In this series, I’ll aim to explore the issue of diversity in gaming. What is it? Do we have it? How can we have it? And do we need it?
Initially I only intended for this series to be two parts, but after getting completely carried away as I always do, I’ve decided to make it three.
In part one we took a look at the issue of identity politics in gaming and a recent Twitter drama surrounding the Metroid star Samus Aran. But now it’s time to get a little more serious.
Let’s delve further into the topic of diversity in gaming and the so-called ‘war’ being waged against it. What role does the gaming press itself play in the quest for more inclusiveness and are they really helping? This lengthy part of this series will be a little more positive and less about silly internet dramas, I promise.
Journalism or propaganda?
Let’s be honest here, gaming journalism as it stands now is quite frankly a mess. There’s a growing divide between what gamers actually want and what a large portion of gaming journalists want them to want. It’s rife with cronyism, click-bait, manufactured outrage, sensationalist headlines, cultural policing, unethical behaviour and just plain lies.
The latest controversy that the games media is kicking up a fuss about wants you to be ashamed of? Quiet from Metal Gear solid V: The Phantom Pain. The games press doesn’t think Quiet’s outfit that she sports throughout most of the game is appropriate and they don’t think you should either. Now we’re all entitled to our opinions here and you may happen to agree with them. But I want you to take a look at this article below by Kotaku (who else?) and tell me that this is genuinely something you as a gamer want to read about on a video games website. At what point does games journalism stop being journalism and become plain propaganda?
What’s even more troubling here is the complete disregard for the reader’s opinion on the topics at hand. When opinion-driven pieces like this are published and paraded around as gospel, many readers take to the comment sections to have their voices heard; as is their right. But what happens when your opinion isn’t the right one? What happens when the piece in question is factually incorrect, makes sweeping generalisations that you know aren’t true and you want to speak up? Well have no fear because these journalists have the answer: simply remove the comments in question under the guise of ‘creating safe spaces’ and ‘inclusivity’ or just simply shut down the comments section altogether as we’ve seen from sites like Polygon, The Daily Dot and PC Gamer.
It’s easy to brush-off differing opinions when you have shut yourself off from them completely, retreating into a ‘hug-box’ or sorts where your voice is the only one that matters and can be heard. “We’ll tell you how to feel, there’s no need for discussion here” is message I take away from this sort of censorship. What good is an idea that cannot be held up to public scrutiny and criticism? Why claim you want to have a discussion when you’re not willing to engage with your audience?
Using these kind of undermining tactics, the gaming press is pushing the newest gaming narrative: ‘Gaming isn’t just for white males any more’. But one has to wonder, has gaming ever been just for white males or is this simply using an outdated myth based on a stereotype to propagate the idea that gaming both lacks and needs more diversity?
Take a look at this article by Jef Rouner of the Houston Press who claims “There Have Been Only 14 Playable Black Women in Gaming” (easily disproven here) It’s preposterous, the exact kind of garbage journalism that’s being fed to those with a lesser knowledge of video games, those that are easily inclined to eat these kind of stories up. Just how far from grace have these journalists fallen when they decide to turn around and attack their own audience, collectively chanting in unison that ‘Gamers are dead’? Is the role of a journalist not to work against the reader but for them?
And when those that the gaming press claim to speak for such as women and minorities actually try to speak up for themselves? Well, we’ve see them silenced and dismissed to the point of ridicule for not towing the line. They’re accused of being nothing but ‘sock puppets’ of the misogynist white males hiding in their pillow fortresses with their video games ‘no girls allowed’ signs. There are those out there that will actually try to say that my opinion on these matters do not matter simply because of my gender or skin colour, that I speak from a place of ‘privilege’ and couldn’t possibly understand. To that I say ‘nonsense’, we should all have a voice and we should all have the right to speak.
As someone that’s part of a pretty tight-knit circle of friends that take their games pretty seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone left out because of their gender. In fact most if not all of my friends consider it a pretty big plus to have a partner that shares their interest in video games, even if it’s not in the same capacity. They’re thankful to have someone that shares that passion and take great joy being able to bond over games together such as The Walking Dead or Until Dawn.
I had a fantastic time replaying The Last of Us with my younger sister. She doesn’t take games as seriously as I do but she really enjoyed simply watching me play and the great cinematic experience that comes from such a game. I remember growing up when she got her first Gameboy Advance for Christmas with a copy of Pokemon Leaf Green. I was ecstatic for her and excited to teach her how to play, we still bond over Pokemon games to this day.
The sensationalist headlines from the gaming press crying misogyny and racism are not helping anybody, they’re simply fanning the flames. I’d even go as far as stating that it’s scaring people away from gaming. I’d hate to think that anybody is taking the words of these second-rate journalists at face value and turning away from games and other similar cultures, thinking they’re unwelcome and missing out on some of the truly magical experiences and friendships that can be derived from gaming. Can we stop dividing the community over petty playground grievances for more clicks and go back to just playing video games?
On harassment, trolls and discrimination
The gaming community is and always has been a diverse group, very accepting of everyone that just loves video games. Race, gender, age, sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter. Gamers just want to play video games and enjoy themselves. It’s when you try to hinder that fun for others that gamers will put down their controllers and get serious.
As with any group, there are always a few bad apples that are out to spoil the fun for everyone and gaming is unfortunately no exception. These bad apples come in a range of rotten forms; trolls, hackers, immature children, immature adults and the unfortunate racists and sexists.
