensibilities to that is trending close to comparing apples to oranges, and I think more often she should point that out in her videos.  That being said, there are things that are the same in both sides, such as damselling.

 

>This is all a conversation that’s worth having.
Yes, but Anita shouldn’t be its spokesperson. She’s clearly not up for the task.

And clearly you and I disagree.  Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with her talking.  As long as she isn’t advocating government censorship or legal action like Jack Thompson, there is no reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to speak.  Game designers have the ability to listen and take what they feel is important, and ignore what isn’t.  Movie directors have been doing the same thing to Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert for years.  Stopping reading the New York Times because one critic in there cares about women’s issues in film would be a massive overreaction, and so is getting mad at Gamasutra or Polygon because they say, “hey, this woman has opinions on games.”

In closing, I’d like to note that while Sarkeesian herself might not be that important or harmful, the way the media are treating her is. She’s been reduced to a damsel in distress, a shield against criticism, a tool for clickbait. It’s just another damning indictment of how fucked up the gaming media is. Nobody’s owned up to this. Nobody’s accepted the responsibility of treating her work with the analysis and scrutiny they claim it deserves. In the greatest of ironies, the very industry which accuses its enthusiasts of being manbabies doesn’t have the maturity to treat a discussion of gender with anything beyond the maturity of a teenager.

And again, I think you massively overstate her impact.  We are still, STILL making the same sorts of games and the games media is STILL giving games like GTA V a 97%.  I do think that some feminists disagree, and I read those too.  I take what’s good, and ignore what doesn’t work for me.  And I’m an immensely better designer for it.

If you want real clickbait ‘feminism’, then go look at how Christina Sommers dismisses all of Anita’s stuff without actually addressing a single thing in it, and then just poo-poos it away with a ludicrous leap of logic.  I’m sure you’ll reject that, right?  You certainly aren’t going to cheerlead her just because her views happen to line up closer to where you stand.

Right?

Don’t worry about me and my artistic freedom – it’s fine.

 

 

The SJW Press Didn’t Kill Divinity’s Boobplate. Capitalism Did.

I’m generally pro-boobplate.  I mean, I’m not going to go and slap a pair of DD knockers on a Pokemon or anything, but as my friend Scott once pointed out, “I just think it’s hilarious that you’ve been labelled a Social Justice Warrior when you pretty much are the staunch defender of the right of the male gamer to have funny thoughts while playing Bayonetta.”  And that’s not to say that I insist on boobplate: I’m equally a fan of Batgirl’s new look.  In fact, I freakin’ love it. I like a variety of characters, both male and female in my entertainment, and love great character design anywhere up and down the sexy spectrum.  But still, I have no problems agreeing with a lot of Anita’s points, and yet still defending boobplate.

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This Is The Worst Games Media Ever, Except For All The Ones Before

You can take my thesis statement with a grain of salt, but it’s true.  We have, today, the biggest, most diverse, and most interesting Gaming Journalism we’ve ever had.  Whether that’s good enough, I leave as an exercise to the reader.  I suspect that many readers, particularly GGers would think not, and to be honest, I think that most developers, including many of us who challenge #Gamergate on many points, would actually agree.  As a matter of fact, at the end of the infamous Milo post, I gave several examples of things that merit actual investigation rather than crappy indie fundraisers and feminists who go mostly ignored anyway.

Big league games like Destiny and GTAV cost more than 9 figures, and a third of that at LEAST is usually earmarked to marketing. Is anyone following that money? Some years ago, a Gamespot journalist was fired right after giving a bad review to a AAA game. Games from big studios seem to rarely get reviews below 70%, but indie devs who can’t afford to advertise routinely do. Some companies have been caught giving payola to Youtube streamers (). Companies routinely fly press around the country and wine and dine the journalists that will review themHere’s a story about a company who hired a reviewer to do a mock review, solely so he couldn’t legally write the bad review they thought he’d give them.

Here’s the thing.  We used to have a smaller, more focused games media.  It was sharp.  It was glossy.  It printed just the previews, and once the game came out, it printed just the reviews.  It was the amazing world of Print Media: PC Games, PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, Nintendo Power, EGM and NextGen magazine.  Let ol’ cranky grandpa developer tell you about it.

It was fucking DREADFUL.

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Here’s Why No One Believes The “It’s Not About Her” Angle

A play in three acts.

Act I: Zealous Investigator slams TFYC for not really supporting women or giving to charity.

The most neutral way to describe TFYC is that they were ‘in the mix’ when the ZoePost event exploded in the chain of events that would lead into #gamergate. There was shitty behavior on both sides, but supposedly Zoe Quinn and TFYC made peace. However, TFYC emerged from the event as the ‘not Zoe’ female developer, with 4chan supporting the game with funding. The invention of #gamergate’s mascot, Vivian James, was in support of this effort.

One of the more spectacularly wrong things I see over and over again is this idea that ‘the mainstream gaming press won’t cover TFYC because of Zoe!’ Here’s the thing: the mainstream gaming press doesn’t cover enough indie shit – PERIOD. One of the biggest problems with the gaming press is that they get all their money from big developers, and they fill their front pages with orgasmic previews of these AAA games, and the guys making indie games and running indie events have a hellacious time getting any press at all. In fact, and I’ll say this bluntly, #GamerGate was by far the best thing to happen to TFYC. Fucking nobody would know, or care, about it. That’s not the way it should be, it’s the way it is.

Anyway, I found Vivian’s argument to be pretty weak sauce. Basically, what she’s saying is that what TFYC is doing is using the money to give a talented female designer a PAID PROGRAMMING STAFF. Will she actually run the team? I suspect she’ll be paired with a more experienced designer who can help her color within the lines of budget and feasibility, two things new designers struggle with. Her argument that the team, not the designer, will get all the credit is utterly fallacious. Any marketing around the game would undoubtedly center around this promotion. Even if the artist contributed zero past the initial design document. Because that’s what’s most marketable here.

So anyway, I thought this was all bullshit, and was just about to respond as such forcefully, when TFYC beats me to it.  And then I was immediately glad I didn’t.

Act II: TFYC Makes It All About Zoe

This is literally the first full sentence of the response.

In the end, this project will alway be entwined with Zoe Quinn.

Wait, what? You mean, the one that shall not be named?  Needless to say, I immediately did a search of Viv’s original article.  Zoe’s name appears NOT ONCE.  There are so many ways that you could legitimately counter Viv’s claims.  Why do we immediately go here? Seriously, what the hell?  But TFYC goes straight to repeatedly bringing up Zoe, including:

  • Dredging up her donations and patreon earnings for no apparent reason.
  • Accusing Zoe of being unexperienced
  • Slamming Zoe for not really programming or building her own tech
  • Effectively accusing her of spinning a victim narrative so she doesn’t have to create any real work (even throwing in that she’s using her looks to make it happen)

He closes with:

In the end, if we weren’t here, all that would be left for you to bitterly tear at would be Zoe, and her sins are far worse than ours.

WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT HER?  Oh, that’s right.  Because her name is a dog whistle that somehow brings all the worst trolls to the yard, and its the easiest albeit sleaziest way to circle the wagons.

