Games are not exempt from social discussions

In a March update to 2013 indie survival horror game, Rust, the devs explained a new change: the assignment of skin tone.

Writing on the game’s official blog, they said:

Everyone now has a pseudo unique skin tone and face. Just like in real life, you are who you are – you can’t change your skin colour or your face. It’s actually tied to your steamid.

Right now your avatar is randomised via three things. Skin colour, head mesh and head material. We only have 2 face textures and 2 face materials, which means there’s 4 possible combinations. We will be adding more of these later on (at which point your face will probably change).

There’s a lot of skin colours in the world, and it’s really easy to appear racially insensitive when doing this. This is compounded by the fact that everyone is really used to seeing this guy as a white guy, so when you see him as a black guy it feels like he’s just “blacked up“. So we’re spending a lot of time trying to lessen that effect.

Race is a complicated issue in a world where people are still judged, targeted and marginalised – even in first world countries – because of their skin colour. Many people would like to believe we are beyond it, but unfortunately, we are not. And this is precisely what scholar Megan Condis tackles at Al Jazeera:

The reactions to Rust’s unprecedented experiment were swift. Many gamers were aggrieved by the skin tone automatically assigned them. Others felt drafted into racial discourses that they preferred to ignore, and lamented the entrance of social justice activism into what they saw as a blissfully post-racial online world. But the backlash only underscored a disturbing reality: By insisting that race doesn’t or shouldn’t exist online, such attitudes ensure an online status quo in which people of color remain marginalized and invisible. (Emphasis added.)

This continuation of marginalisation arises from gamers’ insistence race doesn’t belong in a review; in sites focusing more on what characters’ smoke than why there are no people of colour.

It’s everywhere and people who loudly proclaim to be totally not racist perpetuate this toxicity through erasing our concerns.

While there were blatant racist responses to Rust’s decisions, there were also those who believed it an “enforcement” of issues. What’s striking, however, is that so many people forget how often people of colour are forced to play white people; how often gay people play as straight people; and so on. The straight white male lead and focus is ubiquitous in gaming – and a lot of media. This ubiquity leads to those identity aspects becoming invisible. As Condis puts it:

Why is it that the supposed lack of choice with regards to the player’s avatar only became a concern after people of color were added to the game? The reactions reflect a failure on the part of some gamers to recognize that whiteness is a race at all. These players appear to think of whiteness as a neutral type of embodiment, the universal category of humanity against which all those who do “have” a race (anyone who is not white) are compared.

Many people often respond to us people of colour’s concerns about race with frustration and anger; it’s particularly awful when, consistently, white people ask me to stop talking about race. I’d really love it if, instead of telling me to keep quiet about race, white folk interrogated this anger – not at systems of oppression, but at their own boredom, their own frustration at us, and how it adds to an environment we keep saying is unwelcoming to us.

Consider that when we write “Gaming culture is unfriendly to those who are not straight white cis men”, we have straight white men swear and harass us to… disprove this? It’s as if the articles about how minority groups face oppression get comments that prove the necessity of those articles.

The industry and culture is hostile and part of that hostility is privileged people who claim to be not racist or sexist telling the rest of us to chill out, quiet down, stop overreacting. We have given so many examples, shown so many ways – it’s not a question of evidence, it’s now a question of why privileged people don’t want to accept that evidence. It’s their refusal to self-reflect on their anger at us, rather than the systems and culture we point to that hurt everyone.

I, and other people of colour, can’t do that acceptance for them, neither can any other minority person who is frequently the target of hateful but privileged angry people. As Condis highlights in her piece, ubiquity of particular types of people has led to invisibility – and, because we don’t fit into that ubiquitous mould, that so-called “target demographic”, we become targets, not members, of yet another space.

This isn’t just gaming. It’s every day life. We shouldn’t want invisibility, we should want safety.

No one is forcing you to participate in these discussions. If you really don’t care, fine: don’t read, don’t participate. It’s a pity though that so many would rather pretend race doesn’t exist and isn’t an issue than try make games more inclusive, diverse and accepting. Games themselves talk about race – why won’t gamers?

Debunking common responses to diversity

Those of us who speak often about diversity – particularly in gaming, but it’s an issue for all mediums – are often faced with similar responses. I want to reply to some.

Throat clearing

Let’s first be clear about what diversity support is: The call to have more games include people of colour, trans folk, etc., is about wanting more, not less.

