The view from nowhere

John Walker points out in a post on #GamerGate that there’s no escape from being political. Claiming to be not political is political; there is no not-political ground to stand on. (Unless you have always lived alone on a desert island, but then how did you get there?)

There’s a new game out, called Koala Fighters XVII. It’s a game about an elite squadron of fighter pilots, who are taking on the menace of the invading koala hordes. In it, throughout, are cutscenes showing bare-breasted women being kidnapped by the evil koalas, threatened with torture and death, to be rescued by the amazing gang of pilot men.

The game is, obviously, brilliantly well made, featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game. However, when reviewing this game, gaming site Poltaku comments on how the nudity and sexual stereotypes are disappointing. Meanwhile, Sensible Gaming Reviews, leaving the politics out of games coverage, doesn’t say anything of the sort, not seeing the feature necessary to mention. GameBros4Ever, meanwhile, reviews the game and comments on how brilliantly the breasts are animated, and how great it was to feel like a powerful man in the cockpit of the plane.

All three reviews are inherently political. Choosing to mention this specific feature of the game is a political decision, whether to condemn or celebrate. And crucially, choosing not to mention it is a political decision too. Not thinking it worth mentioning, also, is born of a political position on the matter. Indifference to something of importance to others is, of course, a political position. You cannot “leave the politics out of games coverage”. Politics are inherent. What is instead meant by this demand is, by its nature, “Leave politics I don’t adhere to out of games coverage.”

If you live among people and partake of what your society provides, you don’t have the option of being not political.

Wanting games coverage that doesn’t take issue with, for example, sexualised images of women (or men) is wanting coverage of a specific political leaning. It’s a desire for a specific political position to be taken in games coverage. Which is fine! But it’s not, in any way, leaving politics out of it.

The defense of the status quo is political. The stance of “change nothing” is political. Dismissal of criticism is just as political as the criticism dismissed.

There is an attempt to avoid this reality from GG by attempts to invoke the even deeper fallacy of “objectivity”. I’ve written at length on why objectivity is literally impossible for a human being, and further how deeply unhelpful it would be in games coverage. It’s immediately obvious that one cannot review a game objectively – one can only attempt to describe a game’s intended features while unavoidably infecting such an attempt with conscious or unconscious subjectivity. And describing a game’s intended features is the job of the publisher, and is already taken care of in descriptions of games on any gaming store. Objectivity is obviously not desired, but instead the term is used to suggest a politically “neutral” position on very specific subject areas. Attempts at neutral politics are obviously impossible, but more to the point, remains political.

And of course the pretence that it’s about neutrality is patent nonsense. By requiring neutrality on those specific subjects, such as anything regarding the representation of any group of people, it is a tacit endorsement of the opposing political position. The desire to mute criticism of the representation of women in a game is a tacit endorsement of the representation of women in the game. And again, of course, anyone is absolutely entitled to endorse that representation if it is their position. But it’s a position.

This is similar to the claim beloved by self-styled “skeptics” that emotion is an alien contaminant in any kind of discussion or disagreement, and that proper skeptics rely on reason and evidence and nothing else – especially not emotion. They say this with much rage and vehemence.



  1. Fred McVittie says

    Good stuff. There’s a lot of this kind of ‘view from nowhere’ going on with regard to this discussion. So many people spuriously claiming some elevated position of pseudo-objectivity to contrast with the supposed ‘political’ and viewpointed positions of their adversaries. More folk need to read Nagel, Haraway, Harding. Obviously they won’t of course, because ‘feminist science’?

  2. says

    Well I don’t recommend reading Harding myself, because I think her arguments are terrible.

    I would say read Damasio, instead. And Kahneman, and Tavris & Aronson, and Montaigne, and…

  3. Fred McVittie says

    Sure, but you’ve got to love someone who’s prepared to argue (after Cixous, or maybe Kristeva) that e=mc2 is a gendered equation. Don’t know Tavris & Aronson, big fan of Damasio (and to a certain extent Kahneman) though.

  4. lpetrich says

    It was Luce Irigaray who argued that E = mc^2 is a “sexed equation”. Her reason was that “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us.”

  5. says

    Are the GamerGaters seriously trying to play the ‘objective review’ card? That takes me back to the late ’90s and early ‘noughties when a small number of Anime fans tried to do the same with video reviews. They got a bit miffed when we magazine reviewers called out the crap anime for what it was and accused us of, gasp, offering opinions rather than fact!

    The ‘objective review’ seems like one of those sophomoric ideas that does the rounds every generation or so. It usually dies the moment you challenge the proponent to write such a review. ‘What, me expend some effort? I’m busy and I’ve better things to do!’ is their sputtering reply.

  6. RJW says

    “..featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game.”
    Characterising a harmless animal as a ‘menace’ is also rather repugnant, the game should be re-designed as “Redneck Moron Fighters XVII”.

    Some anime, sexist or not, is just plain creepy.

  7. says

    I’d wanted to put out this link in case people hadn’t seen it, about gamer gate.

    In particular because of this bit:

    There are notes here, too, from a hymn book that predates the internet: self-pity, self-martyrdom, an overwhelming sense of your own blamelessness, the certainty that someone else’s victimhood is nothing more than a profitable pose.

    Because this also fits so well with the recent things we’ve seen from Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins. If you didn’t know it was written about misogynistic gamers, wouldn’t you think it about one of them?

  8. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    @4 Did she really? As in, did Sokal actually look up the original text and work out what it meant?

    Having studied in three high energy physics labs (Oxford, DESY, CERN), I certainly would not want to leave philosophy to the physicists. Their approach to fields like semiotics tends to be to assume that anything they can’t immediately understand is nonsense. And most start with a rather naive approach to epistemology and end up talking nonsense.

    If you think about it, E = mc^2 does mean light is privileged over all other speeds. The privileging of light over other speeds is the fundamental principle of relativity. If you are going at the speed of light with a mirror in front of you, the image would disappear. Which is how Einstein realized there is something very odd about the speed of light.

    Einstein was very well aware of the subtleties of these issues. And when he is invoking ‘God’ it is usually to avoid making a statement on a complex epistemological topic he does not want to wade into. Overabundance of authority can be a problem.

    The way social theory the game is played, you take a construct in one field, apply it to another and dump it out as a premise. Then its up to the next person to make sense of it. And like improv, you don’t question the premise.

    So now starting from the premise ‘E = mc^2’ is ‘sexed’ we can come to the corollary that nature is fundamentally unfair or that unfairness is a necessary element in nature.

    It isn’t nonsense, its just intellectual improv for folk who like that sort of thing. The arguments and discussions do follow rules. But they are not necessarily trying to arrive at ‘truth’, they are more interested in ‘insight’.

  9. josefjohann says

    I think the concept of objective is important for the same reason that the concept of truth is important. I think it simply is the case that GG is compromised by it’s biases and its critics are more objective. That seems to me to be the most meaningful way to use the words.

    It may be that any given person thinks they are being more objective than they actually are- most people are guilty of this which is why most people aren’t completely objective. But some certainly are more so than others.

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