4 Ways Gamers Still Suck at Dealing With Women
If you're a gamer you've probably heard about the "Quinngate" scandal, in which indie game developer Zoe Quinn was accused of cheating on her boyfriend with gaming journalists in exchange for positive reviews. The Internet responded to these allegations by bombarding Quinn with insults and threats, because of course they did. It's the Internet. Expecting sanity is futile.
But here's the thing. As a gamer, I've gone from being ignorant about the existence of sex to getting awkward boners from Soul Calibur II to maybe not being a complete idiot when it comes to discussing gender. But I look back over that time span and it seems like gaming culture hasn't made a whole lot of progress. I'm as guilty as anyone else, but I've noticed a few problem areas where us chronically underrepresented straight, white males could stand to improve -- or, at the very least, just recognize.
We're Incapable of Mature Conversations About Gender
Let's start with a hypothetical scenario. You just read a rumor about a fluffer who may have gotten a leg up on her competition by giving handies to porn directors on the side. As a pornography enthusiast, this concerns you because you want all fluffers to be judged solely on their merits and fluffing skills. You want a level playing field. So you decide to express your opinion online. Which opening would you use? Is it ...
A. While I want to hear all the facts before I rush to a decision, this does raise some potential concerns about the professional ethics of the fucking industry.
B. What an ugly whore. People jeopardized their careers to get a handie from that slut? I'd jeopardize my career to avoid one!
If you picked A, then congratulations! You're more mature than the average gamer. Here's a typical response to Quinngate:
Yep, let's all take personality lessons from this perfectly logical guy.
Charming, right? Here's another.
"Because what's the point of leaking nude pictures if I can't even get off? Worst scandal ever, am I right?"
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Mark, you're just cherry-picking comments from trolls! Plenty of people were polite! Also, I think you're incredibly attractive and I secretly pine for you!"
You're right on the last two. But as much as I hate to say it, I think those comments exemplify, if not a majority, then one incredibly fucking loud minority. Go to any video, article, or forum discussion about Quinn, and in most cases you'll find that the balance weighs heavily toward the dickwads.
Or go to an article about something totally unrelated, like movie trailers.
Now, look at Options A and B above again. Which one would you rather respond to?
The first one, obviously. No one with an IQ higher than "potato" wants to engage in a conversation with a person who has the attitude in Option B, because they know it would be like talking to a wall that keeps calling you gay. Somehow, it's shocking to the wall that you don't want to engage, and so it's convinced there must be a conspiracy.
There's a baffling disconnect where gamers want to be taken seriously, but they also want to be able to call Quinn (or Anita Sarkeesian, or Brianna Wu, or Jennifer Hepler, or the woman who just chainsawed them in half in Gears of War) insults that the average convicted sex offender would consider over the line. They want to have their asshole cake and eat it too.
Well, guess what? If you can't talk like an adult, then you have to keep sitting at the kids table. But I'll let you in on another secret: it's not hard to talk like a sane adult human. Just ask yourself this simple question: "Would what I'm about to say get me yelled at or punched in my stupid fucking face if I said it in real life?" If your answer is yes, try to find a way to make the same point while using fewer slurs.
"Wait, so you'd pay more attention to me if I didn't call you a ho-bag?"
I know that to most of you that advice is patronizing, but the comments on this very article will prove that gamers haven't mastered it yet. And that's strange and disappointing, because I can't think of any other hobby that struggles so much with basic human decency. And because these people think "slut" or "whore" are terms they can use and still be taken seriously, it's embarrassing to share an interest with them.
Male Gamers Think They Know What the Real Problem Is
The people who were calling Quinn an ugly slut claim they were doing it only because they care about the ethics of game journalism, a strategy reminiscent of when David Frost called Richard Nixon a gigantic cockgobbler.
"Thank you for joining me, former President Fag! Lolololololol!"
In their minds, an obscure indie developer most people haven't heard of supposedly getting a single positive review for a game most people will never play is a scandal that should be shaking the very foundations of gaming journalism. There's only one reason major gaming sites decided to either ignore the story or defend Quinn instead of blowing this affair wide open, and that reason is conspiracy.
