If you are in any way part of gaming culture, you’ll know that gatekeeping is part of that culture. To my mind, and as part of a completely unproven hypothesis on my end, gatekeeping is about power. The power to include or exclude a person. Into or out of the culture. It’s also about proving your masculinity. Gatekeeping is based on a toxic relationship between the games we play, the expectations those games place on the performance of masculinity and how that masculinity is reflected in the toxic culture around games.
I know. This is a lot, kind of. Intermingled with that is the fact that games and gaming has also been under attack from various sources for quite some time. The intentional or incompetent misrepresentation of games and various aspects of games to win political points is part of the problem when it comes to games. In part, gatekeeping is also about keeping critical voices out of the culture.
It is not a coincidence that GamerGate and the follow up around GamerGate was disguised as ethics in game journalism. The ethics discussed, though was never around the contents of games, but rather around how game writers and game journalists were treated. Even when it came to a fake critique of journalism1, the individuals and outlets targeted were the ones that were critical of the contents in games.
GamerGate also went after games that were not concerned with the performative masculinity that most mainstream triple-A games deal with.
The purpose of this gatekeeping is in part not to question the toxic status quo, but also to keep an aspect of masculinity that is easy to perform.
If the world around me is confusing and I don’t know what my role is or who I am, being Kratos or Master Chief or pretty much anyone of the more or less interchangeable men that act as representatives for a very specific kind of masculinity must be very rewarding, not to mention relaxing.
Having women, Black, indigenous, Asian, Latino, mixed race, trans and non-binary people question that refuge and the contents of that refuge must be upsetting.
In addition to this, having people not only question, but in some sense invalidating a space you believed you were entitled to must also be very upsetting.
Gatekeeping then becomes not only about power, but also about feeling entitled and at the same time being afraid of losing a space where being a man is simple, comfortable, and unquestioned.
I’m not entirely sure I’m right about this, how could I be? But my experience tells me that much of what the culture does is based on a fake sense of entitlement and a lot of fear of change.
Gatekeeping marginalizes voices that would change gaming (for the better) and idolizes voices that work hard to keep gaming within the confines and power of white men.
Part of the problem is of course that this gatekeeping is not restricted to the gaming culture. Because the industry and the culture has such a close and almos incestuous relationship, the industry listens to the voices raised by the culture, and because of gatekeeping, these voices propagate the toxic aspects as well as any beneficial ones.
Not only that. The culture creates new developers who enter the industry with the same fears and sense of entitlement as the culture harbours and thus becomes yet another reinforcement of the status quo.
Playing games is human. It is a pastime that we all do and have done when growing up and more and more often, we also play games as adults.
I don’t believe its fair to keep people out of gaming. Even if they do threaten the status quo, and they should threaten the status quo, because honestly, the status quo isn’t great.
Men have a lot of thinking to do. There should be some form of reckoning, although with conservative forces gaining ground, I’m not sure there ever will be.
It is time to take a long hard look at the world we live in and it is time for men to understand what their toxicity and entitlement is causing.
It is time to stop gatekeeping. The world will not end. The games you love will still be there, but maybe, just maybe, there will be other games, with other experiences out there. And maybe they will set you free.