Ethical Gaming 16 Comments

Being a moderate in extreme times

Hi, this is kind of.. like general small-p political stuff so feel free to skip it if you’re not interested!

Well, one more post related to all the recent mess becase it’s been weighing heavily on my mind this week. I’ll be talking about the G-word hashtag movement itself over the weekend on the Contains Moderate Peril podcast (thanks for the invite, Roger!) along with some other folks, and you should listen in if you’re interested.

Anyway. I’ve always considered myself to be kind of a moderate when it came to interpersonal politics, but I’m having a hard time knowing where being moderate fits in to the current climate in gaming.

I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve called myself a feminist since I was 10 and I vote with vigour to defend the “socialism” parts of Canada’s social democracy, but I’ve also always believed that as long as two people held similar tenants of being excellent to each other, you didn’t have to sweat the small stuff.

I would never intentionally tell another woman how she should or shouldn’t talk about sexism, for example, but being routinely confrontational about it made me uncomfortable and wasn’t something I enjoyed in my environment. (Did any of you post on the wow-ladies Live Journal back in the day? Oh man, the fights.) I really liked Cuppy’s post back in January about finding more positivity in social justice, and it resonated strongly with my own attitude.

And game journalism, jeeze. You’ll have to take my word for it, but I have at least two fully written screeds against game journalism in my drafts that I never posted because they just seemed too mean and too “inside baseball”. One from June is titled “Game Journalism is Not Worth Saving” and talks about how much more I value what my fellow unpaid bloggers say than most publications. I actually published one post about how I don’t think “journalism” is the right word for what we have in gaming now, while back in 2012 I wrote that many journalists were being uncool when they called gamers entitled for not liking the ending of Mass Effect 3. I told vaunted writer Leigh Alexander that she was being an “elitist jerk” in a conversation on Twitter a few years ago, because she was.

And man, do not get me started on the game development industry. I guess I don’t really even have to start because if you’ve been reading this site with any regularity you already know some of my problems with it. I dislike money-grubbing DLC, and free-to-play, and I still don’t understand how people can be devoted to Blizzard after being left for over a year of content drought.

My favorite professional game journalist was Jenn Frank, winner of the 2013 Games Journalism Prize. I enjoyed her articles mostly because I think she’s a brilliant writer. But also I really appreciated her moderate attitude towards things. She was a force to be reckoned with on Twitter during the Dead Island Boob Statue debacle, but also counseled calm discussion during one of those (many) moments when Mike from Penny Arcade said something horrible. Frank wrote that she was a teenage sexist, and although I called myself a feminist I was too in many ways.

(A thing that young Liore said on many occasions: “I just don’t like other women. They’re boring, and men get to do all the fun stuff anyway.”)

I say that Jenn Frank was my favorite games journalist because on Wednesday night she was harassed by g-word hashtag people to the point where after nine years she quit the industry. But it’s not enough that she promised to never write about games again. No, she’s been driven out of every aspect of a hobby she loved.

There have been multiple journalists who have quit writing about games over the past few weeks, all of them women, and it’s a damn shame about them all but it hurt me to see Frank quit. She was a moderate voice, someone who advocated being kind to everyone, hardcore gamer and casual dabbler, women and people who have problems with women.

Now, I don’t know how I can continue being a moderate voice, even if it’s just to my friends. How can I talk about how I think game journalism is flawed when the idea has been inexorably linked to people who will literally ruin someone’s life over it? How can I opine that some games journalists, some of whom happen to be women, are not terribly interesting when that same idea has been wielded like a weapon against people’s safety and livelihoods?

How can I keep enjoying games when such gross things are done to “protect” them, even if it is a minority?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. But right now I don’t know how to bridge this gap, and instead of coming closer together I just feel pushed into being more and more radical in my beliefs, because I fundamentally cannot in good conscience ally on even the tiniest issues with the horrible people who do these horrible things in their name.

So where do we go from here?

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  • Reply
    September 5, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Despite my recent tweets I think moderate voices are an important thing, but there has to be at least two sides that are attempting a positive end result. I do not think GamerGate has that, at all. The jump off of that “movement” was the personal attack and harassment campaign levied against Zoe Quinn on behalf of her ex. That is, from the beginning until now, all that GamerGate is to me. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the sheep being the later claims of seeking a better games industry; but even those sheep’s clothing are filthy as all Hell because if you ask the GamerGate participants what a “better industry” means it’s the complete removal of any kind of social insight or critique.

    I can’t find a middle ground to stand on here.

  • Reply
    September 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Your comment about ‘positivity’ really resonates with me. It’s hard to be positive in the current environment, where you’re either on the attack, or on the defensive. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between, as you so astutely observe. This is really shaping up to be a war, where there are victors, and corpses, and refugees (who elect to just go away), but not much else.

    I’m very polarized on this, myself, so it’s hard to see how one can be moderate. There’s right, there’s wrong, and I have a hard time seeing an in-between.
    Grimmtooth´s last post: Culture(ish) War

    • Reply
      September 6, 2014 at 5:07 am

      There are no victors in war, only losers. That’s why it’s so sad and useless and innocent people are paying the price.

