About two weeks ago, I wrote an article titled “Fight Club: How Masculine Fragility is Limiting Innovation in Video Games.” It was a very serious article written in very serious, academic language, and it’s been circulating in some very serious, highbrow sort of ways. I, myself, however, am not a very serious person. I can only maintain the illusion of being academic and adult-like for so long before I turn into a pumpkin. But, pending my inevitable assimilation into the ranks of gourd-kind, I felt I needed to address something that came up in the comment thread of that article.
It’s not uncommon in conversations about diversifying video games to find people who just … don’t want to. They’re probably the same kind of boring, backwards nincompoops who get mad about people liking themselves and people who use “Googled” as a verb. Y’know, staunch enemies of progress. Every cultural group has its fair share, and the gaming community is no exception. Now, I could easily write about the topic of just how abundant these weaslefarts are in gamer culture, and specifically about how they dominate most intellectual discourse in gaming. Don’t get me wrong: that is a problem. But that’s not why I’ve gathered you all here today.
Enemies of progress (EOPs, if you will) are generally natural manifestations of historical institutions of oppression and bigotry. As a result, I’m never all that surprised to find them among gamers. Gaming is in the midst of a very big and frequently painful transition from an almost-exclusively white hetero cis male space into something that caters a little more to—well, everyone else. It’s gotten to the point where I expect to see a few EOPs in the comment thread of anything that mentions this transition, decrying it as uncomfortable and awful and oppressive to them specifically, as gamers. (That is to say: white hetero cismale gamers, to whom the industry has always shamelessly pandered.) These kinds of comments are rooted in institutional oppression—sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, etc.—and not any kind of valid logic worth my consideration. I expect them, and when I see them, I ignore them.
But, in response to “Fight Club,” I saw a few EOPs responding in a way that kind of blew my mind. “I actually prefer violent video games,” wrote one. “It’s a great way to blow off steam after a stressful day at work. Completely doing away with violence in video games would make them really boring.”
That’s all well and good, I think … except that I never suggested completely doing away with violence in video games. In fact, I didn’t really decry violence in video games at all, except to mention that there’s a lot of it, and it isn’t the most efficient vehicle for storytelling, and that maybe we should think about making new games with new mechanics that aren’t violence. So where were these EOPs getting this ridiculous interpretation from?
You see this kind of thing a lot with discussions of diversity in gaming. You’ll be talking about something like, say, the utter dearth of main characters of color in video games, and somebody will inevitably come in and accuse you of stealing their favorite toy. “This thing is mine,” they’ll say. “Stop ruining this thing I own! Go get your own thing to ruin with your social justice hooplah.”
I’ve always had a problem with this for a myriad of reasons. For one thing, it makes me question the aptitude of their kindergarten teachers who clearly were never able to help them fully grasp the concept of sharing. For another thing, it makes it seem as though women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people are interlopers in the gaming community, invading it with the clear and present objective of making cis hetero white manchildren cry bourbon tears into their bacon-scented beards. It assumes that we haven’t been here all along, which is as naïve as it is insulting.
But there’s another, more insidious problem with the idea that video games belong to only one group of people: it’s the idea that diversifying video games would make them cease to belong to this group. It’s the idea that diversity is all-or-nothing—that diversifying video games would mean eradicating the games and gaming culture that currently exists.
I see people (mostly these aforementioned EOPs) talking about diversity as if it’s reductive. And that’s … literally the opposite of what diversity is. Diversifying games doesn’t involve taking away from game content; it involves adding to it, creating new characters and new storylines and new franchises that better represent the diversity of the audience, and of the world we live in.
To address the original article, creating and/or celebrating games that do away with violence as a core mechanic is in no way similar to making violence-heavy video games the fuel for my bi-monthly feminist killjoy bonfire. And I found it weird that a grown adult could conflate the two. That is, until I thought about it.
See, there’s this weird thing about the gaming community that’s a part of most permutations of geek culture: it’s incredibly exclusionary. There’s a lot of weird gatekeeping and geek policing that goes on; there’s a ton of unspoken expectations and rules for this behavior about who can be a part of the community and who can’t.
If you’re a woman—and especially if you’re a queer woman, a woman of color, or both—you probably experience a lot of this firsthand. It’s part of the reason FemHype exists. Women have, historically, not been allowed a seat at the table, and now that we’ve built our own table and chairs, we’re still constantly under siege. As a gamer and a woman, people line up around the block to credential you. Women who are let’s players, pro-gamers, game developers, and games journalists are subjected to a ridiculous level of scrutiny. We’re expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of any game we purport to like; we’re expected to act like we don’t notice misogyny or sexism in games or in the community; we’re expected to handle constant harassment with grace and poise; and we’re expected to pander to any and all cis hetero male viewership. Any woman who fails to fulfill these expectations is “outed” and paraded around as a fake.
This gatekeeping behavior is rooted in the idea of women as interlopers and invaders. People love to act as if gaming was a boys-only treehouse by design, and women have just recently infiltrated it using only Adam’s rib and their Feminine Wiles™. And when we start talking about opening the gate—expanding the criteria by which we classify “gamers” to include everyone in the community the gate never opened wide enough to accommodate—people get uncomfortable.
There seems to be this mentality that if the gaming community changes (that is, if it changes to acknowledge how diverse it’s actually always been) it will cease to be a space of belonging for those who have always belonged in it. To people who made it through the gate—to people who fashioned the gate in the first place—gatekeeping is vital to the maintenance of their identity and their specialness. The gaming community has always been a safe haven to these people, specifically because it excluded legions of others. Allowing diversity in the community, the industry, or within video games as a medium is something these people (EOPs, all) think they have ultimate control over. They think they have the final say as to whether or not women are allowed into communal gaming spaces.
I’ll pause a second for laughter.
My point is, when you take the gate away, the people behind it feel threatened. They feel like you’re taking away from their community or from the media they love. When you suggest something like diversifying game content or mechanics, it feels, to them, like you’re building a new gate. Gates are all they know. Exclusion is the only language they speak. Inclusion of new entities, new ideas, new types of people is so foreign that it sounds to them like you’re commandeering their space and turning it into one where they’re no longer welcome. You know, like how you’ve always been unwelcome in their space.
Oh, the irony.
And so I’m writing this article—not just because I need to state for the record that I am not, nor have I ever been anti-violence in video games, but because this is something we ought to address as a community. People calling for diversity in games and in gaming spaces aren’t trying to steal your toys. We aren’t trying to invade your home or set your treehouse on fire. We’re trying to share those toys—which, by the way, are also our toys, and always have been. We’re trying to show you new toys, better toys, and share those with you, too.
It’s time to stop pretending that video games are a gated community where only a chosen few are welcome. Video games have been and always will be a neighborhood full of color and noise, where the only barriers to happiness and success are superficial ones put in place and enforced by lovers of the status quo. The ’80s are over; enemies of progress are no longer in vogue.
So, weaselfarts: open the gate, come out into the light, and join the rest of us in the 21st century. The graphics are way better out here.