Toxicity Within the Gaming Culture: An Outsider’s Observation

Toxicity Within the Gaming Culture: An Outsider’s Observation

Ed. Note: This post has been written over the last week or so. It’s not as cohesive as I’d like it to be, but I wanted to get it all out. Plus, I’m still getting my writing chops back, so keep that in mind as you read this post.

It’s been a horrible couple of weeks for gaming culture, and it started when the ex of an indie developer decided to air his dirty laundry publicly, accusing his ex of sleeping her (and her gender is very important here) way to some positive reviews for her game. Which, as many gamers were quick to point out, isn’t really a game, presumably because it didn’t have any guns that go PEW PEW. Soon, there was a witch hunt against this developer* and nude photos of her were spread across the web. The man she’s accused of sleeping with in order to get this juicy review (didn’t happen) has also gotten some shit, but not nearly as much as she has.

Before I tackle this and the harassment that Anita Sarkeesian** has received for her newest Tropes vs Women video, I want to take a look at gaming culture in general. You can read my prior post on what it took for me to call myself a gamer for some of the negativity I see dominating gaming culture. Some will argue that it’s just a reflection of society in general, and while I agree, I have to wonder why it’s particularly vitriolic in gaming culture. I mean, writers and directors of movies don’t get umpteen death threats if the end of the movie isn’t agreeable to the viewers, so why is this a normal thing that happens in gaming? I mean, the developers of Call of Duty got death threats when they tweaked a weapon, for fuck’s sake. What the hell is wrong with gamers that this is a common thing?

Part of the problem is the endless patching of games. A game is released, oftentimes in an unfinished/unpolished state with the knowledge that there will be patches in the future. In the Early Access program on the Steam website, developers actively ask for gamer input. I have complicated feelings about the Early Access program which shall be left for another blog post, but suffice it to say that it’s interactive nature allows gamers to give feedback to a game in a manner that actually affects the outcome of said game. Therefore, it’s not unreasonably to say that gamers are a part of the creative process, albeit a small one. So, they have a sense of entitlement, that they DESERVE the ending they want (or the gun power or whatever). Still, that doesn’t seem like enough to inspire death/rape threats, does it?

Ed. Note: Since I started this post, two women, Mattie Brice (@xMattieBrice) and Jenn Frank (@jennatar) have been driven from games writing because of the harassment and abuse they have received online. It’s been constant; it’s been disgusting; and, yes, it’s because they are women (in Mattie’s case, a WoC) who DARE to speak their minds about games and the gaming culture. I didn’t follow Mattie (I do now), but I do follow Jenn on Twitter, and she was always willing to engage with her followers. She bent over backwards to be nice to them, and they shit all over her, anyway. They like to dress it up in ethics and blah, blah, blah, but the bottom line is, they don’t give a shit about real ethics issues like YouTubers getting compensated for positive reviews or the nepotism on major gaming sites or big companies providing different versions of their games to different venues so you have to buy multiple copies to get the full game – they’re going after freelancers who are women. I don’t doubt that there are many gamers who have legit concerns about ethics, but this ain’t it, son. 

You can run, but you can't hide
Release the hounds!

I watched Jenn Frank unravel last night on Twitter and it hurt my heart. She’s one of the women whom I consistently read when it came to games. Her award-winning piece, “He’s Still Alive” is beautiful and heartbreaking. She very open-hearted, and she’s been honest about the troubles she’s experienced in life. She wrote another excellent piece about being a teenage sexist which gave her the capacity to have empathy for the very people attacking her. I watched as she tried to be kind to her attackers time and time again, only to receive more abuse for it, and I watched as she finally quit, telling her attackers they had won. 

