As you’ve probably noticed, it’s all kicking off in the games industry and suddenly merely stating your opinion is a dangerous thing to do. Fears of holding an opinion are all pervasive. I recently read Leigh Alexander’s piece about “gamer” being a title that represents a backwards male majority, who are angry that they are no longer relevant. Now, I have a ridiculous amount of respect for Leigh Alexander, she is a fantastic writer and a great inspiration, but I personally didn’t agree with this article. When people were discussing it on Twitter I was going to throw my meagre opinion in, but then I stopped and I decided against it. Why did I decide against it? Because I was scared of the repercussions of disagreeing. I thought people might brush me aside as not understanding or being in denial at the state of the industry; as a female games journalist I felt myself being put into the box of “you should agree with this”. This is wrong.
Now, this obviously isn’t Leigh Alexander’s fault and it isn’t largely the fault of those who might dismiss me immediately for disagreeing; it’s all a reaction to hostility. Like a hedgehog sensing danger, we curl up into a ball, blocking people out and exposing our spikes to all around us. But by doing this we close off all discussion, something which is vital to how we grow as a culture. If someone holds a belief, which is firmly planted in reality and isn’t just down right offensive and outrageous, then that view point can withstand someone politely disagreeing. It doesn’t make it anymore correct or incorrect; it’s all subjective. Unfortunately this hostility is very real. Death and rape threats are never excusable, but are inflicted upon many journalists and developers for speaking out.
Sometimes it is almost impossible to see something and not immediately write it off as complete lunacy. Like in any other field, you will always get the nut jobs who spend most of their time coming up with gaming conspiracy theories while wearing tin foil hats to stop Anita Sarkeesian stealing their thoughts. I’m guilty of seeing stuff like this and immediately screaming with frustration through Twitter; sometimes it’s impossible not to. I would also be equally frustrated at seeing someone lampoon every man in the industry as being a misogynistic neo-Nazi. These points of view are so removed from reality that there is no real basis for reasoned discussion.
However, not everyone neatly fits these categories; in fact, very few people actually do. Unfortunately, because these extremist views rely on responses, they are loud and persistent. I think that women do need more representation in the industry but that doesn’t mean I hate all existing games and every single man that plays them. I also don’t agree that the term “gamer” should be used as a generalisation for angry young men, sitting around, bathing in Mountain Dew while playing COD with one Dorito dusted hand and harassing women with the other. We’re so busy looking through 4chan and Reddit for the worst examples of this extremism (granted, sometimes you don’t have to look far) that we forget that the majority of people are reasonable and nuanced. We pick out and focus on the most abhorrent, to a point where we get exhausted and just think “fuck it, they’re all idiots” and shut ourselves off.
This silent majority is a difficult thing to quantify because they are, by their very definition, silent. Up until about 6 months ago, I was very much part of this mysterious mass. I played games and enjoyed them, even though none of my friends were into games. I read articles on the internet, but felt no need to create videos or write pieces of my own. I believe in equal representation in games and always have, but I wasn’t vocal. I wonder if I would have even started writing about video games if, when I tentatively popped my head up six months ago, I would have been met by “DO YOU AGREE/DISGREE WITH JOURNALIST/DEVEOPER ____, CHOOSE A SIDE NOW.” By labelling, we either push reasonable people into extreme groups, by creating an environment of “you’re either with us entirely or against us completely”, or put them off trying to discuss anything at all.
I’m worried that all this drama will make us too scared to question our industry, lest we awaken the wrath of Twitter. We should never stop questioning the media and there definitely are issues in the industry. The recent allegations centre on a small group of individuals (though unless someone has Murdoch-like power then corruption isn’t found with one person) and the people that have been unfairly targeted as figureheads of this supposed deceit simply don’t have enough power to bring down the industry, even if the claims were true. The issues that we should question are things like the power that some developers and publishers have over journalists, whereby if they were to be blacklisted, it could potentially mean the end of a career or website because of the often precarious financial situations websites and writers find themselves in. Not wanting to rock the boat out of fear of losing your job or putting a publication at risk of potential closure, that’s an issue. It seems with all the aggression floating about, we forget that there are things that should be debated; labelling all those who do think there are problems under one banner helps no one.
By labelling, we automatically create sides and in the world of Twitter, we group and judge people on 140 characters. There is no discussion, there is no debate, there’s just shouting and name calling. By giving group names, we don’t just create a clear “us and them” divide, we also force people to choose and we give perhaps the more unpleasant people a banner that perpetuates these stereotypes. It’s a dangerous cycle. But it’s one that can be tackled with reasoned and respectful discussion and viewing people as individuals, not as generalised groups or sides. Sometimes we forget that you can disagree with something someone says and still agree with them on other aspects, and that overall you can still respect them. There is a reasonable discussion to be had here, but if everything is an attack, it will never happen. If the playing field is made less hostile, then perhaps the reasonable, silent majority will be more inclined to break their silence.