The other day I got invited to a party
But I stayed home instead
Just me and my pal Johnny Walker
And his brothers Black and Red
And we game alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I game alone
I prefer to be by myself
The above altered lyric actually has nothing to do with the article I’m going to talk about, or anything I’m going to say, but after finding out the name of the person who wrote it, I’ve had that stuck in my head … and now you can as well.
The article I’m going to talk about today is by John Walker, mixing personal experiences with commentary on the whole thing. So let’s get into it:
GamerGate (GG), since its beginnings, has unquestionably been a formless, undirected collection of people with wildly disparate aims and desires. To say, “GG thinks X” is a meaningless statement, since there are those who are participating who only want to know that the games journalism/criticism/coverage they read is not affected by corruption, all the way to those who are sending terrifying death and rape threats to women in the industry, with a wide spectrum between. While there are various attempts at grouping together specific aims or objectives, these again widely vary, from desires to see game sites publicise clear ethical guidelines, to the desire to “destroy” sites that do not adhere to particular standards/styles/beliefs. There are those who wish to see “politics left out of games coverage”, and those who wish to see writers with “SJW agendas” out of work. There are those who fear games themselves will be negatively affected by progressive criticism, and those who wish to scare female developers and writers until they are too afraid to participate in the industry.
Identify the group as one aspect of this, and other aspects will step forward in disappointment/fury/confusion in response to this understanding. It’s intangible. And I believe perhaps its greatest weakness is that it seems to have no idea that it is.
You know, this description reminds me of my impressions of the Occupy Movement: a group of disparate people with very different aims and no central organization. I think that this is more a reflection of modern activism than anything about “Gamergate” in particular. The advent of social media allows you to reach more people with your message than ever before, but that growth comes with a price: less control and less organization. When you had groups of people in separate official groups … well, it was often still hard to separate what others did and support from what you do and support, but at least you could disavow the group, and you knew who the members of each group were. That’s hard to do today, and amazingly hard to do in social media. Which is why in these sorts of discussions you see people trying to attach groupings to people, often by where they post, like 4chan or the Slymepit or things like that, as a way to divide the us from the them. It may be a weakness, but it is indeed the way things work now.
I absolutely believe that there are many who have been part of the million tweets made using this tag who are horrified by the horrendous abuse and criminal attacks that have come from within GG. I know that there are those who identify with GG who have benign aims, and are personally hurt or upset when they see people identifying GG as a misogynist cause, or a cruel, bullying agenda. I appeal to these people to consider whether GG is ever going to be a place that accurately reflects them or their desires.
The problem is, as discussed above (and in the comment to Walker’s post) that there may not be any such place. Even using the GG talking points will get those who make them attached to the purported misogyny that’s been associated with GG as well. And even then, because these things can’t be controlled, the same people whose words are giving that impression will show up there and start everything all over again. So saying that they should move somewhere else either tells them to move somewhere that no one is paying attention to, or is just forcing them to start over, build attention … and then have the same claims made against them. It’s a no-win situation.
Alternatively, the people who are being criticized could sort the good points from the dreck, and pay attention to those who make reasonable points in a reasonable manner and ignore those who are being abusive. It’s a radical concept, but it might just work.
Now, I’m not interested in the specifics of GG, so his personal experiences with it and his discussions about how he’s not sure what the goals are aren’t things I’ll address here. So I’ll move on to the discussions of politics and bias. He invents an example of a game that contains some nudity and sexual stereotypes, and three different types of reviews, one of which seems to celebrate that, one which condemns it, and one which deliberately ignores it. He says that all three are political:
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.”
Well, first, there’s a false dichotomy here, assuming that either one has to mention it and take a stand on it, or else not mention it at all. The non-political review can simply point out that it’s in the game, and leave it up to the readers to decide if that is good, bad or indifferent. If that might be important to people who are reading the review, then it behooves the reviewer to mention it. But the reviewer doesn’t have to judge it, at least not in and of itself. They can judge how it works for the game itself, and point out if it works or if it doesn’t, or if certain audiences are likely to have problems with it or enjoy it, even with a “If you want to rescue bare-breasted women from koalas, this is the game for you!”. So you don’t have to ignore things that might be important to your audience. Second, when people say they want politics left out of game reviews, they usually mean that they want to leave politics out of game reviews. So commenting that the game relies heavily on stereotypes of women or even on the damsel in distress trope is okay. Commenting that this turns it into some kind of anti-woman game or represents women as nothing more than sexist stereotypes is pushing it. Commenting that these sorts of depictions are bad because they perpetuate those stereotypes in the real world is going too far, because at that point you stop treating the game as itself and evaluating itself as itself and start evaluating the game in a political and social context. Which is not what people care about when they read a review. That’s something that, in my opinion, you can do in a commentary, like what Sarkeesian is trying to do. I think that a lot of people’ biggest problem with her is not what she’s trying to do, but that she doesn’t seem to be doing it very well, and seems to be treading over old turf in a much longer form with less research. But that’s neither here nor there for now. The key here is that you don’t need to talk about “politics” in games in order to highlight what’s important to your audience in a review, and the idea that you can’t leave politics out of a review seems to equivocate on politics.
And now we move on to objectivity:
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.