You know what? They might have ‘won’ by driving her out of the industry, but the industry has lost because she’s one of the best writers of said industry. She combined knowledge of games with warmth and humanity and excellent writing, and the industry is fucking poorer for it. Every time it casts out the apostates, it becomes shittier. More and more women are playing games, but why the fuck would we want to join a culture that is so virulent in its hatred for women? And, don’t give me the, “It’s just a vocal minority” bullshit. You know why I don’t multi? Because I know of the bullshit that goes on in multiplayers. The name-calling. The shaming. The posturing. And, yes, the rape talk which is endemic in gaming. You can say it’s part of society in general, but because of the interactive nature of gaming, it’s much more in-your-face in gaming than in other cultures. I don’t have to listen to someone saying he’s going to rape me when i watch a movie or read a book. If I criticize something about movies, I don’t have to worry about being called a cunt on Twitter. Ironically, the only group that holds a candle to angry gamers is the WWE fans, but that’s another post for another time. I don’t use the #GamerGate tag on Twitter because I know the hate that will come my way, and that’s the epitome of bullying – battering the opposition into submission. It may be a minority, but it poisons the entire culture.

Mad? You fucking betcha. Regardless of her writing ability (superb), Jenn didn’t deserve the shit she got, and don’t give me, “It’s the internet!” as a response, either. That’s a fucking cop-out. The intternet is not a new thing. If we haven’t figured out ways to shut down abusers, it’s about fucking time we did. Banning abusive ISPs would be a good start. Not allowing Twitter accounts to tweet at people for the first week of its inception is another reasonable suggestion. Yes, I’m mostly talking about Twitter; its desire to have as many users as possible means it won’t do a goddamn fucking thing about abuse. I suppose I can end the note and just continue with the post.

The burden is on the gaming community to clean itself up. I don’t care if it’s a vocal minority or it’s just the internet or whatever. It’s still real fucking people (mostly women and minorities) who are being affected by the bullshit, people who make the industry better, not worse.

Sorry. My thoughts are a jumbled mess. Let me try to break this down a bit. Let’s start with the MRA assholes who spew death/rape threats at people (mostly women, but also men who support said women) with whom they disagree. There’s no reasoning with them. There’s no changing their minds or ‘proving’ to them whatever the fuck  it is they’re demanding be proved. These are the assholes who create Twitter accounts solely to harass and abuse people they don’t like. They usually have anime avatars and juvenile handles, and they need to be shut down. If you’re of the majority and appalled by these guys, then say so. When you see them attacking in mass, take them on and denounce them. Every fucking time. Loudly. Publicly. Repeatedly. All men are not rapists, but rapists think that all men are like them. It’s the same with these assholes. They believe that most men agree with the way they think so every time they say something and no one rebuts them, it just reinforces their belief.

In games, when the slurs start, shut them down. Let them know it’s not OK and that they should keep that shit to themselves. It’s not easy, and no, it probably won’t win you many friends, but it’s something anyone can do. I actually don’t think most of the multiplayers who say these slurs are hardcore MRAs, but the outside veneer is the same, and the non-MRA gamer dudebros need to know it’s not OK to be such assholes while playing online.

Oh, by the way, you may have noticed that I’m not detailing any of the so-called controversy because there’s been enough ink spilled over it and because despite appearances, this post really isn’t about that. It’s more about the fact that from the outside, the gaming community still isn’t something I want to join. I reluctantly called myself a gamer in an earlier post and said I was here to stay, but the events of the past few weeks have made me realize that no, I don’t want to be a part of that shit. To be sure, i’ve been heartened by the white dudes (mostly straight, I presume) both in and out of the industry who have spoken up against the bullshit, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough when most people getting hired in all aspects of gaming are white men. It’s not enough when that same lack of diversity is reflected in the games produced. Hey! I wrote about that, too. About deliberately choosing diversity in gaming and why it’s a bonus, not a negative. I linked to Jenn Frank in the post because she has a great piece on the myth of merit in hiring in the gaming industry. It’s not enough to just say you’re for women and equality if you don’t actually do anything about it, especially if you’re in the position to do so.

