When I take off my glasses, the world becomes a different place. It’s distorted and fuzzy. Some times objects fuse together. Words on my computer screen become strands of black. Often I have trouble recognizing the shape and size of things. Years ago, I noticed that from a distance people’s heads resemble matchstick heads. In the same way, I consider problems and issues myopically–before I throw myself into something, I always second guess myself on the size and scope of an issue. Some are obviously clear: PewDiePie will not doom Western civilization, for example. For other issues, I wait and observe until I get close enough to see the true shape and size of the problem. For the past year I’ve accidentally followed the discussion about how gamers and the video game industry treat real and fictional women. Either my filter bubble grew larger this year, or just about everyone had sexism on their minds. Whatever the case, I came across this topic often, and I’m most intrigued by the lack of good discussion on the issue.
The response to women like Anita Sarkeesian that argue against sexism within the video games have been less than savory this year. Why must some gamers threaten and bully women that make strong cases against tropes in video games? Have they lost the capacity to string together a good argument? There’s favoritism at work here. It seems that some in the community have decided who can participate in video game development and who can discuss the creativity or lack of creativity in video games. Owning video games is one thing. Having a significant amount of prior experience with video games is the only way a gamer can assert their authority to discuss the cultural value of video games. The implication from these vehement reactions is that only male gamers and developers have that experience and authority.
Women should step to the side because they are either expected not to have much experience with video games or they don’t seem to have much experience with video games. Couple that with any stereotypes or misconceptions of women, and we get poor reactions. These women are disingenuous, harbringers of illegitimatizing games, political Donnas promoting an agenda that doesn’t belong “among us”, or are discussing problems that either aren’t huge or have been around for so long we’re never going to escape them, so there’s no need to talk about it. If they really understood games, sexism wouldn’t be up for discussion. These are outsiders that put the community in some kind of danger, even though that danger is unclear.
I think female (and male) critics of sexist video games are ingenuous and they’re trying to increase the cultural and social worth of video games. They have a valid voice in the matter. For one, as should be frequently mentioned if it s not already frequently mentioned, 45 percent of gamers are women. Second, simply being a human that is aware of gender dynamics qualifies someone to talk about sexism in any medium. We value (or should value) treating people with respect and representing them in an agreeable and creative way in stories.And I like to think that critical thinking is universal. That we can be just as objective as we are subjective.
Honest discussion tempered with level-headedness and temperance works better than raving trolling. Anita and others that demand better treatment of women in games have presented valid points. If anyone disagrees with them, it’s best to respond with the same objective voice that forms a good argument, instead of name-calling. Good arguments are more convincing. But it is the Internet, and in a digital world where anonymity is valued, just about anyone can fall prey to the Gyges effect. Everyone is bored or everyone is offended or everyone simply wants to say something clever. They want attention for it, and many do get that attention, but usually so people can laugh and then shame them.
Granted, there are plenty of intelligent responses on YouTube, but none of these videos I have seen are convincing. No one really stands out in challenging Sarkeesian’s or anyone else’s arguments. I don’t think anyone can argue well against these claims, because what Sarkeesian and others want are games that don’t perpetuate stereotypes, that don’t misrepresent women. Sounds like a reasonable, uncontroversial request. Without a clear, convincing case for why these critics are wrong about video games, the industry and gamer communities will evolve. Meanwhile, the gamers feebly resisting this evolution are playing violins on a sinking ship.