We want not mere inclusion of, say, black characters, but ones who aren’t all gangsters (as in Watch Dogs); transgender folk who aren’t solely included as targets of transphobic jokes (as in Grand Theft Auto V); women who aren’t caricatures or replaceable with inanimate objects (too many to list).

Diversity is about the recognition that other people partake of a medium, are worth representing within those mediums as people, and who have certain issues particular to that group that are worth exploring in a respectable way.

The question about what to do with this recognition is where difficulty lies. But the responses to such a cause help no one.

Common, wrong responses

“Not every game has to cater to a minority!”

No one is saying every game has to. The call for more games to include and deal with issues that affect various kinds of people is not a call for every game to meet some magical quota. I don’t even know what such a measure looks like. I also don’t really know what “catering to a minority” means.

Diversity campaigning means “cater to all/more people – not just some”. Saying diversity is “every game must cater to a minority” is the exact opposite of the overarching goal of “more”.

We’re highlighting too many games already cater to one demographic (straight white men); in other words, games already cater to one group. We’re saying try make stories about more than one group of people; lots of cultures, nationalities, abilities, etc., exist. We’re all interested in games.

“Let artists create what they want!”

If you wish to make your game star another white man, that is entirely your choice. But it’s still a choice and we will and can criticise you for it. Just as you are totally free to make your lead character another boring white dude, we use that same freedom to criticise you.

Whatever your reason – publishers force you, “the market” decides, etc. – it’s still a choice to focus on the stories of white men. It’s a still a choice to disregard other voices or cultures or people. There is no law you’re adhering to.

Make whatever you want: that’s freedom.

The ability to criticise art and artistic choice: that’s the same freedom.

We either both have it or neither of us do.

“It’s bad for business.”

I’m not sure how you ignore examples where a diverse cast led to the biggest profits a franchise had. We’ll ignore women leads sell better – again and again. Since when is it smart business practice to ignore substantial potential audience base?

Do you really want to be fostering an audience that is outwardly repulsed by the idea you treat women respectably? That maybe people of colour don’t have to be terrorists or gangsters? Is that the type of audience you want supporting your work? If not, then you can include other kinds of people and know that the alleged original audience of straight white dudes will continue to support you, because you’re good, talented, creative.

The men who loved Half-Life, which starred a power fantasy version of many of them, didn’t abandon Valve when Portal starred a woman. How belittling of yourself, your audience and the rest of us, when you view your audience based on the most bigoted.

But here’s a black/women/etc. character! Why are you complaining?

Highlighting the existence of a minority individual doesn’t disprove the problem of majority. No one is claiming such stories or characters do not existence – we’re saying it’s too common, too predictable for stories to focus on the plight of straight white men.

For example, if Idris Elba was cast as James Bond, that doesn’t disprove or undermine that James Bond was/is always a white man. It highlights Elba is an exception and that very fact he’s an exception is the problem.

When you point out a game that focuses on a well-written black character – say Lee, from Telltale’s The Walking Dead (who is, unfortunately, a criminal) – you don’t disprove Arkham Asylum, City, Knight, Watch Dogs, Dying Light, Assassin’s Creed (AC) 2, AC: Black Flag & AC: Unity, Witcher 1, 2, 3, Far Cry 1, 3, Lords of the Fallen, Max Payne, Alan Wake, etc. etc. etc. etc. all star and focus on the stories of straight white men.

We already know about the few games that do people of colour well. We’re saying they shouldn’t be an exception, not they don’t exist.

Just be good: who cares if they’re black or white, man or woman?

It’s easy to not care about race or gender or sexuality when yours is the one that’s catered to by default. I am told constantly by white men that race isn’t an issue (which, makes me wonder: if it’s not an issue, why are they fighting me about it?); men constantly tell women to “calm down”, because, hey, Lara Croft exists. And so on.

The way this is framed is that it doesn’t matter if a character is a woman or person of colour or gay, just as long as they’re well written. This gives the impression that straight white men are inherently well-written and you need to make some kind of case for your person of colour lead.

The actual point is this: You need to make all characters, regardless of race, gender, good (or interesting or, at least, not boring/Aiden Pearce). We can all agree on that. But when you use that assertion when people are calling for diversity, you’re diverting the issue. We’re not talking about quality of characters, we’re talking about inclusion. If race doesn’t matter to you, then stop getting involved when people of colour mention inclusion. Why would we want a badly written person of colour in a game? That could be worse than their non-existence.

