#Gamergate – Not Everything is Political.

gamergate1One of the aims of #Gamergate is to de-politicise the consumer media, at least with regard to reviews (editorialising belongs in editorials). Gamers want to know about the features and qualities of the games and systems they are buying, they don’t want to read a treatise on the failings of pre-Franco anarchistic Spain in the middle of a feature on Farmville.

Even when game plots are explicitly political, injecting politics into professional reviews is pointless. A libertarian reviewer who can’t set their politics aside when reviewing the original Bioshock is going to be about as useful as a chocolate fireman for discerning what the game is about and whether it’s any good – and so it goes for all shades of the political spectrum and for causes like radical feminism.

There’s two articles which have brought this problem to my attention.

In Game Design is Always Political Owen Grieve spectacularly invalidates his own article with this passage:

To begin: Understand that, in real life, there is no such thing as objective neutrality. Everything that everyone does, at all times and places, occurs within some kind of political context – even if you’re stranded alone on a desert island, the absense of society still contributes towards this context. You can assume you will not be arrested for scrumping the odd coconut, for example. 

I reject this premise and in so doing reject everything that stems from it within the entire article – because if your base premise is wrong, then everything built upon it necessarily collapses. How and why can I reject this PoMo viewpoint? Because science exists and because science depends on objective neutrality. Gravity works the same way whether you acknowledge reality or whether you think it’s because Buddha is pressing down on your head with his finger. If objective neutrality and a fact based outlook wasn’t possible, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, because without it we wouldn’t have mathematics or science or the fruits of those enterprises such as electricity, computing and so on.

Can we apply the principles of objective neutrality and reason to other spheres? Yes, we can. Which isn’t to say there aren’t subjective experiences and values also, but even subjectivity can succumb to objective examination. Indeed, it’s possible to assert that many of the problems we face as a species are down to failures to think objectively and neutrally, so encouraging or excusing that behaviour strikes me as a dangerous game.

One need only look at the clash between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck recently on Bill Maher’s show to see this clash of ideals. Harris has a more objective, neutral outlook and believes that we can use reason to determine the most effective moral good. As such he objectively examines the issues surrounding Islam and sees it as a problem. Affleck, however, is not remotely objective or neutral and responds – not intellectually – but by hurling slander (racist) and making content free emotive arguments.

Gamergate, if you’ll allow me to skirt with hyperbole, is just another battleground in this current culture war which manifests as intellect versus emotion, objectivity versus subjectivity and authoritarianism versus libertarianism (small ‘l’). You’ll note the same problems arising in regard to Gamergate. Gamergate is about ethical, objective journalism and de-politicising games media as well as preserving the right to free expression for game developers and artists.

Gamergate’s opposition doesn’t address these, at all. Instead they make emotive arguments that devs should moderate their creativity for fear of offending people. They pretend that Gamergate is responsible (somehow) for doxxing and threats (while ignoring doxxing and threats made against Gamergate) and where Affleck disingenuously invoked racism as his silencing tactic, those against Gamergate invoke misogyny in much the same way.

In his article ‘A Thing About Gamergate‘, John Walker engages in a lot of hedging and evasion. If there’s no ‘anti-gamergate’, then there’s no Gamergate either, just people with loose sets of similar values. So that invalidates that argument. The claims that Gamergate abuse is somehow the only abuse the counts is disingenuous and it’s amazing how quickly people forget the ‘tone argument’ when they’re on the receiving end of a lot of anger.

Of COURSE people are angry at places like RPS that have been corrupt and which have wilfully misreported Gamergate since the start. Read it yourself if you fancy a good facepalm, I’ll answer some of John’s peculiar questions at the end, since Gamergate has hardly been shy about these I don’t know why he doesn’t know them already.

Here, though, I’m talking about the politics claims and how Gamergate wants reviews, at least, de-politicised.

Here’s his imaginary example of a game and his assertion that you can’t report on it without being political:

There’s a new game out, called Koala Fighters XVII. It’s a game about an elite squadron of fighter pilots, who are taking on the menace of the invading koala hordes. In it, throughout, are cutscenes showing bare-breasted women being kidnapped by the evil koalas, threatened with torture and death, to be rescued by the amazing gang of pilot men. The game is, obviously, brilliantly well made, featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game. However, when reviewing this game, gaming site Poltaku comments on how the nudity and sexual stereotypes are disappointing. Meanwhile, Sensible Gaming Reviews, leaving the politics out of games coverage, doesn’t say anything of the sort, not seeing the feature necessary to mention. GameBros4Ever, meanwhile, reviews the game and comments on how brilliantly the breasts are animated, and how great it was to feel like a powerful man in the cockpit of the plane.