      I never felt represented by many of the voices from game journo cliques and I don’t believe in inflammatory rhetoric. I also cannot in any way support what’s happening under the roof of the gamergate or NYS tags. I know how it feels to be driven out of a group because of their hostility towards women after 10 years.

      But there’s no place for me on either side of this debate. What did Treebeard say – I am on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side.

  • Reply
    September 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I always figured a war would require both combatants to at least be on the same battlefield. One’s currently shouting at llamas in Peru while the other is other is having a pitched battle against their own shadow in Outer Mongolia.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2014 at 3:16 am

    The Nosy Gamer put up a post yesterday that I felt said much of what I’ve been feeling as this filthy war rumbles on. If it wasn’t for a few mentions on MMO blogs that I follow (and it has been just a few – 75% of the blogs in my Feedly/blog roll haven’t even alluded to GG even once) then I would have no idea it was happening.

    Moreover, while I have vaguely heard of some of the Gaming websites and webzines around which all this appears to center, I have quite literally never visited any of them. I’d be very willing to take a bet that in all the time I’ve been playing MMOs barely anyone that I’ve been in a guild with or had on my friends list has ever heard of or used these sites either.

    Where depart from Nosy is in his conclusion that the rest of us should stand back and ignore it. The specific platforms involved may well be far more obscure and far less important than they believe themselves to be but that doesn’t mean the issues being raised aren’t of fundamental importance. They are. They are the exact, same issues that we all need to deal with and understand our positions on in every aspect of our lives.

    I’m old enough to have lived through a decades-long cultural drive towards progressivism that has seen deep and real change in many social norms across the world, not just in the West. The difference in the cultural and social landscape between the world in which I was an adolescent in the late-middle of the 20th century and where we are now in the early 21st is vast. All these changes were hard-won. In many ways the culture wars of the last fifty years were wars of attrition.

    Those victories, once won, are not permanent changes, much though we wish they would be. The ground, once taken, needs to be defended and the “moderate” ground is one of the most important of all to defend and hold. If the debate becomes seen as a screeching row between two extremes, each as bad as the other, the mass of uncommitted “reasonable-minded” bystanders will conclude it’s best to leave them to it and withdraw.

    The end result of that will be that those same moderates will wake up one day and find themselves in a world shaped by the beliefs of the side that won. So, yes, it maters, a lot, when moderate voices are silenced. It’s very understandable why it happens, though. We’re all nervous about making ourselves targets, whether it be calling someone on a homophobic comment in the workplace or posting a moderate comment against sexism on a gaming blog. If the moderate voices fall silent, though, the extreme voices will shout the louder.

    To my mind, the most vital and important issue coming out of all of this has nothing directly to do with gaming. It has everything to do with the ability or lack of it of traditional authority to understand and administer the new world of digital, global communications. The vile threats that are being made through social media ARE criminal acts already under many jurisdictions. People are being successfully prosecuted and jailed in the UK for this kind of behavior.

    The police and prosecutors, however, are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the abuse. This can be changed. When I grew up, drink-driving was something millions did every week. If you were unlucky enough to be caught it was a small fine that your friends would agree was outrageous overkill by The State and “don’t the police have real criminals to catch?”. Nowadays driving under the influence is a very serious offence for which you may do jail time even if you don’t cause anyone injury. Moreover, few now joke about it and if your known to drive while even slightly inebriated it will seriously damage your social standing among your peers.

    There has been a litany of social change along these lines, all for the better ni my opinion, but it has almost all been buttressed by robust legal action by the designated authorities. People making specific threats of violence on the internet should be pursued and prosecuted as vigorously as if they were making them on the public street. If necessary, laws should be changed and resources increased to make that happen.

    Easier said than done, unfortunately, but over time it’s the steady pressure of moderate voices that can help to bring about long-term change.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2014 at 6:22 am

    I think it might help with people’s perspective if they were more aware of e.g. the history of political satire.

    Basically from the moment our species could communicate let alone write, people could react what we’d call crudely, crass , [insert I-am-better-than-that term] to percieved slights and power.

    Depictions of people in power fornicating with animals and/or their (same sex or not) compratriots, defacation, vomiting…you name it, and satirists have all used it over the centuries.

    And while it generally is just a sign of being (or feeling) powerless by the satirist, the target generally only ends up empowering the satirist by reacting to it.

    Now I am not saying that e.g. bomb threats like against Smedley are okay – they are not, and should be prosecuted to the ends of the law – but blowing up every little incedent to Dramatic Proportions doesn’t help anybody or anything.

    The Internet, and moreover, people having grown attached to the hip of it with Twitter etc., has put a lot of different people and hence opinions together, and people will differ, and yes, there will be repugnant types you’d never have encountered back when people weren’t plugged in. The constant information overflow has created hyper-environment.

    Perhaps a good solution is switching of the electronics for a time, stare into the fire, and just play a nice game of chess.

