I wrote a long blog post the other day about censorship, games and really strange arguments I’ve heard when talking to a select group of people within the gaming industry and culture. A friend asked me to translate that post. I wrote the original post as an answer to a bunch of comments that were basically wrong about me and my motivations.
Sometimes its amusing to read the comments because they’re so absurdly wrong. Sometimes it’s painful to read the comments because they’re so absurdly wrong. Because of the absurdity and the wrongness, I felt the need to clarify a couple of things. Not that I think the clarifications will be read, but still.
First of all – the claim that equality or diversity in games should somehow be censorship is simply not true. It’s one of the most common statements I run into, so let us clarify. I have never asked for or in anyway wanted censorship in games.
You’ll get to keep uncharted and Assassins Creed. I’ve never asked that call of Duty be transformed into a flower picking game. I don’t think anyone working in games think that’s any kind of solution. Battlefield will still be Battlefield. People like to play it and that’s fine. I doubt the franchise will die anytime soon.
If I were to worry about contents being censored, I’d be more worried about the moral panicky tendencies that view games as the root of all evil rather than feminists who are looking for good gaming experiences. I think there are many feminists who enjoy games and I’m pretty sure they don’t see them as the root of all evil.
Secondly, there aren’t that many good games to choose from if you’re picky, like me. Often when the censorship talk pops up, the discussion about how no one is forcing me to play sexist games pops up as well. I don’t know how many times an analysis or a critique of a game prompts the phrase “well, just don’t play it then”. That’s easy to say when the whole market caters to your tastes, but for me the release schedule of games that I like is closer to a game every other or third year. In other words, there aren’t that many alternatives. Primarily, I play games where I can choose my gender, but they’re not exactly common. The baseline is a white middle aged man. If that’s your poison, you’re all set. You’ve got a lot to choose from. If not, you’ll have to wait a few years between the game releases (not to mention type of game, mechanics, story preferences and all those other things that make games what they are).
Another argument I hear often is that we shouldn’t force women into the industry. As far as I’ve understood it, that’s how the call for more women working in games is interpreted. That’s about as far from the truth as you can get. What we’re asking for is a way to keep the women already in the industry, and make sure the ones who are already working in games won’t be frightened or pushed out of the industry because of dated and neanderthal attitudes that sometimes remain with some developers. I know a bunch of women who have left the industry due to sexism. I’ve been a victim of it myself. Most of us who work with games do it because that’s what we want to do – to work with games – not to fight against old fashioned attitudes that stop us from doing our jobs.
A closely related opinion to the ones above is that women – or “radical feminists” should make our own games instead of “whining”, since a problem analysis apparently is “whining’ and not a critique.
There are already a bunch of women working with games, and some of them get harassed for doing it. Brianna Wu, Zoe Quinn, Alison Rapp, Jennifer Hepler Brandes and many, many others. To point this out is however somewhat risky. As soon as there is one person from a marginalized group actually doing something then it’s apparently enough. Look! There’s already a woman working in games! Why would you need more?
In a working environment where there is a dominant group – regardless of if they are men or women- the culture becomes homogeneous. Everyone agrees with everyone else about just about everything. Everyone shares the same experiences and cultural background – creativity becomes stagnant. It doesn’t stop there though. In a work place where one group is dominant, health is not as good, nor is profitability. As far as I understand it, this has very little to do with if the dominant group is men or women. A mix of experiences and cultural backgrounds is the best. And yes, that is equally valid for environments dominated by women, such as child and health care. But guess what? I’m not working in either of those fields (although it was suggested in a discussion where I participated that I “return to my work as a day care professional”). In other words, I’m less inclined to fight that fight. These are all arguments that pop up now and then. That boys’ grades are not as good, that school is angled toward “female learning” and that men commit suicide to a higher extent than women.
All of the above is true, and should be dealt with, but right here, right now, that is not my battle to fight. Honestly, I have enough on my plate to deal with the gaming industry. I already have more than enough responsibility for both my situation and the situation of others. I can’t and I won’t take responsibility for the situation in child and heath care, schools and the mental health of men. As an outspoken feminist however there seems to be some kind of collective responsibility assigned to us by primarily anti-feminists, though. If we don’t deal with all the problems in Sweden – or for that matter the world – we’re apparently focusing on the “wrong things”. For my part I’m focusing on the things closest to me. The profession I work in and the industry where I feel I have at least a chance to make an impact – the gaming industry.
If you want to fight for the mental health of boys and men, Go for it. lt’s an admirable fight. But it’s still not my fight.
