Gamergate: Always Hunting Something
Recontextualizing the Games Culture War
I’m sure the last thing the world needs is another article about Gamergate, but lo and behold, here it is. I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for a few months now, and I’d like to think they’re worth adding to the conversation.
Hey folks, my name is Juniper, and I’ve been hanging around the games industry for the last year or two. Before I got involved in the community, I’d heard about Gamergate through mainstream media, written the whole thing off as your average misogyny outburst, and moved on. (As a note: If you, reader, have never heard of #GamerGate, then maybe you should go Google some shit, because I’m not going to explain the basics here. The Wikipedia article is okay. Yada yada Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, yada yada it’s about ethics in games journalism yada McYada. Anyone who’s been around has read about these particular events enough to develop an uncontrollable, involuntary eye roll, so we’ll skip them and get to the point.)
A funny thing happens when you get into the industry– Gamergate gets both tangible and serious. It starts being part of daily life because people you know personally are affected by it. You develop opinions, you talk about it pretty regularly, maybe you even go peruse r/kotakuinaction every once in a blue moon. There’s always another new controversy ready to blow up. As a result of constantly reading about the drama-of-the-week, you start to understand more details of the whole situation than you were ever interested in knowing.
Now, to clarify before we get into this. I am not a Gamergater. I am also not a ‘Social Justice Warrior’ or whatever name anti-Gamergate actually prefers to label itself with. I think both groups are, in their turn:
- Completely fucking stupid
- Hung up on the weirdest details
- Totally out of control
And here’s the point of this dumb article: both sides of this crusade are a total mess. No one can internally agree on talking points, but gosh darnit, we’ve created two banners and we’re sticking to them no matter what the truth is. And, the truth– as usual– is somewhere in between the extremes. I’m gonna take the rest of this time to go over some of the more recent tidbits of drama to explain this with examples. My hope is, if you’ve hidden yourself behind an ideological flag, maybe you’ll come out and have a Joyeux Noel moment with the other side so we can stop fucking around and, in the wise words of Monty Python, get on with it.
Tracer, Blizzard, and Butts
One of the more recent public controversies arose around an upcoming Blizzard game called Overwatch. Full disclosure: I don’t know shit about this game, the characters, the story, the gameplay. I probably won’t play it, just because it’s not really my kind of game. However, you don’t have to be a consumer of the product to develop an opinion on the following incident, which is, delightfully, about butts. Or, specifically, one butt.
So, for the two of you out there who don’t already know the backstory, someone got offended by this pose and its lack of… family friendliness, I think? Or maybe because of the sexualization of the character? I don’t know. Point is, they complained to Blizzard. This, in and of itself, was not an issue. Lots of people complain to lots of game companies for less tangible reasons. The shit hit the fan when Blizzard agreed to change the pose. Before anyone gets annoyed at my flippancy, I’d like to go over the following:
- This pose is not a big deal
- Blizzard changing this pose is not a big deal
I don’t think this pose is offensive. If I wanted to complain about the sexualization of a female character in a game, there are much more interesting targets to go after, even just within Blizzard’s IP.
However, it also doesn’t matter that Blizzard changed the pose based on a customer complaint. They’re a company. It’s their decision, they made it, cool for them. And to literally everyone with a strong opinion on this: Don’t you have bigger fish to fry? Seriously. This doesn’t affect gameplay. It doesn’t affect story. It’s literally the least important thing related to the actual game.
Oh, and let’s not forget the new pose. What tickles me most is that both Gamergate and anti-Gamergate have claimed victory. Gamergate’s narrative is that Blizzard ‘trolled’ everyone by making the pose– subjectively– more sexualized (I really don’t know/care if it is or isn’t. Seems like there’s just as much or just as little butt as before to these old eyes). Anti-Gamergate decided that the pose is somehow ‘more in character’ for Tracer and therefore right and acceptable.
Let’s be clear: No one won except Blizzard. Mmm, delicious, free publicity. This whole argument was fucking stupid. Congratulations.
Alison Rapp is Fired From Nintendo For…
Ho boy, this whole situation was a little more… fraught, specifically because there was a real life individual involved, and that actual person is probably going through a pretty awful time right now.
One of the main things this shitstorm has taught me is that you don’t have to be on someone’s side to believe that they don’t deserve the treatment they’ve received.
So, the storyline for this one goes like this:
- Gamergate gets angry because of poor localization of Fire Emblem games. What this exactly means is not clear, there were a lot of shitty dialogue fuck ups, but also a lot of legitimate changes made by Nintendo (specifically around a boob size mini-game, I think?) when bringing the game to ‘Murica. Honestly the rest of this story has literally nothing to do with this, so I won’t get into it.
- Alison Rapp, then PR person for Nintendo, somehow becomes a target for Gamergate mobs due to expressing oppositional opinions, even though her work actually has nothing to do with the above issue.