But, that’s also not the point of this post. Yes, I do have one. Kind of. Let’s put aside the MRA assholes with difficulty. They’re not worth any more of our time. I want to focus on the guys out there who have been bullied all their lives and have found solace in gaming. Yes, I’m talking about white straight boys who have been outsiders all their lives. They’ve been bullied for their hobby before it went mainstream, and now, they’re watching as the hobby they love is passing them by.

Ed. Note: Still trying to make some sense of what’s been happening two days later, so this will continue to ramble along until I reach some kind of conclusion. Or not.

Don't let her get away
She looks good enough to eat.

So, ZQ sat in 4chan forums for several days and screencapped all the vile bullshit that has been directed at her, Anita Sarkeesian, Jenn Frank, and all the so-called Social Justice Warriors (SJWs).*** She tweeted screencaps last night, and here’s the storified version. What do you know? #GamerGate was a concentrated, Astroturf campaign to smear ZQ and Anita Sarkeesian. It focused on harassing them and other SJWs (specifically women) with the desire to break them. I skimmed the screencaps which are filed with vile, disgusting bullshit. These assholes treated the harassment like a game and were proud of how grotesque and ugly they got. They created #NotYourShield as a way to put on blackface (one commentor actually used that expression in his eagerness to fight the social justice war) and pretend that minorities were mad at SJWs (as if the two are mutually-exclusive) for speaking for them. The outlook is cynical and gross, but for a while, it was working on some level.

Which leads me back to the group I was talking about before the latest note. The group of guys (and, yes, they are mostly guys) who feel that the hobby they love is passing them by. They feel beleaguered by all this negative press about their beloved gaming, and they feel pressured to be something they’re not. They see games journalists scolding them and some of them calling them names, and they start digging in and pushing back. They see #GamerGate and think that finally, there is someone who addresses their concern. They insist it’s about ethics and corruption, that the harassers and abusers are just a few bad apples, etc., etc.

This is a group of guys who have been bullied most their lives, and now they feel bullied again by the onslaught of negative attention they are receiving. It’s fascinating to read their tweets, watch their videos (more than one famous YouTuber with over a hundred thousand Twitter followers have taken this side), and listen to them talk because in their minds, they’re still the victims. These interlopers are coming into their safe world and trying to take their games away from them. They think the fact that SJWs want diversity in gaming is the apocalypse and the end of games as they know it. They are pissed that we dare to ask for changes in games, and yet, these are the same guys who issue death threats if a game doesn’t end the way they think it should.

I digress. It’s easy to feel some compassion for these guys as I have written elsewhere. Here’s an excellent article by Devin Faraci, editor of Badass Digest, expounding quite eloquently on his compassion for this group of guys (having been one of them in his youth). What he and other SJWs have found is that by talking to the non-MRA assholes, there is a lot of pain and fear and some legitimate concerns with guys who don’t understand what the hell is happening to their culture. Again, I’m not talking about the assholes who are harassing and threatening people who disagree with them, but the other gamers who are honestly bewildered at what’s happening to their beloved hobby. How can they be the bad guys, the bullies, when they’ve been the outsiders for all their lives? And, I’m sympathetic to the ones who honestly don’t feel they are the dreaded gamers whom everyone (it seems) is trashing these days. Any time they say that’s not them, they get mocked or shouted down or told to just shrug it off. There was very little dialogue happening, and it’s not all the fault of one side. Both sides closed ranks fairly quickly. I’m not discussing the merits of the debate because I am firmly an SJW, but I’m critiquing some on my side for perpetuating the hate cycle.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s easy for me to walk away. As I’ve said many times, I’m new to gaming, and I never really embraced the label ‘gamer’ for many reasons. I look at the cesspool that is the community, and I say, “I want no fucking part of this.” See, I have to deal with this shit in my real world. Why the fuck would I want to do so in something that’s supposed to be fun? The gamer dudebros are mad because gaming is their escape from the real world and they don’t want to have to deal with real world shit in their games. Well, guess what? I don’t have that fucking luxury. This is where my compassion ends and this is where I bow out of trying to have a discussion with them. First of all, they wouldn’t listen to me, anyway, but even if they did, I’m fucking tired of having to bear the onus of being the reasonable one, the more empathetic one, and the one who takes the high road. Yes, many gamers have been bullied and mocked their whole life. So the fuck have I. I was a loser as a kid, getting picked on all the fucking time for so many reasons. I had no real friends, and I thought about suicide daily. I was alienated and lonely and depressed. In other words, I was them – plus, I’m Asian, female, and bisexual, which makes me a unicorn in the gaming world. And yet, I still managed to learn to be empathetic to others despite of or because of my being bullied as a kid. So, yeah, pardon me if my empathy for this group of guys only goes so far and a bigger part of me is like, “Grow the fuck up.”

