Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, The #GamerGate War Of Words

This was a very difficult post to write. For some weeks now #GamerGate has been a part of my life and the biggest thing on my Twitter timeline. It was what inspired me to really start writing these blogs. I have met great people while part of it. I have believed in the pursuit of gaming journalism ethics with passion and dedication. In my first ‘Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer…’ blog I referred to #GamerGate as “a war of words” and I did my part to fight in the battles, I took part in the discussions, I shared information, I tweeted on the #GamerGate and #NotYourShield tags. I established camaraderie with my fellow soldiers.

Yet in the midst of all of it I have tried to remain a voice for reason, rationality and positive change. I have tried not to get caught up in witch hunter mentality and have tried to keep my mind open and my ideas fluid, open to new information. When I debate I try to listen and really understand the perspective of the other person, why they may feel this way. And so it was that recently I found myself in debate with someone that was anti-GG. We were both engaged in combat, our word weapons sharp and to the point. Tempers were fraying, I didn’t feel he was really listening and I told him so. I felt he hadn’t really researched #GamerGate properly but had only looked at as much as he wanted to, in order to fit the opinion he’d already made. He had told me that #GamerGate’s interest in ethics had been lopsided and self-serving, that #GamerGate was only interested in beating down Social Justice Warriors and discrediting those that had criticised gamers. He argued that #Gamergate had not succeeded as a movement because it wasn’t really about ethics, it was about rejecting the narrative shaping and agenda pushing that we saw as being used to attack us. I had told him that I was wasting my time, we clearly weren’t going to agree, but then I stopped. I stopped and really looked at what it was he’d said. I then took a moment to look at the #GamerGate tag, really look at it, and I realised…he was right.

And here’s where things get messy. There is so much anger in #GamerGate right now. I understand it, I really do. People just want to be heard and they feel that instead of listening to our concerns game journalists declared war on us. The media that was meant to represent us in our cherished hobby and the people within that media that came from the ranks of gamers themselves, turned on us and hurt us. They rejected us and so we rejected them and their supposed ideologies. I have seen so many in #GamerGate demanding that we “keep politics and social issues out of video games” and “don’t let SJWs and their media cronies destroy our hobby” but that isn’t what #GamerGate is about is it? It was supposed to be about the ethical behaviour of journalists wasn’t it? That is them covering people they have relationships with or that they support financially. How does that include banning game journalism from covering social issues that they feel are relevant to gaming? When was that ever what #GamerGate was about?

The fact is that we were burned by our media and so we have sought others that would represent us. But here’s the thing, people like Milo Yiannopoulos and Christina Sommers may seem like heroes to us now. They may seem like they will treat us with the respect that we deserve. We have fled the bad relationship with our media and, on the rebound, have given ourselves over to the first people that have showed us kindness but they are using us, they have their own agenda to push and their own ideologies to market. They are not our friends, as before with our own media, we are a tool to them and we must not forget it. They have chosen our targets and we have run with it, trying to silence those that have hurt us just as they would silence us. Meanwhile legitimate examples of what we seek to end have been ignored, lost in the general din. We lack focus and as such are easy fodder for manipulation. We have become too defensive and are rapidly in danger of existing merely to justify our existence.

At this point in time I am tired. I am beginning to view #GamerGate as the cynical veteran soldier, surveying the smoking ruins and wondering if this is what they signed up for. When did we get so bitter? Because while #GamerGate has done some good, the funding of TFYC and raising money for depression charities, is what has been achieved been worth all the vitriol? The doxxing (of anyone no matter their side)? The harassment? The hatred? The selling of our souls for a moment of kindness? Has it been worth it? This is me not giving up, this is me truly understanding what #GamerGate has become and making the choice to let it go.

Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer On #GamerGate Pt2 Where Do We Go From Here?

