“But she’s wrong about Hitman!”

I wrote this as a comment on gaming site I write for  – on Anita Sarkeesian and the topic of disagreement in game culture. Thought I’d post it here so I could curate proper discussion, because this is an issue I’m grappling with as a game and culture “critic” – and as a person trying to be decent. [sic] all around.

I’m not a fan of her work, but don’t see why a woman facing death, rape and bomb threats, who is at least bringing conversation, requires me to do in-depth criticism, 300 youtubes of how she’s wrong about Hitman, etc.

Frankly, I’d rather defend her right to be part of the culture and focus on her and others’ safety, than how they don’t get my favourite game is actually super important and the best thing ever. Games matter less than people’s safety.

Second there are plenty of people who deserve more attention for how wrong they are about games, such as those who say it “causes” violence, journalists who flout their swag, show off and show little engagement with material of games, developers who screw their audience, Kickstarter failures, etc. All these are actually detrimental. One person’s YouTube criticism is not.

I’m actually not interested in people’s criticisms of her work. First, because I have my own; second, who needs to hear it right now? Will the industry die because your voice wasn’t heart against Sarkeesian?

Imagine meeting an astrologer who’s got death threats and demanding he pay you attention, from a screaming mob, so that you can deliver criticism of his pseudoscience. I don’t care that you’re right about astrology; I care that you’re using time and energy to criticise him when you could be using it to defend him against bullies threatening him.

I also want to add: If we want to develop a culture that handles criticism properly, we need to care about people first. For example, those wanting “social issues” removed from game reviews are wanting solidification of the current state; the state that allows so many people to reach this level of anger at harmless women. Games can’t be removed from social dynamics anymore than cars or paintings can be. How you examine such items devoid of the contexts and identities that gave rise to such things in the first place is beyond me – except that you’d be delivering the most neutral, bland inhuman aspects of it. Imagine describing the Mona Lisa by listing the colours and direction of brushstrokes – that’s what it sounds like to me when you plead for objectivity. (No I don’t think every game write-up should analyise the race/sex aspects and what the second tree really means; but I do think such things can be written and should be done without cries of it being not part of gaming – or that it’s “ruining” games.)

You want to criticise Sarkeesian – Great. Work on creating a culture where doing so is done maturely, civilly and with sensitivity to the other person as the default. By pushing through with your criticism, you’re making it clear you don’t care about the current context a harmless person is facing for merely trying to make games better. Whether she’s right is debatable; whether she – and others – should have her life and safety threatened is not. Right now, I know what my priority is in this particular instance.

Maybe one day we can debate the merits of her video – and I might actually agree with you on some points. But now is not that time and, as indicated, there are other targets more worth your criticism. Otherwise you just become part of the climate that is already a room of knives.

Gamers are angry and they need to grow up

After dealing with trolls for an entire day – thanks to a certain prominent atheist with a million followers Retweeted me on Anita Sarkeesian – I had my article on the same issue go live. I looked at what happened when Joss Whedon and Tim Schafer endorsed Sarkeesian, what men (and non-targeted people in general) can and must do – even if misogyny and sexism appears to be a dying animal. It’s cornered beast but still has claws.

In response to those who tell me how to write about diversity

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.

Video games.

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. [Read more...]

Ubisoft, women and diversity in media

My latest for The Daily Beast is on Ubisoft’s (lack of) prioritising women in their upcoming games and the response, in general, from those wanting diversity in media. Specifically in the case of Assassin’s Creed: Unity I found this really disappointing, since this is a talented bunch of people – who not only themselves wanted women, but are great at encouraging diversity.

I’ve been sick and busy with work, so apologies for empty blog for awhile. I should be returning to at least my infrequent levels of blogging – I definitely have an upcoming fisk.

Please support thoughtful game writing

Five out of Ten Magazine is a wonderful digital publication, edited by smarty-pants friend of mine, Alan Williamson; it focuses on critical videogame essays.

Often game sites do fairly boring news – “DEVELOPER GIVES TINY FACTOID ABOUT UNRELEASED GAME, WE SPECULATE WITH 1,000 WORDS” or “HERE’S A SCREENSHOTTTTTTT!” – but much of the rich conversation is missing. Comment sections seem comprised of the same kind of people shouting women out of online multiplayer and gaming in general; the kind who think wanting same-sex representation is advocating Nazism.

FooT however is a space that allows for great conversations to take place. This latest issue, which I’m in for some reason, is focused on “space” and what that means in terms of games. It allows for fascinating essays that I hope make it worth purchasing.

Considering it’s supporting an area of gaming that really needs more focus and support – like certain amazing-looking games – I want people who love games to love these discussions too. Gaming is a medium worth investing in and, since it’s my favourite medium, I want others to experience the fulfillment, discomfort, passion, and awe it provides me.

