I am not even sure where to begin on this post.
Let me start with some anecdotes, then. My earliest gaming memories all have to do with my parents. Some people nowadays might remember Mom or Dad buying them an NES or some such, but that was never really the case in my household. When the NES was bought, it was for the family to use. When the PC was bought, it was again for the family to use. My earliest gaming memories were not of me secretly slipping a shareware floppy of Doom into the computer- they were spent peering over my parent’s shoulders as they played games of their own. I remember my Mom getting a copy of “Return to Zork”- that Full-Motion-Video game with the funky Wizard and the jerkwad Lighthouse Keeper- and watching her play it. She also bought “Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos” and I remember being simultaneously fascinated by the feline/human hybrid character and scared shitless of the Witch on the cover.
I also distinctly remember my Dad bringing home Wolfenstein 3D and our entire family (at that time consisting of me, my Mom, and him) crowding around the Hewlitt-Packard to watch the game unfold. Okay, well, that’s a bit too Norman Rockwell to accurately describe what was probably going on, but I remember being fascinated by what was, for me, the first time I’d ever seen 3D in a game…and I remember my Mom chastising my Dad for shooting the dogs. Dad protested that they were attacking him, but I don’t think that convinced Mom of much. Wolfenstein wasn’t seen in the house again until I’d found it, years later, on a PC Gamer Demo Disk of old “classic games.”
People used to imagine that gaming was something of an anti-social hobby. They would conjure up images of people sitting alone with the glow of a computer or television screen, mindlessly pressing buttons and letting the “real world” pass them by. At best these stereotypical gamers were socially awkward or stunted- the opposite of well developed. I like to think -in this world where almost everyone is, at some level, a gamer- that such an idea is considered antiqued and wrong, but on the offchance someone who believes it has stumbled onto this post, let me use my anecdotes to present my case: I have always believed that gaming is, in fact, a profoundly social experience.
I am, without a doubt, mediocre at most strategy and roleplaying video games. Only recently have I begun to develop the skills necessary to understand the rules systems which underlie them- but nonetheless I grew up playing strategy and roleplaying video games because those were what my Parents played. Parents, older siblings, friends- somebody introduces someone else into this hobby. And once we are introduced into it, we often begin to look for other people to share our experiences with. We looked for each other on playgrounds, trading rumors and stories about our exploits in the Mushroom Kingdom or Kanto Region. When I was in Middle School and Junior High, I had a decent friend circle. We all hung out and often talked about games…and yet that was not enough. Even then, I had a literal longing for an internet connection faster than 56.6k, and a large part of that was because I yearned to play games online with people from around the world. Even today I bubble over with excitement at finding someone who shares my passion for gaming and games- even today I am always on the lookout for another “Player Two” (or One, you know, because I don’t care, sure, it’s my system, but you can be Mario. Luigi’s fine, I guess…).
Gaming has always been a community. And, for quite some time, I’d always imagined Gamers as having an innately missionary impulse in spreading the joys of the hobby.
Part of my own missionary impulse was always trying to talk to my family members -even the ones who didn’t like games- about games. Oh, I would talk about other things too (movies, television, books, ghosts, stuff like that)- but I remember games being the big challenge. Even though my parents were the ones who got me first interested in games, I never felt like they saw them the same way that I did- I never felt like they saw the possibilities or the importance or the beauty of games. That is why it has always been important for me to connect games with other parts of life. “Bioshock Infinite” was not just important because it was fun, it was important because it was one of the best researched representations of Gilded Age America in almost any medium. Boardgames are not just boring diversions to whittle away time with, they can be complex reflections of the world in which they were created.
This is why the cultural criticisms are so important. We know that Games are important- We know that Games are worthy of study and reflection. We know that Games can help people deal with their addictions or help us imagine life in a totalitarian regime or even become objects around which we can grow as a family. But not everyone knows this, and cultural criticisms help cement the legitimacy of the medium in their eyes, as well as lay the groundwork for improving the games of tomorrow. Where would, after all, any other medium be without their critics? Without those who thought and questioned and challenged the assumptions of the present?
