Tuesday, 21 April 2015

GAMERS ARE DEAD?

This excerpt is taken from Scott Cameron's new book Understanding #Gamergate, now available for purchase at Amazon.com

On August 28, 2014, the gaming and mainstream press officially broke their silence (on Gamergate) by simultaneously publishing 10 articles denouncing gamers. All of the articles claimed that gamers, the gaming culture, or the gaming identity were “dead.”

One of the articles, a Gamasuta piece written by Leigh Alexander titled “’Gamers’ Don’t Have to be Your Audience. ‘Gamers’ Are Over,” describes Gamergate as a group of “angry young men” reacting to a changing industry that is neglecting them. Alexander writes that young men whom gaming companies marketed their products toward in the past have matured and are either not playing games or have migrated to “more fertile spaces.” Today, (so her thinking goes) young men are but one of many consumer groups game developers tailor their product to. Hence, young men have become “angry”; hence, Gamergate.

Arguing on much the same lines as Alexander, Dan Golding wrote in a blog entry called “TheEnd of Gamers” that the gaming identity was “stagnant” until recently, when games like Candy Crush could be enjoyed by men and women alike. Golding adopts the same conclusion as Alexander: that gamers (“straight white men”) are angry that the industry is no longer catering to them. As noted, there were 10 articles, plus Golding’s blog, published on August 28th. Most of them make the argument that male gamers are not being given preferential treatment by the gaming industry and have taken out their anger on Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu.

A few things can be said about this. First, the claim that male gamers are retaliating against an industry that is not paying them sufficient attention is a hypothesis that is presented as fact. It is one explanation of Gamergate that is simply assumed as true by the authors of these pieces. The stated motive of Gamergate (to the extent that it speaks with a collective voice) is that gaming journalism is rife with corruption and ideological bias (e.g. collusion between developers and journalists, ideologically-based game criticism, collusion between gaming journalists); indeed, the stated motives of Gamergate are dismissed by the writers in sneer quotes.

What is the evidence that young male gamers feel marginalized and have therefore sought to harass Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn and others out of spite? It may be true that young, male gamers are incensed that they no longer receive special attention from game developers; it may also be true that Sarkeesian et al have been harassed, yet these phenomena are unconnected. These authors assume a connection where none may exist. And even if some members of Gamergate are behind the online harassment of Quinn, Sarkeesian and others there is no reason to think they constitute the majority of Gamergate. However, if they do represent the majority of Gamergate, there are still people within Gamergate with concerns about the adherence of gaming journalists to a code of ethics that prohibits personal relationships with developers. One would think their concerns should at least be addressed, even if these writers think they are misguided.

Second, it’s not clear how Alexander and Golding came to the conclusion that Gamergate is comprised mostly of angry young men (possibly because gamers, if you exclude causal gamers, are primarily young men). But even if most people who align themselves with Gamergate are young men, what difference does it make? Are youth, anger, and maleness qualities that somehow diminish anything a person has to say? Someone who watched David Pakman’s interview with Arthur Chu might think that he is an angry young man. Does that mean that everything Arthur Chu has to say is automatically null and void? Are the concerns of men somehow less legitimate than women? Perhaps the people behind Gamergate are angry, but they could also have a legitimate reason to be angry. Alexander, however, won’t accept this possibility (Alexander calls the concern over ethics in game journalism a “straw man”).

Thirdly, everything these authors are saying about “traditional gamers” could be said of the gaming press itself. The gaming press is “dead” in the sense that it no longer has anything to offer its readers. Magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro and Nintendo Power once served a useful purpose of previewing and analyzing unreleased games. The first place you’d hear about a new game was the front cover of a gaming magazine. Now trailers are announced and you can go to the developer’s websites and view screenshots of forthcoming titles. The trailers for big-ticket games like Call of Duty debut during televised sports events, not on sites like IGN and Polygon. Nintendo can release news about upcoming games through its Nintendo Direct service.

The gaming sites are given pre-release copies of games for review but there is often an embargo on reviews that stipulate that the reviews not be published until their release date. If gamers are patient enough to wait a few days after a game is released, they are guaranteed to be treated to a “walkthrough” of the game on Youtube, in which players complete the game from beginning to end with commentary. These walkthroughs, though they may spoil some surprises, are often more informative (perhaps too informative) than the reviews that appear on gaming sites.