Act III: Zoe responds with a completely appropriate ‘what the fuck’.

Not much for me to say here, other than the fact that her general befuddlement and outrage here is pretty much warranted as near as I can tell.  Whether or not TFYC is clean or completely in the wrong, there is no good reason why Zoe should feel the need to expose her finances in response to TFYC’s ethical problems, be they real or non-existent.  I will note that before this left-field attack, I thought they were non-existent.

But you don’t deflect in such a bullshit way as that if there’s not something there.

Zoe, in this twitter stream, has agreed to release any and all documentation to members of the press who are willing to help her cleanse it of private information and host it.  I’d be surprised if any takers take her up on that.  The press that would normally cover such things, like Polygon or RPS, are trying not to talk about #gamergate, not because they are ignoring it so much as because, due mostly to utter bullshit claims, they feel like they are part of the story, and must recuse themselves.  The only games media talking about Gamergate right now are pro-gamergate sites, who are feeding off the movement.  You have to go to cracked magazine to read a major site with an antiview (their view is that this bullshit is the stupidest scandal in games history).

Seriously, if #GamerGate isn’t about Zoe, then why do GamerGate’s Heroes like Milo and TFYC have such a hard time avoiding her as a topic?

 

The Most Important Part of This Escapist Article Is the Anonymity

Some time ago, Alexander Macris from The Escapist asked me to write up my thoughts on #gamergate. I sent him a response (it’s still coming, I think), and told him that I hoped he was talking to some women. With my response, I told him frankly that I thought it would be a bad idea for him to ignore diversity for this topic, because much of the roots of this topic are based in minority viewpoints, particularly women. He latched onto this idea and ran with it. It’s a good read. Seriously, go read it.

It’s well-rounded, and does a great job of describing the total feeling of ominous despair I’ve seen overtake the dev women I know. Let’s talk about the most important thing about this article: most of these women wouldn’t participate unless they were anonymous. This maps to what I see in my friends list. There are people in my friends list who have been making games for 20 years.  Some of these are women who normally will NOT shut up about what is right or wrong in game design or the games industry.  Since the start of #gamergate though,  these outspoken designers are absolutely, positively refusing to engage on this issue. By far, this is more true of the women than the men.

There’s a simple reason: what happened to Anita, and what happened to Zoe.

I’ve linked a few times this article by Criado Perez who documented the avalanche of shit that piled upon her once the Internet decided she was an uppity bitch. By way of comparison, last week, the twitterverse took something I wrote out of context, and decided I was part of the problem. Here’s a rough catalog of what I got when Base Mom called me out.

  1. A whole bunch of people who pointed out helpfully that mentioning the KKK or Nazis in any argument that’s gotten heated was fucking stupid.
  2. A whole bunch of people who called me a handful of names, mostly harmless like ‘idiot’ or ‘SJW asshole (the latter of which my friends found pretty funny, because they know me).
  3. A handful of people attempting to organize Bioware boycotts because of me, or requesting EA fire me.
  4. A couple of people who discounted my opinion because of how Bioware fucked up the end of ME3, or the level design in DA2 (Note: I had no part and can take credit nor blame for either game)
  5. A whole bunch of people who went full mom and talked about being ‘disappointed’ in me.
  6. A distinct uptick in the number of people trying to hack my blog.

Now, demanding people get fired because they have opinions on video games different from you is pretty uncool. But still, I didn’t get Doxed. I didn’t get DDOSed. My wife, parents and siblings haven’t been getting phone calls calling me a slut whore bitch cunt. I haven’t gotten any emails or twitters suggesting I should get raped and murdered. No one has made a video game where the sole point of it is to punch me in the face. Which is to say, a lot of shit got directed my way. But much of it was fair, some of it crossed into ‘vaguely dickish’ and some was ‘fairly concerning’. It is NOTHING compared to what happens when a community decides a woman gets uppity on the net.

I frankly think that a lot of people on BOTH sides who say they are getting harassed have no idea what harassment is.  I’ve seen numerous cases where people complained they were being ‘harassed’ for being called stupid, or being told to shut up.  Whether you call this harassment or not, this is light years from the worst shit that is happening.

Reading through the comments thread of the Escapist article, I see that a ton of people don’t get it. They think that these women, who are all clearly well-versed in the controversy, just don’t ‘get’ what #GamerGate was about. Here’s a hint: they totally get it. But #gamergate is a Rorschach test. For some, it’s a fight against journalistic corruption. For others, its an attempt to get rid of progressive (“SJW”) elements from games and games journalism. Some are still fighting a crusade against Zoe and Anita. Some are convinced its still a crusade of harassment and misogyny (and there’s still WAY too much of that shit going on on both sides). Some are just mad about ‘gamers are dead’ articles, as if those actually had any kind of lingering power on the games you’re going to get.

But I gotta tell you, in this ink blot, a lot of women devs look at the ink blot and they see a massive middle finger aimed right at them. Read the article – all but one of them expressed the same general thoughts. They feel silenced. They feel vilified. They feel alone. They feel despair that other women in the industry also feel this way, and some are starting to question whether to leave.  And they feel terrorized that they are one crazy ex-boyfriend away from being made an example of.

And if I had to place a guess, they are really sick of being told that ‘they just don’t get what GamerGate is all about’ by people who have no idea how hard it is to be a woman in the games’ industry.

I’ve had a couple of women tell me that they are TERRIFIED TO ‘LIKE’ MY FACEBOOK POSTS OR FAVORITE MY TWEETS ON THE SUBJECT.

A few weeks ago, I made a point, which is that ‘As long as women gamers and game developers are living under a cloud of virtual terrorism, I don’t give a shit about your cause.’  Now, there are a whole bunch of people who want to bend over backwards to say that it’s only a couple of fuckwads, and that the idea that this is about harassment is a myth.  I can tell you right now, that narrative is not what’s perceived.  Because the women who watched this unfold KNOW that it unfolded in the roots of Zoe and Anita, and even if they want to disagree with those two, they know there is very real risk of their lives going through the same kind of upheaval.

For having an opinion about video games.

What’s perceived is that voicing an opinion is just not safe for a whole bunch of people who are, it turns out, right at the center of the debate.  Whether or not you are pro or anti-, its perceived as just not a SAFE THING TO DO to SPEAK YOUR MIND.  And that’s a really, really fucking shitty place to be in the profession you love.

No, I Didn’t Say, Or Mean, That Gamers Are Nazis or Klansmen

TLDR: That’s not what I said, that’s not what I meant, but I apologize that what I wrote could be construed that way. But that doesn’t mean that CHS’s logic is any better.

My friends think it’s pretty funny that I’m now being linked wholeheartedly into the SJW Conspiracy that is in bed with the media and is out to destroy gaming. I’m simply a free speech zealot. I believe firmly in free speech for gamers, game makers, and game journalists. I believe that voices like Anita should be listened to. I also think they can frequently be wrong, or ill-suited for the market. I loudly advocated for Penny Arcade during the dickwolf scandal. I’m usually the one pissing off the feminists by loudly supporting boobplate – if your game is aimed for the right audience. I just simply don’t like people telling me who should be allowed to talk to me about games.

