Why? Because what currently goes as “video games” – meaning the games themselves and the culture around them – is actually a system of marginalization and encouraged resentful behavior and memes. Actually I still have other more design oriented articles in the pipeline, but there was already so much shit going down in just one month, I kinda can’t let that just pass by. It’s not okay and it needs to addressed. Hard.
Today I would like to walk you through that system and would kindly ask you to either help break that thing or step the fuck aside. Please. Thank you.
+++ TRIGGER WARNING!: Even though this article aims to be sound and thoughtful, it’s also emotionally honest. So you can expect some harsch language and seriously triggery images (including actual real world violence).+++
It’s Not Even February, Dammit!
2012 was a year when the tolerance of many regarding sexism in games boiled over. We had many rather big so called “controversies” – fake geek girls bullshit, sexual assault surviver Lara, Hitman ninja nuns and way more. I put “controversies” in quotation marks, because I find this label very unfitting for most incidents. The controversy was about, if it’s legit to complain, to be outraged, offended and to voice your feelings or if those incidents were all non-issues and video games were just suffering an unjustified attack.
Because the inexperience in debating sexism for example and lack of understanding what those isms are and when they apply is one of the big problems we have here. The other one is the fact that – independent from the subject – it is in dispute if one should be allowed to criticize games at all for anything regarding social or political issues.
Anyway, publishers, devs, many writers and other game related outlets had to deal with quite some backlash for many of their releases, especially after the attacks (no, not just words, literal attacks) on Sarkeesian made the systemic sexism in games so drastically visible. And what did they learn? How did they decide to go out and confront the sexism charges in 2013? They fucking doubled down.
They tried to tease a future noir RPG with the image of a female prostitute about to be executed, they segregated same-sex players of Star Wars Old Republic away on their own gay-ghetto planet, they tried to push the sales of a zombie game with a mutilated bikini model statue, posted a tits and ass focused game review to increase visits of their game hub site and launched an ad where a guy offers to replace you in all sorts of pesky social interactions with women, so you can finally play more Call of Duty. (I’m pretty sure, I’m missing something) And it’s not even one month in.
And of course those incidents started so called “controversies” again, where people who actually care about this stuff voiced their concerns and a big chunk of the gaming public did not just disagree, but doubled down on their bigoted behavior as well.
When critics publicly call out sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism or any other form of discrimination and hateful messaging in the games culture sphere, there are many – dare I say most – gamers and game professionals who are quick to react as if they are unfairly attacked, as if they are discriminated against or even going as far as feeling their rights threatened.
They don’t see the resentment in their culture. They don’t feel angry or hate filled, so how could their behavior be resentful, right? They surely would recognize if they would have any sort of internalized resentment, right? And to accuse games to suffer from systemic hate would be a bit far fetched, right?
To them the hateful content is either not there or caused by invisible hand of the market, a result simply of the interplay of supply and demand. Nobody is at fault here, it’s just how it goes, right? And since non of the hateful content is there on purpose, nobody actually wants to say or do something hateful, it is unfair to call it hate, right? If everyone considers themselves to be respectful towards women, how could there be sexism? If every white guy has a couple of black friends, there cannot possibly be racism, right?
Well, it’s not that easy. Unfortunately behavior speaks louder than thoughts and nobody can define their own internalized isms out of existence and expect the offended groups to play along.
First let’s look at a simplified market system, where supply and demand influence each other:
And here is the actual fuck pool we are swimming in:
You see those two extra bubble spot things? Yeah, that’s something really special to game culture. But nothing to be proud of. This is where the shit hits the fan.
When industry output gets criticized for hateful content (mostly sexist, racist or generally exclusionary stuff), gamers get defensive. But only very few objections to the criticism are actually aimed at whatever the critical person has said. The strongest and most commonly used rebuttals are kitchen sink attacks aimed at the critical persons themselves. The games culture deals with criticism by discrediting the person who uttered it.
Instead of going after the substance of the critique – “I don’t think it’s sexist because it does not meet any criteria of sexism.” or “I see how this appears sexist to you, but there is more to this picture, here is a link for context.” – , most rebuttals go like this:
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you don’t understand games.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you are oversensitive.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you just want clicks for your blog.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you want to find something to complain about.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you don’t like games.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you hate men.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you only want games to be how you would like them.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you are stupid.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you are sex negative.”
“It’s not sexist. You just say it is because you want some pussy, white knight.”
