Video games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They can be enormously time-consuming and often require a considerable level of dedication to master. However, there are good reasons for non-gamers to be paying attention to the video-games industry right now – it has become the site of a rebellion against moral crusaders and their relentless push to politicise every aspect of culture and society.
That’s not a good start. It’s never a good start to claim that it’s only analysis or criticism or interrogation of X that is political, while mere X itself just is, politics-free.
That’s not right. Video games aren’t some natural phenomenon that simply happened, with no human interference. They’re a human, social creation, and as such they are political.
That doesn’t mean that what’s political about them was necessarily planned or coordinated, it just means that consumer preferences and demographics are not apolitical.
Games have been subject to right-wing moral panics in the past, Allum Bokhari continues, but now the panic is on the left.
Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned.
Really? Critics of gaming are saying gamers ought to be feared and shunned? I haven’t seen that.
In any case, this idea that “mere escapism” is – because it is mere – completely non-political and unable to shape or influence attitudes and behaviors is…fatuous. Why would that be the case? Why would the content of “escapism” simply slide off people like rain? Why wouldn’t the content do what content does, and help to shape our thinking? Especially if we consume it apolitically, without thinking or questioning?
The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months.
Now that’s classic Spiked, pretending that any kind of criticism of Things As They Are is an “elitist” war against preferences.
Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.
However familiar the language is, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
If people are saying that the social media harassment is representative of all gamers, then they’re making a gross error, if only because that can’t be known. But if they’re saying, for instance, that the culture of gaming seems to be compatible with social media harassment, then they’re saying something at least defensible.
But gamers have started to fight back. They have taken to social media in huge numbers to defend their hobby against the new onslaught of cultural warriors.
Wait. Isn’t that just confirming the claim that a lot of gamers seem to go in for social media harassment? When “to defend their hobby” so often means “to call Anita Sarkeesian a lying cunt who should be killed”?
With most gaming journalists taking the side of the activists, gamers know they can only rely on their own voices. Gathering around YouTube personalities (who now have several million hits on their videos) and a small number of friendly journalists and academics, the movement known as GamerGate has taken the entire industry by storm. It has dragged prominent figures like Jimmy Wales and huge companies like Stardock, Electronic Arts and Intel into the fray. And it simply refuses to go away.
The movement has no specific list of demands, but it is quite clear what its general attitude is. It wants the cultural warriors out. It wants the cosy clique of activists and journalists to lose their influence. It wants the demonisation of gamers to end. It wants diversity, not conformism.
To put it another way, it wants the cosy clique of activists and journalists silenced so that the cosy clique of gamers can proceed unchanged.
The backlash has achieved considerable results already. A major gaming site bucked the industry trend and decided to allow open discussion on its forums. The processing giant Intel decided to pull advertising support from one of the centres of anti-gamer misanthropy. Gamers have taken on the ideologically disciplined, well-connected forces of the authoritarian left – and they’re winning.
Hmm. Have the ideologically disciplined, well-connected forces of the authoritarian left been issuing a lot of death threats? Have they been issuing any? Have they created any games that involve punching one of their perceived enemies in the face repeatedly?
To me, it suggests that there is a crisis brewing for the cultural warriors. In their attempts to police language and culture, they are alienating the very demographics they used to rely on for support. This isn’t a right-vs-left battle, it’s an authoritarian-vs-libertarian one – and the authoritarian side is hemorrhaging support (if, indeed, it had any to begin with).
If we are at the point where women, minorities, and left-wing sympathisers prefer to support right-wing libertarians over the authoritarian gaming press, it suggests something interesting is taking place in this surprisingly large arena of cultural politics. The full results have yet to be seen, but I suspect it won’t end happily for the new class of moral crusaders.
The game is on.
Complete with death threats and sexist slurs. Congratulations.