Videogames are art. Much of the time they are pretty stupid shitty art – with dialogue and plotting that is just plain embarrassing. But they are art none the less. What sets art apart from many other human endeavours is the manner in which it is discussed. I would argue that good art requires good criticism. If we want good games then the level of discourse surrounding them needs to be of a high calibre.
I worry less about the quality of games writing than I do about the quality of games. I think writing about games is at its best right now. Yes I know there are some crappy reviewers, I get that. But there is so much great writing on the subject of games that elevate it from an embarrassing pastime to an art form worthy of being discussed alongside other media. One of those writers is Anita Sarkeesian. Anita is a gamer, a feminist, a writer and someone who is playing a part in raising the discussion of games to a level above mere “my console is better than yours” nonsense.
Sarkeesian is clearly someone who enjoys games, understands them very well and wants to make them much better than they are. The games business is lucky to have this kind of discourse surrounding it. The discussion surrounding sexism within games is a vital and positive one. The discussion benefits women, women who play games, men and men who play games. It’s a happy all inclusive venn diagram of gaming goodness.
The AAA publishers have been happily feeding gamers lazy shit. From Ubisoft’s cookie-cutter open world blandness to the outright misanthropy of Activision’s later Call of Duty titles. Games could and should be so much better. Even the lauded ones, even the award winning ones, often feature writing that I’d be embarrassed showing to friends who don’t play games or family members. I want better games – where I’m not treated like an idiot willing to lap up any old rubbish.
I’ve been playing games for 35 years. I feel things have got worse. There was a time in the 90s where game stores would be full of wonderfully complex and interesting games, games that shipped with fascinating manuals and other reading material. That’s not to say it was a utopia – we still had Night Trap and the like. But the general feeling was that gaming – at least away from consoles – was still a pursuit of the intelligent, and let’s be honest, the nerd. And so games were written from the assumption that the consumer was intelligent and at the very least was capable of reading comprehension.
No such assumption exists today. The mainstream AAA games factories assume one thing – that you are too stupid to enjoy intelligent, thoughtful gaming. Everything is signposted, every button press guided on screen – you are merely a monkey in an experiment pressing the buttons that pop up on screen. It’s pretty insulting isn’t it, that you are treated with so little respect? That even in the highest budget games very little thought is put into the quality of the actual writing while millions is spent on developing some new deferred lighting renderer. Don’t you feel hard done by? I feel insulted, so should you.
If you are male you’re lucky that this is the worst you feel. It treats you like a gibbering moron, but that’s okay, no real harm done. However for females, the depiction of your gender is at best insulting, at worst dangerous. I really don’t need to argue this. It’s a plain fact. If you want examples, well Anita Sarkeesian has plenty for you, go watch her videos.
The games industry thinks we are stupid. That it can continue to make AAA games of intellectual mediocrity. Some such as Anita Sarkeesian have stood up and said “hey, stop treating us like dirt.” And that’s great for all gamers. But how have many gamers reacted? With violence. Violence. Can you believe that? A threat to rape someone is an act of violence. A threat to murder someone is an act of violence. It is hateful, it is stupid. It makes me weep for the state of the world.
And it makes no sense.
Faceless Corporation X makes a shitty game that treats people like idiots and violence against women as unimportant. Gamers A and B play the game.
Gamer A says “hey this game is shitty, and it says that as A I am worthless. Faceless Corporation X should make better games.”
Now I’d expect gamer B to say “Yes, we really deserve better games from Faceless Corporation X.”
Instead gamer B says to A, “Shut up A, or I’ll rape you, I know where you live.”
Meanwhile Faceless Corporation X smiles and counts its money.
The current Gamersgate fiasco is two worlds colliding. We have the world of the intelligent, the academic, trying to discuss important issues where the interlocutor is a dribbling baboon. The thing that is most clear from the myriad stupid comments and forum posts I’ve read on this subject is that almost all those opposing Sarkeesian’s criticism of modern game design is that they did not understand her arguments. The number of posts I’ve seen that say “But Hitman isn’t about murdering dancers…” Yes we know. Sarkeesian knows. We all know. That wasn’t her point. Again and again I’ve read idiotic tweets and posts that seem incapable of grasping such a simple concept. In some ways that’s more depressing than the threats of violence and anger.
But it isn’t, is it? People being threatened with rape and murder because they want an intelligent debate about an artform is far from okay. It’s really a long starship flight away from being okay. Even if you disagree with Sarkeesian, if you can’t defend her right to make those points, then you’ve lost the argument. I don’t see this as women vs gamers, feminists vs gamers, social justice warriors vs gamers or any other of those ridiculous concepts. No this is about rational decent human beings versus hate, injustice and violence.
If you are on the other side, wish pain and suffering against Sarkeesian and similar critics – then what has made you this way? Why are you so unhappy? Why do you hate women so much? Even those of you who simply don’t see how women are treated by games, why does this subject make you so angry? What do you think is going to happen? That games get banned? Who is talking about that, no one as far as I can see. How have so many boys got this way? Could it be the aggression in modern pornography – or is this merely another symptom of this anger rather than a cause? I don’t know. It’s clearly a bigger issue than I can fully get my head round.
The whole sorry mess reminds me of Scott Weitzenhoffer’s famous quote regarding debating evolution with creationists.
“Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”
Boys, sort yourselves out.