You will always have your Calls of Duty and your Maddens. You don’t have to play Gone Home or Broken Ages or any point-and-clicks if you don’t want to. No one is making you! This is the part that I don’t get – the abject fear that gamer dudebros have. You can always play as a straight white dude if you want. The options to be female or have a gay relationship are just that – options. Yes, there are a few games that are from a female POV, but those aren’t that plentiful and easily ignored. Why did the fact that you could choose to be gay in Mass Effect 3 cause such a freak-out in gaming land? You didn’t have to be gay, but the mere possibility sent so many gamers in a tizzy.  It’s hard for me to fathom the reactionary nature that so many gamers have. It’s also difficult for me not to point out the hypocrisy of bitching about developers not taking risks and then excoriating them when they decline to produce cookie-cutter games.

It’s not my fight, is what I’m saying. Games are going to become more diverse – they already are – and there’s not a damn thing the gamer dudebros can do about it. Yes, they can be ugly and nasty and scream and drive away talented minorities (including women) from the industry, but in the end, it’ll be all for naught. More people who are not self-described gamers are buying and playing games. People play mobile games and social media games by the millions. ‘Casual’ games such as hidden object, match-3, etc., are fantastically popular. Even within hardcore gaming, things are slowly shifting. Not all games have to be shooters, and the gaming industry is better for it. Developers for big companies are hamstrung much of the time because they’re pressured to churn out the next big hit. By they way, using Metacritic scores to mete out bonuses – that’s an ethical problem within the industry. Indie devs mostly work for themselves and have more freedom to be creative. That’s why you see more innovative games coming from indie developers.

Don't mess with this SJW!
Hangaku Gozen, badass samurai

I think that’s one reason gamer dudebros are doubling-down – deep inside, they know they’re losing the fight. I also know that there are a ton of good white straight guys out there in gaming land, and this is where you come in. As I said above, I don’t have the patience or the inner gumption to deal with the ignorant gamers (and they wouldn’t listen to me, anyway). If you want to help out, but are unsure what to do, here’s your place to shine. You’re the ones who can engage with your fearful brethren and try to get them to see that it’s not a zero-sum game (pun semi-intended). We SJWs don’t want to take away their games – we just want to add to them. We want to expand and diversify and make games more than what they are now. That’s not something that needs to be feared, but fear it, they do. I don’t know if the good gamer dudes can make a difference, but they have a better chance than I do.

Just an aside: I haven’t fully tackled the online gaming community because I steer clear of multi for the most part. I’ve read enough and heard enough to know that I want no part of THAT culture with the slurs that get thrown around and the rape jokes and such. Again, that’s my real world. Why the hell would I want to endure that in something that’s supposed to be fun? Here, game companies have to take some responsibility for the cultures they foster. I’ve heard from gamer friends that they have reported abusers to no avail. Companies have the power to suspend/ban, but they don’t do it as much as they should because they want as many players as possible. As a result, people like me steer clear of online gaming because of the toxicity. I’m not a joiner by nature and I’d rather play by myself than put up with that shit. To be fair, I’ve played Titanfall and the tech alpha of Heroes of the Storm with none of that behavior, but it might be because I ignore most of the in-game messaging (not out of malice – out of trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do). I hear that’s the exception, though, and not the rule.