I like a good conspiracy as much as the next guy who knows 9/11 was faked in order to increase Call of Duty sales, but maybe, just maybe, the fact that there's a seemingly endemic problem of harassment in gaming is the bigger story here. Ignoring the fact that it isn't a journalist's job to commit slander based on hearsay, the two big questions from Quinngate, a phrase that makes me cringe more every time I'm forced to type it, are: "Was an ethical breach committed?" and "Is Quinn a bad girlfriend?"
The answers are "no" and "I don't know. Who the fuck cares about her private life?" respectively. There, I've just put the entire scandal to rest. I don't know how Pulitzers are awarded, but if you need my address to mail me the Pulitzer ... Cup, or whatever, please feel free to contact me.
"Thank you for awarding me this honey-glazed ham for excellence in the field of journalism."
The problem is that guys who have never faced discrimination because of their hobby or profession really do believe that this obscure ethical non-breach is the bigger issue. After all, it's a bigger issue to them. And I understand where they're coming from, because as a white, straight, Adonis I have never faced insults because of my interests, which leaves me free to focus my time and effort on other important issues, like when the fuck are we getting a new TIE Fighter game already?
But for women and men who are less selfish than I am, the continued harassment of women is obviously a bigger concern than an indie gaming sex "scandal." And there's another weird logical disconnect, because the same people who harassed Quinn think they're helping women.
That's right, ladies, the people who use phrases like "fellating their queen feminists" are standing up for your rights (unless it's your right to have sex). Doesn't that put you at ease?
So they recognize that gamers have a problem with gender -- they just can't understand how they're contributing to it or why anyone wants to talk about it instead of their problems. Again, you can understand where they're coming from, because when you're not the target of threats it's easy to dismiss them as inconsequential. Luckily, there's this thing called "empathy" that can overcome that.
"Wait a minute ... what if the women I'm threatening to rape have feelings?"
A minority of loud, male, and probably young gamers want to dictate what the rest of the gaming community talks about, because in their minds they know what's important and best for everyone. But by protesting one "problem" in the dumbest way imaginable, they reminded everyone of a much, much bigger problem, yet they're baffled as to why everyone wants to talk about the latter instead of what's important to them as white dudes.
I'm sorry, that's a simplification. Some of them are probably Asian.
Gamers Don't Really Care About the Industry (Until Women Are Involved)
Even though Quinn's critics are troglodytes disguised as functional human beings, they have a point in the sense that video game journalism does has ethical problems. There's an uncomfortable relationship between advertisers, developers, and reporters, and journalists often find themselves bribed or pressured into having a certain opinion. What does this have to do with Quinn, you ask? Nothing, I'm talking about a story from 2012.
That link summarizes a number of questionable practices by gaming journalists, most of which you've probably never heard about because they don't involve an unpopular woman. No guy wants to send sexual threats to a middle-aged man, and lord knows there's no desire for nude pictures of a slightly overweight dude's flaccid dick (which is why I feel safe taking so many nude selfies).
But never mind the fact that the average gamer has known there are issues with gaming journalism for as long as they've been able to read -- Quinn is the woman that finally proves it, goddammit!
After all, what's more likely? A minor controversy about an obscure woman (in an industry where a major publication once fired a reporter because a large developer and advertiser was unhappy with a review) has finally proven that the gaming media has problems that we need to speak out against? Or a bunch of sexually frustrated and generally terrible human beings saw the chance to insult and harass a woman without reprisal because they could do it under the guise of having a valid cause?
Let's look at another example. Can you think of a video game that wasn't written well? Of course you can, because half the video games in existence are barely above fan-fiction quality when it comes to plot and dialogue. Did you happen to think of Dragon Age II? I'm going to assume you did, because it's my rhetorical question. If you don't like it, go write your own.
"OK, all I need is a number and a bunch of dick jokes. Here I go."