But then, we’re living in a time where Reddit, F13, 4Chan, Penny Arcade and Something Awful have all been named as potential members of the grand SJW conspiracy. These are usually sites that the feminists get the ANGRIEST at. It’s surreal. Not as surreal as being called out by a frequent television personality, I’ll grant you. But tonight, Christina Hoff Sommers did, of course,

This, of course, prompted my twitter feed to explode with people declaring that I had compared gamers to Nazis or the KKK. This is pretty clearly not what was intended by my statement. If anyone believes that’s what I was trying to say, they are sorely mistaken, but I apologize for allowing my chosen language to put this anywhere in doubt. The blog post (which is unedited other than a link to this post) is here. The quote in question is as follows:

Sommers throws out some stats and figures, and then somehow leaps to the assertion that Games aren’t Sexist, it’s just that women don’t like games. This is roughly akin to saying that the KKK isn’t racist, it’s just black people don’t want to join, or the Nazis weren’t anti-semetic, it’s just the Jews weren’t jiggy with the way they did things. Which is to say, it’s a nonsense logical leap, entirely circular in nature, and one that would get you a big red ‘F’ if you handed in a paper with this argument in your Intro to Logic or Philosophy class.

Okay, so she has a good point on my spelling error.

I didn’t compare gamers to Nazis. I was merely pointing out that her logic is nonsensical, counterintuitive, and circular. Well, I was trying to. Put another way, the fact that women don’t buy Maxim doesn’t in any way prove that Maxim isn’t sexist, and probably suggests otherwise. Or if you prefer, the fact that hardcore feminist criticism isn’t popular with men doesn’t in any way prove that that brand of criticism isn’t sexist, and probably suggests otherwise. Note in both cases, the statements above AREN’T saying they are sexist, necessarily. Just that logic being used to dismiss these concerns is hilariously malformed.

So to do her a service, I will offer a more full analysis of her point.

There is one thing that Sommers is very right on, and that is that the ESA’s numbers are wildly misused by many people throughout the media and the games industry on the way and nature that women approach games right now – and a lot of those people should know better. Simply put, there are a shit ton of women playing games right now, but they’re playing very different games. They’re playing the Sims, Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood, Candy Crush – all of these games have what are very ‘pink’ designs (an internal term I think Zynga coined that is now in widespread use). Meanwhile, as I mentioned previously, games like League of Legend have 90% M/F ratios. Call of Duty is very similar. Console purchasers are OVERWHELMINGLY male. The gaming market is wildly bifurcated, and surprisingly few games have anywhere near 50/50 splits.

Here’s the thing – throwing stats and figures in this regard is nice and all, but it doesn’t actually help her case, it hurts it. A large split in gender affinity requires an explanation, you can’t just poo-pooh it away. But she gives no explanation. She just makes a blanket declaration that there’s not.

It is very likely that more women don’t play these games BECAUSE they are sexist. Game designers have pretty good reason to believe this: we’ve found, over and over again, that having more positive depictions of women increases the number of women who play our games. In MMOs, giving women the choice to wear a bikini OR a robe makes them more comfortable. Displaying more women in empowered or combat roles seems to dramatically increase a reach towards this market. Being sensitive about the use of sexual assault as a story trope in your games does as well. Should the designer worry about that? Depends. I have no problem with designers consciously making a more hardcore game experience. I also have no problem with the makers of Maxim, Playboy or Porky’s. But those three definitely have content that many women could reasonably consider sexist, and so does Dragon’s Crown. I’ll defend the right for the DC team to make the game they want until the ends of the earth. But any reasonable person would agree its depictions of women are sexist, and likely resulting in many women choosing not to play. Things like this RESULT in the statistical split that Christina argues is not a factor.


Are there games that are rife with sexism, is that true? Do they promote a culture of misogyny and violence that must be dismantled? My answer is no.


So there are NO games that are rife with sexism? Oh, dearie me. Screw Dragon Crown or the surprisingly problematic Far Cry 3, I can’t wait until you see the latest hot tentacle porn games from Japan.

For years, games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty were said to cause violence, even though no one has been able to establish a clear correlation.

You’re absolutely right! And I’ve been shouting about this for years! But, bringing in the topic of violence is intellectually dishonest. Long-term violence being caused by video games has been pretty strongly disproven. Attempting to conflate this point with your thesis statement does not progress it in any way. Violence != sexism.

Now these critics are gaming is largely a hetero-patriarchal capitalist pursuit.

My attempt to google your emphasized phrase brought up…. links with quotes from you, or talking about this quote. Did I miss a point where Anita or another notable feminist I would have heard of said this, or is this just a strawman designed to earn disdain for hipster cultural studies professors who like words with lots of syllables?

They do a lot of cherrypicking and ignore the fact that the world of gaming has become inclusive!

That’s great! Although it seems to disagree with your initial stat dump which found that women aren’t playing games nearly as often as men! The existence of O! magazine doesn’t mean that Maxim isn’t going to have content that plenty of women find sexist or offensive, and anyway, using the example of a couple of Tomb Raideresque games with female heroes to prove that an audience you claim has a 7-1 M/F split is actually inclusive seems to be – what’s the word – cherrypicking?

Many of them want more than women on both sides of the video screen. They want the male video game culture to die.

That’s a bold statement. Anita in her video bends over backwards to say that these tropes don’t necessarily make a game bad, nor is it bad to enjoy a game with her tropes. Anyway, is there any actual reason to be concerned it could actually happen? No. No one is going to take GTA V and Call of Duty from male gamers – Take Two and Activision would and should be shelled by their stockholders if this were to happen. As long as there is no government censorship (something I would fight until the ends of the earth), we’re going to have blood, violence, and more impressive boob physics for years to come. Which is nice, because those are the games *I* like.

There is no evidence that games are making males more racist, sexist or homophobic.

Um, that’s not your thesis statement either. Why are we talking about this? Why can’t you simply explain why Games are Not Sexist? Incidentally, number of times in her videos that Anita called gamers sexist: zero.

Look, I’m not saying that all games are sexist, nor am I saying that all gamers are sexist. There are, indeed, some truly repugnant assholes, but it’s a fairly small number (and I’m not saying that there aren’t some being repugnant on the other side of the debate right now). But there is a HUGE split between how genders are playing games right now. And there is no doubt there is a lot of content that a reasonable person would consider sexist in some of these games, particularly high-profile AAA games aimed for male audiences. There is little doubt that these are connected to each other.

How GamerGate’s Right Wing Nutjob Heroes Are Betraying a Hidden Ideological Purge

#GamerGate diehards insist that the current discussion has nothing at all to do with politics and that they are, in fact, trying to keep politics and ideology out of gaming.  Which is stupid – Bioshock, the Sims, Call of Duty and Civilization are all games that have a lot of message and ideology – but yeah, you could ignore all that and stick to that broken point of view.  And a lot of #gamergate fanatics have – in a display of hypocrisy which has now become everyday in this hashtag, #GamerGate has anointed as their champions two right-wing nutjobs desperate to insert their own ideology into the discussion in an apparent successful attempt to be instant patron saints of the Movement.  Hilariously, both have admitted to not really playing any games, something that was considered high treason when it was inferred to be true about Anita, despite the fact that her stuff appears to be mostly very well researched and, uh, for the most part, to have problems but contain some pretty good points. Apparently this isn’t a problem if you’re willing to just take #GamerGate’s side although kudos to whoever suggested that Hatoful Boyfriend should be Milo’s first game).