Your point is either pointless (of course they must be well written!) or diverting (focusing on characters’ quality rather than their inclusion).

Conclusion

Diversity matters to many of us: if it doesn’t matter to you, please rather just ignore our conversations. You don’t really prove you lack of caring when you try divert complex discussions about diversity. You also don’t help when you make the same talking points we’ve been dealing with for ages. Help yourself or help us, but please don’t be boring and distracting.

Dear straight white men: Don’t be that guy

When trying to tackle the various systems that belittle, undermine, oppress, and abuse marginalised people, we often encounter cages made of white dudes‘ folded arms. A refusal to listen; a refusal to acknowledge there’s a problem. There’s often a rumbling before, as their eyes roll when they see any mention pertaining to inclusion of women or people of colour in domains predominantly composed of those who look like them.

Whether it’s gamingatheism, genre fiction (seriously), science, whatever. The idea that these areas are still problematic – despite the existence of prominent people of colour, women, etc. – frustrates many of these guys. They feel as though simply not being a sexist or racist is sufficient to make these environments inclusive; as if by them not harassing, abusing or targeting marginalised folk, they’ve done enough and can’t understand why oppression continues. Or rather, why we’re still complaining. “Look! Barack Obama is president, there’s no racism! Look, a woman CEO, there’s no sexism!” [Read more…]

I am made dead by Gamergate verbosity

I wrote an article about Gamerbro-types owning up to their own politics and social agendas – instead of making boring, obviously false assertions like “We just wanna play games”, “Keep politics out of games”, etc. Why am I comfortable enough to play and review games, and also talk about my own view of politics and social issues, but my “critics” are not?

Why is it OK to mention the number of pixels but not the low number of people of colour? It’s never been explained but we can all start having proper discussions when such folks own up to their views; just admit “I find race issues boring”, “It makes me uncomfortable to confront sexism”.

That’s so much more honest, so much more fruitful than trying to silence us with “make it about games” – when, for me, so much of diversity issues is seen in games. It is about games, for me: Telling me to keep quiet about race in games is telling me not to experience games. And if you don’t want to read about my experience of games, don’t read my reviews. These people are not babies, but for some reason this needs to be explained.

Regardless, a very boring commenter went on a verbose rampage, trying to drown us all in words – because, I guess, mortality isn’t an issue when you have an endless spawn option. I mean just look at this Niagra fall of words!

I’m working some things out, so here’s a fisk.

[Read more…]

Bros are not happy with Men’s Magazines getting rid of pick-up artist bullshit

As surely as night follows day, men angered by having creepy behaviour questioned and criticised will stand proudly to defend such behaviour. I, for one, am glad to know who to avoid and inform my friends of. I feel compelled to send them Meninist hoodies, the poor things.

One such fellow is Christian McQueen who writes a blog for men dreaming of “living the playboy lifestyle”. His Twitter bio reads “I didn’t invent the playboy lifestyle. I just perfected it”, which is great and I am super happy for him. However, he doesn’t appear to be happy with my country’s Men’s Health’s recent decision to purge itself of pick-up artist bullshit.

There could be a good discussion on ethics policy: Is MH going too far? Are they not unecessarily removing content that’s proven to help and not harm? We can have those discussions, but I’m not certain Mr McQueen is interested in that, so much as yelling at “weak-kneed beta bitch boy editors”.

Let’s see what’s upset him. [Read more…]

To the men “concerned” about the new Ghostbusters that happen to star women

Hey, fellow male Ghostbuster fans. I wanna talk.

But let’s first recap.

So, I’m also quite the Ghostbusters fan. I saw the first two films probably about ten times each, owned the toys, watched the TV shows. A few years ago, I rewatched both and bought the video game (which was scripted by Aykroyd and Ramis, serving as the official third part of the Gozer trilogy).

 

In other words, I’m a really big fan of this franchise.

I was really excited about a third film. Then Murray showed hesitation. Then Ramis died. Then we heard rumours that it would star only women. And then, yesterday, it was kinda-sorta confirmed.