Chances are if you are a woman that plays games, you’ve been on the receiving end of some sexist remarks. But here’s the thing, we all have. I myself have been on the receiving end of abuse for things such as simply playing the game, including death threats. There are people out there that are just looking to attack others for their own personal validation; be it insecurity, jealously, anger issues or mental health problems. And no matter what race, sex or religion you are, they’re going to find the one thing that gets under your skin and they’re going to use that against you. It’s unfortunate. it sucks, it’s reality.
This is where the myth of targeted harassment comes in, the gaming press wants women and minorities to think they’re not welcome in gaming, that there’s some crusade of angry men trying to push everybody else out of their hobby. This is simply not true. Harassers are always going to be harassers, they’re negative people looking for negative attention and they’ll seek to get it from every avenue they can get. When a group of script-kiddies use their botnet to bring down Xbox Live, Steam or the PlayStation network, they’re doing it to annoy everyone. When hackers use third-party software to break the game and one-hit-kill everyone on the server with an aim-bot, they’re doing it to annoy everyone. When that one person in your party wants to scream obscenities and insult others, they’re doing it to annoy everyone.
We’re not special, we’re not being specifically targeted, it’s life and it’s part of interacting with others. There is no pitchfork-wielding mob patrolling online games specifically targeting certain groups. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying racism, homophobia and sexism aren’t present in gaming. I’m saying it’s not the epidemic that you’ve been told.
You’ve probably heard of the phenomenon of ‘Swatting’. That is; taking the personal information of a person that is live-streaming themselves playing a game online and reporting them to emergency services, usually under the false pretence that they’re part of a hostage situation or a bomb threat, resulting in the person’s home being targeted by SWAT Police, potentially putting that person’s life in danger all while those watching over the web look on in horror through the victim’s webcam, you know, just for a laugh. Many well-known streamers have fallen prey to this despicable act, it is classified as a felony that can result in a heavy fine and even jail time. This goes beyond harassment and could be considered attempted murder as the victim is unwillingly forced into a game of Russian roulette.
While some women have been targeted by these acts, the majority of victims appear to be male, and as such these stories go largely ignored by the gaming press. Why? Because it goes against the narrative that gaming is an unsafe place for women. It’s evidence that harassment is everybody’s issue and not a silly game of gender warfare. It’s our job to stop such bullying, not for specific groups, but for everybody. It’s time for us to stop pointing fingers and start working together to end harassment.
Games don’t need to ‘grow up’
When the games media isn’t wagging its finger at gamers for enjoying content that they deem questionable, they’re promoting the games they want you to play. And when these games just so happen to be made by developers that are friends with these journalists? Well, who are you to point out the lack of journalistic ethics and integrity? Disclosure isn’t hard, so why is it that games journalists have such a hard time doing it?
10 years ago, gaming was under a similar attack by a similar campaign spearheaded by disbarred attorney, Jack Thompson, who claimed that violent video games were responsible for mass shootings and other felonies. Despite overwhelming evidence that suggested otherwise, Thompson sought to block the sale of games like the Grand Theft Auto series by linking them to a series of violent crimes.
While this was going on, the gaming press had our backs and fought back against the baseless accusations, they were pro-consumer and anti-censorship. But now? The gaming press has teamed up with gaming’s newest critic and joined in on the endless chorus of ‘games cause sexism’. If you don’t believe that video games cause violence, how can you believe they cause sexism?
“Games need to grow up” is essentially code for “Games need to cater to our agenda“. Games that don’t meet some kind of undefined diversity quota are labelled racist. Games that don’t feature a flawless Mary Sue-type leading female protagonist are labelled sexist. And games that dare include women in anything but a burka are labelled downright misogynistic, as we’ve seen just recently with Quiet.
Of course there is nothing wrong with critiquing the media we assume, it’s perfectly healthy and encouraged. But when some groups such as the politically correct take their criticisms to a whole new level by appointing themselves as a type of ‘culture police’, they confuse cultural policing with constructive criticism. They seek to take away what others enjoy in a holier-than-thou attempt to sanitise media for the sake of inclusiveness and political correctness. Heaven forbid that art imitate life or explore themes that some people may not be comfortable with.
One of the popular buzzwords used by these authoritarian culture police to describe content they find troubling is ‘problematic’. But very rarely will you actually ever hear the word problematic followed up with a reason as to why it actually causes problems. It’s a weasel word, one that signifies nothing but the critic’s own dislike of something without the ability to effectively establish why.
Often these attempts to censor something are backed up by bogus statistics, pseudo-sciences and political ideologies. These people see themselves as progressive and noble crusaders ridding the world of impurities. It stifles creativity, discussion and ideas, benefiting nobody but the perpetually offended and weak of heart.
But they do not have that right. Gamers of all kinds have to right to play the games they want to play and consume the media they want to consume. We all have the right to be represented without censoring others. We must be the change we want to see. Games are a free market and should be treated as such. Rather than lash out at particular games for not catering to your ideals, make your own, no one is going to stop you, no matter what the media tells you.
There is room for all types and genres of games; from text-based simulators about illnesses like depression, to pornographic puzzle games that let you go on virtual dates with various women. You can enjoy one type of game without condemning another. Why can’t we celebrate the diversity of games themselves instead of demonizing the more niche and adult markets?
Make no mistake, this is not games maturing. This is personal politics being forcefully injected where they don’t belong. This is not games progressing in their own way, this is dogmatic enforcing on an Orwellian scale. It needs to stop, diversity should not come at a cost.
Thanks for reading part two! As always I invite you to share your thoughts. Stay tuned for the final part of this series where I plan to take a look at what games do diversity right, how representation can benefit all and the issue of sex-negative body shaming.