Staring hard at the navel
I apparently missed it, but a series of articles came out earlier in the year about denying the “gamer” identity. The articles were, predictably, inspired by gaming’s periodic bout with the various isms that plague the industry. In this case, it was Joel McHale’s comments at the VGX awards that drove the gaming critical community into a tizzy. This seems to happen fairly frequently and surrounds a certain kind of gamer with a permanent sense of outrage over the discrimination problems of the industry. While the writers of these articles are certainly right to decry the sexist, racist, transphobic, etc actions of the industry, they would do well to step back from their self-righteous anger and look at the broader picture. The gamer community certainly has issues, but the myopic focus on the atrocity de jure obscures the other aspects of this group.
The broader criticism (shown here, here, and here) is that the periodic scandals that erupt in the community are indicative of a larger pattern of abuse that characterizes the community as a whole. The current gamer class (defined as white and male) are preserving their in group by engaging in regular slander towards a number of out groups (everyone else). Certainly the comments section of just about any game article mentioning even remotely sensitive topics would seem to bear this out. The response to Carolyn Petit’s criticism of sexism in GTA V is a perfect example of how a certain portion of the gaming community vocally holds retrograde views and is willing to abuse others. If the articles stuck to attacking these individuals, I would support them. Unfortunately, they take the additional step of labeling the entire community as discriminatory, which is where the argument falls down.
The gaming community is a broad group including all levels of society and opinion. Even at the level of involved gamers who invest a great deal into games, there is considerable diversity. Look at just about any conference where these events occur and note how many times discriminatory speeches aren’t made, women aren’t insulted, and homophobia isn’t on display. Beyond strictly gaming events, consider the millions of gamers who don’t spend their days engaging the critical community at all. They have non industry jobs, raise kids, and play games as a hobby. Their level of interest may vary, but they deserve the title “gamer” and are not neatly captured by either the inward looking sub group that is people who go to developer’s conferences or 13 years olds with internet access.
The problem with being invested in solving a problem is that you tend to overemphasize the events that most correlate with whatever issue you’re dealing with. In this case, the critical community fuels any number of articles on the latest swipe at Anita Sarkeesian and ignores the vast region of gaming community space that neither engages in this behavior, nor engages with the critical community. It mischaracterizes the scope of the problem because too much of its view is limited to the online bile machine. That is not to say that these issues don’t deserve discussion; they absolutely do. Furthermore, the discussion should be displayed prominently and be considered as every bit important as, or even more than, game design. All parts of the gaming community need to stand up against anyone who would make others feel unwelcome, but we should not fall into the trap of painting everyone with such a broad brush.
There are other, better criticisms of the gamer identity. With the vast expansion of video games into the mainstream consciousness, the above authors are right to wonder whether so inclusive a term has meaning. Perhaps we’ll subdivide the gamer identity into categories where certain groups can be characterized by their discriminatory attacks and therefore disagreed with on that basis. Until then, we should avoid demonizing the whole of the community for the actions of an unfortunate few.