We’re now in our fifth week of #GamerGate, many of us are tired and I imagine many of our non-gamer loved ones are pretty sick of hearing about it. After all, as Mundane Matt puts it in this ‘A Few Thoughts On The State Of #GamerGate’ video “…We’ve been at this now for almost an entire month, in internet time that’s like a century”

Some of us are wondering, what happens now? #GamerGate seems to be splitting into different directions. Some of us have chosen to focus on journalists and individuals that we feel should lose their jobs or be ‘punished’. Personally I am wary of this. While contacting journalist’s employers with legitimate concerns about their content is one thing, that is merely the same as complaining about a product, this is the right of any consumer. However I have also seen personal attacks against individuals such as name calling, trawling Twitter for months old tweets and displaying them without context and aggressive tweeting about those considered ‘targets’. I cannot condone this, we do not defeat bullies by becoming them. Some of us are choosing to contact sponsors of specific websites. While I understand the desire to do this, I do worry that it may do more harm than good long term if large companies decide that sponsoring anything to do with video games is more trouble than it’s worth. Yet, as time has gone by, I’m starting to wonder if maybe there is something that we are missing.

Here’s the thing

Video game journalism is tied to the video game industry in a way that is mostly unknown in other forms of media. In other media, such as a movie or an album, it is the journalists that can ultimately have the power to make or break a company or product. Companies know this and will go to great lengths not to offend their media overlords. With video games, the power dynamic works differently. In video game journalism, journalists often don’t have journalism degrees or any formal journalistic training. As Jim Sterling puts it in his ‘Oh What A Lovely Conspiracy’ Jimquisition episode, video game journalists are often “…Gamers who got fucking lucky and have some talent required to maintain an audience”  Now whether you like Jim Sterling or not he has a point.

Now this is not me being apologist, the current state of video game journalism is unacceptable, The principles of #GamerGate regarding the need for journalism ethics remain the same. However if you want to talk cronyism, how about we talk about the gaming media being the crony of the mainstream video game industry? Remember I said the power dynamic works differently in game media? Well that’s because the mainstream game developers use game journalists to generate publicity for their games. The main bulk of game journalism consists of reviews, discussing trailers, interviews with developers about up coming games, articles about ‘leaked’ information, articles about perceived ‘controversy’. In essence, the mainstream gaming media serves as a marketing tool for the AAA gaming industry. This is no big secret, some people have spoken for years about the incestuous relationship between the mainstream gaming media and the video game industry. The video game industry is well aware of the amount of power it can exercise over it’s media. In 2012 Robert Florence, a writer for Eurogamer, wrote a piece entitled ‘Lost Humanity 18: A Table Of Doritos’ in which he criticised the nature of this relationship, saying “The information is controlled. Everyone stays friendly. It’s a steady flow of Mountain Dew pouring from the hills of the money men, down through the fingers of the weary journos, down into your mouths. At some point you will have to stop drinking that stuff and demand something better” This attracted the ire of another journalist mentioned in the article. The article was edited and Robert Florence was forced to step down from his position at Eurogamer (source). The edited article is still up on Eurogamer but the unedited article can be found here. In 2007) Jeff Gerstmann, a writer for Gamespot, was fired for his review criticising the video game Kane & Lynch after Sony made threats to remove it’s advertising (source) Even as part of #GamerGate those that work or have worked in game journalism have come forward to give their perspectives on the ties between industry and media.

So what has this got to do with #GamerGate? Well how can we expect ethics and integrity from the people that write about video games…when we don’t expect them from the people that MAKE them? Many of us that have been part of video game culture have noticed a decline in the business ethics practiced by the AAA gaming industry. Take a thing like microtransactions, a seemingly innocuous way to make money on games that are low cost or free by having purchases available in the game. These purchases may be something as simple as costumes or extra characters. However earlier this year in the U.K the Advertising Standards Authority decreed that Dungeon Keeper, a game that it’s publisher EA had advertised as free-to-play, could no longer could be called free-to-play because they believed that the game was effectively unplayable without making purchases (source) Or how about the game Forza 5? There was such a huge backlash to the microtransactions in this game, with the most expensive car in the game the 2013 Lotus E21 F1 car costing around £32/$50, that it’s developer, Turn 10, had to quickly change it’s whole in-game economy (source) Here’s another practice becoming increasingly prevalent, on disc DLC. This is a game disc, that is bought and paid for, that contains game content that is not accessible unless more money is given to the publisher. Capcom faced criticism over it’s on disc DLC for Street Fighter X Tekken game, which included having 56 colours locked away behind a pay wall (source) and that was just one part of the locked away content. How about games that have parts removed which are then sold to the consumer as extra content? With publishers sometimes putting pressure on developers to cut parts out of the game out so they then can sell it as extra DLC (source)

