The Gamer Gate Controversy

Admittedly, I’ve not been keeping up with the theatrics of #gamergate in real time but having studied a number of articles written about it I have decided to write something about it.

Gamergate is essentially a valid argument, at the core it criticises videogames journalists for lack of integrity and in some cases being on the payroll of the companies that they write about. This is a valid critique as arguably there is a large amount of such behaviour going around.

The secondary issue raised by a number of feminists, is the inclusion of more female characters particularly in a believable leading role in order to encourage more women into computer gaming and end the allegedly endemic ‘misogyny and sexism’ in video games.

Now this is where I take particular issue, yes there are an increasing number of video games which are sold and advertised with women in various states of undress in order to be able to sell them. This however is as old as time. Sex as they say, sells and until this essential tenet of society changes, it will never go away, no matter whether it is video games, cars, magazines or whatever else.

It is also notable that this is more likely to happen where a game is, in and of itself weak and so therefore needs to sell further copies by making such things. Everyone knows this; there is no secret to it, it is not a conspiracy, if I want to sell a car in a newspaper I put a picture of it with a beautiful woman next to it or on it and it is more likely to sell than a picture of the car alone.

The whole issue is, according to William Audureau is “not whether video games ‘make’ gamers sexist but whether they express and maintain a negative portrayal of women, already present and unconsciously accepted.”

I would say that by and large the computer games industry does not do this, certainly not in greater amounts than any other medium largely aimed at men for example action films.

Not unlike action films, video games are aimed at a male market and more often than not revolve around the age old concept of hero stories which are popular both with women and with men.

Where the argument that video games are inherently sexist falls down, almost flat on its face is that the accusations put forward by many feminists is that female characters are put there purely for decorative purposes.

This is ostensibly untrue, one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, Tomb Raider places a woman as the central character, one who when initially conceived was extremely blocky and barely recognisable as a woman in the traditional sense.

As the game increased in popularity this however changed, it is notable that the Lara Croft in the original game series bears little or no resemblance to the actress Angelina Jolie, however shortly after that series of somewhat mediocre films was released; subsequent character art was changed in order to reflect this more accurately. That is, provide the eye candy which the film industry had made of Jolie.

This is a rather interesting point to take home, a large number of video games are becoming increasingly theatrical in their play modes with a large number of Full Motion Video cut scenes, some of which are interactive, some are not and so as a result a number of video games have ceased to be described as games in the traditional sense but more of interactive movies.

As a result a large amount of the gaming industry is now based on making CGI movies with the same rules as modern cinema; however these are things that are set outside of gaming and in a lot of ways beyond its control. You cannot attempt to change the way Hollywood behaves through computer games; it is not only futile but a hopelessly inefficient way of managing your concerns.

One of the second most popular video games series belonging to Nintendo places a woman as the central character. The Metroid series of games tells the story of the bounty hunter Samus Aran who is on a quest for vengeance for the destruction of her world and the murder of her parents.

Again more modern incarnations of this game place a large amount of the action in the first person, which makes the inclusion of such a character beyond that of simply decorative, with a tacit appreciation for her believability as a character.

In other games, women play vital supporting roles alongside the main character and frequently in series such as the Timesplitters series actually provide the second player model in cooperative play or as an alternative model should the player so choose.

Indeed in the Timesplitters series, the main objectives are decided and given to the player by a female overseer who directs the player throughout the course of play and also providing tutorial information as and when required. We see that in TS3, the lead character is a traditional male “meat head” soldier Sgt. Cortez, with all the intelligence, common sense as well as executive decisions being made by a female character sometimes belittling Cortez in this fashion.

From this point of view, it is hard to actually see the validity in the arguments put forward by Sarkeesian et al. as a number of video games actually either reverse the trope she complains about or actively enforce her message.

Yes the video games market is dominated by men, but this is because of the way society as a whole functions. Let us not pretend for one second that make up and beauty market is dominated by women because it is full of misandry, but because it is actually aiming itself at its largest consumer and that is women.

In this sense, the market is predominantly aimed at men and as such to suit their perceived interests, frequently video games are based on military or police models and involve a large degree of shooting things, which actually says more about the societal view of males rather than that of women, in that real men should be soldiers in some form or another.

Other games such as the much criticised Grand Theft Auto series also play on this trope of perceived manliness, in that the man must have a gun and commit unspeakable acts of violence in order to succeed in the game. Yet the main focus of the criticism is of the way the game handles things such as rape and the treatment of women, the fact that as a player in that game I can stop a car, randomly throw out its occupant and execute them in cold blood with impunity by continually avoiding inept police responses would appear to be a non-issue with feminists.

I would ask in this instance would they prefer that the lead character be a female able to go and do all these things. I would like to think not, but ‘equality’ would seem to demand it.

Making a lead character female would not change the rating on the game, nor would it make it intrinsically any better than having the character set as a male, it would however make it slightly less credible given the trope that only men are capable of killing people and committing sexual offences, which is of course totally untrue.

The disgusting thing about gamer gate is the level of vitriol aimed at the women from supposedly anonymous white males who are according to Jessica Valenti writing in the Guardian all waiting to go on a killing spree and kill more men than women in misogyny fueled attacks.

Whilst I do acknowledge that there are people who troll the internet in order to make people’s lives a misery, I am not convinced that all of these supposed threats are either from men, or even from the opposite camp. What I am inclined to believe is that there are angry white males who may make trolling comments and event threats toward certain people, but I am also cynical and sensible enough to believe that there are some hard line feminists who are actually engineering a large amount of this vitriol in order to further their own agenda and seek allies, particularly in the form of men.

Of course, I have no way of proving this except in the unlikely event that anyone who has made these threats is actually caught and prosecuted.  My main piece of reasoning for this is that many commentators have described the legitimate grievances of gamer gate has been overshadowed by the allegations of vitriol and bad form on the internet.

This “poisoned well” line is actually a well-known logical fallacy in which you can dismiss any legitimate discussion on a topic with an ad hominem attack, which unsurprisingly works incredibly well with anyone venturing into this discussion, not ostensibly on the side of Sarkeesian et al. being labelled as a troll and other less becoming nouns.

Another fallacy being put forward in the press is guilt by association with Alex Goldman writing: “Stop calling yourselves gamers, come up with some other means of self-identification, because as of right now, the worst people standing behind the mantle of gamer have spoiled it all for you.”

This was in response to gamers using the #notallgamers forced to defend that they were not all racist, misogynist, homophobes as much of the public is lead to believe from the tweets and other such things posted in response to Sarkeesian et al.

This would of course be one rule for women and one rule for men, as the #notallwomen trend which was sparked in the wake of Elliot Roger’s grievances against, what he perceived to be, behaviour by some groups of women. The backlash by that hash tag containing some of the most vitriolic comments aimed at men alongside legitimate criticism of the views expressed.

Given the anonymous nature of the internet, and the lengths that some people will go to further their own agenda it is not inconceivable to believe that some of this hatred and vitriol being aimed at certain people is misdirection designed to further a victim narrative and detract from the actual crux of the argument in a childish confrontation.

Misogyny and misandry for that matter are societal constructs, exacerbated by this level of irrational thinking which we cannot stamp out by continuing with an Us v Them, Victim v Abuser narrative. Before we can get anywhere with regard to true equality, this needs to stop once and for all.

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