One should always be very suspicious of an argument that sounds like — and in this case, is pretty identical to — “We can’t ever be totally objective, so let’s not even try”. Especially when one is talking about journalism. When I criticize things, I try to be objective, which means that when I, say, criticize Smallville for screwing up Clark’s secret, I really think that, objectively, they did that. Now, this can’t be completely “objective”, because it is defined relative to a work and the goal of the work. So if the creators said that in that episode they were trying to make Clark look like a moron, I’d accept that … but then point out that their handling doesn’t give that impression. These sorts of commentaries aren’t totally subjective, and in fact rely on separating what you like from how the work works as a whole. Did you know that I once wrote a review of Persona 4 that gave it a 7? You know, one of my favourite games of all time? And that the only thing I’d change about it is my comments on its replay value, because the better handling of the dungeons leads to less grinding which makes it easier to replay than Persona 3? I love the game, but I’m not blind to its flaws. I also gave “Sakura Wars: So long my love” a low score despite loving the game. This, to me, is what reviewing should do: tell you what the game is about so that everyone can know what they’re getting into. Having your own style and interests come out isn’t bad, but must always be in the service of informing others about what the game is like. That’s not just listing the features … and you aren’t required to say that the features are good. Again, just like in Smallville, I can note what they did and comment that it doesn’t work whether or not I like it.
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.
Why is it that someone who says “I’m not getting into this debate”, according to so-called “progressives”, is always supporting the sexist/racist/whateverist side? Why can’t the other side say that by not explicitly defending those representations they’re taking the side of those who want it changed? Sure, they can argue that by not opposing the status quo you’re saying that it’s fine as is … but if someone actually and legitimately doesn’t care, shouldn’t that be their reaction? It’s sort of an idea that everyone should care one way or another about it, and so has to take a side. I don’t want to necessarily take a side. In some cases, I want to say, at a minimum “I don’t even play those games; why should I have an opinion?” Why can’t I think that the one side is overstating their case for what these representations are but that the might have a point buried in there? As Walker says in the beginning, there are a wide range of positions here, and so this can’t be reduced to a mere desire to mute criticism. In some cases, it might merely be a desire to have you … not … bring … it … up … in … every .. review. Or a number of other positions.
Neutrality on a topic is not supporting either side. Neutrality is, at its essence, at the very least thinking that it isn’t important enough to you to mention for those who don’t want to talk about it themselves, or thinking that those sorts of discussions aren’t appropriate for the piece you’re doing if they want others to not do it. If you can’t convince people that they should care or that it is appropriate, don’t gripe that they’re demanding some kind of impossible standard. They ain’t. They may be wrong that neutrality is appropriate on that issue and in that piece, but it is possible and is desirable.
GG is, in its suggestion of wanting to leave the politics out of games coverage, arguing for the continuation of the current politics represented in the games. Arguing for the continuation of the current politics is obviously fine! People want to see their own politics reflected, because it contextualises the game within their own worldview, and is therefore more useful. Wanting games coverage that comes from this same worldview makes complete sense, and finding that the majority of coverage does not is obviously frustrating, or simply unhelpful.
I want game reviews to be apolitical, neutral and objective. I don’t want them to reflect my own personal politics, mostly because that would be very hard to do and, bluntly, I don’t want you trying to guess what my personal politics are. In reviews, give me the facts, and let me decide how that interacts with my politics and my worldview. In commentaries, give me your view, the view from inside your own worldview … but then present it as if it is coming from there, as if it isn’t objective fact, and most importantly be willing to have as many worldviews as you can represented on that topic … ideally, not by you (unless you’re a philosopher, at which point it can work.) If gaming sites are overly represented by so-called progressives, then they should look at getting more diverse worldviews in there, just as they would if they are overly represented by men, women or bleached blondes from the planet Schwartz. Let the people decide what’s right and what’s wrong.
It’s quite disingenuous to assume that people who want neutrality want their own views reflected, as opposed to them not wanting to have to wade through an entire article advocating for worldviews that they are dubious about to get to the facts of the matter to figure what they think about the issue. They might also be suspicious about those facts if they know that you feel strongly about a position, because not only do people sometimes consciously lie in those situations, they also unconsciously shade their arguments that way. At least trying to be neutral — not just look neutral, but be neutral — helps with that … and allowing other views ensures that most people get to hear, at least, both sides of an issue.
I’m biased – ho BOY, I’m biased. Biased in favour of progressive attitudes, of equality, of fairness and representation. I’m also biased in favour of games being good, rather than rubbish. And my interpretation of which is which is, like every other human, rooted in my bias. I wear my bias in the open, for reasons of integrity. I’m proud of myself. I want everybody to be able to say the same.
This is a rather dishonest statement … and both the sad and good thing about it is that I think he’s actually being totally genuine here. But look at how he represents his bias: all good things. All things that he can say “How can you be opposed to any of this?”. Well, you can agree with him on all of those things and still think he’s wrong. And even still think he has a bad bias in there. He has ideas of what makes a game good, of what constitutes quality, fairness and representation, and progressive attitudes. Describing his bias this way sets it up as if there is only one way to get those things, and that if anyone disagrees with him they must be opposed to those things. This couldn’t be further from the truth. And yet so many social progressives always argue this, and always set it up so that if you don’t agree with them then you are against those good things, and so are bad, and so need to be opposed. Which is just one more reason why separating oneself from GG will never separate you from the charges of misogyny, because for so many opposing their progressive views and values is enough to make you misogynistic in and of itself.
The first thing people need to do is stop claiming to represent equality, or fairness, or goodness, or whatever. You don’t. You represent your own view of the world, which many mean that you strive for those things, but not that you have the inside track on them. Even a call for equality may not, in fact, produce actual equality. But saying, as Walker says here, that you’re biased towards those really, really good things — intentionally or not — sets up anyone who disagrees with you as having to oppose those things … and that’s a very, very unfair way to frame a debate.