Keeping “the gays” out of gaming

I wrote a piece for The Daily Beast on Nintendo’s response to wanting same-sex relations in one of their games. For many – including gaming fans – this may seem like so much nonsense. Yet, what it speaks to is a greater problem of exclusion and targeting, of how you do harm by doing “nothing” or ignoring, within a popular medium – in this case, games.

You can examine all sorts of mediums, but the one I’ve dealt with here – because it is my passion – is games. I do challenge you, though, to read the comments without wanting to build a spaceship and find other planets. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I‘ve been Tweeting a bit about so many stupid responses.

It’s pretty bizarre how there still exist such mindsets with such deep-seated hatred for gay people and same-sex attraction. Why? It’s simply something I cannot fathom – and I say that as someone who advocates understanding your opponent in debates. I’m not gay myself, so I’ve never had to face such horrible treatment (Homophobic slurs tossed at me don’t count as experiencing homophobia, merely because I write about sex equality – I think I made some commenters* angrier when I indicated I’m not, in fact, gay).

I just don’t know whether there even exists a debate about whether gay people are persons – so it means I don’t have opponents, so much as people holding completely strange and bigoted worldviews. Of course, this doesn’t mean swearing or treating these opponents badly – it just means that any bridge for comprehension collapsed some time ago. I’d like it to return to have them change their mind, but I don’t know. It is very difficult.

Why hate gay people so much? I mean, geez! Equating them with Nazis? Friggin‘ hell.

*Not ALL commenters.

CollegeHumor hates “fake” nerd girls

Disclaimer: I’m aware the CollegeHumor article is a bit old. But I only saw it recently.

LOL! So check these silly women who think they’re nerds cos they wear glasses. Ha, what fakes! Let’s take Tweeted pics and make an article mocking them for thinking they’re nerds!

pic

LOL, high five bro!

We’ll show these dumb womin that it’s wrong to call yourself a nerd because… well, because! It’s too difficult to explain and if I have to explain then you’re obviously not a true nerd. And who doesn’t want to aspire to be a self-loathing, hateful, vengeful manchild — I mean “true nerd”?

What you mean let people call themselves what they want because it has no fucking impact on my life? That makes no sense! I must defend the kingdom of nerdom if people aren’t nerding in the perfectly right way that I’ve arbitrarily determined! Dammit! People can’t just enjoy themselves: they need to enjoy the things I love in the right, special, sacred way I’ve determined!

This is for men. When you come in here, with your women parts, it upsets the balance. And that’s wrong because… you know. Because it is upsetting! Stop it, just look at that list and laugh at those silly women that deserve to be shamed on a widely read site for doing a harmless activity!

Hey! We mock men, too, so it’s fine! Things are equal! How come feminists always talk about how people are equal but then when they get targeted they want special treatment??! Huh: What you mean recognising the world is unequal doesn’t negate treating people equally? That makes no sense. Women are just being hysterical as usual! They should get over themselves, they just need a man in their life.

Everything is fine and I’ve never seen or experienced an environment that constantly judges and negates me for my sex, race, sexual orientation – THEREFORE IT DOESN’T HAPPEN TO ANYONE ELSE. That’s logic! And I should know, bro, I’m a totes true nerd! Let’s go be offended by Star Wars…

GTA V won’t make you kill sex workers

In a recent piece, Cassie Rodenberg wrote on Grand Theft Auto V by Rockstar Games, low income areas and sex worker violence. Rodenberg, who writes the White Noise blog for Scientific American, could rightfully be expected to provide actual evidence, data and careful linking for her claims. This is particularly so because claims of GTA and violence, as well as sex worker rights and security, are both sensitive topics (not equally, certainly); knee-jerk reactions from all sides probably mean no one will listen, especially if you’re not careful in your portrayal and writing.

Unfortunately, Rodenberg is neither careful nor clear. Instead, Rodenberg relies on a sad retelling of one sex worker’s OD and makes many dramatic points about how GTA sex workers are treated the same way as… real sex workers? About children not caring about education or life because they want to play video games?

The piece is both unclear and dramatic. I left a long comment, but in order for it to make complete sense, you of course should read the piece.

I do worry about commenting or even making blogposts when people are “piling on”; you wonder whether you’d actually add anything useful to a discussion comprised of noise.

However, I think that amidst the shouting from the usual angry gamer crowd, I’d like to indicate that I do have genuine concerns about GTA myself, as someone who dislikes sexism – which is something I hated about this game - and is concerned about safety and security of sex workers. Similarly, Ms Rodenberg doesn’t appear to be facing the same kind of animosity and threats as Ms Baxter did (I don’t wish to convey I’m umsympathetic to horrible messages she is receiving). Similarly, Ms Baxter’s piece was a lot more personal in its criticism for a cause that was pretty embarrassing afterward for her.

