It's been a while since we've ran a 'Let Off Some Steam' post, but when Kotaku regular Kermitron wrote this piece, initially as a comment, a number of readers asked me to post it on the site. I read it and agreed. Internet drama, particularly as of late -- with issues of sexism and violence -- has become ubiquitous. And I think what Kermitron says has great value: sometimes we have to step back and think about what we're shouting about.
Over The Drama
So is anyone else kinda over drama around the gaming community?
I think I hit breaking point yesterday when people started complaining because Felicia Day got support from her BFF Wil Wheaton and all her fans because some writer over at Destructoid called her a glorified booth babe.
Now I’d never heard of this writer. I’m not a huge fan of Felicia Day, although I do follow her on Twitter. Outside The Guild and generally being a nerd icon (much like Wil Wheaton these days, I’m sure being Wesley Crusher makes it hard to find acting work), I have no idea what Felicia Day does.
Nevertheless, what the writer wrote on his personal Twitter was a bit dumb. People are saying Destructoid fired him, he’s saying he approached them and said it was best if he was no longer associated with them, for their benefit (not his). Naturally on the back of this, people who Jim Sterling has been mean to came out of the woodwork to demand he no longer be allowed to write for Destructoid. If Ryan Perez, why not Jim?
It was about here I just threw up my hands and decided I’d had enough. After the constant stream of sexism and rape culture discussion lately, I am dismayed at the irrationality of people on the internet. The main problem with the internet is that too many people have access to too much information to be able to use it constructively.
Take Penny Arcade for instance: when they put out their comic about RPG tropes where you rescue SIX slaves from a camp and NO MORE, you have to wonder at the plight of that poor seventh slave. That was the punchline. Tragically they decided the best way to encapsulate the plight of the slaves by suggesting that each night they are “raped to sleep by the dickwolves”. How dare they joke about rape! Except they weren’t making a rape joke. They were making a video game joke. The rape part is supposed to be horrible. There was backlash heaped upon backlash and one would assume Penny Arcade learned their lesson.
Unfortunately, now, it can be constantly thrown back at them. They decided the Hitman Absolution trailer wasn’t that bad. “OH”, the internet cried out “well you wouldn’t UNDERSTAND, because DICKWOLVES, you insensitive PRICKS.” It may as well have happened yesterday, because as long as you can read it on the internet, it’s brand new to you. It takes a quick Google search to dig up the dirt on someone, and use it against them.
Yet at the same time Mike Krahulik (aka Gabe) was among the first calling for internet justice, for e-blood to be shed when Katie Williams wrote an article about the way she was demeaned when a male PR person took control of the game she was supposed to have a hands-on with, because in his eyes her slow, methodical style of investigation-through-play was interpreted as unfamiliarity with videogames in general, despite her position as a writer for a well-known video gaming publication. The call for justice was dismissed, because this was not the action of one man, it is a disease that permeates the industry, from the people teabagging you in Halo, to the people who make the games themselves who think Lara Croft can only be tough if she endures physical abuse and hardship first.
I think this was the right call. Think about the enemies to gaming. Jack Thompson. Michael Atkinson. The ACL. Paul Christoforo. The unnamed PR rep. Now we’ve got Ryan Perez, joining the ranks of millions of people who every day post thoughtlessly sexist comments for no other reason than they have the ability to. When we’ve engaged these people we might take what we think is the high ground, but they think they have the high ground too. We’re on completely different ground, oftentimes forgetting which battle we’re even fighting.
Being reactionary to all of this horrible nonsense accomplishes nothing, at least not in the long term.
I am not diminishing the seriousness of the issues at play here. I think sexism in gaming is a serious thing. I knew it when I was in high school, playing Counter-strike over LAN in net cafes in high school. I knew it when I was playing Halo over Xbox Live. I know it now, via my exposure to gaming journalism. I experience it second hand almost every time my wife plays online multiplayer -– hell, someone my wife assumed to be a friend once confessed after the fact that he masturbated to her voice while they were talking via Xbox Live party chat, because he’d been single for a year and was feeling lonely. No word of a lie. She didn’t know how to react. She wasn’t mad about it. She felt sad for him. But after a week of agonising over it she removed him from her friendlist and even felt bad for doing it. She was a victim in that regard, and was only even aware of it because he at least had the courtesy to admit his wrongdoing.
So I will continue to stand up for the rights of anyone in the gaming community, male or female. I am particularly interested in improving the issue of sexism so women no longer have to feel victimised. I am all for equality but we are so much further away from that in the electronic world than we are in the real world, where people can suffer real repercussions for this misbehaviour.
I will continue to monitor my behaviour, and those of the people I know directly. I believe that the fight against these issues, as with any social issue, starts at the bottom. Start with yourself. Move to your peers. Let the influence spread among the community. Refuse to backslide on your principles and be an example. We can’t go to the top and demand a change, an artificial installation of new values. It won’t stick. It would be like your body rejecting a piercing.
As the consumers, we are at the bottom, the broadest, strongest part of the social pyramid. Nothing lasting can be built without a strong foundation. This is how we’re going to make things happen. Being outraged, we have succeeded in nothing. It’s possible we’ve accomplished some very negative things, the ruining of a career or two.
Be mad, sure, but this vicious mentality we have as a community has to stop. I know we don’t like being threatened by outsiders, but at the same time it seems like we’re isolated from each other, ready to turn on ourselves as soon as there’s any type of dissent in our ranks. We’re so desperate to have our hobby treated seriously as mature, responsible, that instead of treating our diseases we cut away the infection, over and over, whittling away our community with an Us vs Them mentality -- lest someone mistakenly lump in our good with our bad and develop the wrong impression.
We like to think we’re not bad people. But our hobby links me to a lot of people who are. We can’t pretend sexist, racist and generally awful people aren’t part of our gaming culture. We can’t just disavow them and pretend the problem has gone away. We have a problem that isn’t just going to go away.
Let’s just try and approach these issues more rationally. Lend support to those who need it. Stop giving a voice to people who’d only abuse it. I know it’s in our gaming mindset to have an enemy, but let’s stop creating them. With one exception, everyone I named above has a larger voice, a larger following, more support, because our community engaged with them and villainised them. The sole exception is the unnamed PR rep. Maybe he now knows what he did. Maybe he doesn’t. What matters is, no one is abusing him on twitter. No one is sliding notes under his door threatening his family.
Most importantly, no one is sympathising with him.