I am not a perfect ally of the progressive/feminist forces inside the game community. I started to list out examples at the start of this post, and then realized I had a wall of text that would undoubtedly derail the conversation that needs to happen (on the bright side, I apparently have quite a backlog of good blog material). However, there are some clear examples.
First, I think that Penny Arcade and PAX have generally gotten a raw deal. Second, I think that costumes and armor in comic books and video games are not meant to protect the character or be functional or realistic, but to create a strong, unique, marketable character and aspirational fantasy, and I love Bayonetta equally as much as the new Batgirl. Third, I think that describing our video game culture as a ‘rape culture’ is incendiary, inaccurate, and ultimately counterproductive. There is scant evidence that our mass media and video games cause more real life sexual violence towards women – in fact, sexual assault rates have decreased steadily since 1993 (you know, the year Doom came out) and are currently at 20 year lows.
Now that we’ve established that I’m not your typical social justice warrior, I feel nevertheless compelled to point out that our Fuckwad Culture is currently off the rails.
There is currently no issue that is as pressing to those of us who believe that online gaming and communities are the future we should aspire for, than the fact that a bunch of knuckledragging mouthbreathers can, usually cloaked in the warm blanket of anonymity, use the internet as a means to randomly slander, bully and terrorize those who don’t agree with them.
The Internet should be a safe place for everyone. Games should be fun places for players to congregate. Right now, for many people, neither is true.
Now then, my Facebook feed this morning has a handful of well-meaning people who are posting things along the lines of “If you support MRA assholes or want to bash Zoe Quinn then unfriend me.” Fuck that. The last thing these idiots need is to fall further into the echo chamber that is their own asses. These people need to be told, frequently and loudly, that they are not only wrong, that they are utter freaking assholes. And other people need to see it happen. Ironically, public shame is the only way that polite society will ever return. So keep them on your friends list – because someone needs to tell them they’re wrong.
1) If you think this is an isolated problem, limited only to a handful of ‘celebrity women’, you’re wrong. For a small sampling of the abuse that women can take, look no further than Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a website that consists nearly solely of screenshots that women take of men who have sent them disgusting or terrifying text messages in game, usually in the context of just having their asses kicked by them. If you’ve ever sent a message that could conceivably show up on that web site, please take a moment and ask yourself why the fuck you are such a colossal waste of genetic material.
2) It doesn’t take many assholes to poison the well. Here’s a secret – the ‘not all men’ camp is technically correct, and even moreso, they’d be accurate in saying ‘most men’, as in ‘most men are not colossal manchildren incapable of holding a coherent conversation with a woman’ and ‘most men are not, actually, potential rapists who spout out vile obscenities the moment a player with a female voice whips their ass’. Here’s the other secret – that doesn’t matter. At fucking all.
I worked at Origin, back in the early days when UO had a huge Player Killing problem. We would have polls asking how many players they thought were die-hard player killers (had red names and passed a couple other criteria). The response was usually in the realm of 10%. In reality, the number was less than 1% – player perception was off by somewhere between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude. It’s just that this tiny, tiny percentage of people has a massive, massive effect on the perceptions of civility and security of that online community.
The next time that you feel like saying ‘not all men…’, keep in mind – it takes ONE asshole to make a comment that is so foul and disgusting it makes a woman want to leave a community or a gay developer fear for his life. So stop feeling defensive about it, understand that the person talking has probably encountered some very real shit and isn’t talking about you, and instead devote that righteous anger to putting up an aura of nontolerance for assholish behavior. Apologize if you fuck up and go too far. And have the courage to call out douchebag behavior when you see it for what it is.
3) Having thick skin should not be a requirement to be a game developer or academic – but right now it is. Look, I disagree with Anita Sarkeesian on a lot of topics - it turns out that its possible to think someone has an important voice and not be in lockstep with everything they have to say.