Anyway, this is an edited version of my comment:

Much assertion and hints at causal relations, but with no actual evidence provided by Ms Rodenberg in this piece. This is worrying, since as someone who both cares for sex worker safety and the art of video games, I don’t want to be encouraging activity that harms.

Unfortunately, this piece does little except construct the game in a scary way; one I – and no doubt many other gamers – never saw.

“This [killing sex workers] is all possible, even encouraged by tips on YouTube and chatrooms, in Grand Theft Auto V. In fact, your character’s health (aka life points) goes up when you have sex with a prostitute.”

A claim that’s been attached to GTA for too long: “there’s points for killing sex workers”. I see it’s amended to say “life points” but no one thinks or calls it that in this game. It’s just “health”.

I must also point out you’re actually showing sex work to be a good thing, if your character heals (another thing I don’t remember happening).

Second, what do you mean by “encouraged”? All that YouTube video you link to shows is where to locate sex workers, which is no different to videos about how to kill the most people in GTA, blow up the most things in GTA, etc. The only kind of “encouragement” is to play the game as fully as possible. Nothing significant is gained by even engaging with sex workers in GTA. I think I did it once in the game, but it’s actually rather boring.

“In the first 24 hours alone, the game sold 11m copies. That’s 11m pixelated ghettos.”

I don’t understand this part. First, so what? Second, one character lives in a mansion in an upper-class neighbourhood. Another one moves into same area later. Presumably, you mean the whole game is a ghetto? The map? I don’t get this.

“They play at night instead of doing their homework. It’s cool to pick up prostitutes.”

There’s many things students would rather do than their homework. That’s about as much GTA’s fault as Cartoon Network; more so, it’s parents’ responsibility to monitor their child’s education – not Rockstar Games.

“This is how you learn to “be a man”.

According to who? I would be interested in how you’re acquiring your data and also if you know what the average age is of those playing GTA 5. Even the Daily Mail shows estimates that it’s usually adults (with a few kids) who are playing (not just buying).

“And while those students play their game, in their neighborhood, perhaps under their window, real prostitutes walk.”

Yes, but there’s also presumably actual violence, murder, assault. Sex workers can walk where they want.

“Millie was one of them, a woman who worked in South Bronx, who walked the streets. She stood on the track, a simulacrum of game pixels. “

I see you’re trying to make it related to a gaming world, but I’m not seeing how other than your assertion of simulacrum of game pixels. Which doesn’t make that much sense – most of us know what’s real, what’s a game, what’s a film.

“She’s dead now, dead like the on-screen women that are fun to kill.”

No, she’s not dead “like the on-screen women”. That seems insulting to this late woman: a once living, breathing, actual human being with loved ones. Pixellated characters don’t have those human qualities; it seems the writer is the one unable to distinguish between reality and the game by making this rather crude comparison.

“There, game and real women split.”

I don’t know what you mean by this.

“These teenagers have the power to reign over those whores. Game and real women merge.”

Assertion, assertion. No evidence or causal link provided. What is the link between one of GTA’s minor activities and the horrible deaths of sex workers? What is the link to the mostly male gamers living around the sex workers and their mistreatment? Millie died because of a complications related to addiction – what is that relation to schoolkids playing GTA V?

“What they see dictates that they should mock the women outside their windows, mothers and sisters and neighbors. They should harden and laugh like the rest of the world who thoughtlessly screw, dump and kill the bitches in ghettos, things that no longer seem real to them.”

I wish this had been your focus. The game is incredibly misogynistic, in its portrayal of women as either shrieking whiners or damsels in distress. There is no depth to them. This, to me, is more worrying than a minor activity: this is more worrying since it’s emblematic of how many women are treated and how many men view them.

GTA’s awful decision to have three males – when it could’ve included one, just ONE, female lead – is further evidence of this. We know Rockstar are incredible story-tellers and character designers: I would’ve loved to have seen a complicated, fascinating woman character lead. They can do it. They didn’t.

That’s of more concern than assertions of blurring realities: Women really are treated this way, the game is evidence of that. There’s no blurring there.

“But [Millie's children] can reach one memory of [Millie] on screen, hear her say, “hey, baby,” watch men shove her down.”

Seems a rather insensitive thing to say: again, equating a real-life person with an anonymous collection of pixels is quite insulting. Indeed, how do you know what her children will think of her? If I was one of her children, I would be quite insulted by that last assertion.

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Misconceptions about gaming by non-gaming people

IGN Africa recently launched and I contributed a thinkery piece about misconceptions about games.

I examine common claims like it’s only for kids, it’s not art, etc. The claims are, of course, largely – if not totally – wrong.

It annoys me to no end that because a work is a video game it’s assumed to be unable to, for example, tell an incredible story, have amazing performances, or allow for moments of the numinous that are essential to all forms of creativity.