Don’t tell me you have not read this shit a thousand times already. This is what happens to people who voice criticism, they get marginalized. They get labelled as either mentally incapable, as emotionally unstable, as being an outsider or as having an evil agenda. “You say this game is sexist? Sure, honey, GTFO, you don’t belong here.”
A core which is a super easy and super low-risk target to market to.
And how does the industry get you there? They confirm the discrimination, glorify the dominant demographic while actively devaluing all others. They feed their audience narratives of how games are under siege by feminists, forge superoffensive content only to then demand that players pick a side and foster an environment, where disagreeing with them means you are an enemy.
The problem is not, that the industry is mostly tailoring their output for white able heterosexual men and boys. The problem is that they are specifically crafting messages to resonate with their favorite audience’s internalized or expressed resentment for all otherness. They sell male on female violence. They sell sexual dominance over women, ranging from omnisexual irresistibility fantasies to worlds populated by hookers to rape fantasies. They sell homophobia. They sell stupid girlfriend can’t game memes. They sell white guys are the hero and have black friends memes. They sell foreigners are the enemy memes.
The industry puts out all this vile messages and when someone points at this shit and sais “Uhm, that’s some vile shit!”, this someone can expect to have even more vile shit piled onto him or her for daring to speak up.
Even from a business standpoint it’s super stupid. Every now and then the industry will put out vile shit, where even the easy-going loyalists can’t go along with and then those people get pushed aside as well. Every now and then, a loyalists core player will no longer marvel at boob physics. And every now and then a member of the core will get what a feminists is arguing and recognize how fucked up everything is. This former customer will be lost, because he wont be able to voice his demands, wont be able to say what he would be willing spend money on without becoming a target for ridicule, insults and ignorance. The self-selecting process also makes sure that the hard core slowly but surely erodes.
Yeah, that’s the loyal bro-verload demographic, an eroding lump of super easy low-risk marketing targets, bound by groupthink and peer pressure to buy and defend whatever appalling crap the industry puts out as long as it confirms their internalized resentment, devoid of any agency as a consumer.
Now in discussions with loyalists many legitimate concerns come up, which I’d like to adress here one by one. I understand how you can feel threatened/attacked by having games you like getting accused of containing sexism, problematic violence, racism, homophobia and whatnot and then to top it all of have people demand changing this stuff. But I hope that with time you will understand how completely unnecessary that reaction is and stop being a pawn of the games industry.
Concern 1: Criticism is an attack on video games.
This depends who launches that criticism, who is addressed and why? We all know that games as a medium are easily scapegoated for societal ills mainly surrounding misbehaving youth and or violence. What are games teaching our kids? Do they train us to be killers? These accusations even lead to legislative actions in many countries, law suits and all that jazz. In 2012 accusations of rape culture and misogyny also drew a connection between societal ills and games and what can we now expect to come out of this? Does this not confirm the Jack Thompson’s of the world?
No. And here is why:
An attack on games goes as follows: You have someone who is not into games trying to convince other people who are not into games that games have a negative impact. A politician is stirring up the votes of concerned parents. A lawyer is trying to convince a judge to decide in his favor. A conservative TV show host is trying to increase his ratings by appealing to gun owners. You see the pattern here?
Sarkeesian for example, who is targeted by loyalists because she is thought of as having her own agenda (getting money, getting attention, feminist coup d’état or something) and abusing video games to reach her sinister goals. Now, why is that bullshit? Because she is involved in games and other popculture media and is addressing an audience who is involved in games and other popculture media. Even if you don’t accept the premis of her being a game fan (she must be one of those fake geek girls, right fellas?), she is still addressing us. She is addressing the community.
To say that criticism coming from the community addressed at the community is hurting the community, is like saying your doctor telling you to work out more and change your diet is hurting your health.
Concern 2: I don’t want certain content censored or my games taken away.
Yeah, that would be fucked up, wouldn’t it?. I’m so against any form of censorship, you have no idea. Here in germany we have the USK, which is similar to the Comics Code Authority in the US. They check games for content that might get rejected by the BPjM (Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons), which has the power to simply take products down.
