Forgot password?  |  Register  |    
User Name:     Password:    
Blog - User Editorial   

Rebooting the conversation on feminism and games-writing

On 09/06/2014 at 01:01 AM by Michael117

See More From This User »

 photo a1_zps11e2a054.jpg

If you're a Twitter user or a frequent visitor to any number of enthusiast press outlets you will have noticed a storm roiling between some gamers, writers, and developers over the past two weeks. In the sea of discussions that have occurred thus far, most comments and actions have been disappointing at best, illegal and dangerous at worst. Some writers and developers have been harassed to the point where a few have decided to leave the industry, and some have had to contact the F.B.I. and evacuate their families from their homes to deal with actionable threats.

As of today, there are at least two Twitter hashtags, #gamergate and #notyourshield, that have been co-opted by countless people using them each in as many ways as there are people involved, each offering a limited amount of solidarity in message and purpose. Some internet folks have resorted to hacking, harassment, and threats, while not much better can be said about some writers and industry folks. I have yet to see a case of a writer or developer hacking someone or threatening the life of a community member in this debacle, but some have clearly tried to fight fire with fire, to no avail.

What is easy to gleam by now is that many sides, of what perhaps could've been a reasonable debate at some point, have turned to cynicism, hatred, and vitriol, and all of this is still occurring.

Why should you care? Over the past few years gaming controversies have come and gone ad nauseum, often exiting the limelight after their internet-lifetime (typically one week) is done, and many have tended to decry the greed of publishers, the cup size of a game's heroine, or the unsatisfactory (as some thought) ending of a beloved trilogy.

Much of the fighting over the past two weeks doesn't seem to relate at all with a particular video game, a depiction of a woman in a video game, or a publisher's business practices, but instead deals more with the relationships writers have with game developers, and with some writers using feminism in a way that bashes men through chauvinism instead of promoting equality. These issues are more deeply rooted in culture and industry structure, in such ways that they keep coming up over and over, until now the "debate" is raging without any relative peace in sight.

Zoe Quinn, creator of Depression Quest, was alleged to have slept with a games writer, so some very vocal people took that hearsay as fact, connected dots along the lines of, "She's chummy with writers so that they'll highlight her game, and review it favorably."

Quinn was subsequently hacked, harassed, and threatened to say the least. Regardless of what you think of Depression Quest, and even if you passionately disagree with Zoe on any given issue, what's happened to Quinn is a witch hunt. People made up their minds based on hearsay, assumed a person guilty until proven innocent, and took up their available tools to wreck her life in any tangible way they could. Nobody has won and gaming isn't any better for it.

 photo a5_zps445b687e.jpg

Somewhere in that particular madness, if you're a reasonable person, you could ask, "What are writer-developer relationships really like? If they're pretty chummy, have they always been that way?" Another important question you should ask is, "What's the difference between a journalist and an enthusiast writer?"

There's not a great deal of journalism that occurs in the gaming press. Games writing is mostly done by enthusiasts, it's always been that way, and it's still that way. Enthusiast writers don't investigate a developer or publisher and uncover hot release dates and trailers, that's not a journalistic relationship. Journalists tend to critique, investigate, say things that are uncomfortable and personal (including social critiques you may or may not agree with), and at some point perhaps make a game, a person, or a company, look bad, and they need some sort of journalistic standards and infrastructure to not only adhere to but mostly to protect them, allowing them to uncover the dirt they seek, and publish that work.

We certainly get some pieces in games media that can be considered journalism, but the stuff most of us read is the result of a relationship between enthusiasts and their sources, and in order for that kind of stuff to happen, they all have to be a little bit chummy. And the people who occasionally do journalistic pieces likely tend to also do enthusiast writing, or work in close proximity with people who do. We can demand some more transparency about that process and those relationships, but first we should be clear about what kinds of writing we are really consuming, and what we should really expect from it.

Find writers you like and support them, even if you don't agree with them on every issue. If they're good, tell them so and engage them.

 photo a4_zps96edb063.jpg

There's some gamers out there who feel like many feminist writers have resorted to talking down to their audience, and have fallen onto practices of bashing males, writing click-bait propaganda, lumping all gamers into a group and stereotyping them all as misogynistic, all while forgetting the fact that feminism is suppose to be about equality and empathy. Understandably, many readers don't appreciate the condescension, but some gamers obviously respond to these pieces through vitriol and non-constructive behavior of their own. The only insight I could offer would be that, when someone is being a jerk and you act like a jerk back, there are then two jerks in the room and nothing has improved. That goes for both parties.

