As I have said before on a number of occasions, I do not enjoy conflict, disputes, arguments or anything that gets a bit “heated”. My own social anxiety tends to make me overthink it and repeatedly go over it in my mind and worry that it’s “personal”, even if it isn’t. And the sort of passive-aggressive comments that inevitably come up when one of these situations arises inevitably make me paranoid that they’re talking about me, even if they aren’t.
But that’s a little off the point of what I wanted to talk about, though it does involve conflict.
For those who weren’t following the debacle on Twitter earlier, Gearbox Software, developers of Borderlands 2, chatted with Eurogamer about an addon character that would be following the game’s launch. The developer in question (Hemingway? I’m writing this on my phone so can’t be arsed to multitask) commented that this character had a skill tree called “Best Friends Forever” that provided a number of significant boosts to a less skilled player, allowing them to play alongside someone very familiar with first-person shooters and still have a good time. Things like being able to ricochet bullets into enemies if you aimed vaguely near them rather than having to be properly accurate — real noob-friendly stuff, and actually a really good idea to make the game accessible to less skilled players, or two co-op partners of uneven skill.
The trouble arose when the developer referred to this particular set of abilities as “for want of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree”. This was misquoted by Eurogamer in its own article as “girlfriend mode” and the whole thing then spiralled out of control through the usual game of Chinese Whispers, making significant proportions of the Internet very angry indeed and effectively tainting what was actually a very good idea with the distinct whiff of sexism.
The dude’s words were ill-considered and stupid and Gearbox should have apologised for them rather than poncing around trying to do “damage control” like they instead chose to. The fact they were said at all is symptomatic of a large sexism problem within the video games industry, and this is an issue that should be addressed.
Addressed calmly and rationally.
Unfortunately, that latter part is what is escaping commentators on both “sides” of this debate. One side starts yelling about how awful this is, making increasingly over-the-top arguments, then the other strikes back in exactly the same way, leaving everyone looking rather foolish. I of course understand that this is something that people are passionate about — particularly feminists who work hard to promote a much-needed female equality agenda — but “passionate” should not mean the same as “angry” or, at times, “disrespectful”. Any time either side descended into all-caps sarcasm (and BOTH sides were guilty of this several times throughout the day) it just ruined the point of what they were trying to say and ended up looking rather childish, really.
I’ll reiterate: I believe sexism is a problem in society, particularly in the video games industry. But spitting feathers, swearing, making false comparisons, wilfully misquoting things and taking a “who can shout loudest” approach is just counterproductive, surely. I accept that it is frustrating every time something this stupid happens, and I agree that it should be talked about — there were plenty of people out today just wishing everyone would shut up, which isn’t a helpful attitude to take — but yelling isn’t the right way to go about it because it just leads to a downward spiral of both sides becoming more and more defensive.
Instead, what is needed is rational, sensible, calm and honest discussion. Those upset by the comments should be able to point out that they were upset — and why — without fear of reprisal. Those who didn’t see why there was a problem should open their minds and see the other side’s viewpoint rather than immediately going on the defensive. And the hidden third faction who just wanted everyone to shut up should calmly accept that different people hold different views, and just because they don’t want to hear about something doesn’t mean that no-one should talk about it.
Unfortunately, the very nature of the Internet means that immediate, passionate knee-jerk reactions are the way most people go — and once someone gets up on their high horse it’s very hard to get them down again, regardless of what viewpoint they hold. It becomes exhausting for everyone involved and everyone observing, and just ends up leaving a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth — one that could have easily been avoided had the issue been addressed promptly, calmly and rationally by everyone involved.
Instead, we get what we had today, which was a bit of an embarrassment for everyone involved. I sincerely hope that one day we can sit down and talk about these things without all of the RIGHTEOUS FURY, because then we’re much more likely to get something productive done about it.
Because seriously, people, it’s 2012 and we’re still discussing gender issues. Surely the human race should have moved past this sort of discrimination by now?
At least there are certain corners of the Internet where sexism is tackled effectively, calmly and rationally — just as it should be. Check out this great story to see How It’s Done.