Stop talking. Sit down. Be quiet. And listen. Listen.
I think we can all agree that the concept of “rational discourse” in video games on social media is rapidly going out of the window with each passing day. But it’s not too late! Everyone can work together to save this. But you’ll all have to do different things. Are you up to the challenge? Let’s take each of you in turn.
Those advocating for social justice
You’re fighting the good fight. You know this. Ultimately, there are plenty of human beings who are decent folk who believe in what you are fighting for. Many of them don’t speak up for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Some of them don’t want to speak up for fear of ostracisation. Some of them believe that, from their personal experience, things are fine the way they are. Some of them simply don’t want to get involved.
Your cause is just, and some weight is lent to it by the unpleasant behaviour others display towards you when you stand up for what you believe in. That does not, however, mean that you need to stoop to their level. Dial back on the “neckbeard” and “virgin” comments — disagree without insulting, otherwise you’re simply doing the exact same thing that those who use “SJW” as a pejorative are doing — and you might find more people taking your points more seriously. Likewise, deliberately poking the fire by posting things like that Beyoncé “Feminist” picture that did the rounds recently and saying how much you’re looking forward to the “nerds” getting angry over it really doesn’t help, and just makes you look rather childish.
Also, stopping this silly behaviour where anyone who doesn’t agree with your viewpoint automatically occupies the diametrically opposed extreme ideology would be a great idea, too. (Someone who disagrees with your progressive views on gender is not automatically a men’s rights activist, pick-up artist or red piller, for example.) By extension, neither your overall ideology nor your interpretation of something is automatically, fundamentally 100% correct. Both are open to criticism, discussion, disagreement and debate. Those who do so are not “wrong”, nor are they necessarily “attacking” you — though some may be. Engage with the discussion and help people understand each other — even if you’re not able to change someone’s mind — rather than escalating arguments.
Those advocating for the growth of feminist criticism of games
As someone — I forget who, I’m afraid — pointed out on Twitter the other day, the growth of feminist criticism of games simply mirrors every other art form out there. It’s not a bad thing.
What is less good is that there’s not a sufficient diversity of voices. Feminist criticism is all very well and good, but we should also take other viewpoints into account. Opinions from different sexualities, positions on the gender spectrum and different socioeconomic backgrounds should be welcomed, sought out, embraced. And that means taking the white, cissexual male viewpoint as seriously as that of anyone else. While it’s easy to argue that this is the “default”, “easy mode” position to write from, given gaming’s history, it doesn’t make it any less valid. We should also take care that a single ideology — most commonly feminism right now — doesn’t start to take over sites intended to cater to a broad, mainstream audience from a variety of backgrounds. Otherwise you get the opposite problem that the feminist critics are, in many cases, fighting for — and that’s when people start to push back.
There’s a place for feminist criticism of games, then, but there’s also a place for people who subscribe to different ideologies and want to read things in different ways. We should embrace all the different, diverse ways of looking at things rather than treating one as the “correct” way.
Those who have expressed anger at the above two groups
I understand where you’re coming from. It’s easy to feel threatened when someone from outside your demographic starts to criticise something you’re passionate about — particularly when they do so in a manner which feels like you’re being personally attacked for the things you love.
The smart thing to do is to write or record a well-considered rebuttal. The smart thing to do is to engage with the discussion. The smart thing to do is to respectfully disagree, outline your beliefs and take things from there. Or, in some cases, the smart thing to do is to walk away and simply continue enjoying that thing you enjoy, safe in the knowledge that you like it and it doesn’t really matter what some stranger somewhere on the Internet thinks about it.
The un-smart thing to do is to start yelling, using abusive language and saying that you hope someone you disagree with dies, gets raped or has something otherwise unpleasant happen to them. What happens when you do that is that they then become aggressive, too, start publicly shaming you, calling you a neckbeard virgin and setting their own pack of (dick)wolves on you. From there it escalates, with what was once a simple difference of opinion becoming campaigns of harassment on both sides, the conclusion of which is something along the lines of the whole Zoe Quinn debacle which unfolded recently, in which no-one on either side particularly comes out smelling of roses.
Those who wish we could just get back to enjoying games
I understand completely. However, one thing to note is that the “good old days” you want to return to were a very different time from now in many ways. In 2014, we’re in a situation where it is possible to do an in-depth literary-style analysis of a narrative based game, or to pick apart the artistic influences evident in a more abstract title. That doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to do so, of course, but saying we should just stop trying to take games so seriously isn’t the answer, either.
Rather, much like what I mentioned regarding feminist criticism above, we could do for greater diversity of voices. There’s still a place for light-hearted ’90s style games journalism, in which the sheer joy of being a gamer is expressed. There’s a place for helpful, “objective” buyers’ guides. There’s a place for in-depth, chin-strokey dissections of creative works. And there’s a place for criticism based around a specific ideology — though as noted above, it’s important to ensure we have numerous different ideologies represented, not just those perceived as “the right one”.
The trouble we have at the minute is that the amorphous blob that is “games journalism” clumsily lurches from one thing to another, never quite managing to get that balance perfect. What we need is for outlets to distinguish themselves from one another more strongly, with each ultimately becoming a good home for those who enjoy different types of coverage. At present, however, sites end up with in-depth feminist criticism clumsily rammed up against coverage of the latest DLC for Minecraft and “do you remember?” retrospectives of games from years gone by. Vastly different groups of readers are constantly butting heads with one another, and while there’s value in making people step out of their comfort zone and confront viewpoints that they might not share, this is not the optimal means of doing so.
What’s the answer? Bollocksed if I know, but then I’ve washed my hands of the whole affair. If I had my way, I’d just relaunch PC Zone with its original team, in the ’90s, and exclusively read that until the end of time.