But in the last few weeks it has been really hard to work up any sort of optimism over the industry. The steady hum of misogyny and regressive behaviors that makes up the din of noise in every aspect of our lives has been ratcheted to god damned eleven in the world of Video Games. Every day I’ve woken up to a text message from some friend or another, usually something along the lines of “GOD I HATE GAMERS.” And then I read the story they linked to me, and I really can’t blame them.
We have lost, as a community, a number of women who were making great contributions to the conversations about Gaming. I have absolutely no doubt that we, by allowing some of these behaviors to occur while we sat idly by, have unintentionally allowed this to happen. And, as those behaviors have been brought to the fore (among which include Rape and Murder threats that have extended BEYOND even the people “directly” involved), I have absolutely no doubt that we have seen the salting of the Earth with regards to young potential games critics. Because who would really want to become part of this Wasteland?
Young girls already have to deal with enough institutionalized sexism without this. Who would, in their right mind, willingly join a community with a history of responding to female cultural critics with threats of rape? Who would, in their right mind, willingly help push and advance a medium that has a fanbase which blew swatting into an actual thing? We have seen literal pillars of gaming critical thought hounded out of the community…and people actually celebrated it. To paraphrase Matt Lees, the women who would still get into (or decide to remain) talking about this industry are god damned super soldiers, and we do not deserve them.
When I was growing up I got to do with my sister what my parents did with me. I would sit her down and, even if it were a one player game, hand her a controller to “play games” with me. When I was making my push through Final Fantasy VIII, I would even let her pretend she was Rinoa and pick out the commands when we’d get into battles. Since then, my sister has grown into a great gamer- kicking ass in Resident Evil and Netrunner and even picking up Dungeons and Dragons this past year. If you put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t give up those experiences or the joy it fills me to see her enjoy gaming for anything.
But I won’t lie. These past few weeks have made me occasionally wonder if it was a good idea.
…I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I don’t even know if there’s a solution. I just know it’s important to come out and say that I think it’s utter shit the way people -specifically women- have been treated these last few weeks. I know it’s important for me to acknowledge and thank all the critics and women I have looked up to, even if only to myself and my close circle of friends. So thank you Kate Reynolds. Thank you Patricia Hernandez. Thank you Leigh Alexander, Brenda Brathwaite, and Zoe Quinn. Thank you Mattie Brice and Merritt Kopas and Christine Love and Anita Sarkeesian. Thank you to all the people, especially the young women, who decide to start up (or continue) their blogs and write about their passions for any audience, even if it’s just themselves, even at the risk of some jerkwad finding it and deciding that they’re the target of the day. Thank you to all the critics, journalists, and designers I didn’t think to add in my lack of sleep.
I hope that those who continue writing can always find the support and the joy in what they do to keep it up, because our culture -not just video game culture, but actual human culture- is less for not having more voices be a part of that discussion. For those who chose to find their happiness elsewhere, though, I hope you find more happiness, fulfillment, and respect outside of the games scene than inside it. And, while supporting your decision, thank you for what you did do.
…here are pictures to make up for making such a downer post:
* PS – Sure, there’s also this talk about “ethics” in Journalism. Hey! That’s a great conversation! Here’s a post from Kate Reynolds talking about that very thing. Me, though? I’ve yet to see any real evidence of so-called corruption, and find that people caterwauling about the “corruption of games journalism” are either using such a high-minded concept as a smokescreen to harass and attack women and those who support a more inclusive gaming community OR have no fucking clue what evidence of corruption would actually look like since, at best, they’re drawing webs people who happen to know other people and leaving it at that. If you’re in the latter group, I am sorry- but KNOWING someone does not CORRUPTION create. Grumble, grumble, le grumble.