This is a new decade (well, technically, it’s not really a new decade until 2021, but who’s counting) and there are a bunch of retrospectives out there. This is… maybe not so much a retrospective as a reflection.
If existing in the gaming culture has taught me one thing it’s that we tend to forget very easily. “We” being your average, mainstream gamer. Not the actual average mainstream gamer, though 1, the average mainstream gamer with influence and power over the culture. “We” forget everything that casts a negative light on “us”. In 2013, I spoke at a conference in Stockholm. I was sick and miserable, but Anita Sarkeesian was there to talk about her series of tropes 2 and I was there to talk about my experiences from inside the industry. The hashtag #1ReasonWhy had just exploded across Twitter and Ye Olde Mainstream Gamer was horrified at the stories told. Most balked at the narrative of sexual harassment, dismissive and patronising behaviour and the gatekeeping marginalised people live with every day. Some were horrified. Others said we were only making it up.
And then “we” forget.
Barely a year later, Zoe Quinn was at the centre of another hurricane, when their former boyfriend decided to avenge himself through a blog post that has long since been proven untrue and refuted. But it presented an increasingly more flustered and worried remnant of gaming culture’s leaders with both cover and target. The cover was the argument about ethics in gaming journalism. The targets were marginalised groups in gaming that were slowly but surely changing the face of gaming through the slow pivot of actually looking at the culture games promoted and the very homogenous content in most games.
For every action a reaction, and GamerGate was violent, abusive and horrifying. Cue Ye Olde Mainstream gamer again expressing their disbelief that it could be “that bad”.
The truth is of course that it’s always been “that bad” and even worse. But if you are privileged the privilege extends to never having to see how bad it is, or that your best friend that you’ve always hung out with in fact harasses and abuses women online. Or, you know, coming to terms with the cold realisation that the behaviour you yourself have been indulging in is actually both harmful and not as innocent as you thought.
The first time I played World of Warcraft, not long after it was released, I had characters running after me and wanting to constantly give me things. There was one character in particular that would whisper me, open trade windows at really bad locations and just wouldn’t leave me alone. This person kept complimenting my character, wanting to give me money and gear and they followed me everywhere, buffing me and keeping me alive. It seems like kind behavior, no? But it was super creepy and totally invasive. It ended up with me dumping my main and using an alt.
Sometimes apparently benign behaviours can be anything but.
Waking up to the possibility that not only have you done harm, you might actually still be doing it is jarring. We all want to see ourselves as good people only sometimes we’re not. Allowing that truth to exist is difficult, and probably one of the reasons why every #1ReasonWhy, #GamerGate and #MeToo becomes such a surprise “I would never”.
And then it turns out you actually did.