Meet Milo, a writer for Breitbart, who is one of the rare people in the history of all humankind who I hated immediately instinctively and then disliked and had less respect for even more the more I researched him. He is an associate editor in a web magazine that even the conservative blogosphere considers to be a pimple on the ass of conservative thought.  Seriously, most of what the site is like what would happened if you combined the National Enquirer, a yapping Chihuahua, and your drunken racist uncle at Thanksgiving wearing a tinfoil hat.  Here they are talking about Birthism while vehemently denying that they do so, for example.  Here they are giving credence to Benghazi, a ‘scandal’ that even the House GOP is now admitting is bullshit.  Here they are losing their shit because of stock legal language at the bottom of a photo op.  And normally, their coverage of pop culture is wrapped up in bashing violence and defending Christianity from the evils of Hollywood. Yes, a site that specialized in ‘woe is me, why is there not enough clean, wholesome, Christian entertainment’ has suddenly decided to defend the tits and violence bonanza that is gaming.

As for Milo, this crusader against ideology started this whole thing off with an article titled, “Lying, Greedy, Promiscuous Feminist Crusaders are Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart.” Apparently, his editor had a rare crisis of conscience, which must be like discovering your first orgasm if you work for Breitbart, because it was actually shortened to be less offensive to what you see (you can see the original name in the hyperlink). He followed this up with the hysterically all-capitalized “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE VIDEO GAMING COMMUNITY FROM A SELF-CONFESSED RIGHT-WING BASTARD” – because hey, you know, he’s not about ideology at all.  This crusader for diversity calls transgenderism a disease. This defender of equality thinks that men are just BETTER at technology than women, because fuck you that’s why. All of this is because the so-called #GamerGate scandal was JUST NOT OBVIOUSLY HYPOCRITICAL ENOUGH yet.

As you can tell, Milo brings a veneer of maturity and respect to the sobering #gamergate core issues of journalistic integrity and respect towards women.  As a side note, his private twitter handle is @caligula, because of course it is.

The other pundit is Christina Hoff Sommers, a writer for the American Enterprise Institute, a site that consistently favors right wing solutions to problems.  It’s currently got the Koch Brothers and Newt Gingrich in it, and likes to promote causes like austerity, dissing the minimum wage, and declaring that Obamacare will be a disaster.  Which is to say, the AEI makes a living about being very, very right-wing.  Needless to say, I also think they are very, very wrong on these topics, but that’s beside the point – they are DECIDEDLY ideological.  Somehow suggesting that that organization is going to make some sort of statement that opposes ideology in a medium in anything is seriously smoking something, and not being polite enough to share with the rest of the group.

Christina, for her part, has made a career about depicting men in society as being an oppressed victim class, a load of garbage that apparently sounds less stupid when its spouted by a woman instead of a Men’s Rights Activist.  She’s Fox’s go-to guest when they need someone to say that fear of rape on college campuses is NO BIG DEAL (reality check: while sexual assault has dropped mightily in the last 20 years, the US still leads much of the civilized world).  Here she is complaining about the feminist conspiracy of making kids play freeze tag instead of normal tag.  Here she is complaining that boys are forced to read works of literature instead of Tom Clancy and comic books in English Literature classes.  Here’s her saying that a lot of feminists are ugly women who preach feminism to get back at men and beautiful women, along with a lot of other egregiously bad data.  You get the idea.

So what cunning observations have these two paragons of thought brought to the debate?  They do not disappoint with their uniquely self-promoting brand of stupidity.

Sommers throws out some stats and figures, and then somehow leaps to the assertion that Games aren’t Sexist, it’s just that women don’t like games.  This is roughly akin to saying that the KKK isn’t racist, it’s just black people don’t want to join, or the Nazis weren’t anti-semetic, it’s just the Jews weren’t jiggy with the way they did things.  Which is to say, it’s a nonsense logical leap, entirely circular in nature, and one that would get you a big red ‘F’ if you handed in a paper with this argument in your Intro to Logic or Philosophy class.  Which makes the fact that Sommers bio describes her as a former philosophy teacher even more hilarious.  Who knows, maybe she didn’t leave that profession by choice. There’s a lot more horrible logic in here, but I’ll just let you watch this lovingly crafted video rather than rebut it point by point. Short form: this is a very non-serious answer from an ideologue hoping simply to advance her own profile amidst the chaos of #gamergate. (EDIT: link about this paragraph with more analysis, discussion of my choice of phraseology is here. No, I didn’t call gamers Nazis)

As for Milo, his crack investigative reporting has uncovered the fact that Journalists sometimes are on mailing lists, and sometimes discuss issues in a non-public setting.  As someone in my friendslist pointed out, If you’re surprised that professional mailing lists exist, then you either aren’t good at your job, or nobody likes you. As Kyle Orland explains on Ars Technica, these lists can and do frequently help journalists maintain connections, find sources, discuss ethics, and a host of other topics.  I believe him because these things are true for devs as well.  But more so for journalists who cannot get stories without talking to people, and that includes other journalists.

I suppose its possible that Milo might surprise me by digging up actual proof of a scandal here – I can tell you that few developers would be surprised at revelations of actual shenanigans by and around the press.  But one would expect Milo to actually put his best foot forward, and instead he sprawls spectacularly on his face.  Take yesterday’s dump: his proof of widespread collusion resulting in journalists engaging in ‘damaging groupthink’ is a bunch of journalists in strong disagreement as to whether or not to send a harassed girl a comforting note.  Even the guy who suggested the idea admitted it might be problematic.  Several people said they liked it, until a couple people pointed out there was an ethical problem with it.  Presumably, then the idea died.

Crack detective work there, Milo.

This is EXACTLY the sort of thing that a private, industry-only mailing list or discussion group is good for, and in this case, resulted in the right move happening.  Milo would know this if he knew anything about the games industry.  Or the tech industry.  Or, you know, journalism.

Incidentally, it’s not really collusion if a professional organization just DOES something.  I’m a member of the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) as well as BioWare.  The IGDA has many individuals in many, MANY companies.  If the IGDA were to debate in email with its members whether or not it should, for example, send Milo’s mother a nice bouquet of flowers to comfort her on the money she flushed down the toilet on her kid’s wasted journalism degree, that’s not BioWare, Blizzard, EA and Valve making a statement, it’s the IGDA making a statement.

Getting journalists on the same ideological page is nothing new either – the GOP famously sends their daily talking points to Rush Limbaugh and all his ilk, for example,and all Fox hosts get a memo discussing not just what to say but also how to say it.  Perhaps someday Milo will get off of the video game beat and actually get to see one of these fact sheets, but if this is the quality of his reporting, I wouldn’t hold my breath. 