If you really don't like a writer and you think they're being terrible, tell them in a way that isn't a knee-jerk rant, a threat, or a personal data hack, and then move on with your life. Are video game opinions something we really want to hate people for? If the people around you are being unreasonable, take the high road and be decent instead of fueling this same cycle of vitriol. We can't change the whole games industry, and certainly not the whole internet, but we can all take a little responsibility for how we act on it, and maybe some day it can be a little less imperfect.

Separate from the Quinn-witch-hunt, but still heaped on top of all this, some people can't stand Anita Sarkeesian. She gets daily harassment at this point, but she's been another big target of the past two weeks despite, to my knowledge, having nothing to do with #gamergate or #imnotyourshield.

To the topic of Sarkeesian, the video series she has been developing in which she critiques the portrayals of women in games has been a lightning rod for discussion. Some of those reactions being salient, some of it less so, and the rest is usually harassment. I'm not sure how robust her research methodology is like but at the end of the day she's simply talking about video games, voicing opinions, and giving critiques that certainly aren't extreme. People treat her like this is Cold War era America and Sarkeesian has defected to the commie reds. People act as if we all need to draw lines in the sand and be pro or anti feminist. This tribalism is a common theme you can currently see on many sides not just in the reactions to her work, but also in the gamergate issue. Everybody is making a primal exercise of it, drawing lines in the sand, and making it binary.

I've watched Sarkeesian's first few presentations, and her points aren't terribly strong at times, and the issues she's bringing to light have occasionally been expressed better elsewhere, even on places like Kotaku and Polygon, but this work is still valuable to some degree. Even if I don't agree with everything Anita says, it doesn't mean women's issues and points-of-view are irrelevant.

More importantly, it doesn't mean that inequality and harassment in the game industry don't exist. Inequality isn't something you have to believe in, it's occurring all the time and you need only listen to women affected by it to get a glimpse of it. I still support Anita Sarkeesian's efforts, even if it's mostly in spirit and only in the broadest sense.

People seem to find something particular to disagree with Sarkeesian on, something that relates to a specific critique in a video of hers, and they focus so hard on their differing opinion that they forget the larger context, they lose the whole point of the movement (not Anita's productions alone but what feminism in games is suppose to be all about); to shine light on inequalities, and raise awareness to where inclusiveness is lacking then try to improve it, and hopefully to inspire people at large to crave better stories, more diversity, and more games. It's okay for us all to disagree on finer points and discuss our own critiques and opinions, this doesn't have to be binary. But we shouldn't lose sight of the bigger picture, the fact that women are often treated terrible around the video game world, and some aspects of this hobby we love can be very unwelcoming.

Like I said, I don't often agree with Sarkeesian on finer points, but coming away from her videos I wasn't filled with anger, I didn't need retribution or vindication, and I didn't feel the urge to draw lines in the sand (neither does she). I was inspired to want better stories and better games. I wanted to see the hobby I love get even better. There are a lot of women who are afraid to pursue careers in this medium because of fears of harassment, condescension, isolation, and alienation. I want women to be attracted to the fields of game design, computer science, game art, writing, music, and everything involved with this hobby we love.

 photo a3_zps2116a98e.jpeg

I'm going to paraphrase a comment that feminist author Christina Sommers made Thursday night on Twitter in regards to this week's controversy. We need to make video games and game design more inclusive to women, and I think that most gamers would agree. Gamers seem to support equality feminism. What they reject is today's male-bashing, propaganda driven, female chauvinism.

That comment helped me put the past two weeks into a context I could make sense of, more or less. To add my final thoughts to this situation, the fighting happening online is not only out of control and deplorable, but all the salient ideas and threads of reason have been left behind in its wake.