Now here’s where gamers will often jump in to defend their favourite games and brands with comments such as “You don’t have to buy DLC or microtransctions, they’re optional” or “This is a business, they have to make money” Well gaming publications are businesses too! They want to make money! Yet here we are, asking they they treat their consumers with a modicum of respect by practicing good business ethics while we’re not doing the same for the industry itself! We have all been a part of this, gradually allowing these companies to treat us with more and more contempt and allowing them to give less and less for the money they demand. Some actively defend them for doing so!

Where does the indie game scene come into this? Part of the criticisms of #GamerGate has been the nepotism that has occurred between developers, particularly indie developers, and journalists. The mainstream AAA game industry has the means to throw everything it can at keeping journalists sweet, throwing lavish parties, giving away freebies, all expense paid trips. How can an indie developer compete with that? By playing the P.R game, making friends within the media and cultivating contacts, in essence schmoozing their way into the industry. Can we blame them for this? Can we really blame them for playing the game to get a project they may have spent years working on out there? Here it is the media that is at fault, taking advantage of the power it has over those that don’t have resources as the media itself is taken advantage of by those that do. The industry and it’s media cronies are a tight group, they protect their own. Anyone that goes against the rhetoric is frozen out and blocked, sometimes to the point where they can no longer continue to work. Even those with a large audience are not immune to the pressure to tow the line. Recently Boogie2988, a youtuber with around 1.9 million subscribers, described the pressure he was put under to cease his support for #GamerGate (source) To paraphrase the Internet Aristocrat, if someone with an audience as large as Boogie2988 can be pushed to back away with threats to his career then what chance does an indie developer have? Anybody that is a part of the industry or media can be susceptible to this pressure. When this is how you make your living, put food on the table and keep a roof over your head (and there is nothing wrong people making a living doing what they love) it can ruin your life if the industry and it’s media won’t deal with you anymore.

So that bring me back to the beginning, where does #Gamergate go from here? Well I would like to see us, as a community, widen our call for ethics to include the video game industry itself. I believe this can be put into practice in these ways

1. Call out members of the industry that practice bad business ethics. If nothing else #GamerGate has proven the power that people united in the same cause through social media can have, use it! Tweet and e-mail those responsible for these practices. Be polite, there’s no need for excessive anger or aggression. Something as simple as “I am against (whichever practice they are using) because it is unethical and I will no longer buy your products until this practice ceases” will do. We have been apathetic for too long, now is the time to take back our power as consumers and demand the respect that position grants us.

2. Support those that have your backs as consumers, whether they be youtubers, bloggers, or those that have risked their careers and incomes to speak out against these practices. There are people that have been speaking for years about how broken the system is, they have often received abuse and mockery. Now is the time to stand with them. Anyone that acts as an advocate for you, as a consumer, is your friend.

3. Put your money where your mouth is! If a developer or publisher behaves unethically? Don’t buy their games! I realise this is a tough one, some of the most badly behaved companies are the ones with the most anticipated games. However, voices alone are not enough. Publishers don’t listen to individual feedback, they look at consumer buying patterns. In essence they’re not looking at what you’re tweeting, they’re looking at what you’re buying. Voicing dissatisfaction with unethical business practices combined with boycotts of companies that have them will hit where it hurts most, profit margins. You make a dent in the consumer pattern numbers? That’s when you’ll start to see changes.

#GamerGate has seen the awakening of so many that were, before then, apathetic about video game culture. I personally now believe that persuading the video game media to behave ethically cannot fully happen until the industry does the same. Changing the players is not enough, we have to change the game.

This blog is dedicated with love to anyone, be they youtuber, blogger, writer, or person that just tweets, no matter how big or small their audience, that fights for the right of consumers to fair and ethical treatment. This one is for all of you.

Thank you so much for reading

Angela

Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer On Whether ‘Sexy’ Video Game Characters Influence Which Games We Choose To Play

Well first things first, what makes a video game character sexy? Isn’t deciding what is sexy purely a subjective thing? Yes it is, so with this in mind I have decided, for the purposes of this piece, to define sexy in the context of video game characters as being clearly designed to be aesthetically appealing or titillating.