His day one dump was marginally more interesting, because that’s where we saw a whole bunch of journalism professionals pointing out that the Zoe Quinn situation was a shitty breakup between private individuals that had no merits as a legitimate news story, and that as shitty as games journalism is, credible games sites should hold themselves up to a higher standard than TMZ or, say, Breitbart.  Given that all attempts to establish wrongdoing by Zoe Quinn or Nate has proven to be baseless or unprovable, it suggests the journalists were more than correct to remember the lessons they were taught in their Journalism 101 classes.  It’s not a conspiracy when 10 people look at the sky, and decide that it’s blue.

Also, just as a side note, #GamerGate spends a LOT of time trying to stress that this IS NOT ABOUT ZOE QUINN. BECAUSE SHE’S NOT REALLY A WORTHY STORY. And so, Milo’s great examples of collusion – are all about Zoe Quinn. Way to feed the narrative that the stated motives of #GamerGate are completely at odds with the ravenous tabloidesque tendencies of the internet mob.

What #Gamergate claims they favor is a more diverse and more inclusive games industry, where more voices can be heard.  The way that its actually been reflected is as an ideological purge.  Look at the list of approved websites, blessed by the #gamergate powers that be.  There are PLENTY of websites that appear to meet ideological muster, that being one that happily slutshames a developer in fear of losing their audience.  The idea that, somehow, Polygon and Kotaku control the whole message of the games industry is a joke. No, only a small subset of the games media is actually under attack right now, and that’s the part that is too principled to put a developer’s sex life on the front page..  It just so HAPPENS that these sites also tends\ to be the sites most interested in talking about social issues, behind-the-scenes developer issues, and giving coverage to indie games instead of Gears of God of Destiny Soul Caliber War XBII. What’s approved are media that focus on shoving the publisher’s canned talking points about the game so far up your ass you can’t walk straight.  That’s not a minority view, it’s 90% of games journalism.  And most of it is closer to being bought and paid advertisement than anything resembling ‘journalism’. 

I do not favor any movement that tries to silence a valid voice in the art and business of making video games, and you shouldn’t either. ESPECIALLY, if it’s aimed at targeting a particular point of view.

Look, I’m not going to defend everything that game journalists do. Of particular note, I remember fondly when Kotaku actually did games stuff rather than fill half their website with weird Japanese shit. And there are some very, very sketchy practices in the games industry between press and developers. 

Big league games like Destiny and GTAV cost more than 9 figures, and a third of that at LEAST is usually earmarked to marketing. Is anyone following that money? Some years ago, a Gamespot journalist was fired right after giving a bad review to a AAA game. Games from big studios seem to rarely get reviews below 70%, but indie devs who can’t afford to advertise routinely do. Some companies have been caught giving payola to Youtube streamers (). Companies routinely fly press around the country and wine and dine the journalists that will review them. Here’s a story about a company who hired a reviewer to do a mock review, solely so he couldn’t legally write the bad review they thought he’d give them.

But we’re now entering our second month of this, and we’re still not talking about any of these things.  Instead, despite the fact that everyone on #GamerGate that it’s REALLY NOT ABOUT WHATSHERNAME, we are, thanks to Milo and his ideologically skewed muckraking, once again talking about Zoe Quinn. And we’re describing as a grand conspiracy a handful of like-minded guys disagreeing with each other on a platform more archaic than an Facebook discussion group. Gaming may deserve better than its journalism. But it sure as hell deserves better than its supposed cure.

Note: I use a whitelist policy on comments: your first comment must be approved by me and then, in general, you can post freely. Note, I will use the banhammer if you get out of hand later. I am fairly liberal with what I allow, but I still insist debate remain civil, and I am unapologetic for that. If you want to see my standards, see what goes on in other threads.

My Artistic Freedom is Fine, Thank You

There is a movement afoot in the universe that insists that #gamergate is ALL FOR THE DEVELOPERS.  All for me and my ilk!  Protecting our freedom of speech!  Trying to save the games! Which is a pretty ballsy stance, considering the movement was born in the relentless and ongoing harassment and attempt to silence a game developer.  Still, here’s a sample of people telling me that this is all to SAVE MY ARTISTIC FREEDOM!

This is freakin’ ADORABLE.  Really.  I mean, it’s really precious. Now please stop it. Because it’s embarrassingly misguided about how the industry ACTUALLY works. We really don’t need your help here. And if it looks like this, we’d rather not have it.

So please stop using the artistic freedom of devs as the reason for your crusade. Why?

1. Many devs resent being associated with #gamergate because of it’s unquestionably foul roots.
And I’m one of them. Many devs, particularly female devs, find #GamerGate to be the fruit of a poisonous tree, that tree being the violent and often terrifying crusade against some developers, journalists and academics, the majority of whom happen to be women. You push away devs when you claim to speak for them all as long as the cause bears this name.

2. No one is trying to take away your games.
The most important thing for games is that it is recognized as speech and as an art form, so that it maintains legal protection in the form of freedom of speech. As long as we are not talking about censorship of game creators (and most academics reject censorship, they value speech), then I can make whatever kind of game I want, and people are allowed to have and voice whatever opinions they want about it.

3. It is an attempt to silence a different world view.
I keep hearing the word ‘corruption’ used to describe media outlets and reporters who have progressive (‘SJW’) views on games and game development. It’s not corruption. It’s a different point of view. Lord knows, we have shittons of web sites out there that just cut and paste whatever canned talking points a developer hands out at E3 with appropriate uses of the word ‘Awesome’ and ‘Extreme’ sprinkled in for good measure. None of this really makes the games industry better, or the artists creating it challenge themselves or their work more.

4. We can speak for ourselves – with our games.
I know, some developers like to pout that they can’t say whatever they want without earning the ire of the SJW police.  What a joke.  WE HAVE THE LOUDEST VOICES IN THE ROOM.  And that’s the game itself.  Anita Sarkeesian earned $150K from almost 7000 people.  This is an impressive amount of money, the highest I’ve seen for a project like this, and debunks the idea that only a tiny fringe is interested in her cause.  That being said, Destiny cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make and market, and has reached hundreds of thousands, if not millions of players.   Same for GTA 5.  We have the megaphone.

Now, it’s true that individual developers might not necessarily be well-advised to go off and spout off whatever opinion that comes to mind.  However, this is usually less about reasons of press than it is about employment.  During GamerGate, I’ve seen more than one ‘aspiring game dev’ make what can only be described as career-limiting comments about women, the industry, or other devs in their twitter feed.  It turns out, it’s no fun to work in the pressure cooker that is the games industry when you work with an asshole.

