I’m sure that some of you, maybe even most of you, have seen the continued faux pas from notable (and unfortunately Swedish) gaming personalities such as Markus Persson and Felix Kjellgren, a.k.a. Notch and PewDiePie lately. Notch more or less abandoning any pretenses at being anything but a bored and kind of lonely guy in his huge mansion, and Felix Kjellgren repeatedly using racist language and expressions to create his videos.
Notch is, for me, a sad case. He used to be a role-model while he was still working on Minecraft. Personally, I think him selling his company the way he did tipped him over one edge or the other.
Notch doesn’t seem to be very happy, but as the creator of a hugely influential game, his word still carries weight in gaming culture, although less so year after after year. His relatively open and moderate stance on issues such as gender equality and diversity has taken a sharp alt-right turn, and he nowadays uses language more closely associated with men’s rights activists rather than an enlightened human being – and yes I went there. Because who in their right minds would consider mens’s rights activists and the alt-right being enlightened? Their philosophies – as far as I understand them – are built on the supremacy and power of white, heterosexial men. They’re eager to reclaim whatever power they felt they’ve lost with the rise of women’s liberty and women’s rights.
Notch is a special case in that he’s not only a rich white dude with issues. He’s also – or he was – very influential in gaming circles. People looked up to him, and then he does things like go after women developers on Twitter. There are multiple examples of Notch blowing up or causing drama, all of them on a similar level as when he called developer Jennifer Scheurle out for making a joke on Twitter.
Among other things, he claimed the term “mansplaining” was derogatory towards men, and introduced a vocabulary of his own (cuntfusing) to counter. He then proceeded to call another woman a cunt (tweet has been deleted) and presumably enjoyed the rest of his day as the internet rained down unholy fire on Scheurle, now elevated to prominence and presumably one of those pesky cuntfusing women who should be silenced.
3.8 million followers will definitely help with that.
Notch himself in an interview has acknowledged that twitter is a soapbox for him. He also stated “so that felt like I have, not a responsibility, but maybe an opportunity to help show that it’s actually possible to have opinions on Twitter without making sacrifice.” The next minute – in the same interview – he sees no problem with using his power (because make no mistake, a huge following is power) to step up on his soapbox.
As far as I understand it from the interview with Notch, calling people on bad behaviour is oppressing their freedom of speech. He goes on to say that everyone should be free to speak their mind, apparently not for a minute reflecting on the fact that if you – as a woman game dev – speak your mind and get targeted by someone like Notch or a movement like GamerGate – life as you know it has been replaced by threats, harassment and fear of speaking up.
This is the wobbly ground that Notch’s arguments rest on. That we’re somehow all equal and that money, power, gender has absolutely no influence. As a thought experiment, or maybe as a naïve view of the world, sure it might work, but we’re not living in that world. We live in a world where there are actual differences in how you get treated based on gender, money, influence, skin color, and yes they do make a difference in what you dare or dare not do, much less say.
I find it fascinating that someone like Notch can make the connection between being restricted from speaking out on Twitter about things like sexism towards men, but can’t see how sexism towards women is ever present and punishes women hard, sometimes just because they made a joke about mansplaining.
What irks me the most is that people like Notch believe in freedom of speech and freedom from oppression, but only as it applies to them. Refusing to see that feminists talking about systemic oppression might have a point, and at the same time claiming systemic oppression by the feminists (or SJWs, White Knights, cucks, you name it) is to my mind a mind boggling feat of logical gymnastics. If one is true, how come the other can’t be? And to be fair, I don’t subscribe to the theory that white, heterosexual men are being oppressed.
Notch is a role-model, whether he wants to be or not. He acknowledges this and then dismisses it a few sentences later, when the question of consequences comes up.
The truth is, being white, being male, being heterosexual, being rich – all these things put Notch in a position of power, and really, just because he doesn’t see it, the rest of the world isn’t as oblivious.
Notch uses his power to reinforce beliefs about men as oppressed, about the myth of no freedom of speech because opinions are being met with counter opinions or, in many cases, facts.
As a woman in game development, i really don’t have the luxury of letting powerful individuals like Notch or PewDiePie remain unopposed.
Power and influence are no doubt ephemeral and sometimes hard to gauge. It sneaks up on you. Regardless, and as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Neither Notch nor PewDiePie seems to have understood what that really means. For me, the eye opener was sudden and not altogether pleasant, and I’m writing this not to paint myself in any particularly flattering light, but to point out that I recognise the pitfalls.
What power and influence I have is primarily within Swedish table-top RPG circles. I’m not entirely certain I’m very well liked, mainly because I review RPGs in one of Sweden’s only table-top RPG gaming magazines. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told what gamers, primarily game developers think of me. These have not been very flattering judgements. On the other hand, I’ve also been recognised for my influence through awards, and more recently through an Honorary PhD.
This implies that I do have some influence, and with my power and influence, I could potentially do some real damage if I wanted to. I certainly have the firepower in the form of behind the scenes information to do so.
Because of this power and influence, I was asked to be quiet, primarily on social media, in order not to reflect badly on my employer at the time. I was asked to run everything by them before speaking out on things I was previously pretty outspoken about.
What I felt when confronted by these demands was distrust, sadness and – to be fair – a certain amount of incredulity. To my mind I had no power whatsoever. Nobody cared what I wrote. Except of course they do, and did. Not to the extent of Notch or PewDiePie, not even close, but enough that I have to be careful in how I express myself.
I do feel restricted on social media. I do feel I can’t go off on an angry rant and use words like “cunt” or, more commonly in my case “imbecile”. Not because I’m particularly prone to keeping my opinions to myself, but because rants are seldom productive. Instead, they contribute to an already toxic atmosphere.
I can’t say everything I want to say. But ultimately that’s okay. I don’t have to say that people are assholes because they don’t agree with me. I can counter their opinions with my own or as the case may be, with facts.
It’s easy to lash out. It takes a lot more effort to be thoughtful, careful and do research. It’s easy to attack a person. It’s much harder to counter an argument or speak to your own opinion, which is why the gaming culture and the debate climate is toxic in general.
The thing is, it starts with us. It starts with you. It starts with me. When PewDiePie blames just about everyone but himself for using racial slurs or creating really bad antisemitic jokes, thereäs really only one person who could have avoided those and that’s him.
Media didn’t tell him to use the n-word in a life stream, he did that himself. Media didn’t make him use sexist language, he did that himself.
For me, being on the “left side” has been very interesting when it comes to what gamers will defend or not defend. What this culture attacks.
As a feminist, I always have to be careful what I say. I can’t go off on a rant. If I paid fiverr to make a sign that said “kill all men” and had that broadcast, I’m pretty sure the gaming culture would go berserk. Look at Anita Sarkeesian’s well researched and measured videos. Look at the hatred she’s subjected to. She can do no right in certain circles of the gaming culture.
For PewDiePie, the response is the opposite. “Kill all jews” and using the n-word? Everyone rushes to his defence.
The difference is, Sarkeesian does thorough research, which is why her videos took so long to get to YouTube, something she’s also been criticised for, whereas PewDiePie is a stream of consciousness with no filter.
In this scenario, for me, Sarkeesian is the better person. Pewds is someone who does the easy thing. Gaming culture in all it’s toxicity and ugliness applauds Pewds and threatens Sarkeesian. I think it’s a sign of the subconscious of the culture. “Don’t take away our outlet for racism, sexism and homophobia. Don’t make us have to think before speaking.”