This is going to be a loooooong one folks – even by my own rambling standards. If you’ve got any plans for the next five years, or if you’ve just glanced at the size of this motherfucker and are having second thoughts, honestly, feel free to back away now. I won’t mind. Although I hope it raises a few important points, it’s not really what you’d call a barrel of laughs either, so consider yourself warned…..
Recently, a few things have happened that have gotz me thinking about stuff, and given that’s something of a rarity for me anyways, I’ve been struggling to deal with all the extra noise my brain’s been making. Usually content to speak to me in instructional, one-word phrases (“food!”, “Pee!”, “Thirsty”, and the like) all of a sudden it was asking me fucking questions, challenging me to consider complex, multidimensional issues, and no amount of me telling it to “get fucked” seemed to silence it. “Leave me alone” I’d plead as it woke me up at stupid o’clock, fixating on some “Eureka” moment it had decided couldn’t wait until I’d had my coffee – or even until it was light outside – and I’d lay there in the pre-dawn darkness, simultaneously grappling with that new information, and with the pros and cons of ramming a screwdriver through my own ear.
Does Gaming Still Mean What We Think It Means?
The first thing to get me seriously considering self-harm was this piece by Cary over at Recollections of Play, and after reading it – and following the conversation in the comments – it occurred to me that there might be something of a discrepancy between how I see both “Gaming” and “Gamers” and how the world sees them, indeed perhaps how they actually are. My brain seized upon this idea, this little element of doubt, and proceeded to extrapolate on it like there was no fucking tomorrow, and suddenly everything seemed to relate to the issue somehow and my brain, seeking to confirm everything it was saying, would frequently be all like “Ha – that PROVES what I’ve been telling you, James. How’dya like them apples!?“.
See, back when I was a kid, Gaming was a refuge for a lot of people; a mostly niche activity that drew the more “geeky”, introverted kids, and consequently it was a catalyst for inclusion, a shared interest that facilitated friendships and social interaction between them. As I’ve grown older, that’s very much continued too, and my interest in Gaming has been mostly positive in that respect; providing bonding opportunities, much-needed conversational topics in awkward social situations, and now, thanks to blogging, it’s allowed me to tap into a great community of like-minded individuals who share my love of, and interest in, a medium that means a lot to me. The corollary to that, though, is that this creates a bit of a feedback loop, a kind of confirmation bias that Gaming and Gamers are still what I think they are.
This is further reinforced by two things. Firstly, anybody who likes Games and Gaming enough to frequently read and write about them is likely to share particular characteristics, and they’re probably (but not necessarily) going to be people for whom Gaming means similar things as it does to me. Secondly, given that (at least one of) the mediums they’re using is good old-fashioned writing, that would suggest they’re (cough, cough) slightly older, and/or more inclined to be on the more introspective/thoughtful/calmer side of the Gaming coin. Even though they may do videos, streaming, social media etc. too, having a written platform at least suggests that there’s an element of forethought and design to their presence in the Gaming Blogging community, and one which eschews the sometimes brash, in-your-face immediacy of twitch and YouTube. To be clear, I’m not saying everyone who uses twitch, or YouTube is young, brash and extrovert (or, conversely, that everyone who blogs is introverted, thoughtful and old) – far from it – but I think there’s likely to be at least a degree of correlation, and indeed, there seems to be plenty of “average user age” type data to suggest that younger people gravitate towards Twitch and YouTube much more than they do toward “print” and the written word.