So a while ago I ran a poll on Twitter. I asked my followers, most of whom are gamers, the following question

“Does making video game characters ‘sexy’ have any impact on whether or not you buy or play a game?”

I used the same definition of sexy as above. The response was interesting. While a few answered that attractive video game characters are a small consideration when buying a game, the majority of responses indicated that the inclusion of sexy video game characters is not a consideration at all when deciding whether to purchase or play a video game. As a contrast I followed it up with this question.

” Would intentionally unattractive or ugly characters put you off?

The response to this question was the same. A small number answered that it may affect their decision but the majority claimed that the inclusion of unattractively designed characters would not be a consideration when deciding whether or not to purchase or play a game. With both questions everyone that answered rated video game character design as being fairly low priority in purchase/play decisions. Higher priorities included plot/story, opinion of trusted reviewers/youtubers, game play, graphics, reputation of the developer and whether or not the game was part of a well established franchise. Some responses also indicated that while those questioned didn’t mind characters being designed to be sexy, they objected if it was thought to be clearly at the expense of other, higher priority, concerns.

So why am I asking these kinds of questions? Isn’t wondering about the sexiness of video game characters a little superficial?

Yes, it is superficial. However as video game graphics quality has improved so has the desire to make video game characters visually more detailed in design, this has often included them being sexually appealing. This is of particular interest to me as the video game industry is facing a lot of criticism at the moment by many feminists for it’s decisions to design video game characters to be sexy, particularly female ones. Complaints include unrealistic body types (Big breasts, tiny waists, overlarge muscles, generally preposterous anatomy) sexual objectification and the casting of sexualised characters as little more than props, again particularly women. The game Dragon’s Crown was heavily criticised for it’s sexualised characters. The game featured grossly over muscled males and hugely breasted females, all in very revealing clothing. The artist, George Kamitani from the developer Vanillaware, had to explain and apologise to any offended by his designs (interview found here)

But again, why should any of us gamers care? It would seem from my (admittedly small) sample that most of us don’t really care either way. There are more important things to be thinking about, right?

 

Well here’s the thing, the video game industry thinks we do care.

In the last ten years the popularity of conventions marketed to gamers has exploded. According to Wikipedia the number of people attending  PAX Prime increased from 39000 in 2007 to over 70 000 in 2011, after which the hosts gave up trying to keep count (View Wiki entry here) Here’s a graft of the attendance numbers for San Diego Comic Con

SDCC-Graph-615x327

Graft was taken from a article ‘San Diego Comic-Con By The Numbers’ by Kyle Hill which can be viewed here

Inevitably hand in hand with the increase of convention attendance is the increase in popularity of cosplay. If you’re unfamiliar with cosplay, it’s basically people dressing up as their favourite characters from video games/anime/manga/movies. The surge in the popularity of cosplay has prompted some video game companies to make cosplayability more of a consideration in video game character design. An example of this can be found in Metal Gear Solid V. The Metal Gear Series was already known for it’s very muscular male characters. In a series of tweets the creator of the Metal Gear Solid Series and Vice President of Konami Digital Entertainment, Hideo Kojima, revealed that he had instructed character designers to make Quiet, a mute female sniper character for MGS V, more sexy/erotic in order to make her more appealing to potential cosplayers (Taken from Polygon article, text can be viewed here) The Final Fantasy series, developed by Square Enix, has made sexiness of video game characters a priority more and more as the series has progressed, sometimes to the detriment of story and gameplay. Square spent around 40 million dollars developing Final Fantasy 12 with lavish attention being given to it’s character design, only for the game to be disliked by the series fans for it’s characters lacking development and interaction, unbalanced gameplay and it’s storyline. Even more money was spent on Final Fantasy 13, with characters made even more detailed and pleasing to the eye. However Final Fantasy 13 was almost universally despised by the fans.