We should reboot the whole conversation and get back to the basics of each issue, because I sincerely believe there are highly valuable and worth-while goals to strive for in discussing industry transparency and especially feminism. There's a great mistrust between gamers and the press who are suppose to represent them, and both sides of that relationship are doing things to destroy that trust. Likewise there's a divide between gamers who feel like a political bias in feminism is becoming the only voice in the press, and some people on both sides of that debate are resorting to using pretty old-school political tactics, generalizing, dehumanizing the opposition, and only embracing voices that echo their own. In all these situations there are reasonable debates to have and benefits to possibly gain, but as we can see now many people on all sides have left the debates behind and fallen back on tribalism and politics.

We all love video games, and the majority of us are both passionate and reasonable. This doesn't have to be a war. No more lines in the sand.

(Update) - Forbes writer Erik Kain wrote a pretty fantastic piece giving insight to this issue, in much more detail. It's probably the most reasonable article I've seen on the past two weeks, definitely read it if you get the chance. Thank you to James for showing me that piece. I'll put the link right below.

GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games




09/06/2014 at 01:54 AM

if people would just stop caring and play video games this'd all clear up.

I think Zoe Quinn is fugly.  Any dude who slept with her deserves the ridicule, not the girl.  I dislike her for how she used Robin Williams to market her bullshit game.  my stance has lightened over the last few weeks.

None of that has ever left Pixlbit though....I expressed my view here, amongst friends, and that's how it'll stay.  I'd never try to do anything more than chat it up over a virtual brewski, lol.

Good blog, my liege.  Kind of long.  Lots of words. Sealed


09/06/2014 at 12:55 PM

I remember that, it was pretty gross when Quinn used that opportunity to plug the game. There are games out there that have tackled depression better than Depression Quest, but that game is still valuable, it helped a lot of people and raised awareness for some people. I don't know Quinn personally, but what few things I do know about her lead to me believe I might not want to be chummy with her, but not liking her so much is different than the witch hunt, and also different from critiquing Depression Quest.

Sorry the piece was so long. It really could've been broken up into two pieces, feminism and then industry transparency, and might've made more sense that way, but I tried my best to cut things and make it into a single blog that was as short as I could muster.


09/06/2014 at 05:31 PM


Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/06/2014 at 03:23 AM

damn dude, you weren't kidding.  you worked hard on this.  I'll tell you though this is probably the best article I've read about this mess.  

I have another blog in the works that kind of related to this but is a lot more human positive than my last one.  I think the thing is though, and I just realized this, as much as we all want this to go away, I don't think it is. 


09/06/2014 at 12:56 PM

SmileThanks, Matt.

I'm looking forward to your next blog!


09/06/2014 at 04:33 AM

As fara as Anita is concerned, i'm not really for your paragraph since I stopped supporting her (or never have really) because of how she doesn't do her research very well or make outright wrong claims and the fact that i've seen sources where she may have scammed much of the kickstarter money, not helped that she sometimes acts like the kind social justice warrior and feminist that is endemic on Tumblr.

Other than that, I don't have much to disagree, I thought some were spot on and I love your mention of Christina Sommers, since what she has said was very spot-on. Honestly this situation is getting into a poop throwing contest between many if not all parties. But, like i've said in some previous blogs, atleast it's exposing the flaws of gaming journalism and it'll make people think twice in trusting sites like Kotaku and Polygon.


09/06/2014 at 01:01 PM

Thanks for reading, Alex!

If you'd like to read my whole piece at some point, you should, there's no poop-slinging lol. The whole point of this piece is to step back to the core issues and refocus on what's important. People on all sides of this have left behind what was important in the first place.