All three reviews are inherently political. Choosing to mention this specific feature of the game is a political decision, whether to condemn or celebrate. And crucially, choosing not to mention it is a political decision too. Not thinking it worth mentioning, also, is born of a political position on the matter. Indifference to something of importance to others is, of course, a political position. You cannot “leave the politics out of games coverage”. Politics are inherent. What is instead meant by this demand is, by its nature, “Leave politics I don’t adhere to out of games coverage.”

Of his example reviews, only Poltaku is actually political, and I will explain why.

Poltaku’s commentary on the boobs and nudity is explicitly political and it is bringing politics into an apolitical arena, the recreational experience of playing a game. It isn’t a judgement on the game or its content, it is an extraneous insertion of the idea that nudity and ‘stereotyping’ is somehow bad (this might also be a religious objection, comparisons between the evangelical right and anti-sex ‘feminism’ in games culture is very valid and telling).

In comparison Sensible Gaming Reviews just reports on the game and puts no spin on it, leaving that up to the reader and GameBros, while more subjective and gonzo (in talking about their feelings and experience) talks about the ‘jiggle physics’ which is an objective part of this hypothetical game engine, just as it was for Dead or Alive.

Neither SGR nor GB4E have made any political judgements or recommendations, they’ve both just reported on the game as it is. Only Poltaku has inserted an entirely irrelevant political ideology into its review. While GB4E is subjective, I think the claim that Gamergate wants ‘objective reviews’ is down to poor English skills and what’s really being talked about is the depoliticisation of reviews, or at least saving the politics for editorials rather than messing up reviews with it and allowing ideological bias to prejudice examination of a consumer product.

Are there times when politics does intrude? I would argue yes, there are. I think EA’s treatment of their staff is notably awful, I think Apple and other manufacturer practices are worth covering, but in these cases one can point to actual harm to human beings and while you can make an argument for it being about outsourcing and capitalist business practices at heart it’s really more about basic human empathy.

So, then, to answer John’s queries and wrap up this blog.

What does Gamergate want?

Collective consensus seems to congregate around the following:

1. Ethical Journalism: People have referenced various codes of professional ethics to the websites in question, The Escapist implemented a good, model, set of prospective ethics. What would it actually hurt to implement similar on other sites? Why is that so hard? So objectionable? Don’t fund or fuck people you write about (and vice versa) and declare conflicts of interest. It’s not hard! (Disclosure: I have friends at The Escapist) – see? How hard was that? These standards are just in application to political and financial corruption in Indies, stand up to the AAA bribery and extortion as well and Gamergate will have your back.

2. De-Politicisation: I come primarily from tabletop gaming but I’m also involved in erotica writing and science fiction and fantasy publishing. I may lose your attention if I say ‘radical feminism’ but I’m going to anyway. Radical feminist and ‘social justice’ agendas are devastating the creative fields, especially the nerdy and geeky ones. Free expression and creative independence is seriously threatened by bullies and harassers – often in positions of power – using those positions to gatekeep on an ideological basis. People enjoy all sorts of different things and we don’t think it is the job of games media to tell us – on no basis – that what we like is somehow unacceptable, sexist or whatever else. Personal distaste doesn’t translate to a massive societal issue that must be rooted out and solved. Save it for editorials. Odds are, if we’re interested in Dragon’s Crown – for example – we already know it has fantastic and sexualised art. We don’t need or want a radical feminist spin on unproven concepts like objectification in our reviews thanks, we’re trying to work out whether it’s a good GAME.

3. Defending Free Expression: We want devs, writers, artists etc to be free to create with as few constrictions as possible, whether individually or as an aggregate. Surely, as writers yourselves you can understand that motivation? Free expression is a fundamental human right as recognised by the UN and even if you can’t accept that this IS censorship at least accept that, for creators, this atmosphere of bullying, harassment and spurious accusations of rape apology, misogyny etc has a chilling and limiting effect on free expression – and that’s not good.

Additionally, and separately, I would also suggest:

a) Report honestly on Gamergate, without obvious bias. When Gamergaters are harassed, doxxed and threatened give that the same publicity you do the antis.

b) Stop trying to split the hashtag. Gamergate rejects the harassment, doxxing and threats and a few outliers say nothing about Gamergate just as the few outliers doing the same to Gamergaters says nothing about the antis. What DOES say something about the AGGros is the disparity in the reactions and coverage. Deal with Gamergaters as they are, ignore the trolls.

c) Stop trying to paint Gamergate as misogynistic, right wing, reactionary etc etc. On aggregate Gamergate is left-libertarian, inclusive (NotYourShield) and all the rest. What’s not agreed on across the lines is the way change is gone about and – to reiterate – the corruption and politicisation of games media and the creeping censorship of creators.

There’s a rather good breakdown of these differences HERE.