Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Angry Black Man: Oh Gamergate. Why?

I'm proud to be a gamer. See when I was a kid I sucked at sports, and while I won't argue that reflex time has nothing to do with skill in games I was better able to understand and adapt to the systems inherit to them than in physical sports where at least for me it was really hard to come out on top by outthinking the other guy. To this day I still can't describe exactly what a point guard does but I do get the idea behind spearmen/footmen/calvary.  With video games it felt like the playing field was level and that I had chance even if I wasn't the most naturally strong, or tall, or fast guy on the court.

Video games always felt fair!

Heeeeehhhhh, we got to talk.
I have some issues with games journalism especially Youtube funding and, "sponsored" let's play videos but #Gamergate is stupid. It's making us all look like assholes. Please stop it.

Okay what is Gamergate you might ask?

I'm Sorry Yes It Is News
So roughly two weeks ago the ex-boyfriend of a female game developer created a blog to write about her infidelity. Kind of scummy, but he also insinuated that she slept with a guy for a review. If true, its all very dubious, but if true yes it is a scandal. I'm sorry but if this thing happened in political journalism with a reporter sleeping with a politician they were covering that reporter would probably be fired on the spot at least in theory.

That said since she's not a journalist why is everyone focusing on her instead of the one guy mentioned that's actually of consequence in that whole thing. Oh wait. I know why. God damn it.

But anyway video game journalism is in a weird transitional state and ethics need to be talked about and I will in a bit.

Update: Here is Kotaku's response to the controversy. It's pretty old and I'm surprised I didn't find it sooner. And the ex made another blog post clearing up the time frame. Still a douche though. 

But things do not happen in a vacuum.

That's Not Okay
First off reading the blog it's clear that this guy didn't write it because his girlfriend slept with a reporter and he's concerned about the journalism ethics of Kotaku. But because she wasn't sleeping with him!

Seriously that blog is one of of the most entitled, fucked up things I've read on the internet and I've been around the bend, and that includes crazy conspiracy and neo-nazi sites. It's that bad. Short of actual violence or physical destruction I got nothin' worse I can think of.  And all of that bile became entangled in whatever other discussion was to be had about video game journalism ethics.  Meaning we aren't talking about video game journalism ethics but rather slut shamming somebody most of these idiots didn't even know about before it became "cool" to send her death threats.

Also all of this happened around the same time as the Hollywood 4chan leak so there is also that baggage especially considering the douchebag posted screenshots of her facebook messages and photos.

Gamers Against Bigotry
All of the crazy really came out of the woodwork. That is so not okay. And evidently a crap ton of video game professionals agreed and signed an open letter against that type of crap.

Again things do not happen in a vacuum

Harassment has long been a problem in the video game community and a lot of people have addressed and opined on it. Over the last few years that discussion has morphed into a larger discussion on the media theories regarding race and gender in games and one of its figureheads is Anita Sarkeesian creator of the webseries Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs Women where she discusses how women are portrayed in fictional media.

She has long had to deal with that crap and the letter can also be seen as in support of her.


And back to video game journalism and its weird transitional state. I'll be honest while part of this is stuff I lived through I'm kind of cribbing from a really good Guardian article and while I am writing this I eyeballed the first few paragraphs of a slate article published about an hour ago.

As I mentioned before I kind of got into video games because I was a young nerd and it was something I was good at, or at least competent at not related to school.  And for a really long time that's how both video games and video gamers were perceived.

Then about a decade ago something weird happened. Video games started gaining mainstream success. That changed the video game journalism landscape.

Wait let me back up.

In the Beginning in the Long Long Ago
So the "traditional" landscape has basically been made up of three forces. Promotional marketing, consumer reporting, and fandom. And in a weird way all of this hullabaloo is being stirred by the fracturing and infighting of those or at least the successors those three forces.

Promotional Marketing

Moviebob explained the importance of Nintendo Power a long time ago so here's a link. But it was one of the first gaming magazines and set the tone of what game journalism would look like for roughly two decades.

And it's weird. See Nintendo Power was a promotional tool of Nintendo but due to it's quality it became more than that, affecting how the gaming community and culture discussed games before it was even clear that there was a gaming community and culture.

It and magazines like it projected the self image of gamers. In a way it told us who we were or at least who we wanted to be. MARKETING. Though kind of cool marketing.

I'll get to this later but, yes there is a gamer culture beyond person who plays games and the jackasses on Xbox Live, just like there is a film culture and a literary culture and thanks to Nintendo Power and other industry created magazines like it the makers of those games and their companies had a say in what that culture would be from the consumer's perspective since gaming's birth.

Consumer Reporting

Most of that stuff happened when I was too young to think about it. My experience with the gaming press came much later around the early 2000's tech boom. See to me and many at the time video games were just another facet of that tech boom. Ask any PC gamer what gets them to upgrade their rig and they'll tell you games.

And thus was the primary role of the gaming press at the turn of the century, telling gamers which hardware, peripherals and games were worth their money and maybe also how to get the most out of all that stuff.