- Gamergate crawls Alison Rapp’s Twitter and finds remarkably morally-questionable opinions expressed. Calls on Nintendo to fire her for this. (Note: I don’t agree with Rapp’s thesis, but she’s free to hold those beliefs as long as she’s not hurting anyone. Which it’s pretty clear she wasn’t.)
- Nintendo fires Alison Rapp. Alison Rapp heavily implies it is because of the harassment she has received from Gamergate on Twitter.
- Anti-Gamergate, taking Rapp’s word for it, goes ballistic on Nintendo. Mainstream media reports on the story with Rapp’s narrative held as truth.
- Nintendo reveals that they’ve actually fired Rapp due to ‘moonlighting’ at another, unknown job. It is revealed that Rapp has spent some time as an online sex worker. Gamergate is gleeful to be absolved of responsibility. anti-Gamergate reactions lie somewhere between straight up disbelief– insisting on a smear campaign– and continuing to be enraged because of stigmatization of sex workers.
Phew. So, with all that laid out, here’s what’s clear: both Gamergate and anti-Gamergate are made up of a fair number of shitty, volatile people who hurl verbal vomit at the easiest target of their uncompromising rage. Both sides will jump straight to whatever conclusion suits them best and stay deeply entrenched there as long as possible.
I think it’s telling that the argument turned to whether or not Rapp was fired from Nintendo because of the harassment. Gamergate doesn’t get a gold star for that not being the reason. There were still enough people aligned under that banner coming after a random stranger online to make it shitty. Folks, don’t be shitty to strangers online, even if you think they deserve it. It’s not your job.
On the flip side, anti-Gamergate, maybe don’t eat whatever gets shoved in your mouth. A person doesn’t have to be a paragon of nobility to be defended. Alison Rapp could be the worst person in the world and not deserve to have legions of strangers coming after her, and you need to be okay with that.
Don’t harass people. Defend people who are being harassed regardless of their ethical ‘value’ as a person. They’re still a person. As Mr. Vonnegut said, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies– God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
(Side note: Whether or not Nintendo should have fired Rapp isn’t really what I want to get into here. I have feelings about it, but they’re not particularly relevant to this topic.)
Baldur’s Gate: The Siege of Beamdog
This issue might be the dumbest, which is hard to believe after reading the stuff about the Tracer pose, right? Friend, do not doubt the pure, earnest stupidity of the Internet Rage Machine™. In this portion of our story, developer/publisher Beamdog puts out an expansion for their 1998 game Baldur’s Gate. Weird, but kind of cool, right?
Nah. You see, there is a poorly written NPC named Mizhena who happens to be a transwoman. She announces this in the most hamfisted way possible, and it’s pretty clearly an instance of vaguely offensive, well-intentioned, poorly executed tokenism.
Now, one might think that a good solution to this issue would be an articulate, kindly worded email. Perhaps a tweet or two discussing character building, writing, trans issues. Or, dare I say, a lengthy, poorly written Medium essay!
ONE WOULD BE WRONG.
So– and I know lots of people will disagree with me here– I’m not totally calling transphobia on this one. Transphobia from some sectors of Gamergate, absolutely, but not from all (remember that they are only a loosely knit group of enraged individuals). The line was, as I said, pretty dumb. It was shoehorned in. That’s a reasonable thing to complain about. What it doesn’t merit is the above reaction, which is akin to a 4 year old throwing a tantrum about the wrong colored Starburst being in their fun sized packet. 0/10 THIS ONE LINE RUINED EVERYTHING.
Some whiners tried to mask their political anger with complaints about bugs or gameplay (which, as I’ve heard, isn’t perfect, but certainly isn’t 0/10 worthy), but I think it’s telling that the aggregate score from professional reviews on Metacritic is 78, while the user scores are at 3.7/10. You can call poor ethics in gaming journalism all you want, but most reviewers just don’t care about a detail that minor to base their entire review around it.
Diversity in games is cool. Hamfisted portrayals are not. It’d be nice to hear some calling out from anti-Gamergate about the shitty shoehorning. If you’re gonna go for trans representation, which is cool as hell, go all the way. Don’t just throw it in there to pat yourself on the back.
Still, throwing online tantrums due to brief, cringeworthy dialogue is the worst. Calm down, react proportionately, have a conversation.
Everyone has been shitty. Both sides have harassed, doxxed, and abused each other. Sections of Gamergate have been racist, sexist, and transphobic. Sections of Anti-Gamergate have been overly sensitive, too quick to pigeonhole Gamergaters, and reactionary.
There have also been some really nice efforts on both sides to enact positive change. I know quite a few games journalists who, although they are tired of Gamergate’s antics, agree that the industry needs reform. It’s still a baby industry in a lot of ways, and it’s finding it’s footing in these previously neglected areas of transparency and objectivity.
It’s also awesome that there’s a movement of people really trying to get stories told about groups traditionally excluded from mainstream media (women, people of color, genderqueer folks). Anyone reasonable is not going to argue against more of those stories getting told (not everyone is reasonable).