Via The Hollywood Reporter:

Melissa McCarthy, who was already in talks for one of the leads, has signed on for the Paul Feig-directed reboot, and Sony is now negotiating with Kristen Wiig as well as Saturday Night Live players Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Negotiations are ongoing, but the quartet are expected to sign on as the specter-seeking, poltergeist-punishing, phantom-phollowing foursome in the reboot, which is eyeing a summer shoot in New York.

Of course, you may notice an issue that always upsets the internet: Women. Yeah. Women and their… existence. The Internet and humanity doesn’t seem particularly happy.

Amy O’Connor, from The Daily Edge, noticed some not very friendly responses. (I’ve blocked out the users’ names for ethical reasons.) [Read more…]

Comics are not for kids… or women

I thought I’d be writing about why I find this article a little problematic: It’s about a dad, Dave Phillips, who takes his kids to a comic store and has a road to Damascus moment, enlightened to the issues of women’s representation in comics and in general. His daughter can’t find a woman superhero wearing clothes and yet his son has little trouble choosing among 3,000 different fully-clothed Batmans/Batmen/Bat…people?

You’d think as someone who focuses on diversity and hating casual and outright sexism I’d be happy with it. But then some phrasing just… leapt out at me. [Read more…]

Tech support (bullies and creep)

After a DDoS attack, 8Chan has eventually been taken down because the domain was “seized”, due to it hosting child abuse images – as nauseatingly documented by Dan Olson. (Please call it abuse images, not “pornography”).

This happened due to numerous complaints sent to ‘the “pass-through” content delivery network that had been operating 8chan’s servers’, as Sam Machkovech describes it, called Cloudshare. The complaints highlighted 8Chan’s hosting of abuse images and called for them to cease hosting illegal, horrific content. However, Cloudshare did something really fucking disgusting.

Machkovech writes (my emphasis):

In accordance to Cloudflare’s abuse-report policy, the company responded to complaints by forwarding them back to 8chan’s administrative address—essentially telling an alleged offender who blew a whistle and how they did so. Brennan responded to those complaints by reposting them, complete with the complainants’ full names and e-mail addresses for 8chan and Twitter users to see. As a result, the complainant quoted above, who used his real name and e-mail address when writing to Cloudflare, was subsequently “doxxed” by imageboard users, and his personal and private contact details were posted on 8chan-friendly boards.

Cloudflare gave information, including details of identity, of people concerned about child abuse imagery to the very people hosting that content. This seems akin to telling an apartment block super that you dislike the loud metal from Apartment 34, then the super telling the thuggish gang that lives there you complained and your apartment number.

This is a wonderful example of internet culture catering to abusers and bullies, creating new targets and insulating the continued harassment of marginalised people. See creeps defending catcalling; see Gamergate; see online harassment of women.

The Internet is a pretty shitty space and we need better thinking when it comes to who we’re giving information to and how we think they’ll use it. Seriously, fuck Cloudflare.

EDIT: Wrote Cloudshare instead of Cloudshare, for some fucking reason. HT Comment #1.

EDIT2: Wrote Cloudshare twice in my correction Edit about writing Cloudshare instead of Cloudflare. I can brain.

Patton Oswalt fans and how to outrage properly

Famous comedian, Patton Oswalt, Tweeted this:

Rich straight white guy telling the world he’d appreciate “less outrage”. This notion doesn’t sit well with those who daily face various forms of outrageous and awful kinds of oppression or marginalisation. How exactly should people of colour show “less outrage” while responding to racism? How should rape survivors and targets of sexual assault convey “less outrage”, while daily exposed to men who think they own women’s bodies? How should gay rights activists threatened with death convey “less outrage” in countries where their existence is a crime?

I’m not sure and I’m not sure Oswalt is either. Oswalt is a smart, compassionate person, from a lot of what I’ve read; I’ve no doubt he’s genuine in his intent, even if, in this case, he’s unsuccessful in his delivery. Oswalt, respectfully, doesn’t get a free pass though – as I would not get a free pass if I said something awful but well-intentioned about transgender people (i.e. when I kept using “transgendered” for example), targets of sexual assault (“don’t wear slutty clothes!”), etc.

Writer Ijeoma Oluo was equally unimpressed.

It didn’t help that this was his response, though.