#GamerGate is dying out in thanks largely to ZQ’s infiltration mission. Here’s a post by someone who spent ten hours reading the chat log presented to him/her as proof that ZQ was cherry-picking her screencaps. Clearly, the dumper didn’t expect anyone to actually read the 3,500+ pages, which this person did. I made it a third of the way through before tapping out. The focus on harassing ZQ and trying to make her kill herself is disgusting. It puts to rest the lie that this was about ethics at all in the first place. If it was, the proper person to chastise (not harass) would be the journalist because it would have been a breach of his ethics, not hers if what they claimed happened happened – which it did not. They went after ZQ because she had the gall to make a game that they didn’t consider a real game and she got some positive acclaim for it. And she’s a woman. And she refuses to be properly cowed by them or slut-shamed or run out of the industry. That’s it. That’s the whole be-all, end-all of #GamerGate. There’s a new hashtag started by Adriel Wallick (@MsMinotaur), #gameethics, to talk about, you know, actual ethics in games, and it’s telling that some who are using #GamerGate don’t want to switch hashes.

There are many gamers who used #GamerGate without knowing/believing what it was really about who are now reeling by ZQ’s exposé of said tag. There are calls to be kind to them and not tear into them. I can respect that, but again, it’s calling for the ones who are being truly oppressed to be the bigger person, and I’m getting mighty sick and tired of having to do that. Here is one developer taking the time to actually talk to one such guy,**** and while I admire his resolve and patience, I don’t have it in me to do it myself. He noted he would have blocked and moved on but wanted to try something different. Good for him. I hope more people will do this – just not me. I also think Twitter is not a good venue for this kind of conversation because the issues are so complex and better fleshing out in person. That’s another post for another day (my love/hate relationship with Twitter), though, This exchange, which I just read, confirmed that what I have posited above (that gamers don’t want the real world intruding in their games and that they feel attacked) is true.

The thing I noticed is how angry the gamer was with his real life and how he’s just itching for a fight. That seems to describe a lot of the non-asshole gamers who have latched onto #GamerGate, and it’s tiresome for me to deal with that attitude. The developer was patient, though he did lose his temper from time to time, but it took a LOT to get through to the gamer at all. Again, I’m not here for that. Gaming is not my life, and while the culture in general may want me, the nastiness and insularity of the self-described gamers has made me decide that I’ll skip the label and just enjoy games on my own.

I watched a good woman fall apart before my eyes on Twitter as she was hounded from the industry she loved and had given nine years to. I want no part of that industry – I’m sure it’ll be fine without me.

End note: If you want to support Jenn Frank and her excellent writing, you can contribute to her Patreon. That was another part of the ‘scandal’, but also much ado about nothing.



*Not naming her because she gets enough shit as is and any mention of her brings out the trolls, big time. But, her initials are ZQ if you want to figure it out.

**I’m naming her because fuck the haters and she’s a big enough name that at this point, there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.

***Seriously? That’s the best they can do? FUCK YOU WE’RE AGAINST SOCIAL JUSTICE. Way to sway the audience to your side. Who the fuck doesn’t want to be a warrior with a badass sword??

****Found in this fantastic RPS article.


2 Responses to Toxicity Within the Gaming Culture: An Outsider’s Observation

  1. You never cease to amaze me. I’m not a gamer so I don’t have the knowledge to have an opinion regarding the actual games. I do however read you here and on Twitter and have come to trust your opinions and beliefs. Just my two cents worth. I applaud your passion for wanting change to things that are not right.

  2. Thanks, Tad. I will always speak up for equality, but I hope I got across that this is not my fight, not really. It just makes me sad to see talented women being driven out of the gaming industry.