In my last video I ended up attacking a viewpoint I’ve often seen espoused by what I referred to as “gamer culture.” This caused a lot of people to cry foul – people who identified as gamers knew they had never said this, so clearly I was making a strawman argument. At first I was tempted to throw the complaint aside – after all, finding a fallacy with an argument that games are inherently political doesn’t do anything to disprove that games are inherently political. But after ruminating on the concept for a few days I think there’s more going on here that’s worth talking about.
More after the break.
I think it’s hard to deny that game culture is a thing. Granted, it’s certainly hard to pin down to specifics. Like any other modern subculture it’s a viscous, illusory thing that constantly changes form with the passage of time. But I maintain that it’s a thing that exists and can be dissected – because even if we can’t find its true borders and shape, we know its heart. I mean, the response to the Feminist Frequency series of videos or Carolyn Petit’s Grand Theft Auto V review certainly aren’t coming from people who don’t play games. We’ve had fighting game competitors in big name tournaments insist sexism is synonymous with the community. Writers like Leigh Alexander and Liz Ryerson produce fantastic pieces expressing alienation from this group. And other critics like Tom Bissell and Cameron Kunzelmen are beginning to express a realization that they’ve left the “gamer” demographic behind them. Lost Levels, a small unconference, was organized outside of GDC to accomodate discussions and participation from people and ideas who would have otherwise been excluded. It’s a community where a major game blog not only routinely has to fight sexist comments and stupidity, but insist they weren’t going to cave to pressure to quit doing so. A community where someone felt so ostracized by the way games, gamers, and the gaming industry treated them they felt obligated to register GamesCulture.biz.
And so we begin to see the shape of the gaming subculture take form. News article by news article as they post the latest scandals, blog post by blog post as critics write about their experiences, a picture of games culture comes into shape. It’s young. It’s a subculture predominantly controlled by men. It’s either anti-intellectual or simply lives so much in the moment it lacks the capacity for meaningful thought and discussion. It’s a self-identifying group of tech-literate people who have the means to buy a $400 game system and a $60 game disc. It’s rash and emotional. It’s often hateful. It doesn’t care who it hurts.
This is the gamer subculture I rail against. This is the supposed strawman I built up just to tear down. But I struggle to see it that way. The notion that gamer culture only wants criticism when it adulates and only wants politics when it’s comfortable is not a new or radical idea if you’re paying any attention to it at all. It’s trivial to find examples of every gamer argument I referenced. “They’re just games.” GameSpot commenters insisting critics should shrug off misogyny. People openly questioning whether Polygon should give Danielle Riendeau games that treat women shittily, because as someone who has worked for the ACLU and “pro-feminist publications” she is less likely to be permissive of games that treat women shittily (and referring to reviews as “an odd format to use as your soapbox” is more or less “keep your politics out of my video game reviews”). One reddit commenter does my job for me and sums up an entire thread of responses as “they’re just games!” when The Red Cross asks war games to consider including the real rules of war if it insists on such high fidelity combat. I could keep going, but I honestly don’t feel like Googling the depths of reddit or YouTube for more of this sort of stuff. It’s out there and it’s not hard to find if you’re looking for it.
Do any of these people claim to speak for or represent the amorphous group of people self-identifing as “gamers?” No. But whether they consider themselves gamers or not, in aggregate they form gamer culture. Angry YouTube video by angry YouTube video, reddit thread by reddit thread, gamers are fleshing out the shape of their culture in ways we might not be able to concretely see but can definitely feel. Slowly a collective ideology develops – an ideology with ideas that aren’t written down or formally codified, but through collective interest and casual public discourse is made apparent to those observing. And as long as that culture’s most notable features aren’t its creativity or its empathy but its consumer-driven rage and self-righteous indignation at the idea that people outside of that group get recognized, I’m going to keep calling it out for being ugly and hateful. And if that means being accused of tearing down strawmen when ardently addressing arguments made not explicitly by one person but silently by an entire subculture, then so be it.