This actually isn’t specifically about games. But this is the context.
A little while back, I wrote a review for a slo-mo, Nazi murder simulation called Sniper Elite 3: Afrika.
I found the game problematic in a number of areas, notably the lack of character (development) or meaningful plot, dull graphics, dull story, and homogenous character models. That is, the game features absolutely no one who isn’t white or male. I indicated that this is indicative of a wider problem in gaming; that, worryingly, it’s something that probably didn’t even cross the creators’ minds. For a game subtitled “Afrika”, you’d think maybe other people aside from white males would be included.
A few people were not happy with my mentioning this, seeing it as yet another person “pushing/forcing” his agenda where it doesn’t, apparently, belong. I was told I should be reviewing the game, not the industry; I should be sticking to aspects of the game that made it enjoyable or awful as a playing experience; that if I wanted to talk about the industry or issues about games, I should’ve made it a separate article or an op-ed – rather than surprise people with such views in a review. (This paragraph summarises various criticisms, comments and communications.)
I was told, essentially, to please not talk about diversity.
It should strike on several levels what this kind of reaction means.
First, the very experience people were reading the article for – namely, my opinion about the game being reviewed – was being dismissed.
It says so much that these critics don’t care that perhaps, as a person who isn’t white, I’m deeply affected by a lack of racial diversity in a major creative industry and that strikes hardest while playing a game with only white characters for no good reason. This lack of diversity really did impact my playing of the game, more so than bland sound design or polygons. These tut-tutting comments and wagging fingers and people who think they’re my editors is precisely what I was writing about: because diversity is not an issue in a game for these critics of mine, they saw no reason for me to include it as a point of criticism. No, it wasn’t sound or gameplay, it was something silly and social and weird and real. That’s not games. Games are fictional, make-believe, things that happen on screen.
For many people, no doubt games are a distraction or “escapism” – just as books or films are. But, for some of us, these creative mediums are so much more. Our line of what games mean and should mean and should be doesn’t have to align with yours; I’m certainly not demanding every gamer take games as “seriously” as I do. Apparently, that’s a bad thing because obviously people don’t make a living from games, run crappy or amazing businesses, have their lives ruined or made by the industry, cry while playing games, experience great joy and sadness – nope, all games are all dumb and meaningless. I should stop taking it so seriously.
Well, no. I get to experience and appreciate my favourite medium however the hell I want to. To be told my experience doesn’t count, that my criticism of something that means a great deal to me and what I spend much of life writing on, is to be made aware yet again of what a homogenous white straight male boys’ club gaming is. They’re just there to have fun and not think: how dare I come there with my “agenda”.
Which leads to the second assertion that I’m forcing an agenda.
I don’t deny I have an agenda. It is one of making spaces I care about safe and secure for people and to undermine bigotry. Again: you don’t “have” to, though I think we all have a moral duty to clean up communities and spaces we’re a part of, since we are the pieces that comprise that community. We make or break through purchasing power and participation; we are the ones whose interest is air to the industry’s lungs made of business. To be silent or neutral is to essentially tolerate the existing inadequacies within the community or space you claim to love.
Of course, you can be blind or ignorant to these inadequacies, and there’s no law commanding you to find out just how bad – say – sexism is in gaming. There’s no rule that forces you to read articles talking about diversity. But clearly comments responding to my article have some opinion about diversity – indeed, they are telling me exactly how and why and when I am allowed to talk about it. Me: the person who obviously cares more for it than they do (which, again, is fine), who’s written about diversity problems in other areas (most recently, women in the science world). Yes, I am the one that must be taught by those who so clearly do not care when and where and how and why I can write about a subject that means a great deal to me.
Lest they get… annoyed or something? I’m not quite sure, since these were commands from my non-editors rather than arguments.
One of the criticisms I noted was that it wasn’t so much that I spoke about diversity, but that I mentioned it in a game review (gasp!). It seems to have surprised them and, perhaps, this contradicts my point about them not having to read about it. After all, I was “forcing” them to deal with diversity issues.
I must again point out that, for me, the lack of diversity is an issue. Some gamers have an issue with frame-rate-per-second; others hate puzzles. Whatever it is, we don’t then tell the critic he’s wrong to have that gripe: we can ignore it if we actually love puzzles. If someone really hates puzzles, what do you hope to gain by telling him “Well, I personally don’t care about puzzles. Please don’t write about that in your review.” So why do so for diversity, which actually has a greater impact on individual lives?
We read different people to obtain different perspectives because difference is kind of interesting. (Of course, that just highlights how much difference is antithetical to gaming, doesn’t it?).
Further to this, why must diversity in games be an op-ed but not in reviews, but – say – graphics is allowed in both? Entire YouTube channels are dedicated to discussing graphics and framerate, just as there channels discussing sexism. Who gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed in game reviews? I certainly missed that memo. So apparently did the people paying me to write reviews for their site.
The vociferous nature of the responses no longer astounds. I find it strange and sad, more than anything, that people become so vocal about maintaining dudebrodom. I can’t fathom what makes them so afraid, dismissive – or just generally reactive – of diversity discussion that my mention of it prompts such responses. What is it that such people hope to achieve? Trying to control how those of us speaking of diversity are allowed to speak – only in an op-ed, not in a review, only a little, not so much – is belittling and highlighting the very problem we’re trying to focus on. There are other reviewers to read, too; talented people who will calmly put the made-up template of what constitutes a proper game review and mark according to what makes my critics happy. Good for them.
Diversity or social dynamics that mean a great deal to many of us, however, aren’t welcome. We simply can’t have that. This is games. And games are fun. Please stop taking them seriously or else we’ll have a serious conversation about how you can and should and must talk about your little issue.
What makes all this worse is that thinking wider and engaging with diversity makes games so much more fucking interesting – who wants another gravel-voiced, mid-thirties white-dude revenge power fantasy?
For example, even though I was talking about non-whites rather than women, in Sniper Elite 3: Afrika, critics yelled the usual “in World War 2, there were no women on the frontline” nonsense: Because of course creators are slaves to the story they create and time they use; things need to be real. Real, like one man by himself destroying an entire army or killing 10 snipers before being spotted; real like taking out tanks in slo-mo and seeing skeletons explode. Not unrealistic like women snipers!
If this doesn’t highlight the very problem of homogeneity and its continued existence in big creative mediums, beautifully, I don’t know what will. Please stand by while I continue with my agenda.