    One last thing:

    one funny thing of the whole affair is that people using sexual favors to gain things from others is ‘the oldest profession in the world’ and happens in every sector to some degree or another, same with bribery and mollifying, graft and grating incompetence, yet apparently people naively assumed that this particular branch of the entertainment industry was run by a picture-perfect Holy See from the planet Virgo that would never ever see the same things as the rest of human history. People really should get over themselves, we’re still basically the same people we were 2k years ago.

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      September 6, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      I disagree with a number of things you said, sorry. Satire is A Modest Proposal, a clever rip on a popular idea. It’s not a campaign of hatred and harassment against one person. And saying that calling that out is “Dramatic Proportions” is silly — being silent just reinforces the status quo, ensures that nothing will ever change, and makes us observers compliant in the harassment.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I posted a long comment but I think it probably went into your Spam folder. I am still caught by the Aksimet spam trap on blogs that I posted on during the brief they had me listed as a spambot.

    If you can find it in there and flag it not spam that should fix things I hope. If not, never mind.

    Short version – moderate voices matter.
    bhagpusss´s last post: Another Day, Another MMO : ArcheAge

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      September 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Comment restored! Sorry you got incorrectly filtered.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I have a lot to say on the topic but haven’t done a full on post yet, mainly because we’ll both be discussing it on the mentioned podcast tomorrow. I may have more to say on my blog after the fact.

    I don’t think that giving up is the answer, of course I can’t comment as to the treatment of some of these quitting journalists (I’m not a prominent games journalist nor am I a woman). I don’t know exactly what they’re going through, but it seems to be enough to get many of them to flat out give up on it. I don’t see Anita Sarkeesian giving up though, and I think that’s what we need: More women who will spit in the face of the opposition. I want to give support to those who do, because I feel more in common with said women than the vile boys/men who are making up most of the other side. I wish the word “gamer” or the community at large wasn’t being degraded in the process, but from an evolutionary stand point, it seems that a new industry may emerge in coming years. The growth of character that comes along with that ties in with much of the larger changing culture of the world. It’s just hard to tell if the good is outweighing the bad at this point… so many are unwilling to change attitudes and points of view. I hope that one day we can look back on this as a turning point, when people woke up and disregarded old tropes in favor of new ideas.
    Izlain´s last post: Couch Podtatoes Episode 12: Favorite Game Characters

  • Reply
    September 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Just give it a few weeks, things will calm down and there will be space for more measured voices I think.

    I am however awed that the idiot section of the gaming population is scoring the most complete own goal right now.
    spinks´s last post: [Problem Players] What if games didn’t make people angry?

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      September 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Yes, I will say that after the events of the last 12 hours or so I am feeling much more hopeful about folks who want to be excellent to each other getting through this without permanent fractures. As I said on Twitter earlier, the harassment from the past few weeks will sit heavily with me for quite some time, but today is the first day in a while that I’ve felt like I can play some video games.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    I know this isn’t really a main point of this post, but hey, you asked!

    “I still don’t understand how people can be devoted to Blizzard after being left for over a year of content drought.”

    Community and a love of what we do. Quitting WoW causes at least four major problems:

    1, you lose your spot in your guild’s raiding team. If you quit, they need to replace you. That means when you come back to WoW you need to try to find a new guild who will accept you, which means going through the application process and trying to make sure the guild culture suits you. That’s a major time and emotional investment — and often people bounced between guilds for months or years before they found one they were happy in.

    2, your skills atrophy. If you like basketball but stop playing for six months, guess what? You’ll need to practice a lot to get back to where you were — and in WoW it’s very difficult to practice outside of the actual raids. Which makes it even harder to get back into a guild (see point 1).

    3, you have to stop raiding (obviously). And raiding is an innately fun activity for most of us — even when it’s doing a raid for the 30th time. Yes, it’s a bit dull, but we still enjoy the activity, we still enjoy the people we’re doing the activity with, and we can still push for things like better kill times or weird strategies to keep things more interesting. Raiding is why we play WoW, because we haven’t found an equivalent or superior experience anywhere else.

    4, it makes you look like a quitter. Guilds want people who will stick with them through the bad times, whether it be some drama or RL messing people’s schedules up to just a few off weeks in a row. Saying “I’m bored, screw the rest of you guys, I’m taking my toys and going home” does not make other guilds want to accept you. If you’re not willing to invest 3-4 hours a week speed clearing Siege in Orgrimmar in one night even though you’re a bit tired of it, what else aren’t you willing to do? Will you get tired of wiping on a boss and quit then too? Better not accept you, then. Will you get tired of farming flasks and pots (or whatever)? Better not accept you, then. Will you get tired of finishing a tier and having a two or three months to farm the content? Better not accept you, then.

    Now, obviously, if all you do is LFR, dailies, and random battlegrounds quitting doesn’t really matter…but it has a high cost for raiders.
    Balkoth´s last post: So There’s This 10:10 Thing Going On…

  • Reply
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