While it’s important to not dehumanise your opponent, sometimes you aren’t dealing with a group or response worth investing time in to convey pity. For example, when racists mock me, when sexists threaten women with rape, why should our first response be pity? Why should I take time to try understand when they’ve made things unsafer with violent threats? It might certainly be a response, and perhaps those not being targeted could demonstrate it (say, a rich white guy), but we don’t get to assert to targets of oppression how they should respond.

This doesn’t mean all responses to bigotry is justified of course – but when you’re merely asserting, and asserting from a place of privilege, it doesn’t help anyone. Indeed, it only helps the people who want to see marginalised people silenced: See, my hero Patton Oswalt says you persons of colour/women/etc. lack compassion and can’t even respond to your oppression right!

And, indeed, when Oswalt publicly responded to Ijeoma (putting a “.” before Replying so that all 2 million of his Followers could see), this made the situation worse.

I think this, above the initial Tweet, demonstrates a profound blindness constructed by good intention: Oswalt is good to acknowledge her and acknowledge her making good points. But, too, Oswalt must surely know that amidst his 2 million followers, as a comedian and white man, that he’ll have reactionary, “edgy” men willing to say horrible things to women online; he must know there is an imbalance of replying to a women of colour, who is a writer on these issues, in a public forum he can’t control, that it would work out worse for her. If he agreed she made good points, why not discuss it privately and perhaps blog it, thus putting it on a platform he can control? This a media ethics failing on Oswalt’s part, considering the size and scale of his Twitter platform.

Oswalt is one thing. The flood of men telling Ijeoma to “take a joke”, “get a sense of humor”, and so on – i.e. please shut up and stop insulting my hero – was nauseating.

I’ll summarise their Tweets in italics.

Humourists get free pass to say whatever they want. I realise you just said being told to lighten up is awful, but I’m going to repeat it.

I can’t really offer a response, so I’m going to make a baseless comment on your character.

How dare you be so self-centered as the kind of person who faces regular oppression to tell a rich white man how to be a better ally?

Anything said or done in jest gets a free moral pass, Part 534.

Let me explain how satire works…

And on it goes.

Everything you do is wrong because of your race and gender – not because you misused your privileged position to tell marginalised people to be less outraged, instead of men like yourself to be less dickish.

“Male’s”. No straight white male has ever had opportunity to voice their opinion, including you, a celebrity comedian with 2 million Followers.

The mythical creature, the SJW, feeds off the need to be offended – there’s no way racism, sexism, etc., exist to such degrees, everywhere that warrants marginalised people to be responsive to those who should be helping.

Oh yes, nothing like wanting an ally to do better to convey how much marginalised people hate him.

Pwned. I’m a great guy.

Patton Oswalt is god because he makes me laugh, Part 3,344.

I’m going to make a slave joke at a black person. That should go down well. 

Please notice my boredom. Please. I am the spiritual sequel to Oswalt’s inital Tweet.

Until white men are in positions of power – like presidents, Nobel prize winners, scientists, head of bushinesses – we must keep defending them.

Marginalised people love bigotry. Persons of colour have to search far and wide to find racism; women really struggle to encounter sexism. 

So what do we notice,

1. Lots of men love explaining to marginalised people how to handle oppression. They can’t imagine maybe they don’t know what they fuck they’re talking about because this is a world designed to be a blank page for men – especially white men – to make their mark. “I’m a white man! You must listen to me!”

2. Humour doesn’t have any moral baggage to such people. Here, Oswalt isn’t being comedic, but he is a comedian. For some reason, that gives him moral immunity to say what he wants. Humour is a way of speaking, not an automatic free pass to say what you want. Just because humour makes people laugh doesn’t make it right all the time. We can criticise it as we do cartoons caricaturing Jewish people, white people who blackface, etc.

3. This was also telling.

As I’ve said before: nothing insulates bigotry more than thinking my friends/fans/followers can’t possibly be bigots! Indeed, the idea that the only bigots online silencing persons of colour is white supremacists is obviously false: but it’s a helpful picture to draw so you have neat moral boundaries. If you can say “only white supremacists silence people of colour”, it means you can get away with saying anything and never think “Maybe I’m being a bit racist”. Because, hey, you’re not a white supremacist, so you can’t possibly be doing something bad to people of colour!

As I say, Oswalt is a good person I admire. My issue is his fans’ responses and his media ethics failure, in making this public on an unequal platform (his +/- 2m million Followers versus 1) over which he has no control.

I can only hope he does better. We all fuck up.