That being said, Sarkeesian is for the most part merely holding a mirror up to what she sees in modern games, and asking developers to put an iota of thought into things before they relegate all women roles in their games to being strippers, prostitutes and princesses to be rescued. She is asking for absolutely zero censorship of games, and the odds that your favorite game franchise will stop including gratuitous sex and violence is roughly on par with the odds that all of your favorite characters will survive the last book of The Game of Thrones. Apparently though, there are those who believe that her videos will somehow going to result in all boobies disappearing from the internet, because her most recent video has resulted in Anita and her family going into hiding after getting violent threats. Because she has an opinion about what makes good games that is different than yours or mine.
This is not unique to Anita. Numerous articles have reported the problems of gamer on game dev harassment that is now extremely concerning, and is chasing some good people out of the industry. Close to the home front, I remember the abuse that BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler got when she mentioned she wished she could skip the combat in her games. The abuse of Jade Raymonde is also legendary. While I know of some women who have left the industry because of the treatment they’ve faced from their bosses and coworkers, it seems like I hear a lot more stories about people who quit because of what they see on the forums or what they encountered at a trade show. Not from ‘all men’, mind you, just a couple. It doesn’t take many to make you live in fear.
4) If your response to a failed relationship is to post your dirty laundry, including literally pages of private correspondence, to a private blog, as well as one of the largest websites in the world, resulting in your ex getting all manners of terror and abuse aimed in her direction, you are a Grade-A Major League Asshole. If you actually try to claim that you never meant for this to happen but fail to actually, you know, apologize or take down the web site, your assholishness is off the charts. Sorry, that needed to be said. I don’t even need to hear her side of the story.
5) If you don’t think that being a white, straight male grants you undeniable and unassailable privilege in modern Western society, then you need to get your head out of your MRA ass.
6) Manufacturing a scandal to be able to keep calling a woman a slut is pretty much the definition of shitbag behavior. You know how many people would care if a male developer slept with a female journalist? Roughly zero. It happens all the time. Hell, sometimes we even marry them. It’s not just game journalism – Washington DC is full of journalists who have had relationships with the people that they’ve covered. And yet, somehow, the Washington Post manages to maintain their integrity and reputation.
Attempting to say that this merits discussion because somehow the integrity of games journalism is at stake is a ridiculously transparent attempt at finding a way to wrap a river of neverending slut shaming in the clothing of ‘legitimate debate’. As if the developer in question is some kind of Beyonce-like media juggernaut. I assure you, the corrosive impact of one indy developer having any sort of affections with a journalist pales in comparison to the fact that, for example, most of the revenues for gaming magazines comes from the ad revenue for the very same publishers that they are reviewing. Stop it.
Look, I love making games. I can’t imagine doing anything else. And I love interacting with fans – the good ones, anyway. Doing the SWTOR cantina tour and meeting the players who loved what we’re doing here, and having constructive discussions about what we could do better – having that kind of live feedback loop is part of what I love about making online games.
But there is a contingent of gamers who seriously need to drink a cup of Shut the Fuck Up. It’s not all gamers. I suspect that, if you’re reading this, you’re not one of them. It is, in fact, a minority of gamers, and probably a tiny minority at that. But the amount of noise that they make, and the amount of damage that they do, is vastly out of scale with their small population.
So I’m issuing a call to arms – a call to arms not just to developers (who in the last two weeks have risen heroically in defense of our comrades under assault), but also to the large contingent of ‘good guy fans’ that I know are out there, and I put it on them to work with us to address this issue. Call out the assholes as you see them doing assholish stuff. Welcome and foster healthy, mature, respectful debate on the forums. Kick players from your groups and your private servers who can’t treat other players with a modicum of genuine respect. Do what you can to create a welcoming environment for ALL new players, no matter their demographics. And do what you can to end Fuckwad Culture.
Edited to add: this probably goes without saying, but comments are being fully moderated, and I’m keeping out a lot of stuff.