Reviews of Dragon Age II concluded that, while it was a generally enjoyable game, it was a letdown from its predecessor. The writing was actually one of the less criticized aspects, but fans needed someone to blame for ruining their beloved franchise, so they criticized the lead writer, Jennifer Hepler.
Oh, and by criticized I mean they called her a cancer on the company, threatened to murder her children, said that her kids would have been better off aborted than having been raised by her, and encouraged her to commit suicide. You know, typical methods of criticism.
"I do this for your own good! You'll thank me later, fuckhead!"
These personal attacks were prompted by an interview she did half a decade before Dragon Age II's release. In it, she talked about how she didn't much care for combat in games. "Fans" interpreted this as Hepler being responsible for Dragon Age II's simplified combat system, because we all know that video game writers personally dictate game mechanics (it's kind of like how screenwriters decide what costumes the actors will wear, or how writers dictate where the genitalia drawings will be hidden in Disney animations).
But, hey, gamers weren't threatening Hepler because she was a woman putting her vagina emotions in a game for manly men -- they were threatening her because they didn't like how Dragon Age II had been dumbed down for the masses at the expense of hardcore fans. Just ignore that Hepler had little to do with that, or that when the same developer released Mass Effect 3 to similar disappointment a couple of years later the male lead writer didn't receive any sexualized threats. They were telling her to kill herself because they care about the quality of the gaming industry. It's just a total coincidence that the quality of the gaming industry is negatively affected only when women do things male gamers don't approve of.
We Will Never Learn From Past Mistakes
As much as I like to think I'm an endless font of original ideas, I'm far from the first person to point out that gaming has a gender problem (I also stole most of this article from a guy writing for his blog on the bus). And that's what concerns me.
See, the gaming world wrote a bunch of think-pieces about how the industry has a gender problem after, ugh, Quinngate. They look an awful lot like the pieces that were written after Hepler was threatened. They also resemble the discussions that took place after feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to call the police and leave her home after someone sent her extremely graphic threats that included the home addresses of her and her parents. Let's not forget the case of game developer and programming teacher Kathy Sierra canceling an appearance at a tech conference after receiving death threats. That was in 2007 -- look at how far we've come!
"Problem solved, guys! Next stop: racism!"
The problem is that most of these articles offer little more of a conclusion than "Hey, creepy people, you should probably stop threatening to rape and murder women because you don't like their work." I don't mean that as a criticism, because, really, what else is there to say?
But I think that makes it all too easy for male gamers to dismiss this as a fringe issue. After all, I'm an average guy and I don't go around insulting women. Only twice have I told people that I'm going to drink blood out of their cunt after I rip it open, and once it was to a guy. That's not a sick comment I made up, by the way, that's an actual threat Sarkeesian received.
Here's a picture of a chick riding a motorcycle to make up for that mental image.
It's not a fringe issue, though, at least according to this study that claims 63 percent of female gamers have been sexually harassed at some point. Oh, and 9.6 percent have quit a game because of harassment. You know, for having the audacity to want to raid dungeons or cut aliens in half with chainsaws in their spare time. No one should ever be denied their right to virtual chainsawing.
So, we wring our hands and preach to the choir of non-assholes, but what do we actually do about it? Have you ever stood up for a woman you witnessed being harassed in a game? I haven't. Oh, I've seen it happen, but I didn't want the guy doing it to start insulting me instead. Say one word and you'll get accused of standing up for someone only because you're lonely and terrible with girls. I just wanted to shoot space aliens.
If you haven't heard the term "white knight," it means "I'm 12 years old, so you don't have to take me seriously."
I'm not suggesting we all drop our virtual weapons and make stirring monologues on equality in the midst of Halo matches, but if you have a friend who likes to be an asshole on the Internet, tell him to knock it off. If you run a server, guild, or clan, ban that shit. If you have a teenager doing it, tell him he's out of the inheritance until he stops. Because if you don't, you're going to have to read this article again in a year, and I'd much rather write about how it's no longer embarrassing to be associated with the gaming community.
You can read more from Mark or learn about who he had to sleep with to become a columnist at his website.