Remember a lot of the tech magazines and even televisions shows dealt with the explosion of consumer technology and games fit the bill, especially when the cheapest DVD player on the market was Sony's Playstation 2.

A Brief Aside
And this is where I kind have do a keyboard headbutt. Yes. Consumer reporting is and always has been generally too close to the industries they cover. And I might as well say this now and get it out of the way.

To the small sliver of people who are not being misogynistic assholes using this as an excuse to bully anybody they don't like and/or getting on a meme bandwagon they don't understand issues of journalism are important to the industry and are being discussed, but some of these "scandals" are how not just video game but technology and entertainment journalism have operated for decades.

The reason why it still goes on is because nobody has thought of a better way to get consumer information quickly out to the masses without the cooperation of the various industries themselves or really deep pockets. The ads to the audience are of the same products being reviewed. In order for the products be reviewed cheaply and timely arrangements need to be made with the manufacturers. It's the type of thing everybody knows, everybody is mad about but nobody has a really good solution to, except for maybe excluding the entire tech/gaming press to the obscenely rich which comes with its own set of problems.

And yes this is where I have to flash my angry black guy bonifides.


My point is that while that stuff is a problem it's not one born out of the sort of malice the twitter rants would have you believe and that even if it were some of the crap that's gone down can't be justified. The most depressing part of this to me is that a valid argument that was already being had got entangled with various personalities and degenerated what can best be called a clusterfuck caused by selfrightous dicks.

See all of that stuff got latched on to the arguments after the fact. Gamergate originally started out as a reaction against two women who had the "audacity" criticize the medium and the industry after an ex of one of them did some stupid stuff and the game professionals who decided to come to their defense when the idiots came out of the woodwork.

Where was I right.

Fandom and Nerd Culture
It was the 90's. How I miss them. While internet 2.0 will have bigger consequences I'll explain in a moment the old school internet exposed people to new ideas and media they otherwise wouldn't have access to, the economy didn't hurt either. And older forms of media adapted to these new niches creating the birth of what is now known as nerd culture.

And video games with their connection to technology became a huge part of that, especially once it became clear that modern video game systems are basically modified computers.

Web 2.0 Changed Everything
Okay. There was a time when I would have shrugged off web 2.0 as a kitschy buzzword but it really did change everything. Web 2.0 is the collective name of a number of innovations that happened roughly around 2004 that radically changed how the internet looked and operated.

The availability of internet video, commenting sections, social networking, and blogging took the conversation away from the traditional journalists and created a new breed of internet commentators. And they came in a few distinctively new flavors that the old press limited to the page just couldn't.

Youtubers and Bloggers
Okay almost everyone of these categories involve Youtube and Blogging in some way, but I want to talks about a very specific subgroup. The explosion of the internet like in other forms of journalism has supplanted a lot of the old guard. A lot of the stuff they used to do, interviews, reviews, computer benchmarks, and strategy guides are now being done by anybody who is passionate enough about this stuff with a computer.

But right now the internet isn't as young as it used to be. These guys are becoming more and more savvy about advertising, production, collaboration, business and the industry.  There is an old joke, well new old joke that if you want to get rich on YouTube time travel back to 2006.

Let's Players- Oh these guys probably deserve a whole post to themselves. In case you don't know let's plays are playthroughs of video games often intercut with commentary. They are really new and are being discussed elsewhere with Pewdiepie's Let's Play channel being on the top of the Youtube heap.

In a way being able to play a game and discuss it as you're playing it is a new form of video game journalism but since it's so new and because as stated ...consumer reporting, there is a concern regarding the transparency of funding for the people who do it. Especially those who do it regularly. Youtube has a not unfounded reputation of being the people's medium and there is a concern marketers are going to try leverage these guys reputation as being just a bunch of college kids having fun. That's not cool and is kind of depressing. Especially considering I really find let's plays both entertaining and informative. Again the cure here is sunshine. But again new form of media so yeah.

And then there are the copyright issues.

A while ago I said the internet was basically acting as a public film school, allowing serious conversations to be had using popular media as a common reference pool. Same dealie.  And this is largely part of the conflict. These guys want video games to be taken seriously as a medium the same way film is and right now they feel the key to that is the audience taking the medium seriously asking questions what it all means. And there is a vocal subgroup of the gamer culture that's screaming at them to shut up so they can go back to playing Call of Duty. Since this thing is so long which group do you think my sympathies lie with.

Like with damn near every other form of manufacturing the guys who make stuff can now directly communicate with everyone else and that's interesting. If a server's down or patch is coming there is a chance you might not be talking to a marketing team or even a Twitter intern but an actual programmer. Quickie aside I know it goes against every instinct marketers have but talking to and engaging with an actual person is so much better than a team warts and all.

Broadband and new genres like tower defense and MOBA have really seen the pro-gaming scene take off. I have mostly ignored both genres but I shouldn't have.

Everyone Else
Look it's the internet between twitter and forums everyone talks, and everyone listens. And I might sugest that that's kind of part of the problem. Let me put on my misanthrope hat for a second. 90 percent of humanity is made up of douchebags it's just that we don't notice because in normal life you can avoid idiots, to a point at least but on the internet that stuff is harder and harder to avoid as everyone has a megaphone.

