I wrote a bunch of words and then hated them so let me try this again.
This all started with the announcement of the death of “gamer”, right? I think we’ve all forgotten about that, when it’s the key to understanding what’s going on.
Did you know Zynga has a bigger market cap ($2.47B) than Ubisoft ($1.41B)? How many more people play Zynga’s games, too? Yet Ubisoft’s games are “video games”, and Zynga’s are not. I’m not sure what they are, but this line in the sand has been drawn so successfully that I doubt most average (read: not on Twitter 10+ hours a day) people would consider FarmVille to be a “video game” — even people who play it. It’s certainly not what first comes to mind when you say the phrase.
What about The Sims? Is that a video game? Well… yeah… probably. Still not what comes to mind as a “video game”, though.
What do you think of when I say “movie”? Probably a recent blockbuster like Lord of the Rings or one of the superhero adaptations. Everyone’s seen them or at least knows about them; they’re basically pop culture. And they raked in zillions besides.
What do you think of when I say “video game”? Why is it not The Sims, one of the best-selling games of all time? Why is it not a mobile phone game, when over a billion people play them? For many people it’s probably not even Mario, who is basically the mascot of video games.
Gamers have successfully defined a “video game” as a very, very narrow thing that involves fancy graphics, either twitchy reflexes or extreme patience, and probably some sort of gun that wobbles at the bottom of the screen. In turn they have defined “gamer” as a person who regularly and enthusiastically plays those kinds of games. I doubt you could find me anyone who exclusively plays Zynga games and self-identifies as a gamer.
The very identity “gamer” is thus, in fact, about control of itself.
I read death-of-gamer articles and I saw a cry of exasperation. “Why is this word reserved for such a small subset of people who play games?” they asked. “Everyone plays games. Let everyone into the clubhouse.”
By the way gamergate talks about those same articles — as alienation and stereotyping and mocking — you’d think they said we don’t need anyone to play games any more. Get rid of them all.
Well, of course. If the clubhouse is open to everyone, is there really any difference? For people who actively pride themselves on being gamers, who actively preserve the barriers of entry, what would it mean to be in the same category as your dad who thinks Candy Crush is super cool? Especially for people who identify solely as gamers, who’ve built their entire identities around the video games they play.
Video games. Video games. All of this over video games. Pong. That’s what this is all about.
What other form of entertainment has such a striking contrast between the core audience and the long tail? Hell, it’s usually the other way around: those blockbuster movies are the cheap accessible junk, and if you want something of real quality, you go see obscure/foreign/indie films. And you call them “films”. Yet in gaming, the conversation is dominated by an endless onslaught of games that appeal to a very specific demographic, who gladly consume every single one of them. The real mass-market stuff is way out on the fringe, so far out it’s barely considered “games”, despite being played by a fifth of the entire human race.
This is how much power gamers have over their own industry.
Power. It’s all about power dynamics. The “fake gamer girl” trope. The guy on every CoD server who calls you a faggot. The rape jokes, the trans jokes, the gay jokes, the outright vitriol that nobody ever seems to call out. The in-game rewards for obsessively scouring for secrets or whatnot, ensuring that nobody who doesn’t have ten years’ worth of FPS experience will never collect everything. (I note that Mario Kart 8’s hardest achievement is just a variant kart, which you get for getting one star on every course. Three stars on every course gets you nothing at all. Nintendo gets it.)
These are all self-reinforcing barriers to entry. Everyone who truly wants to get into games has to prove their mettle by enduring this hazing: the slurs and abuse, the assumed knowledge of tropes, the reflexes and/or tolerance of tedium. If you can get past all that, you must really want to be a Gamer. And once you are, your sympathy has been somewhat worn away; if you can put up with it, why can’t everyone else?
I asked several gamergate randos about multiplayer abuse. All of them said they find it distasteful; all of them said the people doling it out are jerks; one of them even said it had deeply bothered him when he first started playing online. And yet all of them asserted that the onus is on the target, the newcomer, to suck it up. None of them had ever chastized some asshole for being an asshole, and they were all adamant about not ever doing so.
Why? Because they don’t want to be the buzzkill. They don’t want to risk being the target. That one asshole has control over them, like they have control over gaming.
And this is what gamergate is: a display of that control, against the people suggesting they may lose it, and the people actively working to wrest it away from them. It’s thinly about corruption, but if that were really the issue, why wouldn’t they go after the publishers who hold early game access over reviwers’ heads? The excuse is cracking, anyway. They so adamantly want this to not be about Zoe Quinn that they’re now calling her “Literally Who”, so they can continue to talk about her without talking about her, because it’s so much not about her. I’ve seen more than one list of targets (of boycotts, of emails to advertisers) based not on particular corrupt incidents, but on the handwave of “SJW influence”.
It’s all a power play to preserve the status quo. Because it benefits dudebros in their mid-20s. (Yeah, I know, you’re not-my-shield. But you’re their shield, playing the role as the token minority, because you’ve already been hazed.) That one asshole is loud and obnoxious so you’ll either leave or show how desperately you want to fit in, and now gamergate is doing the same thing to games journalism en masse.
It’s been a month and little has come of all this, except that even 4chan has gotten sick of their crap, which you’d think would be a bad sign. Sadly nothing has happened in the other direction either; gaming is still kind of a cesspool, and anyone who asks “why are 90% of games about men?” is still called a cunt and lambasted and driven out of her house.
Like a lot of big-media problems, I’m hopeful this will all eventually be solved by the increasing ease of just making a game oneself. But we’re a very long ways from being able to cobble together an AAA game with just a couple people and pocket change, so in the meantime, it’s a question worth asking.
And to the gamebros: relax. Nobody cares that you enjoy Call of Halo. Nobody cares that every game you play has a straight bald white buff cis male protagonist. Nobody even cares that you get off to the vapid chesty love interest you need to save. It’s fine for different things to exist.
People care when this is the vast majority of what we have. People care that gamers have twisted pop culture to think that this is what games are. People care that a huge bulk of money in gaming goes towards pumping out a lot of the same kind of thing. People care that poor attitudes towards women and QUILTBAG people and other races and the minorities are given such a huge stage, yet so many of the privileged core group come out in droves to demonstrate the very reason this is a problem when anyone points it out.
This isn’t a zero-sum game. But by waging war against feminists and casuals and anyone else not in the core demographic, by explicitly seeking to purify your own insular group, gamers are making it one.
I know. It’s not individual gamers. Individual gamers only leave the one kinda-mean comment, or let the one slur slide, or buy the one game. But this is the impact the group is having, and if you care so much about being part of that group, the burden is on your shoulders.
Knock it off. You don’t need to own an entire medium. Let everyone in the clubhouse.