But it isn’t just about cosplayers. Video game developers and publishers also believe that their audience wants characters in video games to be sexy because of focus groups and play testing. An example of this occurred in the free-to-play shooter game Warface, created by game developer company Crytek. In an interview with Wired, Crytek Executive Producer Joshua Howard explained that female character skins in the game were more sexualised because of feedback from Russian and Chinese audiences (interview available here) The video game industry believes that sexy video game characters help to sell games. This may or may not be true. Interestingly when I looked at whether or not there was any research into whether video game character aesthetics had any effect on video game sales I was not able to find any (if anybody out there knows of any please feel free to link in the comments)

So do I, as a feminist gamer, think that video game characters should be designed to be less sexy? Particularly if we don’t care if they are or not? Well after asking the above questions on Twitter I then decided to think about those questions in reference to my own buying patterns. The answer was that yes, for me character design as part of the overall art style was a factor on whether or not I’d buy a game. I read about the anger over Dragon’s Crown and I admit that the character design put me off playing the game. I know that is somewhat unfair to what may have been an awesome game but it is just a personal preference. As for games in general, personally I would like to see a greater variety of designs, ages and body types in video game characters. I think they could benefit from a wider range of characters designs that will complement the greater variety of stories that games are now trying to tell. But does this mean that sexy should be banished to the naughty step? Well no, like everything else sexy should be a one tool among many at the the artists disposal, to be used as part of the overall grand scope that I know video games characters have the potential to achieve. However I believe it is the Industry itself that needs to allow artists and developers the creative freedom to add more variety to their video game characters. I’m not trying to say video games can’t be sexy, as always everything in moderation. It all rests on how the artist sees the characters they wish to create. They should be able to explore the possibilities without interference.

So that’s what I think. What do you think? Does the attractiveness of video game characters make a difference to whether or not you play a game? Has there been a particular game where you’ve been put off by the character design? Would you like to see more variety in video game character designs? Leave a comment and let me know. As always feel free to disagree with me but please do so respectfully.

A quick note to finish. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone that answered my questions and got involved in the discussion on Twitter, you are all amazing and writing this would not have been possible without you. I’d also like to draw your attention to #GamerVoices a tag started by youtuber and my Twitter friend Gaming Anarchist. It’s a tag on which to talk about games and post content made by gamers. #GamerGate is vital, what it has achieved is amazing and I’ve made some great friends there. But also check out #GamerVoices and let’s make just talking video games fun again.

Thanks so much for reading

Angela

Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer on #GamerGate

I am a feminist. I believe that sexism still exists in the modern world. I believe that women should have the choice of what they do with their own bodies. I am sex positive. I believe that everybody has the right to fair and equal treatment regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.

I am a gamer. I owned a Commodore 64 and then a SNES as a child. I now game on console and PC. I also play tabletop role play games. I talk about gaming and chat with other gamers on Twitter EVERY DAY.

I’m not going to recap what has been happening in the sphere of gaming in the past few weeks. You know already or you wouldn’t be here. A war has been taking place, a war of online words. Battle lines have been drawn, positions fortified and every day new ammunition manufactured, condensed to 140 characters or less, and deployed. On one side we have the Gaming Media, mainly composed of journalists and a legion of feminists and supporters collectively labelled Social Justice Warriors. Gaming Media and it’s SJW supporters feel that women in gaming face a wall of misogyny and harassment perpetrated by those no better than entitled whiny children not wanting to let the girlies into their club. On the other side we have the Gamers. Gamers feel that the actions of gaming journalists have eroded the credibility of gaming media and that journalists should be more open about conflicts of interest, such as financial support of or a prior relationship with a game developer. Gamers believe that their cherished hobby has been attacked by the very media that is supposed to represent it and hijacked by feminazis and white knights wanting to push their own agendas. Gaming Media and SJWs see this as a smokescreen to abuse women involved in gaming and keep gaming professions male dominated. Gamers feel they’re being marginalised as various journalists and youtubers weigh in and toss labels at them like ‘neck bearded man-child’. Gamers have been labelled dangerous and compared with terrorists. Gamers have been dismissed by it’s own media as a bunch of white, bearded virgin men that dwell in their parent’s basements. Even the very name ‘Gamer’ has been declared over/dead. Individuals on both sides have been harassed, received threats and have even had personal details stolen and posted online.