Returning to the argument that “we” should stop whining and make our own games. The flip side of that argument is that when “we” actually do make games “we” get to hear that we’re ruining the industry and that we’re stopping creative freedom if there’s as much as a hint of a suspicion that a person working towards equality and diversity has had any kind of influence over a game. The outrage is usually intense, and both the developer and the game can get in trouble. Worst case scenario, the outrage leads to harassment of both the developer and the company behind the offending game. (This is, by the way a cultural thing in games, it seems. The entitlement that some gamers apparently feel is sometimes so outrageous that developers receive death threats if a gun is updated or if the game is delayed. Completely bonkers if you ask me, in particular if the player hasn’t even paid for the game yet. Bonkers.)
On the other hand. if a developer with feminist sympathies is shown to be working on a game that has sexist tendencies “we’re” instead hypocrites living off an industry that won’t live up to our ideals. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I suppose there are always reasons to be found to critique developers who are even mildly progressive.
Another tendency is the nitpicking and detail oriented criticism of arguments made by feminists, in particular when it comes to games. There can’t be even something that is remotely seen as a factual error, and woe to use any kind of generalization! Everything has to fit every situation, all the time, or else the whole line of reasoning is invalidated, and probably every thing else you’ve ever done in your life up to that point as well. However, on “the other side” it is apparently fine to use arguments built on reputation and hearsay, as long as it is supporting the own view. That kind of inconsistency is apparently just fine.
Solid research is “disproved” by a Thunderf00t video, and no one raises an eyebrow.
I’m honestly tired of the dishonest discourse where nitpicking a sentence is seen as a valid rhetoric and approach. At the same time a refusal to discuss becomes some sort of backwards validation – if you won’t engage in the discussion, there’s this thought with some of these people that you’re wrong. As if a denial to talk to someone who keeps moving the goal posts is anything else but complete resignation. If you block them, it’s about censorship and their right to scream in your ears when it suits them. As if it was a right to monopolize my time and energy.
Censorship is not to be blocked from someone’s Facebook or Twitter feed. Censorship is not having your comments removed from an article because the comments break the rules for commenting. Censorship is not to stop someone from spewing garbage and demanding readers.
Freedom of speech does not mean that people won’t disagree with what you’re saying, in particular if what you’re saying is sexist or racist. Freedom of speech is not freedom from being questioned. It doesn’t mean that your opinion is the only right one. Censorship is not being held responsible for what you’re saying, nor is it having to face the consequences by way of being blocked from blogs, twitter or Facebook pages.
As some sort of undercurrent in this mess of people denying that games have any kind of problems, there is the bitter feeling that “they” feel that “we” are trying to take something away from them. That criticism is a demand for things to change, right away. That “we” hate men to the point of wanting to destroy “their” pleasure and transform them into some sort of SJW Stepford Men 1.
When it comes down to it, what “we” do is just criticism, as any other. If games are ever going to be taken seriously, we have to be able to critically analyze them. That includes the content. And it can’t always be from the perspective of “the best thing to happen since Wonderbread”.
Any kind of demanding criticism seems to be taken as an active attempt to “take something” from a certain audience, why else would an otherwise brilliant review of a game become completely inundated with hateful comments because of the mention of an unsound view of women in the game? The funny thing is, we can discuss mechanics and story from a less flattering perspective without anyone raising an eyebrow, but as soon as the sexism and objectification of women show up, it’s as if something is taken from the (limited) audience, something they must feel they have a right to. Why else would a wish to not have to look at women as things or sexualized objects, become “we hate men”? How that transformation happens, I don’t know. My hypothesis is that this is a right “they” think they have. A right to women. A right to sexualize, stereotype and objectify. If and when that right is questioned, maybe it feels like something is taken from them? Maybe it’s because a privilege is questioned? That that which was previously okay is suddenly not okay anymore and can’t be enjoyed in the same guiltless way? Knowing that the view of women in a game isn’t very enlightened – maybe it takes the fun out of it? Exposing privilege may lead to that the sense of power and right to possess another human being just won’t be as rewarding?
There has to be a reason why the criticism of sexism is equaled to hating men. But maybe we shouldn’t expect reason. Maybe the incoherent tirades of Thunderf00t and the like is all we can expect, for now?
1 I think it’s really, really interesting that we as marginalized groups within gaming are supposed to be content with the games already out there. Games that would have continued to be sexist and racist, stereotyping women and minorities. We’re supposed to just take it. We’re supposed to be happy the way things are, while they, the white men who whine – yes whine – about games being “taken away from them” should continue to be catered to through characters they can identify with, women who are objectified for their pleasure, stereotypes that never challenge the prejudices that exist in society. But we who don’t have that privilege, that power, we’re supposed to be happy and content with seeing us being caricatured and used? It makes me SO angry.