Gamers: Let’s All Pick a Lane, Shall We?

Let's pick a lane. Where do we want to be?

We gamers have been under fire for ages.

We’re constantly told that our passion is juvenile at best; will turn children into godless murdering monsters at worst. Lately, the argument against our hobby has been more subtle and yet, more dismissive. Games are not art, and therefore not really worth taking seriously.

As a community, we have responded with a one-two punch against the nay-sayers: we are well informed with facts about our hobby (“Well, actually, the grand majority of games are rated ‘E’ for Everyone and so aren’t violent”) and, yes, sometimes we have been known to engage in all out on-line warfare (“This chick is an idiot! Let’s all give her book a one star rating on Amazon!”).

All in all: we defend, defend, defend. Everything is so fantastic in GamerWorld!

But I don’t think so.  I love gaming. I spend my free time writing this blog all about gaming. But I am not so in love with it that I’ve lost my reason.

We should be at the point where gamers must look at gaming with a more critical eye.  And sometimes that means we will have to acknowledge that the glass is not half full… in fact: some of the time, our glass is full of crap.  If we believe that games are art, as we’ve strenuously argued as of late, then we should be able to discuss the games at a higher level. To argue at a higher level means to acknowledge the flaws in our passion and in ourselves as members of this community.

Why is it that gamers tend to dismiss the homophobia, sexism and racism in our games and in our interactions with one another on-line? It’s as if the gamer culture thrives on being juvenile.  Tits or GTFO. See, we’re too cool and ironic to get worked up by mere political correctness.  If you can’t handle the homophobic, racist, sexist remarks on line well, then a) you are a whiny spineless worm — if this was 5 years ago I would add “hand in your man-card” — and b) get off of Xbox Live and let the REAL gamers play.

Perhaps there is also an ignorance, one born of privilege. A telling quote from N’Gai Croal and the Resident Evil 5 and racist imagery controversy:

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort  of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?

While gamers don’t have control over the racism or sexism in the games themselves, we can control the dynamic in on-line gaming. Yet, here we also see ridiculous behaviour. In a study, it was found that women received three times the negative comments in Halo 3 than their male counterparts. This sexism can`t be blamed on the industry but must be placed squarely on the shoulders of gamers. The best we have come up with is `mute, report, pwn, a strategy which places all of the responsability for policing on the shoulders of victims of these remarks, and not on the enforcement teams at Sony or Microsoft. It also absolves other gamers from the responsability of acting on behalf of fellow gamers. We have become passive on lookers while others are harassed.

Yet we pretend that this culture  of juvenile behaviour does not exist when we have to prove that gaming is a serious and adult past time.  And so we start pulling out “The average gamer is over 30 years old and so this is an adult medium.” argument.

So which is it? Are we cool and ironic and so un-PC, or are we adults playing games that, like all works, are flawed on a social level.

In the face of the big “-isms” I find that the reaction from gamers is to ridicule, and dismiss, but rarely to engage.  As a result, we give two very counter intuitive arguments in regards to gaming:

  1. Games are HIGH Art DAMMIT. You should come to appreciate the medium as I do.
  2. It’s just a game: STFU.  GTFO and stop overanalyzing.

No wonder outsiders are confused. We’re confused. We can’t keep saying that games are high art, and then when faced with the baser elements say “it’s just a game”. We gotta pick a lane, be honest with ourselves and be prepared, educated and brave enough to be critical of ourselves and our hobby.

Nope. No sexism in games. None. What. So. Ever.

These arguments are not new. There are many gaming journalists who have run up against these attitudes and tried to argue the same arguments that I am making now. I am not surprised that people whose job it is to question and engage the industry are asking these questions. I am surprised, however, that gamers haven’t acknowledged these questions more often and demanded better by now.

Maybe the confusion is with me.

If games are art, then we treat it like an artform and not a pretty picture. That means learning, questioning and being critical. We must start reading more critically. It means we identify and we start getting angry when we see sexism, racism and homophobia within a game. It means we each denounce this type of behaviour online instead of leaving the victim to defend him or herself alone. We question and question until we are satisfied.

Or if it’s just a game, then fine — don’t argue back when people say it’s just for kids and it’s irrelevant.

