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?

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…]

An argument to reconsider words is not “thought policing”

How many people would use the k-word slur or a non-human animal species to describe persons of colour? Would any of you call me “camel-fucker”? Would you use “faggot” to describe a gay person? I imagine the answer to these is no – and it’s a “no” driven not by fear of police or lawyers, but some sense of morality.

Can you imagine anyone having to write an article today asking people not to use the k-word to describe black people? It seems ridiculous, because you probably don’t need to be convinced of that. If I had to blog about why you should not describe me as a “camel fucker” or “raghead” or “Paki”, I’d imagine you’d ask: Who the hell is this for? 

But let’s say there was someone, a white man,  who had never encountered these terms used in a bad way or himself used it as a term of endearment in an “ironic” way. Presumably such a person, who had never fully considered the impact on those it actually affects, would read my piece and reconsider his terms.

Whatever his conclusion, no one other than himself is preventing him from using those terms. I am not leaping out my blog to silence people who use “Paki”, I simply block them and conclude such people are not worth talking to. The entire Internet is available for Paki-bashers of the world to unite and use the term “ironically”.

That’s the end of it, really: Words on the internet ask you to reconsider using a term. Agree? Disagree? No one’s stopping you. Seems easy, no?

Well, judging from the way gamers responded to a similar suggestion about the term “Master Race”, maybe not. [Read more…]

UPDATE 3.00: I created a monster called #Readergate on Twitter (UPDATE: It’s in Bustle)

I think.

Anyway, I want to sit here and be proud and pretend I did something for once in my life.

But more importantly, go have a look at some of the brilliant responses from others – and please contribute your own. It’s hilarious and cuts to the heart of the stupidity of #Gamergate. The power of satire can always be useful.

UPDATE: Caitlin White has a succinct yet remarkably accurate write up of its history in Bustle. Great piece.

UPDATE 2: There’s a write up at Salon that’s excellent.

UPDATE 3: I also tried to respond to some #Gamergaters on reddit. I got some reddit Gold for trying, so there’s that.

 

But she’s wrong though…

Brianna Wu faces a lot of scorn and abuse right now from Gamergate. And also this.

Wu has faced and is facing harassment, was chased out her home and continues to fight against abuse – despite good reasons not to. So while facing a horde of misogynists and other horrible people, now is certainly a good time to take your big boy pants to her work! Totally!

Aside from the fact that saying a person who develops isn’t a “real” developer – which No True Scotsman cuts across like a train – it’s just… pointless.

It’s just unnecessary.

I have numerous problems with Sarkeesian’s work, not least her views on sex work. But the world isn’t coming to an end because my opinions haven’t been voiced. I don’t see why it’s necessary right now to do so. I also have other concerns.

But mainly: Sarkeesian, Wu, etc., are facing a mob of hostility from the internet and adding to that – no matter how well intentioned – is a jerk move.

Instead of using my limited time and resources to target Wu or Sarkeesian, I use it against the mob hating them.

And I do this for people who make racist Tweets about brown people like me and non-white people who live in Africa (like me).

If I can focus my criticism and use my finite time and finite energy to respond to an online mob attacking racists, I’d think gamers could do something similar for game devs and critics they don’t like. Oh, so you think Brianna Wu is a crap or fake game dev: yes, now is the perfect time to Tweet about that and make that your response (consistently in his interaction with me). And way to dismiss concerns of her safety as that being her “personal life”.

Sorry but I defended people who might hate me for my skin colour. What is so important about vidya games that it needs brave defenders targeting harmless women who everyone knows is being harassed and targeted? You have the freedom to criticise them, just as I have the freedom to tell you that’s pretty vile.

I don’t know but it seems to me more moral – ITS ABOUT ETHICS,  AFTER ALL! – to use your finite energy where it’s most needed, instead of being another person trying to score points against a harmless woman on the internet.

#Gamergate and the failure of ethics

So I’ve done a fair amount of work in ethics. I studied it as an M.Phil at a centre for Applied Ethics; I wrote on it for Big Think, write on it for Daily Beast, the Guardian and elsewhere. I teach it at a local university, to first-years, medical students and, once, even accountants. I’ve reviewed papers for major bioethics journals. I’m not an expert in it: but I can safely say I’ve “done” ethics more than most people.

And this is one reason (of many!) why I find Gamergate, this supposed movement concerned with “journalism ethics”, so insulting, so demeaning, and so contrary to ethics. I care a great deal about media ethics – particularly gaming media, as someone who also writes in that sphere – so I would love for more people to care.

Gamergate, however, makes my job a thousand times harder.

It’s clear from my hundreds of interactions with Gamergaters that, for a movement that is ostensibly about “ethics”, it sure has a lot of people that have no idea what that even means. I want to outline some various problems Gamergate has with ethics, aside from continuing to exist in the face of creating toxicity and harassment. [Read more…]

#Gamergate is giving a voice to voiceless? Your voice is better elsewhere.

I seriously don’t understand this one narrative thread in Gamergate about how it’s giving “voice to the voiceless”.

This is the Internet. Make a blog. Pitch articles. By definition, you have a voice.

pics

Comment on The Verge article. Click pic for original URL

But let’s look at this idea of clutching the megaphone of Gamergate.

There’s no denying they are being heard: almost every major media outlet has covered it, from the New York Times to the Boston Globe to the Guardian. None of it favourably, all of it looking at the toxicity and abuse that is its outer, wider, flailing parts. [Read more…]

An actual journalist gives gamergate a parental talking to

So Boston Globe‘s Jesse Singal had a write-up about Gamergate. It’s a short account, but one that he obviously researched and is a good overview for those wanting to know WTF is happening who don’t care about games. (I mean, if you want meat and fat and all sorts of details, read Kyle Wagner’s epic piece at Deadspin.)

Anyway, someone in proGamergate reddit was not pleased, labelling their link as “Another poorly-researched hit-piece, from the Boston Globe”.

Singal, praise Cthulu, decided to comment on reddit itself and it’s incredible to behold.

Me: I don’t think this is really about corruption as much as it’s about discomfort with feminism. After all, a lot of the heat seems to be aimed at small female devs/commentators of a feminist bent.

GamerGaters on Twitter: Not true! So unfair! Go to KIA!

[Goes to KIA. Suspicions appear to be mostly confirmed.]

As someone who cares about ethics in media, I’m still waiting for what exactly Gamergate wants. So far, I’ve seen childish nonsense or completely debunked assertions. [Read more…]