5. The media is a relatively unimportant voice in the modern creation process.
A developer has a million voices guiding him through video game creation.  His boss.  His bosses boss.  His teammates, who want to just make a WoW/LoL/Clash of Clans clone.  The producer and project manager trying to get it out the door.  The marketing guy who wants to sneak ‘farmville’ into the game.  The publisher who will withhold paychecks to the developer if ludicrous demands aren’t met.  The license holder, who very often doesn’t seem to know his own license.  The home office who ignores the game for months at a time only to turn the Eye of Sauron on you at the worst possible time.  The MTX department, who wants to pick up the customer and shake him for loose change.  The ESRB, whose attitudes on decapitations seem to change from game to game.  The Apple/Sony/Xbox certification process.  Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Sure, we listen to outside voices.  The fans!  In today’s Internet, companies can and do build forums where they can build very direct relationships with their fans, and get a very real sense of what is important to the actual community building their game.  The press might report a point of view ragging on our game, but if our playerbase doesn’t care, most of the time, we don’t either.  Sure, the press mentioned same-gender romances as missing on SWTOR, but they moved on pretty much immediately to other games and stories.  The reason we added them was because the community literally kept a thread alive on the topic for – geez, a year?

Oh, also, the fans were right.

That’s not to say that we don’t care about the press entirely!  We care hugely!  About the Metacritic score! This is the single most important page of media a game has after launch day, and which aggregates game scores from across the spectrum.  Purists will be pleased to know that having incredible violencepossible hooker beatings and gratuitious boobage doesn’t seem to keep great games from getting great scores.  What matters is making a great game.

6. Sex and Violence isn’t going anywhere.
Media criticism of Television and Film has existed for literally decades.  Has it disappeared?  No!  In fact, these genres push the boundaries farther than ever before!  Dirty not-so-secret secret: sex sells, and there will always be artists willing to reach for those audiences, many trying desperately outdo anyone whose come before (note: your hostile liberal SJW media gave Dragon’s Crown a respectable 82).  These people may alienate a potential audience, but especially if you’re a small indy, you may have to pick and narrowly focus on one audience anyway!  (Small budget teams can’t please everyone)

And controversy sells!  The Witcher is a great series, but it would have had trouble getting any attention from the press if not for the ‘collecting bedmates‘ minigame in the first installment.  Lesbian sex got Mass Effect onto Fox News – you think a few people didn’t pick up boxes when that happened?  GTA has always embraced controversy.  They’ve only turned that into being one of the biggest game franchises in the world.

7. It’s insulting to the artists.
Do you think Will Wright needs protecting?  Sid Meier?  David Jaffe?  Raph Koster?  No.  They need input.  And they should have the freedom to take input from wherever the hell they want.  If we don’t get input, we make the same derivative crap over and over again.  Do you think you’re qualified where to tell these people where they should seek this input?

And criticism is fine.  Criticism is CONSTANT in the games industry, from every friggin’ direction you can imagine.  In fact, if you want to break into the games industry, my primary advice to you is (a) make stuff and (b) get criticized.  Junior designers assume that they’re always right. The ones that become senior designers learn to absorb and synthesize many points of view.  Sometimes this means taking someone like Anita Sarkeesian to heart.  Sometimes it means saying “We’re making the interactive Porky’s experience here, everything she says is irrelevant here.”

I’m a free speech zealot.  I believe fiercely that writers, authors, film makers, politicians and journalists should be given a lot of rope to create their art and speak their minds.  But I must say, as long as the government isn’t involved censoring the creation and distribution of my games, my artistic freedom is just fine, thank you.  Don’t worry about me.  Instead, spend that energy worrying about people who would have the audacity to silence disparate world views with harassment and threats of violence, all in the name of free speech.  All in the name of saving MY free speech.

Nobody is trying to silence me. If they tried, they’d likely fail.  I have 20 years experience, confidence in my craft, a large multinational company at my back, and about 20 years experience writing and speaking about game design.  But there are a lot of people who are trying to silence critics, academics and journalists with more progressive (“SJW”) views on games, because they aren’t ‘real’ gamers, or because what they want would ‘ruin’ games.  Meanwhile, increases in raw hardware power means that awesome boob physics is more realistic and impressive than ever before.

More diverse voices will lead to better, more diverse and more interesting games.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that all any of us really cares about?

XX Chromosome Cannon Fodder

Most modern armed forces, including those in the US, now recruit women as well as men.  So do most terrorist organizations – 15% of all suicide bombers in groups that allow women in.  Female security guards are not particularly unique – heck, Bioware has several.  There are certainly women in prison – nowhere near the rate of men, of course but certainly enough to give Orange is the New Black plenty of story material.  In video games, all of these are non-existent, unless they also have a speaking role.

Yes, what I’m saying is that there is a feminist argument that we should be shooting more women in video games.

One of the things I’ve been paying attention to when watching movies  and playing games lately has been to the extras.  I’m not interested in the named characters.  What I want to know instead: if there is an armed or violent force of mostly voiceless extras in a film, are there any women in it?  Think of it as kind of a reverse Bechdel test.

As an example, watch this scene from the Avengers, where we are introduced to the SHIELD organization aboard the Helicarrier. Ignore Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). Do you see any women? Yes. Certainly not a 50/50 split, but there’s at least 4-5 women on the bridge of the ship without speaking lines.

Why is this important? Because it changes Black Widow from being a freakish aberration to being the top of a career arc. And because if you live in a world where it takes being a member of an organization like SHIELD to get things done, showing women as participants at all levels is, I think, important to making them feel like they can be an integral part of that world.

Guardians of the Galaxy is interesting (and remember, for this I don’t care about characters with speaking lines for this, as much as I love Gamora and Nebula). There are several violent forces in the movie. Most of them are not particularly mixed gender: I remember seeing no female faces among the pilots of the Nova Corps, nor among Yondu’s crew. On the flip side, there were several women among the prison population when the team first arrives (and yet, none that I recall among the guards).

Still, the movies seem to be way ahead of video games.

Anita Sarkeesian has gotten some heat for pointing out that you can shoot strippers in Hitman. I think that both Anita and her critics miss the real issue. I have no problem with putting strippers and prostitutes in games. Heck, I like a seedy underbelly to my games, and I have no problem with sex, even casual sex, being implied in my games. No, my problem is that, in this seedy underbelly, the ONLY representation of women tends to be of civilians and sex professionals. I haven’t played too deeply into the Hitman series, but it certainly is true from as far as I’ve gotten. Let’s look at some other recent games that I’m more familiar with from end to end.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Several speaking roles for women, including your pilot, your love interest/rescuable princess, a couple key roles in the enemy conspiracy, and a handful of women who need you to do quest objectives for them.  Most of them are, you guessed it, employed at or associated with a brothel in China.  On the way to completing the main storyline, you’ll kill or work your way around countless security guards, paramilitary troops, underworld criminals and whatnot.  The number of these who are women, but not bosses?  Zero.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  Named female characters: your CO & your daughter, who you call on the phone.  On the way to completing the main storyline, you’ll kill or work your way around countless security guards, paramilitary troops, underworld criminals and whatnot.  The number of these who are women?  Zero.

Tomb Raider.  Lara is female of course, as is her sister (the rescue target), and one of her friends and fellow crash survivors who is quite the badass, I might add.  On the way to rescuing her sister, Lara has to navigate an endless sea of criminals and thugs.  The number who are women?  Zero.