09/06/2014 at 08:55 AM

I have to disagree with you about Sarkeesian.  Her "work" is poor at best.  It basically boils down to her percerption of games, which is fine, but she doesn't do the research to prove her point and doesn't take into account that many of the games, or the origins of the series, dates back 20+ years ago.  Also, she ignores the fact that some games are developed in different countries that have different beliefs and values.  I don't believe in forcing one country's values over another, just because you don't like it.  Her research is like, "I went to a couple parties over the summer and saw black people eating watermelon and drinking grape soda, so my conclusion is most black people love watermelon and grape soda."  It's harsh using racism to compare her research, but that's what it is.  Take a look at those first videos and it's obvious.  Instead of proving her point, she just shows you more videos of scenes out of context and uses big words she barely understands herself.  A few times she contradicts herself and insults women.  It translates to, "I'll show you more videos of black people eating watermelon and drinking grape soda.  See it's true.  And, let me use big words to confuse you and prove I went to a college".  In her latest videos she toned it down.  It's still there, but it's not slapping you in the face.  She's more careful with her words and she's not smugly smiling and laughing about it in the video.  She made changes because people had legitimate complaints.  Did many gamers go off the handle?  Sadly, yeah.  But their voices were heard.  What was very frustrating was that anyone that was against Sarkeesain (even legitimate disagreements) was labeled a misogynist, which was very frustrating and just fueled the problem.  Thank goodness more women got into the agruement against Sarkeesian.  A blatant, "you're a misogynist" statment wouldn't nullify a sensible debate.  I've seen many comments and video by women that say Sarkeesian doesn't represent them and they state why.  They don't say gaming is all roses (just play online for 10min), but they recognize gaming as a whole moving forward into equality (mind, without the "feminist" movement).  Sarkeesian wants you to believe it's at a standstill or moving backwards.  


09/06/2014 at 12:47 PM

I agree with all of that. I didn't elaborate on it in the piece, I only mentioned in one line how I questioned her research methodology, but other that that I didn't expand at all.

I don't agree with everything in her presentations and the points you just made are some reasons why. When she simply says things like, "All I want is more inclusiveness, better games, better stories." it's easy to get behind that general sentiment, but once we get into the finer points of what she's actually researching and the conclusions she's coming to on specific games and characters her points start getting really weak, in many cases at least. Last year I rememeber remarking that it's a little unfortunate that Sarkeesian seems to be the only face of women's issues in gaming, and clearly the most widely heard voice.

The issues in the broad sense are incredibly important and relevant, but some people who only ever listen to Sarkeesian and disagree with her seem to have written them off completely and decided to ignore women's issues. That's why I want to take the conversation back to the larger focus and get back to the important stuff to remind people that there are actually real problems to address at the core of it and benefits that could be had by discussing it all.


09/06/2014 at 02:42 PM

Not long ago, I saw a video by a beginning female developer.  She didn't have any issue with Sarkeesian's videos, but she also admitted she didn't have any issues within the gaming industry.  From her experience, though the industry isn't perfect, it was really open to her and other women that she personally knew.  Though she thought Sarkeesian's videos were harmless, I like that she stated her views and I respect that.  I think women within gaming would be better at discussing the pros and cons of it and their ideas of what's needed to move forward than the blanket "gaming is misogynistic" approach.  There's been so much mud slinging from both sides of this issue that no one is listening by now.  It probably would be best just to let the issue die a bit and come back to it when everyone has calm down.  Well, that's what I think. 

Saw this article, GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games.  Maybe you've read it already.  The author as an interesting take on what the issue really is.  Maybe he's right.  I kind of agree.  His words give me hope for the future. 


09/06/2014 at 03:42 PM

Thanks for linking that, James. That's probably the best and most reasonable article I've read so far on this whole thing. I'm going to link that in my blog. That piece goes into much more detail and I really appeciate the way he approached the issue.


09/06/2014 at 03:45 PM

Wow, this was a good read, great job.

I wished cooler heads prevailed in what became this huge mess, because as you mentioned there are worthy topics of discussion to have. It's also a shame it devolved into what it did, because it didn't do anyone any bit of good.


09/06/2014 at 03:51 PM

Thank you very much, I appreciate the feedback.

I just linked an article written by Erik Kain at Forbes that does a much better job of going in-depth with the issues that have come to light the past two weeks. It's a pretty fantastic piece and is quite reasonable and shines light on the issue much better than I did in my piece. If you'd like to check that out it's definitely worth-while. I'll put it here for you as well if you haven't read it already:

GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games


10/19/2014 at 04:20 AM

"What's the difference between a journalist and an enthusiast writer?"

All of the feminism vs man-hating debate aside-- this question of journalism vs enthusiasts has been around for years.  For the most part, journalism in games does not exist.  Game writers mostly are just there to sell you crap.  Every system that launches is awesome in their eyes... until it ain't to the readers.

Log in to your PixlBit account in the bar above or join the site to leave a comment.