Disclaimer: I’m going to use the word “asshole” a lot in this post. I will try to mix it up a bit with “asshat” and “crotchnozzle,” but apologies in advance. Also if you’re already up to speed on all of the instances mentioned in the comic, go ahead and skip to the bottom. Of course, everything below is my personal opinion and not any sort of professional psychological profile. Demographic data was based upon a 2012 and a 2008 report, with a small margin of error. Also note that I’ve used the non-elitist definition of “gamer” which includes stuff like PopCap games and Farmville. I know, I know.
The dirty underbelly of gaming culture has been a bubbling pot that has finally boiled over, spilling asshat all over the stove. As stated in the comic, assholes in gaming is nothing new, in fact most people treat it like you would a bad part of town. “Don’t play Call of Duty on Xbox live by yourself. They’ll eat you to death“. Asshole behavior has been largely chalked up to pubescent trolls and basement dwellers—waved off as a fringe consequence of any internet community. But as time went on, a few things have begun to happen: More people play games, it’s easier than ever to stalk and bully somebody online, and it’s easier than ever to call attention to this behavior.
The first one is great. To me, gaming has always been a social vehicle. Nothing is more appealing to me than the fact that one can raid a dungeon alongside an aerospace engineer, a ska drummer, and a kindergarten teacher. You’d be hard pressed to create this group in a real world setting, and it’s as rewarding as it is fun. Despite certain shortcomings on the part of the founders, PAX has been a Mecca of good gamer vibes, and I’ve yet to have more fun at a conference. I’ve been fortunate to have a largely positive online gaming experience. While this is partially attributable to the privilege of being male, it also helps that the group I rolled with was comprised of really great people.
The second is an unfortunate side effect of the breaking down of privacy barriers. Don’t like somebody and want to be a creep about it? Find their Facebook page, stalk their Twitter handle, scrawl lewd messages on their Myspace wall. Maybe they said something you don’t like. That’s fine, put a volatile, misinformative post up on Reddit. Reap karma. Rile up the new and improved internet pitchfork mob. That’s what happened to Jennifer Hepler a few months back in February (and the first of such gaming community flashpoints I can recall this year). A writer for Bioware, she said in a 2006 interview that she joined the game company out of a love for writing, not gaming. As an artist, this makes sense. To an asshole gamer, this apparently was worth ripping her to shreds with out of context quotes, flat out lies, and a Reddit post to ookie cookie* around. She became the sole reason that Dragon Age 2 sucked and Star Wars: The Old Republic was doing poorly, which makes no sense.The post on Reddit had to be taken down by moderators for flagrant lying and personal attacks. Over a 6-year old interview. Over goddamn games. You’d think people had invested their life savings into The Old Republic or something (which, frankly, has some pretty great writing). On the plus side, Bioware came out and gave their full support to Jennifer, donating to a Canadian anti-bullying group.
Speaking of women ruining gaming, fast forward to last week, when geek darling Felicia Day released a music video about something she likes: gaming. You’d think from the immediate backlash that she had released a song entitled “Screw You Basement Dwellers, I Never Liked You. I Was Only in The Guild Out of a Love of Acting (callback!).”
It may be related to her support of “casual” gamers, or it may be, as I posit above, plain old vitriol over a woman making a music video about gaming. I think it’s probably both. It’s this same “you’re ruining it for everybody” mentality that propels anti-gay legislation. Somewhere, each of these haters has it in their heads that they own the term “gamer” and playing farmville or making country songs about gaming somehow besmirches their good name. It’s like you walked into their mead hall and kicked dirt onto the fatted calf or something. I still don’t fully understand the rage. Felicia herself was slightly puzzled and mostly surprised, saying on twitter, “The amount of hatred I’ve received over the last few days about one silly video astonishes even me. And I thought I was a veteran, haha.”
By now you’re seeing a trend forming.
Thankfully, the rallying of troops isn’t unique to poor social behavior. On the contrary, the internet has done wonders for social action, awareness, and discourse. No longer is internet misconduct the Las Vegas of creepy social interactions. What happens in cs_italy, no longer stays in cs_italy. With Twitter and an ever increasing bevy of vlogs and blogs championing the cause of equality, rationality, and general non-asshole behavior, you can be assured that injustice does not go unheard of. In fact, if assholes have learned anything in the past few weeks, they have learned that when they act like assholes, they’re going to get called out on it publicly. Take Aisha Tyler (Lana! LANAAA!), who apparently made the mistake of hosting a Ubisoft conference without first getting her gamer credentials cleared by internet assholes. Because when they’re not friend-zoning you or faking orgasms, women love to pretend they play video games. Just to impress you**. This comes up every time an attractive woman says they play video games. Birthers all over again. They want to see the receipt for that SegaCD, and if you’re filming a video, you better turn that controller on and play a game. You better finish that level. Nevermind the production schedule.
