Gamers, It's Time to Evolve -- and Accept Women as a Major Part of the Audience
In the past week, two important, interrelated gaming stories broke in the mainstream media. The first was a relatively innocuous-seeming demographic trend report about adult women overtaking adolescent boys as the largest segment of gamers. The second was about feminist game commentator Anita Sarkeesian being forced to leave her home due to death threats.
If you can look at those images and argue she doesn't have a point, go ahead and punch yourself in the face.
If you think these two stories are unconnected, you really aren't paying enough attention.
The bigger, more important story of the two is the hatred and misogyny directed at Sarkeesian. For the crime of being a woman who expresses a critical, feminist-based opinion about video games, she has been harassed, called every vile name you can imagine, threatened with rape, murder and worse. Her haters have gone so far as to create a video game where the object is to strike a picture of her until the screen goes red. Oh, and they also accuse her of making up all this harassment, on top of calling her a con artist, a liar and a person who is wrong on the Internet.
It's sickening, and it makes me ashamed to call myself a gamer.
I know, I know -- #NotAllGamers! But if we're being honest, it's too goddamn many of them. Hell, one sick fuck exhibiting this kind of behavior is too many, and it's way, way more than one. I don't really want to associate with a subculture that insists that any challenge to "the way it's always been" is tantamount to a declaration of war, thus justifying any and all tactics in response. I don't want to be associated with people who think that pointing out "Hey, women don't really get a fair shake in games" justifies calling the person with the temerity to say it a "cunt" (or worse) and wishing she'd get raped (or worse). Those people are the absolute worst humans on the planet, and when they are busy vomiting hatred and stupidity out into the world as fast as their keyboards will allow, they make all of us -- #YesAllGamers -- look bad. Worse, they're holding all of us, and gaming as a whole, back.
See, here's the thing: Games are going to evolve. Any hardcore gamer who's been arguing for years that games are art needs to understand that. It is at the very core of the argument that games are art. Art is not static. It reflects the world it is created in. It speaks to its audience, and in doing so it speaks about its audience. And that's partly why this angry, seething mob of asshats is so fucking pissed at Sarkeesian -- they know that when she critiques the casual misogyny in all too many games, she is, in a very real sense, criticizing them. More to the point, she is criticizing their casual acceptance of violence against women, of women being used as sex objects, as background decoration and as convenient plot devices.
To understand what's really got them upset, though, we need to return to that first story: Adult women gamers outnumber adolescent male gamers. If you're a guy who likes his video games full of opportunities to beat hookers with a bat and his subculture full of bro dogs who you can laugh about it with later, you see the big, decorative hook coming for you. The gong is ringing, and it rings for thee. Your time is almost at an end, and that scares you fucking stupid (not that it's too far, as you are clearly pretty fucking dumb to begin with).
Fifteen years ago, Sarkeesian would have been ignored. Gaming was almost exclusively a boys club, and anyone who didn't like that ... well, whatever. The money was all coming from young, adolescent boys and the games -- and culture -- largely reflected that. Now it comes from everywhere. Your sister games. Your mom games. Hell, your grandma probably games.There's a good chance none of them are playing what you are, but they are gaming. In another generation, two at the outside, everyone will game, just like everyone goes to the movies now. And the boys (make no mistake, it's all boys) who like things the way they are -- dumb, violent and degrading to women -- can see the writing on the wall, even if they haven't realized quite what it says.
Allow me to translate it for you -- it says you aren't that important, and you should probably get used to that idea.
Don't worry, though, because it's going to be okay. The world is going to keep spinning. Sweet games are going to keep getting made. Twenty years ago, we were all playing Resident Evil, convinced that the future had arrived. Today, you boot that up and it feels like you're playing a wax cylinder on a goddamn hand-cranked Victrola. The future is going to be the same, only more so. Games are going to be more and more artful, and that means there will be more and more serious critiques of them, from feminist perspectives, from racial perspectives, from all sorts of places. It's going to make the games better, not worse. And if you engage in those critiques, and allow yourself to learn instead of vomiting bile and random, baseless accusations at the first sign of an idea that you disagree with, it might even make you a better person. Games are going to evolve. The only question is, are you going to evolve with them?
Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.