The recent Mortal Kombat is one of those products. It practically impossible to get the game here in germany. Publicly displaying the game or parts of it is basically a felony (with a few exceptions). The game disappeared. I was lucky enough to be an early buyer and got my copy before the BPjM took the game down. Still, none of the DLCs are available to me, only multiplayer is now available either and I as a public game critic researcher teacher whatever am not allowed to show any content of the game here on my site. And the list is long. But even longer is the list of changes to games before release in germany, so they would not be taken down for “youth protection reasons”. Blood gets deleted out of games, game features get cut, sometimes full missions get barred to make sure a game is legally allowed to be advertised and publicly sold here in ye olde germany.
This sucks. And is in my opinion an unconscionable infringement of freedoms. But censorship does not come from parts of the community demanding to be treated with respect and be recognized. Nobody is going to take your guns away, you know. Even if you just fear that what you like will dwindle in popularity and you will therefor be left in the dust with your desires, don’t worry. There will always be a market for sex and violence and even celebration of masculinity… always.
The advent of the Sundance Festival or the fact that Catherine Bigelow gets award nominations will not make Michael Bay go away. You will get your fix of whatever content you crave, you just have to be vocal about what you want. And NO, being vocal about your demands is not the same as discrediting anyone who has different demands from your’s.
The worst thing that will happen? Diversification. If that scares you, I cannot help you.
The sexism and racism in this otherwise well made spot is really a shame, because I so dig Peter Stormare and the mail box in the shredder shot is such nice throwback to his part in Fargo.
Concern 3: I don’t want to be shamed for what I like.
Batman – Arkham City is a game with a lot of sexist content. In two of my most prominent articles on the subject I added screenshots of the game to illustrate how crass and widespread sexism is in games. And lookie here; I accused the game to have sexism in it again!
This 3 times example of sexism is my publicly praised game of the year 2011. And Gears Of War 3, a game I harshly criticized for glorifying genocide managed to get on the number 5 spot. Even Mortal Kombat which is sexist as hell landed in the top 3.
Now how the fuck does this work? Don’t I hate the games? Don’t I want them to go away? Well, no. In contrast to the dogma-bound loyalist core, I am able to have a nuanced opinion about something as massive, complex, multilayered and interdisciplinary as an AAA game. Maybe you should look into that too.
A few aspects of a game don’t necessarily ruin the whole game for me. And even just looking a the sexist aspect, you can be nuanced. I appreciate a well sculpted and animated female character model in a game. Sexy ladies appeal to me. Still, I’m conscious about the fact, that the sexy characters presented to me, as much as I enjoy the visuals, might be offensive, might be instances of sexualization and objectification of women. There are many ways to present sexuality in games, sexy people, without being disrespectful towards women and without feeding into harmful narratives. Chill out.
Don’t you realize how weak it looks when you need to resort to Ad Hominem attacks when someone criticizes an aspect of a game you enjoy? If you don’t want to be viewed as a sexist for enjoying Arkham City for example, do you really think saying women who care are stupid or oversensitive or “the enemy” will create the right impression?
Admitting that you enjoy sexist content from time to time, does not make you an asshole. But pretending that the sexist scenarios in your games are not sexist, pretending that they are in fact acceptable to everyone except to people who are inferior to you, DOES!
Critics Ruin Video Games… …Good!
Maybe you as a gamer don’t want to think about what you consume and what it does to the community. Maybe you are comfortably ignorant. Maybe you want games to be predominantly sexist, but just don’t want people to bitch about it. Maybe you want to go to conventions and shamelessly stare at booth babe asses and take photos of their tits without having to go through the motions of asking her first. Maybe you want games to go all out with the girlfriend memes, because you have a girlfriend and the jokes about her make her know her place. And maybe you enjoy that XBOX Live is a place where you can ask female players to suck your dick without feeling out of place. Boys will be boys, right? And where when not in games culture can we be boys and not feel ashamed for it, right? Right, fellas?
And maybe you as a publisher, marketer, outlet or journalist don’t care about who you throw under the bus, as long as your risk-aversion calculations add up. Maybe you are comfortably fine with not having to address female players, do more for ethnic minority players, because that shit is hard. Maybe you appreciate that for every female job applicant there are 9 male ones you can hire instead, so you can ensure your development teams and editorial staff understand your carefully filtered loyalist core audience.
If this is what video games are to you. Yes, then I’m afraid I’m here to ruin that. You will be kicking and screaming, but video game criticism will drag your precious video games into the fucking 21st century. Maybe not this year, maybe next year. But eventually, you will have to make some fucking room for other demographics, for other ideas. You are welcome.