All I ask is that we start picking a lane.

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists? residentevil5-03-281.jpg
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  • Joseph Mikhael  On August 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Fantastic article. However, I wonder if you’ve followed the analogy through. Just as some can pick a lane to drive really fast and some choose the other lane to drive slightly above the speed limit, can’t we have some argue that they’re just games, and others argue that they’re high art (maybe I’m missing something)? I don’t expect my 15 year old cousin to opine on the artistic contributions of Gears of War, much less do I expect Victor Lucas (go Canada!) to shout sexist comments on Xbox Live…
    I do agree that video games should be taken seriously as an art form, and that like all art, it has some pros and cons, but nevertheless has allowed our society to culturally evolve once again. It’s similar to movies: you have those that are beautiful, smart, and entertaining (ART!) like Inception, and those that make us cry for Hollywood (too many examples to list).
    As for policing those who express racist, sexist attitudes, this may be a price we pay for not only having games that are artistic, but also highly entertaining… and hedonistic in certain regards.

    • yellingatpixels  On August 18, 2010 at 12:26 pm

      Good point, Joseph. I just feel like as gamers we often don`t have the debate on sexism, racism etc. The first thing that we do claim that there is no problem by dismissing the sexism and racism (and other issues with gaming). Yet by not tackling these issues, we stunt our growth.

      But it`s tough. I had one excellent comment on twitter basically asking at what point is it censorship. I am VERY anti censorship. I believe devs MUST have full artistic integrity. But are they taking this seriously? Do they see, acknowledge what they are doing and then are they making an artistic statement? Or are they showing lots of ass to get the boys to play their game?

      It’s a great debate!

  • Falelorn  On August 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Another great article Cat…

    The immature troll gamers is basically what made me quit multiplayer gaming on Xbox Live, PSN and PC.

    I loved Xbox Live when it first launched because people were friendly, but hell did it turn into a trash pit after a couple of years. Perhaps it is time for an adult gaming membership which is moderated where we do not have to deal with the ass factor… I would pay more for that.

  • violetzombie  On August 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Love this. Love.


    New subscriber here.

  • 2Belts  On August 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Pretty solid article with really good overarching points but some real issues with the arguments

    “All in all: we defend, defend, defend. Everything is so fantastic in GamerWorld!”
    This statement is a real distortion of the view points of a very heterogeneous community . Nobody believes this to be true. We’re defensive because gaming (video, table top, pen and paper) has been under attack since its inception. Only recently, since gaming has become more mainstream, have we been under attack from the media as “sex crazed teenage boys” or “lone wolves set to go off without notice”. that first one is even more hilarious when you juxtapose it with what our peers were saying to us: “sexless losers living in their parents basement”.

    While we vociferously defend our hobby to be sure there exists a certain segment of our community always pushing the evolution of gaming. Being someone who got into gaming in 1988 roughly 3 years after the release of the NES and seeing how far we’ve come as a medium I must say I’m impressed. When compared to other mediums gaming is ahead of the curve. 30 years into TV the most popular shows involved Archie Bunker who was a general bigot and Ralph Cramdon who would joke about punching his wife so hard she’d attain escape velocity. Movies same thing. Watch Turner Classic Movies one weekend and see how they referred to African Americans as well as other minorities.

    Is there room for more, of course! That’s what so exciting about gaming is the potential this medium has. Is there work to do on the social issues you mentioned? Absolutely, but to casually brush off the entire gaming community as ignoring racism, homophobia, and sexism as well as “thriving on being juvenile” not only does a disservice to those of us working to trivialise that segment of our population its frankly also insulting. I definitely remember most if not all major gaming publications/websites covering the RE5 trailer with lots of comments. Were they all intelligent and thought provoking? No! Some people had some stupid things to say just like in the general population. Same thing for the leaked MW2 footage showing a deep cover agent participating in an act of terrorism. To say we’re not where we should be i think is disingenuous as there’s no set time table for this evolution. The breadth and width of stories told and characters to play is exponentially larger than what was available from games in the past. That being said there is always room for improvement especially in the areas you mentioned and I think a not insignificant percentage of the community is on board. But making gross generalizations about the community and reducing highly complex and sometimes personal issues down to binary choices doesn’t help the debate.


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