So where does that leave someone with a foot in each camp? Somewhat uneasy

Here’s the thing, I do believe there are problems with sexism in gaming. I would like to see better representation and a wider variety of stories that include women in video games. I support women that want to forge a career in gaming professions. However, I don’t believe that is what #GamerGate is about. I believe that it is about the lack of even basic journalistic ethics present in gaming media and the blatant contempt it has displayed for it’s audience. When gaming professions become an arena which only those who ‘know the right people’ can enter? That is unethical. When journalists are writing articles about games they have financially supported or that are made by friends of theirs? That is unethical. when developers and others involved in gaming feel they cannot speak about this without their careers being damaged or destroyed? THAT IS UNETHICAL. Any journalism outfit, no matter the subject, has a responsibility to behave with integrity and hold it’s credibility in the highest regard. It is not entitled behaviour to expect to be able to trust those that report on gaming news. Whether they like it or not they have an influence on buying behaviour and with that influence comes the expectation that they be as objective as they possibly can.

These last weeks I have seen men that I know have the utmost respect for women being unfairly maligned and labelled as misogynists and dangerous terrorists for daring to question the ethical behaviour of gaming media. I have seen massive generalised statements about feminism being “stupid” and “a joke”. I have talked games on Twitter for years now and 95% of the interactions I’ve had with other Gamers have been very positive. But in the last few weeks the levels of toxicity on Twitter have been almost tangible. Yet all this does is alienate allies within both camps. There are feminists and SJWs, such as myself, that agree Gaming Media should behave with integrity. Likewise there are Gamers that are upset about some of the behaviour directed towards women that work in gaming.

But today something new appeared. People from all walks of life, of all genders, races and sexual orientations, myself among them, took to Twitter and openly declared themselves to be proud members of the Gamer community. The #NotYourShield tag is a stark message to the Gaming Media, that they can no longer use those among oppressed minorities as a shield against legitimate criticism. Truly it is a beautiful thing, the voices of a community that, despite what the media would have us believe, is rich with diversity. The stereotype of gaming as a white neck bearded male dominated hobby has been obliterated.

Yet there remains much to be done. The Gaming Media still has yet to fully address the legitimate criticisms of Gamers. Here are some things we all can do to maximise our chances of being heard.

1. Call out and denounce anybody you see engaging in harassment or abusive behaviour. These people hand ammunition to those that would see us silenced and are held up as representations of the community as a whole. It is not enough to say “But that is not me!” We must make it clear that harassment behaviour will not be tolerated and declare as loudly as we can “NOT IN MY NAME!”

2. Express your opinions with dignity and respect. Anger and bitterness is not the way, only calm and reason will win the day (hey that rhymes) Even if you have anger and vitriol directed at you, respond with succinctness and clarity (or kittens) Do not resort to personal insults, hyperbole or ad hominem. As soon as you do, you lose.

3. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you, respect that and walk away. There are those that are unable to talk about this because they will lose their jobs and don’t deserve to. There are times when you’ve been talking about this all day and are tired when someone messages you and expects a response. Then they get angry when you don’t respond. The thing is, time is a precious thing, something you never get back. You are not entitled to anybody else’s time any more than they are entitled to yours.

4. Understand that everyone involved in this, no matter where they stand, has a perspective. We all hold our own perspective to be valuable, we all just want to be heard. When we make huge overgeneralised statement or slap labels on people we dehumanise them and devalue their perspective. This makes people less inclined to want to understand our perspective. Don’t let your mind become stone, keep your ideas fluid. That way you can easily incorporate new perspectives as you find them. When someone you don’t agree with makes a valid point, recognise it. Let’s make it a discussion, rather than a war.

This is my personal message to the mainstream Gaming Media. We are Gamers, a community large and inclusive of anyone and everyone that loves video games (provided they’re not harassing anyone)  I am a feminist AND I am a gamer, it is possible to be both. Do not hide behind me and those like me. You are accountable in this and we are #NotYourShield. I will continue to champion equality AND the need for ethics in journalism. What I am not, however, is a journalist or writer so if you feel the need to disagree with me on anything I have written above, please do so with respect. Just don’t be surprised if you occasionally get a picture of a kitten in response :o)

Thank you for reading and with much love

Angela