Then there are Youtube game reviewers like Mark Bussler of Classic Game Room and TotalBiscuit, whose reviews are not colored by ideology. They give their honest, non-ideological impressions of the games with a snort of humor. This doesn’t leave gaming sites with much content they can offer readers that can’t be found elsewhere. The only exclusive content offered by mainstream gaming sites are previews of unreleased games and interviews with industry figures; but that’s not enough to stop their precipitous decline into irrelevancy.

Game previews don’t tell readers much, since the game is still in development and will undergo many changes before a final assessment can be made of it. When a final assessment is made, it merely reflects the reviewer’s tastes, which are no more refined than Total Biscuit’s or any other Youtube personality. And if industry personalities have something to say, they can do so on a personal blog or a Youtube channel. I’m sure they can reach the press if they need to. There’s really nothing gaming sites have to offer readers that isn’t being provided by (or couldn’t in principle be provided by) independent entities.

The simultaneous appearance of the articles struck many as a coordinated, behind-the-scenes effort. If the “gamers are dead” thesis was an idea that 10 writers came to independently, it was a remarkable coincidence. On September 17th, Breitbart London columnist Milo Yannopoulis broke a story about a hidden Google group called GameJournoPros that gave some credence to backroom collusion. Yannopolis published leaked messages from the group, as well as emails, written by Kyle Orland, Ben Kuchera and other writers. Some of the authors whose pieces appeared on the 28th belonged to the group, but their commentary was not captured in the emails. Kuchera is seen in the emails encouraging other members to write a “public letter of support” on Quinn’s behalf, which possibly became the “gamers are dead” articles that appeared on the 28th. After Yannopolis’ article appeared, the group was deleted.

To his credit, Orland had the decency to write an article at Ars Techinca explaining his involvement in the group and offered an apology to his readers for accepting Quinn’s story at face value. No such apology or explanation has been forthcoming from Kuchera, however, who is still employed at Polygon. In the emails, Kuchera takes Quinn’s side without qualification, calling the central concern of Gamergate “bullshit.” Had Kuchera done a serious investigation into Gamergate and found their complaints without merit? If not, why is he so gung-ho to defend Quinn? To be sure, Kuchera is not merely expressing his private opinion about Gamegate in the leaked group messages: he’s demanding that other writers go to bat for Quinn by denouncing Gamergate. The job of a game journalist is to cover a story, should they chose to write about it, by examining the available facts on both sides; not to support one side because of (in Orland’s case) admitted personal attachments.

One more thing is worth pointing out. On December 4, 2014 Anita Sarkeesian’s boyfriend and video producer, Jonathan McIntosh uploaded a video to their Feminist Frequency channel. The video was called “25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male,” and it had originally appeared at Polygon as an article. What’s interesting about the video is that it features well-known personalities from the gaming press reading aloud each of the 25 so-called benefits. Greg Miller, Mitch Dyer, Kevin Van Ord, Arthur Gies and other gaming writers make an appearance in the video. McIntosh and the journalists seem to be sending the same message as the journalists who wrote the “Gamers are Dead” articles on August 28th. The gaming journalists who appear in the video are visually signaling their support of McIntosh and Sarkeesian. After all, why would McIntosh publish same message twice? The video could have been called “The Death of Gamers Part 2” in the sense that it was a show of solidarity among the gaming press against Gamergate.

The video also shows why Sarkeesian’s ideas are not scrutinized in the gaming press. If someone employed at IGN, Polygon or Gamespot wanted to analyze the claims made by Sarkeesian in her “Tropes vs Women” series, it would be met with internal resistance. Greg Miller, Arthur Gies, Kevin Van Ord and other editors would protest the article. If not, then why haven’t Sarkeesian’s videos been analyzed in detail? These writers have made their support for McIntosh (and by implication, Sarkeesian) public so why don’t they explain why in writing? There are in-depth critiques of Sarkeesian’s videos on Youtube by Thunderf00t and Jordan Owen that receive as many views as IGN and Polygon’s uploads; if these critiques are wrongheaded, perhaps these writers could explain why. After all, Sarkeesian and McIntosh are controversial figures. If these writers are going to come out in support of their ideas, they should state why.





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