Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

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.

5 Comments

  1. I’ve been inviting others to post on this precise subject at https://www.facebook.com/groups/694735017281071/
    …. Reclaiming “Gamer”.

    • Damion Schubert

      September 9, 2014 at 6:31 am

      Yeah, I stole the name from your group.

      No wait! I mean, synergy! Yeah, that’s it!

  2. Great insights Damion. I see this as the culture wars surfacing in our communal niche. I think it’s happening here *because* the 99% of gamers are generally good, tolerant and thoughtful people and we can actually get to a reasoned discussion. We’ll never get rid of the 1% completely (and probably shouldn’t) but we can and should set the norms and mores of our community and live them through example. Hopefully we have enough common sense not to be brow-beaten by the zealots (from whatever “side”) who are trying to push their version of a politically correct agenda which have very little to do with both the creation of, and immersing people in high quality entertainment experiences.

  3. ‘Office Space’ one of my favourite films, mmmkay.

    I am a Gamer.
    I would love to reclaim it as a title to infer a love of all games. And, not just a label used to identify people who play games.

    Too many people who play games feel the need to wrap themselves up in the smallest clique possible so they can feel important. The mantra ‘My game is better than your game.’ is never far away… although probably far cruder in the chat rooms and forums.

    Acceptance that other people like other things and that is not wrong is one hurdle to cross. I’ve never been a fan of Platform games, never played a Mario game in my life, but I’m not calling for them to be banned.

    Constructive criticism is a skill that a great many forum frequenters need to work on. ‘This game sucks.’ is not constructive criticism. The game may indeed suck, but you need to be able to elaborate why it is so.

    These two aspects tend to combine when a game is released that you want to like but just doesn’t hit that sweet spot of enjoyment. And many feel the need to jump on new products before they’ve given them a chance.

    It’s good that there are events out there where gamers can meet each other face to face. But, the cynic inside me wonders how many of them that are pleasant at such events go back and rant on forums in the privacy and isolation of their own homes.

    And all of the above is not an excuse for the absolute abhorrent behaviour of a socially maladjusted misogynistic minority as exposed by the recent and not so recent events.

  4. I think the reason women are hated in the hatoful part of gaming community is a rule of the internet and a trend
    All women are men
    and
    the Gamer Gurl trend (which was filled with PIGEON)

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