Far Cry 3.  I really liked Far Cry 3 as a game, but I think it’s actually one of the worst offenders here.  This is an open world game, meant to represent a living island.  There are speaking roles: your girlfriend, her friend, and the mysterious island princess.  However, beyond that, the feminine presence on the island is worse than no women. As you stealth around, all of the cannon fodder you kill or sneak past talk endlessly about whores who gave them the clap.  Literally.

No friendly ones either, working to rescue the island they call home.  As you successfully take over the island, good guy troops come to help you reinforce the island.  These are also all male.  There are a couple of civilian women wandering around the citizens.  During the tutorial mission, your guide helpfully points out that he could bang any one of them he wanted to.

Far Cry 3 is about the war over the ideological soul of an island paradise, the desperate struggle to save a fundamental way of life.  And in this fight, the women of the island are nonparticipants whose offscreen role is to service the enemy for money.  They couldn’t add one Vasquez in the background somewhere?  Really?  On either side?  Nope.  As far as I remember, there’s not a woman who holds the gun on the whole island.

Now, adding a female character isn’t trivial.  In fact, the Assassin’s Creed kerfuffle was one I thought was misguided because animating an entirely new skeleton at AAA levels is hugely time consuming and expensive, with hundreds of animations that need conversion (think about climbing and the other movement the main character has to do).  Even more true if you want that character to have her own unique identity.  But cannon fodder doesn’t need that much animation, and in the case of Tomb Raider and Far Cry 3, most of the necessary animation definitely exists (Lara for TR, the playable female character in Multiplayer in FC3).  Most of the work here is concept and modelling – work you have to do anyway.

MMOs tend to have more inclusive rosters of enemies.  A lot of that comes from having a wealth of art assets you can use due to the player customization art, but World of Warcraft went the extra mile and got art assets for both male and female centaurs and ogres.  Most men that I’ve pointed this out to have never noticed.  Most women that I have did, and they’ve talked about how it instantly gives a sense that women can be active participants in the politics and struggles of these virtual worlds.  I suspect that this little detail adds to the sense of belonging that makes MMOs a popular genre for women.

Bioshock does a good job, both with their random splicers you find throughout as well as the Big Sister (introduced in 2, I believe).  And I’m also a big fan of both the Tanya unit from Command and Conquer as well as the Succubi in the Diablo series.  Sure, both characters lean into stereotypes and are played up for sex appeal, but I actually think a touch of sex appeal in a work of popular culture is appropriate and often good, and anyway, the important thing is that, in a world of conflict, women have some sort of place on the battlefield.

(Incidentally, the sex appeal also makes it clear that they are women! I’m not saying go full-on boob armor, but if you can’t tell that your opponent is a woman instead of a man from the distance and range that you’re fighting them, the distinction is lost!)

Having more females with guns in your game will lessen criticism of other areas.  Having the amorphous, faceless women of the world take roles like soldier, mercenary, guard, criminal, and cop – presenting a vision of the world where women can take positions of strength – will make it far less objectionable when you, as an artist, want to include that strip club or whorehouse.  A world where women CAN choose a role of strength and power but some choose not to is… well, not just less objectionable, but also far closer to, you know, reality.

So that’s my feminist argument for why you should be able to shoot at more women in games.  If you have a military force in your game, it’s good to establish that women could have a place in it, and therefore have a role in the power structure of the world that you’re creating.  The important thing is, there should be more women who can shoot back.

Reclaiming ‘Gamer’ and Defending Our Tribe

In the movie Office Space (a film that should be required viewing for anyone who work in games), the unfortunately-named Michael Bolton is asked why he doesn’t go by ‘Mike’ if he resents sharing the name with the famous grammy-award winning singer. His response was simple and eloquent. “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

This comes to mind after reading last week’s flood of people attempting to disavow themselves from the ‘gamer’ identity or declare it dead.  Screw that.  Most gamers don’t suck.  Most gamers are pretty awesome.  A tiny handful of gamers suck.  Why should we be the ones who change?

I am a gamer. I am a proud gamer. I have been for years of my life. So much so that I’ve dedicated my life to making games, writing about games, and speaking about making better games. And I love gamers. I love going to SWTOR Cantina events, to Magic Gamedays, to ArmadilloCon, BoardGameGeek.con, to E3, and to PAX, and seeing all sorts of gamers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds come together because we love games. And good games are social. So you see people talking, teaching and sharing with each other, because it makes the games better, and it makes the communities that play them better.

99% of gamers are good people.

Why should I be ashamed to call myself a gamer? I’m proud of this identity. Why should I let it be hijacked by a bunch of mouthbreathing assholes? It’s time for all gamers who care about games, game developers and the community of the hobby we love to vote these fuckwads off the island. Let them come up with their own identity. “Gamer” is ours.

Now then, I’m not saying that everyone in this tribe of gamers has to agree on everything. Hell, I certainly don’t agree with every cause that falls under the Social Justice Warrior umbrella. I think that Anita Sarkeesian is completely spot-on in her latest video about the utter creepiness of having the only feminine presence in your video games be dismembered, naked, spread-eagled corpses, but I’ve certainly disagreed with her in the past.  Should someone like her be allowed to speak her mind?  Of course she should.  What are we, infants?

Part of the victory lap that comes from recognition of games as a legitimate art form is recognizing that art criticism comes with the territory.  This is not a sign of the industry’s doom.  It is, rather, a sign of its relevancy and its growing everpresence in modern society.  There’s also a real question as to how much criticism even matters: Pauline Kael had a loud and influential voice, and Women’s Media Criticism departments have existed on campuses for decades, and yet movies and television today have more nudity, profanity and gratuitious violence than ever in history.  Similarly, as I discussed in length last week, there’s pretty much no chance that the proven cash cows of the industry are going to up and disappear.  In fact, as a designer I can tell you the hard part is getting the money guys at large companies to try untested game designs, or to try reaching for unrealized markets.  Which is why our market is dominated by Madden iterations and Call of Duty clones, and why you have to go to Steam Greenlight to find truly interesting, innovative stuff that the independents dish out.

I’m also completely fine with gamers opening a debate about the integrity and impartiality of the gaming press.  It’s absolutely hilarious that any right thinking person thinks that pretty much any amount of press that any independent developer can get is going to amount to a hill of beans.  Here are some real things to get worked up:  preferential reviews for large publishers,  Youtube payola, Apple store rating manipulations,  and Steam Sales push prices down too low for some indie developers to stay viable.  All these things merit a hell of a lot of discussion than an indie dev who may have done anything to earn coverage that she didn’t get, for a game she doesn’t charge money for.  You want to debate any of these things under the charge of improving the ethics of game development and game journalism, be my guest.  But here’s the thing.

As long as women gamers and game developers are living under a cloud of virtual terrorism, I don’t give a shit about your cause.

As long as women in and around gaming, including I note some on my friends’ list, are getting doxed, getting slandered, getting their private lives and sexuality discussed at length, getting revenge porn and nudes (real or faked) published about them, having their suicide openly rooted for, and getting harassed in private mail and public tweets so vile that they feel the need to hide out at a friends house and call the authorities, your pet topic is so low in priority that I can’t be bothered to care.