Anyhoo, if we accept that’s all at least partly true, we arrive at a situation wherein it’s likely we’re all of a similar frame of mind, largely coalescing around some similar demographic markers and, in essence, fairly united in our experience of Gaming, Games and the part it plays, or has played, in our lives. Now, going back to the conversation Cary overheard on the subway, whilst we can safely say some of the stuff the guy said is objectively, demonstrably false, some of it is less easy to dismiss, I think, particularly if we step outside of our own experiential bubble. Not only that, it’s just possible that the tone of his exasperation – even the irrational nature of his ire itself – says something about what Gaming can mean to today’s youth, and how that may very well be entirely different to what it meant to us. We can say with a degree of confidence, for example, that Gaming’s no longer solely the preserve of Geeks; indeed, given sales figures and such (for both hardware and software), Gaming is now very much a popular, mainstream activity. Throw in the fact that you can “Game” on any number of devices, and the ubiquitous nature of these self-same devices, and Gaming’s “reach” and, erm, mainstream-iness is certainly much greater than it was when I was a kid – back then, before consoles really took off, a big part of the geek/Gaming correlation was down to the fact that you needed a (stupidly box-ey) computer to game on, and they just weren’t something the really cool kids were clamouring for.
So, anyway, that kid on the subway; let’s say, for whatever reason, he’s not (or can’t be) into Gaming – would that put him in the minority, or the majority of his peers? Probably minority, right!? That, in and of itself, is a full 180 from the situation I was in as a kid, and whilst I might think that’s objectively cool, there’s inevitably going to be some consequences to that. I used the example of sport in the comments on Cary’s piece because that was the majority activity in my school, and if you weren’t into sport (mostly football), you’d quite literally find yourself on the sidelines at break/recess, and you’d also find yourself excluded from much of the conversation of your peers. Kids being kids, there was also a fairly big chance your lack of sporting prowess might be amongst the many reasons you’re teased, and in my school at least, there was a definite relationship between sporting skill and popularity. As a consequence, if you weren’t into football (or weren’t dead good at it), it would become a symbol of your own isolation, your failure to fit in, and it’d be quite natural to [pun alert] kick back against it: What’s so great about chasing a ball around? So what, you can score a goal – what’s that going to get you in life? Why would you play football all the time when you can read or play games instead? Basically, all the same sort of stuff subway dude was saying about Gaming, so if you look at his reaction in that context – one that’s completely different to how it was, and different to how I still think Gaming is – his outburst makes a bit more sense.
Now admittedly, a big part of the reason I made that connection was because of something slightly related that I’ve been grappling with recently – the increase in a decidedly “Alpha” trend in Gaming. Sure, Gaming still appeals to quiet, non-dick kids too, but after only a few short minutes in an online shooter with comms on, you’ll quickly learn that it’s not just for quiet, non-dick kids anymore. At all. Even allowing for “heat of battle”, “competition”, “anonymity” type caveats, it’s hard to deny that online Gaming doesn’t (at least sometimes) suffer from a lot of the same aggressive, macho, Alpha male bullshit that you’d find, for example, in the world of sport. Whereas in my own, rose-tinted view of Gaming everybody’s still attracted to it by the wonderful stories, or the desire to test yourself against a Game’s mechanics and challenges, or the sense of camaraderie that comes from huddling around a controller with your friends, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone. Not anymore. Invitations to go fuck myself seem to be pretty much the norm, racist, misogynistic or homophobic slurs aren’t uncommon and, rather hilariously, adolescent teens doing sub-par Liam Neeson from Taken Impressions (“I’m going to find you and kill you in real life”) are actually a thing I’ve encountered fairly frequently.
Sure, that’s arguably a tiny subset of the Gaming community, but it’s still a part of the Gaming community – OUR Gaming community – and whilst I’d be the last person to tar all Gamers with that brush, can I continue to dismiss it as just an anomaly; a part of Gaming I don’t recognise myself as being a part of, so can happily ignore? Again, whilst I’m looking around here, reading blogs from like-minded Gamers, talking to the friends I’ve made from (or who share an interest in) Gaming, I probably can – but when I step outside my own experience, the issue becomes a bit more complicated, I think.
