The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
– Lieutenant General David Morrison
The title of this post was something said by Lt General David Morrison in a speech to the Australian army, after allegations of sexual misconduct among the Australian troops.
It is oddly fitting for what I’m about to talk about in this post. Bear with me, because I’ll probably be a bit all over the place with this text.
Earlier today, there was a bit of groaning and embarrassment among some of the game devs on Twitter around this quote:
God I'm so embarrassed for us pic.twitter.com/byuekf2EqL
— Johnnemann 🌹 (@johnnemann) June 13, 2020
I totally agree with the facepalms, but personally I believe that elevating a game like this and in this fashion is a result of a culture that we as game developers and players have encouraged. Perhaps not intentionally or actively, but we haven’t exactly taken a stand against it either. And when I say “we” I of course mean the culture and developers at large. I know that there are many of us who are trying to change both the culture and the industry any way we can.
Trying to fairly assess and critique games is next to impossible these days. In fact it has been impossible for quite some time. Remember Carolyn Petit’s review of GTA V and how she was harassed (and how the review continues to be flooded with disparaging comments) because the game didn’t receive a full 10? Remember how Firewatch got review dumped because Campo Santo didn’t like the fact that PewDiePie used the n-word when streaming the game?
Remember how One Angry Gamer declared all game companies that reacted to and supported #BlackLivesMatter as traitors of America and presumably the gaming culture? His video speech is really out there, declaring how companies that support the deconstruction of systemic racism somehow is a threat to white men.
Remember Deep Silver’s developer calling one of Purna’s skills in Dead Island “feminist whore”? Remember the article about sexism in Riot that resulted in a lawsuit? Remember how the head of consumer products in that very same company got fired for posting a racist post on Facebook?
Remember GamerGate? Remember how Anita Sarkeesian was harassed after Tropes vs Women in Video Games and the reception it got among “real” gamers?
What I’m trying to say is this: gaming culture and the games industry has been absolutely allergic to call out behaviour that results in threats to developers, writers and journalists who have tried to point to problematic content, problematic culture, and unacceptable behaviour among gamers and devs and all along we have also nurtured this belief that games are misunderstood works of genius.
I don’t think that we have – as a subculture – gotten past the “games are dangerous” moral panic that clouded the skies of games in the “early days”. It has coloured the way games are perceived and the moral panic still pops up now and then. It damaged us because it made us afraid to look closer at and critique content, so much so that reviews that did touch upon it were called out for “not being objective”.
I think the damage is still there and I think we’re desperately grasping for respectability and recognition at the same time as we’re not willing to give up our status as the scrappy underdog of entertainment, although we haven’t been the underdog for a long time.
I think this is why reviews like the one for The Last of Us 2 gets written. Our bruised egos are still echoing through the culture which has made honest criticism and assessment almost impossible.
It wasn’t until very recently that any of the larger game companies publicly took a stand agains the very culture that we to some extent have helped nurture. Well, maybe not nurture, but certainly not actively discouraged.
We’ve been at this impasse for years, but thankfully we’re moving forward now. Finally.
Only time will tell if we can get past the spectre of sexism, racism, homo- and transphobia that still linger both in company and gaming culture.
We’ve walked past so many standards in the past. It’s time we take a stand. That, I believe, is the only way we can truly move forward.