Prior to starting this article, I want to preemptively cull any notion that I may not be a real gamer or that I don’t take the gaming scene seriously, considering I am more of an anime guy these days. I was an activist for video games throughout much of my younger years. During the 2011 Supreme Court Case that ultimately ruled that video games enjoy full free speech protections, I participated in awareness campaigns, sharing information both on forums and offline. I have also written protest letters to politicians, contributed to gaming-themed charities, and I dedicated much of my former “journalistic” career to the pursuit of meaningful, independently-developed video games.
My interests may have shifted, but I have long fought for a future where games are taken seriously as an art form, both the big triple-A titles that we all know and love, but also very much the darling indie titles that needed a spotlight.
So please understand that I come from a genuine place when I express my thorough disappointment in the gaming community.
This past week saw two back-to-back stories drop that reached internet frontpages. Firstly, there was the case of SUPERHOT receiving a patch that removed a scene which developers felt was too insensitive, in spite of it being in the game since it released 5 years ago. The scene in question forced players to kill their in-game self, which was already made optional in a prior patch and has now been removed entirely.
This went over about as well as you’d expect. The announcement garnered well over 1600 comments and threads on various subreddits amassed a lot of discussion. Sensible debate was difficult to find among the throngs of players decrying the apparent censorship, claiming it had ruined the entire game and rendered the developers forever untrustworthy. Negative reviews flooded the Steam pages of both the original and VR release of the game. And, as per usual, the blame was placed on the SJW snowflakes who are here to turn all of your games into sanitized, inoffensive kiddie toys.
Gamers had the opportunity to be a fantastic community. People from across a wide spectrum of generations who all grew up around technology, and who are characterized specifically by their appreciation for an artistic entertainment medium. Yet, for years now, I have looked on with stunned horror as I watched gamers fall for the same manipulative online bullshit that trips up technologically-illiterate Facebook relatives.
Meaningful discussion about how games can address sensitive topics or include progressive ideas in a way that adds to the experience is drowned out by frantic jeers accusing games of pandering or censorship. Gamers will quickly forget about actual threats to the gaming scene, issues that warrant actual outrage, but will harbor grudges against so-called SJWs and the developers that pandered to them for years. Even if nothing of the sort actually happened.
Where there are people looking for scapegoats, there are profiteering scumbags looking to cater to them. I could go into depth about this, but YouTuber Shaun has two excellent videos dissecting how YouTube personalities fabricated fake outrage over Cuphead being racist and Doom Eternal being anti-trans. It’s amazing to see how many videos have been made about how “insulted” the snowflakes are about these games, which all recycle the same handful of mild Tweets which had to be searched for using keywords.
These narratives always fall apart completely when you actually look into them. To this day I see the video of Dean Takahashi playing Cuphead being reposted and garnering renewed outrage. Any attempt to point out that this wasn’t footage from the actual Cuphead review and it wasn’t even being played by the person who’d go on to review the game is ignored, in favor of being unreasonably angry over nothing. Dean doesn’t play platformers much and was only recording some footage for Cuphead because his colleague wasn’t present at the convention. They posted it because his performance was hilarious, and shitstains all across the internet reposted it as “proof” that games journalists were inept and not to be trusted.
But for the saddest example of all time, look no further than Anita Sarkeesian. I too was skeptical of her work when it was first announced, believing that she started from the assumption that games were sexist and wanted funding to find actual proof for such. I wasn’t familiar with her prior work and paid it no further heed, until thousands of gamers flew into a frenzy. Sarkeesian became the devil of the games industry, enduring targeted harassment that persisted long after her video series had concluded. And for what crime? Wanting to talk about video games?
I thought we liked talking about video games?
Another news story that broke late last week exposed yet another toxic low for gamers. A subreddit for The Last of Us Part II, dedicated to staying angry over a well-liked video game from over a year ago, had been harassing the YouTuber couple of Girlfriend Reviews ever since their optimistic review of the game. Snippets of the review were held up as an attack on all gamers, you see, so the community fostered a grudge against the channel for months. This escalated when a member of the Subreddit faked death threats to himself and then threatened to take legal action.
After an investigative video was released, the full extent of the sub’s hateful and transphobic content was exposed, after which it sporadically shifted between private and public availability while mods scrambled to sanitize the sub and muster a defense.
Meanwhile game developers are routinely exploited by their employers to get as much work out of them for as little wages as possible. These employers are also known to use tax havens to dodge taxes while paying out insane bonuses to executives for making that all possible. Or how about all those games that may be lost to time as online services vanish while emulation efforts are combated or even criminalized? What about the total stagnation of Steam as a games platform? Or the ongoing exploitation of vulnerable people through predatory monetization schemes? Why waste time being angry at women having an opinion when you could be angry at the people and corporations who are actively ruining video games?
What was the actual harm done by Girlfriend Reviews, Anita Sarkeesian, Dean Takahashi, Zoe Quinn, and all the other people that were villainized by YouTubers and message boards for perceived crimes against gaming?
Certainly, not all gamers in the world can be held responsible for these incidents, but they do present a shocking image of the community we all fostered. Just like how “dumb feminist” videos have become a gateway for extremist politics, so too have “snowflakes vs video games” narratives become a entrypoint for toxic gaming subgroups. And putting aside the obvious notions of “be nice to fellow gamers” and “minorities are gamers too”, is this really how we want to enjoy video games?
Do we want to express our love for video games by complaining about a trans character in an action game for literal months after release? By uninstalling multiplayer games we put hundreds of hours into because the backstory of a character revealed that he is gay? By binge-watching hundreds of hours of YouTube videos about why feminism is ruining our fun? Shouldn’t we be playing some video games instead?