The whole “a few bad apples” idea was, I’d argue, severely tested during the now infamous Gamergate furore, and it certainly appeared that there were more than just a few bad apples, and if it was just a few, they were really fucking loud and vocal. Whatever the initial points of Gamergate were – and whatever legitimacy they might’ve had – they were all quickly drowned out by an avalanche of hate, vitriol and abuse. For a while there, the Gaming world became a YouTube comments section writ large, where logic, human decency and the commonly accepted rules of interaction all fucked off on an extended vacation. As the fallout continued, lines were drawn, and if you weren’t 100% behind some (oftentimes bizarre) ideas, you were against them. Intimidation, death threats, violence all became associated with Gaming, and as the non-gaming media began to report on it, this began to become the perception of Gaming as a whole.
Again, it’s perhaps possible to ring-fence that Gamergate cesspool to a point, but it’s less possible to totally ignore it, I think. Whatever the relative size of the Gaming crowd that aligned themselves with the worst aspects of the episode was – it was a chunk of Gamers. It wasn’t just a handful, and more worryingly, it was a number sizable enough to get attention, gain traction, and as a result, it mired the whole of the Gaming world for a significant length of time. I heard/saw plenty of phrases like “all the weirdos and loners have come out of the woodwork”, but a) that was too simplistic, and b) that amount of shit coming out of the woodwork would suggest to me our house was sufficiently fucking rotten anyway. Indeed, if it was just weirdos and loners, it would’ve been a few weirdos and loners screaming into the ether, but the fact that they were all fairly united – and organised – suggested that these “loners” were anything but.
For me, one of the most alarming things about it all was the degree to which it was so readily co-opted by some decidedly unpleasant and reactionary elements of society. The Alt-right and “Men’s Rights” movements’ exact level of direct involvement in Gamergate’s inception is (perhaps) debatable, but it’s pretty fucking clear that they sought to use it to their own advantage thereafter. And whilst not every Gamergater agreed with them per se, they were often willing to overlook those differences in the pursuit of a “common goal” – and that’s a huge problem in itself. Even if, buried somewhere in Gamergate’s tonnes of deplorable shit, there was a set of valid – even noble – aims, if as a Gamer you’re prepared to put up with (or conveniently ignore) fellow Gamers receiving death threats in the alleged pursuit of “improving” Gaming you’re a) not blameless and b) you don’t fucking understand what “improving” means. Christ, I don’t entirely agree with the “Video Games are Misogynistic” premise, but after about 10 minutes of Gamergate, I was sure as shit that a fuck-ton of Gamers either are misogynistic , or are prepared to overlook the issue when it’s convenient to do so. Whichever way you cut it, Gamergate raised some worrying issues about Gaming, and it highlighted a degree of urgency in our need, as a community, to address them.
And yet…….once everything had died down, once I’d scrubbed myself clean, I happily went back to my previous position. Using our (super)human ability to actively harness cognitive dissonance to get through life, I remembered all of the above, but at the same time I readily, gleefully went back to the idea that Gaming was great, Gamers are awesome, and that everything was just tickety-boo, thankyouverymuch.
That is, of course, until I read Cary’s piece, and it set the train of thought rolling again. Funnily enough though, having grappled with it all again for a bit, having done the sleepness nights thing, and having once again mostly dealt with it, I was pretty much ready to go back to the default position. I certainly wasn’t going to write this medical textbook sized rant about it, but just as I was about to forget it all over again, something else happened…..
PewDiePie and Gamergate 2.0?
I’m sure everybody knows about this by now, and my intention’s not to go into the specifics of the situation, but if you’re interested, Shelby’s covered it here (and you can read my own take on it in the comments). What matters now, I think, is the fallout from this particularly unpleasant incident, because, as of right now, there’s a definite hint of it becoming Gamergate 2.0.
Let me be clear, it’s perfectly possible for you to genuinely think that Pewdiepie’s “skit” wasn’t as bad as it’s been reported as being, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to think it’s been blown out of all proportion for various (perhaps even nefarious) reasons; but what’s not acceptable, I think, is for Gamers to immediately fall back into abusing, threatening and harassing anybody who does have a legitimate issue with either this specific incident, or pewdiepie’s (quote-unquote) “humour” in general. Disagree with them, sure, even forcefully if you feel particularly strongly about it – but, for fuck’s sake, don’t be a dick about it.