As long as the IGDA feels the need to work with the FBI in order to give game developers resources so that they can feel safe from people who claim to love games, I really don’t give a shit about any of the cute little ‘scandals’ that have been manufactured solely to give cover to the continued harassment of a handful of outspoken voices in this industry.  There’s really not much else that merits talking about.

Now, this is not just about female developers.  I feel this way anytime a developer, be they the most ardent feminist or the bro-est of bros, somehow undergoes this level of tremendous harassment.  However, its certainly more often the case with women, despite the fact that women still are not represented at very high numbers throughout the industry.  The message from the fuckwads is clear: women who speak out of line on the topic of geek culture are uppity bitches who must be put in their place.

This is not acceptable to me.  It should not be acceptable to anyone in the Tribe.

Some of the brightest minds in the industry have mentioned in my Facebook feed that, while they have plenty of opinions on the current goings-on, they are terrified of actually saying these opinions in any sort of public forum, for fear of harassment of themselves, their friends and their family.  One of these people has been a community manager for fifteen years, and is therefore no stranger to wearing a bulls-eye and facing an angry crowd.  All of these people are women.  I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

At this point, you may be saying ‘not all gamers are assholes like this’.  And you’re exactly right.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m willing to bet that the problem gamers amount to  less than 1% of the gaming population.  

This is not much consolation to a woman who has just been told that she’s a fucking cunt who deserves to be raped and her child killed.

So you’re not one of the ones being a total fuckwad?  Fantastic.  I mean that.  In most cases, this will be the case.  But the GamerGate cause is literally being driven by fuckwads with an agenda, where that agenda is to continue trashing one female developer rather than talk about their own purported topic, and to trash any discussion of progressive issues (i.e. ‘SJW issues’) at all.

Right-wing morons over at Breitbart claim the agenda is not actually about journalism,  (perhaps accidentally), but instead say that it’s pretty much about an ‘army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners’ who have taken over the games industry (you know, the one they have barely any representation in today) and are now demanding the games industry embrace feminist principles.

Sorry, but the only ‘feminist principles that are being demanded are things like ‘a woman’s sex life is really none of your god damn business’ and ‘a woman should not have to call the fucking FBI and hide out at a neighbor’s house because of her opinion on video games’, with a side dose of ‘Hey, can you please stop using the word ‘cunt’ like a punctuation mark’?

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There are few parts of what’s been happening that are more disquieting than the campaign of denial being waged against Zoe, Anita, and others in this maelstrom.  Put bluntly, it is entirely all too similar to what happens to victims of sexual and domestic violence in the real world – clearly, these womenfolk are hysterically overblowing things or lying on their way to being professional victims!   Because who doesn’t have anything better to do on a weekend than spend your evening chatting with the FBI?

Here’s the thing – if even half of what these people say is true, then its well into the realm of surreally despicable, and something that anyone who favors even a modicum of civility in our discourse about games should revile.   And I know that half of what they say is true.  Because these ‘bad gamers’ are posting that half on twitter, on 4chan, on Youtube and on Reddit.  They create video games where you can beat up Sarkeesian. The ex who swears he never meant for the wrath of the Internet to come down on Quinn still has his pathetic worm of a blog post up.  And it’s not just these two.  Do a google search for Leigh Alexander.  Or Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice, two talented writers who fled the industry.  Or go back in time to when BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler fled amidst death threats.

Devs are paying attention to this issue closely.  And we’re mad, because our friends and co-workers don’t feel safe.  Many of the people we love and respect are talking about leaving rather than continue to endure living under this microscope.  As such, most devs paying attention haven’t been voicing much — or any — opinions on the game journalism ethics issues that are supposedly threatening our industry.

Talented artisans quitting – THAT threatens our industry.

For any of the women I mentioned above, it takes only about five minutes to come up with invective so vile that, if you could imagine the woman in question was your sister, your wife, your girlfriend, or your daughter, you’d be considering homocide.

And if it was aimed at you, you’d probably be thinking about hiding under your bed.

Overzealous fans is something that I have dealt with way too much in my gaming career. It only takes a couple of ‘chance meetings’ with fans in the company parking lot who dropped in from a couple states away to passionately make their case about their nerfed class to scare the bejeezus out of you.  These were the exceptions, mind you.  And they are rare.  Most of the time, my thoughts center on the good people i meet at Cons and meetups.  The dedicated fans who love gaming and love what I do.  The kids with cancer who, through the magic of MMOs, were able to live a semblance of a normal social life during their last days.

But if you’re not part of the 1% of gamers that are part of the problem, don’t be fooled into thinking that they don’t exist.  Don’t be fooled into thinking all of this is just imagined.  It’s not.

And don’t think it’s really about game ethics and journalism.  The misogynistic assholes behind GamerGate are making precious little effort to hide the fact that this is all a smokescreen, so they can continue to harass and terrify those they deem as uppity bitches.

And as long as they’re doing so, sorry, I find talking about other things to be a distraction.

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I am a gamer because I love games.  I love games – all manner of games.  Board games.  Tabletop games.  Console and computer games.  I spend hours at work coding them and then come home and either code some more on side projects, or spend pretty much all my free time exploring them.  I love the big budget games – your Assassin’s Creed, your World of Warcraft, your Tomb Raider – and I love the little ones, like Minimetro and Papers Please.

I’m part of a Tribe.  A tribe of people like me who see gaming as something inherently good and awesome.  I missed PAX this year, which I sorely regret, but by all accounts, there the Tribe was awesome.  Here is an account I lifted from my Facebook feed.

Actual gamers as seen at PAX were the most inclusive, tolerant, accepting bunch I can remember in two decades of nerdery. I don’t mean Carefully Not Staring Acceptance, I mean acceptance. Most demos set up so a wheelchair user could play, too. People using gender neutral bathrooms like it wasn’t a big deal. No staring at the transgender men and women that I noticed. More women than I ever remember seeing before. Dramatically more gamers of color than ever before. No assumptions that the women were unwilling attendees by the side of men. No assumptions that the men were basement-dwelling virgins. No assumptions that the female booth workers were marketing instead of developers.

I am a gamer, and this is my Tribe.  It’s experienced remarkable social progress in recent years. And what’s fantastic about the games industry is that different artisans continue to create new, novel and interesting games that stretch my brain and make me think in ways that I didn’t before.  I love games for this, and I love my tribe, because the REAL gaming scene gets that.  It’s all about the games.  It’s all about the community that loves games.  It’s a community that is coming to the (sometimes painfully) slow realization that anyone, no matter their gender, race, sexual predilections and political leanings,  are welcome in the tribe so long as they love games and respect those that do.

Believe it or not, we’re winning the culture war.

Some are apparently threatened by this – by the idea that some people (mostly, those who simultaneously have vaginas and opinions) may come into their club and RUIN EVERYTHING with the worldrending message that maybe, just maybe, people should be able to play games, sometimes old games and sometimes new and wondrous games, with a modicum of civility.  They are throwing a tantrum rather than have to share their toys.

Because of these assholes, my tribe should stop calling themselves gamers?  Fuck that.  Those other guys are the ones that suck.