Built to Play

Built to Play 42: After School Special

Episode Summary

Daniel and Arman discuss the ongoing bout of harassment in the video game community, with some words from essay writer and community manager Emma Woolley

Episode Notes

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In what has to be the longest coherent rant they've ever put to audio, Dan and Arman discuss the ongoing harassment in the video game community. 

One of the first pieces I ever wrote for Built to Play was the style guide. On the podcast, and in the articles, we should limit our  use of the word gamer. We agreed to that rule because it's not a word that makes a lot of sense.  Not everyone who plays video games is a gamer, just like not everyone who watches movies is a film buff. Now it's unusable, even in the strictest sense. 

Since 'real gamers' began attacking Zoe Quinn for supposed ethical infractions or Anita Sarkeesian for inserting politics into innocent games, the term has become toxic. They've released pounds of personal information online, scared women out from their homes and riddled their social media with death threats. Let's not dance around it. These attacks have been misogynistic, largely targeted towards women who don't fixate on shooters and Nintendo nostalgia.

Some people use Quinn's activities to say all games journalism is corrupt. HASHTAGGAMERGATE! But that fundamentally misunderstands what games writing is. Most articles on sites like Gamespot and Polygon commentate and criticise. Think game reviews or big convention coverage. On the few occasions where they engage in journalism, often it's redistributing content. Here's a trailer a publisher gave us. I found this neat thing on the Internet. That's not a fault of the websites, that's just the job.

The games industry is insular and secretive, so there are few opportunities to do professional reporting. That's true with a lot of enthusiast press, like in comics, music or movies, but especially so in games. The old adage is that anyone can be a journalist. Just point a camera out your window. You have to call someone to be a reporter. When there's no one to call, however, there's not much you can do.

Sites like Polygon, USGamer and Kill Screen still go out of their way to make great articles about game development and the video game community, although few people read them. That's true of all media by the way. The Washington Post's biggest story in 2013 wasn't the Edward Snowden scandal. It was a collection of pictures of a busted Sochi bathroom.

All of this is to say that people who accuse games journalism of being corrupt are missing the point. I hesitate to call anything written on this site journalism. It's definitely not reporting. We're still honest when it comes to our opinions, as I expect most in the industry are. Enthusiast  writing serves a different purpose than conventional reporting. They disseminate product information and evaluate media.  That lack of diversity is why scaring away strong writers who go beyond that, like Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice, helps no one. They were among the few people who went beyond criticism to question the games they played and the people who made them. 'Real gamers' encourage bias in the industry by making the pool of commentators smaller and the voices less varied.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I also challenge gamers on whether they are the equivalent of music, television or film enthusiasts. Outside of video games, enthusiasts seem to recognize that their medium of choice is a broad spectrum of content, made for many audiences. Some genres might be dismissed off-hand, like the romantic comedy or pop music, but even then good versions of these make it through to critical appeal. A lot of music fans acknowledged that 'Call Me Maybe' by Carly Rae Jepsen was fun and an enjoyable piece of music ephemera. Or that while 500 Days of Summer has its problems, the film tries to take the romantic comedy in a new direction. Being a fan of a medium entails a willingness to dive into its depths and explore all possible permutations of it. It doesn't mean tripping head first into the shallow end to wallow in its most obvious features.

If you enjoy  big budget games, go ahead. No one can take that away from you. There are plenty of games made by big publishers that are genuinely great, but no game is perfect. Wolfenstein: The New Order has to be one of my favourite games of the year. It also has some groan-worthy dialogue and has terrible enemy artificial intelligence. Every game merits criticism, from indies to those old Nintendo titles.

People who have such a narrow definition of games need grow up. More people have launched an Angry Bird than have made Mario jump. More adult women play games than teenage boys. Those blockbuster franchises won't vanish any time soon, but as video games become more popular, players have be more accommodating to more kinds of people and more kind of games. There is no sense in attacking people who are trying to make games like Depression Quest, because that's only going to become more prevalent, not less.

So if gamers are people who like the most bland of the bland, and feel justified in ruining people's lives on behalf of a fool's errand, I don't want to be associated with them. Call me a game player. Call me an enthusiast. But please, I'm not a gamer. Gamers are about as self-absorbed as men's rights advocates, who can only conceive of the world in childish black and white dichotomies.

I'm embarrassed to have needed to write this rant. Games are supposed to be enjoyable. Ideally, when coming away from a great game, we should feel enriched. A well-crafted game can engender joy, sadness, hope and occasionally fun.  All this does is make me feel disappointed in all of us. Games, and the people who play them, are capable of so much more.

Thanks to writer and community manager Emma Woolley who talked to us about her article on the topic on the Globe and Mail.Note, she didn't play any part in this rant beyond what you hear in her interview. Take a listen for yourself starting 1:30. She comes off sounding far more optimistic than either Daniel or I feel right now.

We used music from the Free Music Archive: "Photosphere" by Charles Atlas and "Lost Radio Station Sings Me Up the Tunnel" by Fields of Ohio. Our opening theme was "The Libra Lunologists" by Fields of Ohio. 

**This episode was written by Daniel Rosen and produced by Arman Aghbali. **