Because already we’re seeing a Gamergate-esque mobilisation in defence of pewdiepie, and more worryingly, there are already signs that there’s a degree of co-option and bandwagon jumping on that very defence. 50 million + subscribers/fanboys stand primed and ready to fire an arsenal of “snowflakes”, “Librul Meedya” and, in all likelihood, shitloads of less acceptable insults; and some unsavory interests already circle like carrion, ready to pile on. When I was reading about it on Saturday, Google was already full of rantings and ravings about it (and yeah, I appreciate I’m not blameless myself now), and even allowing for the general lack of civility in comment sections at the best of times, they’ve already descended into vitriol and abuse – mostly, but not exclusively, on articles critical of Pewdiepie.
So, what’s my point here? I mean, after the size of this fucker, you’d expect a point, right!? Well, my first point I think I’ve covered – and it’s merely that I think it’s possible that what I want Gaming to represent, and what Gaming actually represents nowadays are probably further apart than I was previously willing to acknowledge, and that possibly the distance is actually growing. My second is slightly less clear, however. It’s not that I’m suggesting we should all stick our head above the parapet as the PewDiePie saga unfolds – I get that not everybody wants to have to deal directly with screaming adolescent boys, and I’m certainly not suggesting you should – hell, I thought twice about adding a PewDiePie tag to this post just in case, so I’m definitely not arguing you need to pro-actively get involved, either now or in any future Gamergates.
At the same time though, as Gamers – and particularly as Gamers of long-standing – isn’t this something we need to address somehow? Are we not de facto custodians of a medium that gave us so much, and as such, isn’t there a degree of responsibility inherent in that!? Of course, we can’t stop dicks from Gaming – and we can even totally avoid those dicks should we wish, but isn’t that, at least on some level, just as bad as those Gamergaters who were willing to ignore the nastier elements in their own ranks!?
Again, I don’t really know the answer here. Or at least not just one, objectively correct one. I don’t want to go all “won’t somebody pleeeeeeease think of the children” either, but, like, don’t we need to think about the children though, or at least in the context of what Gaming might be by the time we hand it over to them? I’ve been feeling decidedly uneasy about this for a long time (even if I wasn’t consciously willing to admit it) and honestly, I’d appreciate some ideas. The thought that Gaming and Gamers might permanently become associated with the Alt-right, misogynists, or even just rabid fanboys chills me to my very fucking bones, and I really, really don’t want that to happen because once it does, we might never be able to go back.
Is that alarmist? Possibly, but let’s return to Cary’s subway dude (last time, I promise) and look at this one little bit, that possibly says a lot more than it appears to:
F2: Hey, I play games. You think I’m a loser?
F1: Um…but you don’t play games like some people. They’re the losers.
F2: Man, that’s pretty harsh. [He laughs. Not sure why. He sounds a little nervous.]
Now, in another life, I used to work on international camps for 11 year-olds. The organisation’s whole idea was based on extensive research that strongly supports the theory that if you take kids and introduce them to other kids of different races, creeds, nationalities etc before they’ve had time to be taught or develop prejudice, they’ll forever be able to use that personal experience as an anchor, a bulwark against prejudice in general. If, conversely, prejudice, mistrust and fear develop (or are taught) before that personal experience, the latter is readily discarded as the anomaly; easily dismissed as the exception to the rule. See, subway dude was so entrenched in his distrust of Gamers and his dislike of Gaming, it was the fact that his friend was a Gamer himself that was dismissed – not his perception of Gaming and Gamers. Plural-of-anecdote caveats apply here obviously, but that, right there, is a worrying fucking sign.
Because if we do get to the point whereby no matter how great we are – no matter how much we advocate for the good side of Gaming amongst our friends and communities – we’re still the anomaly – the exception that can be easily dismissed – then it’s very, very hard to come back from that!