Anyway, the way it used to work, some troll would flame you on a message board and all you could do was respond to them or ignore it. At best a handful of people saw your retort. Enter social media. Aisha responded quickly, spitting fire right back in their faces, and it went viral. Nobody will remember the individual criticisms or the players involved, but everybody will remember the time Aisha Tyler told gaming trolls to GFYS.
This brings us to Feminist Frequency vlogger Anita Sarkeesian, who upon starting a fundraising campaign to produce a series of videos about female video game characters, became the target of internet assholes. She hasn’t even made the videos yet, but it’s pretty well known that female characters tend to be poorly designed and lazily written. There are some great exceptions, but it’s a general weak point in game design.
For her efforts, Sarkeesian has been attacked on youtube, the kickstarter page, twitter, and her wikipedia entry has been vandalized. Really classy stuff, too. The assholes in this case ran the gamut from anti-semitism to homophobia. Their rage is again focused on the “How dare she” aspect of it, with a small element of discontent directed at the fact that she is asking for money to produce this series—AKA “How dare she…ask for money”. Honestly, given the quality of her work, she grossly undersold herself with a $6k goal1. She even explains in the video introduction on the kickstarter page why she needs funding. I’d have an easier time believing her detractors’ financial concerns if it wasn’t for the clearly misogynistic slant to the attacks. There’s a bandwagon element to flame mobs such as this, and when one doesn’t have a rational argument, they go for the easy ammunition. After the 3rd internet troll, they’ve run out of creative steam and instead move to Holocaust jokes.
Not many have offered a decent reason for why she shouldn’t move ahead with this series (in fact, it’s clear now that she really needs to do it). One calmly presented argument I’ve seen is that by critiquing rather than producing games herself, she isn’t contributing anything of value to the industry. Which is crazy. Everybody critiques video games all the time and nobody vandalizes their wikipedia pages0. I fully trust that she’ll produce a high quality series that will contribute something to the industry. Just listing the tropes alone gives writers a list of characters and plot advancements to avoid2.
This is where I’m looking to you gamers out there. Every one of you who isn’t currently on Xbox Live calling a stranger names, anyway. As Smooth Jay (another vlogger you need to be watching3) eloquently put it in a recent video, asshole gamers are just afraid. They’re acting irrationally, and possibly most of all, they’re acting out of the desire to seem cool. When a guy makes the sandwich joke and gets a hearty guffaw from his bros, not only is he encouraged to keep it up, his bros will similarly bully women in an attempt to impress their peers. Where all of us come in is telling them that it’s not cool at all. Call people out on their bigotry. You will not be popular at first, but you’ll quickly find out who among your online peers are good people or not. Plus, as stated in the comic, speaking out against bullying has an added effect of showing the targets of bullying that the community is looking out for them. You never know how many people are hiding behind “broken mics” to avoid unwanted crap from internet crotchnozzles. Lets do it right and show the world what gaming is really about.
Coincidentally, as the boiling pot of gamer hate boils over, skepticism has been having its own issues stemming from women being harassed at conventions and the perceived inaction by said convention staff. I’ve rambled on long enough, but I suggest you check out a great discussion that was had about it over on Freethought Blogs.
Update: I mentioned Lara Croft’s controversial “origin story” (Spoiler: It’s just like Batman’s, except Joe Chill tries to rape Bruce Wayne) a couple times in the post. Friend of a friend Kelly Bourdet just posted this on Motherboard about the topic.
* I’m not going to define it. Mom, don’t Google it.
** I give up. These are Christianity-level contradictions.
0 I recommend any internet haters please vandalize my wikipedia entry instead. You’d have to put one up, first. But once it’s there, go for it!
1 That said, thanks to the publicity surrounding the series, she has made $158,917 of her $6,000 goal. Thanks, haters?
2 Protip: Rape as a means of character advancement is pretty lazy. Maggie McFee of Mad Art Lab recommends the Batman Test. Put Batman in the situation you have cooked up for your character. Does it still work? If yes, go for it.
3 I could listen to the guy talk all day.
This post originally appeared over at Sci-ənce.