I really would like to think that we’re on the cusp of a real watershed moment in gaming. Not in graphics fidelity, or hardware power, or anything that concrete; rather, right now, there is a conversation happening that’s opening up gaming culture and communities to some serious self-analysis – which is a pretty good thing. It’s not comfortable; folks are getting angry, on all sides of a multi-faceted debate that’s almost too complex to explain.
Thing is, it only means something if people know what’s going on, understand the concepts being engaged, and then make a decision themselves – to help change games into a better, safer place for all gamers.
The debate is around whether or not gaming culture is inherently sexist, even dangerous for women to be a part of; for the first time a lot of gamers are hearing terms like ‘rape culture’, and unsurprisingly the reactions are not positive. As more and more women (and not a few men) speak out on something that they perceive as having always been there, but yet is really only now being explored in depth, more and more gamers are feeling like they, and the hobby they love, are under personal attack.
If you have a look at some of the comments aimed at female journalists writing about any kind of gender imbalance, you can already see how personal some male gamers are taking any perceived criticism. What we can take away from this is that there’s a certain lack when it comes to critically digesting what’s actually being said.
I think, in the minds of a lot of gamers, it goes a lot like this:
Person says X is bad.
I love X.
Person must be saying that I am bad.
Fuck you, Person.
It’s a natural enough reaction, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s not what’s going on. The truth is, if gaming does have an inherent rape culture, or is sexist, or whatever, the vast majority of people involved are not even aware of it, and cannot be blamed – and are not being blamed.
Ideally, the engagement should go something like this:
Person says X is bad.
Really? I didn’t know that.
I’ll take that on board.
For that to happen, though, it helps to know what’s actually being referred to when someone talks about rape culture. Thankfully, here’s a really handy blog post from Fox Meadows that does just that, and I would call it essential reading for anyone interested in the current debate. It’s not a comfortable read, nor a short one, but I implore everyone to give it a solid look-over, and to do so without taking personal offense.
For the tl;dr crowd, though, what Meadows breaks down is what it means when people say gaming is a culture conducive to violence against women. She explains that it does not mean gamers are rapists, but rather that the culture surrounding gaming, the fact that ‘rape’ is considered a viable term for victory, and a permissible threat to others – literal or not – is deeply problematic.
Meadows’ article is also packed with links to examples of that very culture of violence in action, typically against women who have the temerity to bring it up.
If you want to have a look at an example of the way gamers treat women differently, there’s an interesting one closer to home. My homey Michelle Starr, over at CNET, observed a marked difference in how her criticism of the most recent Hitman: Absolution trailer (which sparked a lot of the current debate) was received, compared to two male journalists, namely myself and Kotaku’s Mark Serrels. It too is worth looking at, but to summarise, while Mark and I were generally engaged in a mature manner, whether our readers agreed with us or not, her commenters were much more aggressive in the nature of their responses.
As Meadows says in her piece above, and this is a paraphrase, disagreeing with someone who’s trying to point out sexism in gaming by posting porn to her wiki page kind of proves the original point.
The big question, then, is what do we all do about this now?
For one thing, gamers need to stop getting angry. We need to step back and listen to what is being said; no one’s saying that we need to stop gaming, or saying that we’re rapists ourselves, but rather that we should change the way we game, and the way we interact with those we game with. A few months ago I made a personal call, around the use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative, and I think it’s time the same should be asked of the word rape.
How about we stop using it? It hurts people.
Which is a thing right there. Way too often in this, as in many other passionate debates, a common response goes along the line of ‘I do not understand your problem, therefore it is not a problem’. That being the case, try to have a little bit of empathy; realise that different people have different perceptions of the world. Do not measure their problems by the lack of yours.
We also need to stop attacking the people who are pointing out these uncomfortable truths. Play the ball, guys, not the writer kicking it. Let’s try to engage in reasoned, mature debate, even if we do disagree with what’s being said. In fact, especially if we disagree.
But let's try to entertain the idea that the other guy or gal might just be right.
More importantly, though, we need to understand that, basically, a lot of us are still making this up as we go along. The guys behind the Hitman trailer never intended to make a paean to beating up women; they werejust literally unaware of the impact of what they were doing. I am sure that the Tomb Raider crew has the best intentions when it comes to Lara Croft’s origin story; so let’s tell them they’re wrong when they try to say that a woman needs a man to protect her from rape, but do it rationally. Similarly, I hope that when someone hears a criticism, they can pull back and listen to the facts, whether they’re a gamer, developer, or whatever.
I love gaming. Too often it ends up being work for me, but guess what I do to relax? Yeah, I find another game. But it occurs to me that we’re all in a unique position, right now, to enact real change.
Please; start listening. I beg you; stop the hate. Just... listen to what’s being said.
Can’t we all just game, and in doing so, make gaming even better?