Monday, 8 February 2016

GamerGate, the perils of being a "hashtag warrior" and what Anita really means

I wrote this post AGES ago but I didn't post it at the time as it was absolute flamebait. Still, I'm quite proud of it, so here it is:

OK, so GamerGate is starting to take some flak. The worm has turned. Time for my 5p.

Once there was a political party called the German Fatherland Party. It was anti-capitalist, nationalist and deeply anti-Semitic. It later became the Nazi Party. But the party didn't start out with genocidal intentions. Not everyone that signed up wanted that. All it takes is one nutter and suddenly you're membership is implicit approval of all sorts of shit you didn't sign up for.

And so, GamerGate. Whether it was ever a legitimate pro-consumer, anti-corruption campaign or a false flag operation initiated by women-hating trolls, we'll never really know. What we do know is that, fairly or not, GamerGate is now synonymous with misogyny, sexism and threats of rape, murder and violence. As a GamerGate supporter you might not see if that way. You might still be holding fast to the ideals for which you believe the "movement" was created. Well, good for you! Except you should understand that the internet is looking at you and thinking twice. The problem with a hashtag is that anyone can take it up for their cause: how many times have we seen clumsy marketing campaigns with poorly conceived hash-tags get co-opted and turned into a laughing stock?

With regard to NotYourShield, as I understand it, this hashtag says "I'm BME/female/gay and I like games they way they are, so don't speak for me and say they need to change!" That's correct?

Well, the fact is, that's a lot like saying black people can't be racist towards other black people. Or that women can't have sexist attitudes towards women. In short, that's an ignorant position to take. You might not understand why some games are deeply sexist and, frankly, watching Anita Sarkesian's videos won't help you. She's an academic. She uses academic language. It's tough to follow.

What you need to know is this:
1) the natural state of the majority of the world is sexist
2) feminism (which has an extremely broad meaning) basically recognises this and critiques it
3) because of 1) games are inherently sexist but, knowing better via 2), they could be less sexist

Sexism is currently a lot like racism was 70 years ago. You didn't need to be racist, you just were. Everything around you taught you that racism was normal. Times have changed and racism is no longer socially accepted in many countries, similarly homophobia.  But sexism still persists and that's because it is so deeply ingrained within society.  It's so ingrained it's almost impossible to imagine how different the world would be if we swapped the gender of every world leader in the last 100 years.  A lot of things might be the same but many things wouldn't be. Feminism simply points this out and says, "hey, why don't we give that a try? Could it be worse?"

So, much in the same way I can't hold it against my Dad for saying racist things when I was younger, I can't hold being sexist against anyone.  It's not your fault, you don't know better. Most importantly society doesn't want to punish you for your ignorance. You didn't even know there was something you were ignorant of. That's how deep sexism goes. That's what feminism says, anyway.

But, if my Dad says racist things now (he never does wait, does Scotland count?) I would be very angry because he knows better. The work of Anita Sarkesian means the world knows better about sexism in games.  If you pretend not to have got that message and feign ignorance, then you might soon find yourself in a socially unacceptable minority.

Finally, let's also consider this.  It's not illegal to hate gay people, or black people, or Asian people or women.  What is illegal is to act upon that hate, verbally abuse, make threats, discriminate again, assault and murder people.

In the privacy of your head, it's still OK for you to look for a white person in a black area to ask directions. That's not a crime. It's OK for you to move seats if the two guys kissing in front is making you feel sick. That's not a crime either. It might even be what the majority of people might do.  That doesn't mean it's not racism, not homophobic.

What's not OK is to suggest that these thoughts and feelings should, in any way, be portrayed in a video game as normal and accepted.  Or that games should be an enabler for you to act on those thoughts or feelings. We should be thinking about sexism in video games exactly the same way.  That's all Anita is saying.  She's pointing at examples and saying "this is bad". This is perpetuating harmful stereotypes or, at worst, championing them.  This is teaching young people that some things are OK, which aren't.  That's all she's saying.

She's not advocating that there should never be another game with a white male protagonist.  She's saying it would be more inclusive if some games didn't.  She's not saying young white men need to be punished.

We're also not going to see games suddenly have men rescuing men.  We won't have a scenario where a straight man, working as a stripper, has been raped and beaten by another straight man because of reasons.  We won't have that because, to a big proportion of the gaming audience that would be considered "faggy". "A man, sexually abused by another man, helped by another man. What a bunch of gays."

You swap the gender of that stripper to female and suddenly that's a completely acceptable scenario: man protects woman from other man. That ticks all of our preconceived gender role boxes.

But Anita's not saying that scenario is wrong. That's a perfectly acceptable story telling device: "fridging" a loved one is easy to relate to. What Anita is saying is that it's almost always women in the fridge. Her series was called "Tropes vs Women" for a reason. These tropes are reinforcing the sexist norms of the world and that games could, and should, know better and do something about it.

Because hey, in games, we're always the good guys, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment