For the last few months, I have struggled to understand why the consumers behind GamerGate are so upset.
Despite the fact that tensions around this ‘discussion’ (and I use that term broadly), it’s become nigh on impossible to take a neutral stance on this. Given that I am a journalist in the games industry (though not on the consumer-facing side, I should stress), my own perspective leans towards that of the media accused of corruption that – in my experience – simply isn’t there.
I’m not going to get into the discussion about ethics in journalism. Instead, I want to look at another side that until today I had been largely dismissive of.
My understanding is that some (that’s, I stress again, SOME) of the GamerGaters began this campaign because they believe feminists plan to ‘ruin video games’. That criticism by the likes of Anita Sarkeesian about the way women are depicted in titles like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto will somehow prevent such games from ever being made again.
Initially, I scoffed at this. What I have seen of Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series so far has all seemed reasonable to me. Even if there was something I disagreed with, she had formed her argument coherently enough that I could see her point of view. But the truth is, even if Sarkeesian was trying to destroy such games, she is one voice against the millions that buy every iteration of these triple-A blockbusters.
Yes, there have been more games targeting consumers outside the traditional 16 to 34-year-old male demographic in the past few years, many with political agendas or heavy-handed points to make. But the best-selling games every year for the past decade have invariably been: FIFA, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed. They are in no danger.
And with those titles in no danger, I couldn’t understand why some gamers were getting so upset, so outraged, so defensive. Now perhaps I do.
This morning, I was listening to the Goldfinger episode of Nerdist.com’s excellent James Bonding podcast. If you’re a fan of Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent, you owe it to yourself to give them a listen.
I have been a fan of James Bond from a very young age. My enthusiasm for his adventures is probably as old as my love of games. I am the ultimate James Bond apologist – I still maintain Die Another Day has its good moments (albeit very few of them). Bond and me: it’s true love.
So when the female guests on this Goldfinger podcasts began attacking the franchise from a feminist point of view within minutes of the episode starting, I couldn’t help but feel defensive.
It was the strangest sensation. I knew perfectly well that none of these comments are directed at me, or anyone who likes James Bond. I knew, in fact, that these women were absolutely right: Bond is a misogynistic arsehole. I’ve been watching through the films with my other half, and I become quite uncomfortable with how badly he (Connery, in particular) treats women. And yet I still felt defensive, almost hurt by some of the things said against the film, the franchise and the character. The words “No, because…” or “Yeah, but…” threatened to burst from my mouth on more than one occasion.
The only reason I can think of that would cause me to react in such an absurdly defensive manner is this: I’m too emotionally invested in the James Bond franchise.
I dread to think how many hours I’ve spent watching and rewatching these films, discussing them with friends or on podcasts, reading the books, playing the games – invest that amount of time into anything, and it’s understandable that it soon feels like a part of you. By extension, any attacks against that media feel like an attack on you, and human instinct dictates that we defend ourselves.
Perhaps this is what ran through the heads and hearts of so many GamerGaters when this whole fiasco began. The hours that many of these people pour into games is probably tenfold the amount of time I’ve spent enjoying James Bond. It’s natural that they will feel a little defensive when something they’ve chosen to invest so much time on seemingly comes under attack (if that is how they perceive it).
I am, of course, not condoning any of the abuse that has come out of this hashtag movement. Such behaviour is absolutely inexcusable under any circumstances. But perhaps now I can understand, on some level, the spark that led to such anger.