The Bro Factor

I don't hate bros. Heck depending on what day of the week it is, I kind am one. Why is this relevant? Well again Bob said it best but the early days of video games they were very much influenced by Japan as that was the country that housed Nintendo, Sega and Sony the biggest video game companies of the 90's. But Microsoft threw thier hat into the ring.

The Japanese audience hated the Xbox and this one isn't doing much better but it and it's killer app, Halo found an audience as one of the go to time killers in American college dorm rooms and frat houses. And that audience and its image has been integrated into gaming culture as a whole.

The problem is that this is the audience Microsoft has. For all it's weight in the industry Microsoft has never made much a dent in the old school Japanese market and this is the audience they feel they have to deal with, so more and more they pander to it making bros the new image of gaming culture.

And a lot of people feel this is where a lot of the stupid of the scene is coming from. It may be or it may not be but it's something to consider.

Not all bros are jerks.

Again part of where I'm coming from is the perspective of an African American and marketers have been insultingly pandering to us since... well since the civil rights movement forced them to no longer exploit or ignore us which they do anyway but allow me to go on.

It takes a while for the intended audience of the marketing to filter up into places where they can actually make decisions about it. So you have a whole bunch of guys who are only exposed to a culture from outside of it trying to communicate and resonate with it.

But again as a black guy I also realize that when it does connect it can create a negative feedback loop as people cop elements of that culture without really realizing what they mean.

For example it took me a long time to like rap because I conflated the powerful sincere anger and angst of early 90's and late 80's rap with the posturing and peacocking of early 2000's rap.   Oh who the hell am I kidding, "Party Up" is decent musical junk food as long as you don't make the mistake of taking it as anything other than that which a disturbingly large number of my generation did.

Or on a more serious note.

It's the difference between the Black Panthers of the 60's and the Black Panthers of the 70's.

As a response there is a segment of the gaming community more and more ashamed that that's what people think when they view gamers or even the gaming community. So there has been several campaigns by well meaning people to abolish the term gamer. Even Nintendo ran a "I am not a gamer" ad campaign for the 3DS... then hastily backtracked when people hated those ads.

I kind of disagree with that. For better or worse gaming culture, i.e the social infrastructure, tradition, perceptions and conceptions, surrounding games exist in the same way they do with other forms of media like film and literature. And it seems to me the options are to either pretend they don't or come up with some new arbitrary and potentially clunky word.  And neither option makes sense to me. I never liked film goer. A film is not a place.  I like gamer. I play games. I know about the mechanics of games. I know video game logic.  Gamer works.

The Rise of The Indie and Casual Scenes

So you know all that stuff I said about Microsoft adopting the bro audience. Well Nintendo took the opposite approach and a lot of "The Analyzers" love them for it. Justified or not Nintindo assumed their traditional aesthetic wouldn't fly with the new audience of modern gaming.

So their strategy was to engage... everybody else. This was financially successful for them but it served to fragment the gaming market. With the major players of my generation persuing the "bros" and Nintendo going off and doing its own thing.  Right now I would say we have basically three different game markets and by extension four different gaming scenes a lot of which don't get along.

The AAA Market

For most of video gaming history, this was it. As a matter of fact I consider most of the old guard to be in this catagory. In gaming lingo AAA development mostly refers to the the amount of resources the game developers have to work with but there are also a lot of trends and tropes here.

AAA development can further be sub-divided into the western and eastern scenes. Which also at times kind clash because of cultural and aesthetic differences. Also known as "Stop with the spikes Square-Enix!" pique

The Retro Scene

Remember how I said the perception of gamers changed. Well these are guys who for whatever reason prefer or at least dig the aesthetics, gameplay or even culture of times gone by. And while time machines don't exist digital distribution and online shopping has in a lot of ways made getting your hands on older games easier. Sonic 2 costs 5 bucks on XBLA.

A lot of these guys resent the older perception of gamer as geeks but also dislike the perception of gamer as bro and feel like nobody really truly gets gamer culture anymore or know if they ever did. And AAA marketing and pandering isn't helping the cause of that self reflection.

The Casual and Indie Crowd

Like I said before Nintendo decided to eschew the normal AAA audience in pursuit of everyone else. Exposing a lot of people who might not have considered gaming because of all of the cultural baggage into trying it.

At roughly the same time smart phones and digital distribution created an explosion of independent game studios and creators.  One of but not the only things that's attractive to the casual crowd is that they can enjoy games divorced from gaming culture a lot which they are rightly apprehensive about. They don't want to get into Xbox live screaming matches. They don't want people to think they want to get into Xbox live screaming matches.

They just want to have fun.

And all things told I think everybody wants to have fun. But everybody thinks that's somebody else's fun will mess with theirs. The AAA crowd is afraid that all the focus on the casual scene will dramatically change gameplay and auestics into something they hate so they spew vitrol and everybody else reacts to it.

Especially when attention is brought to the elephant in the room.

Fiction is a Luxury

I will argue the power of story telling until I am blue in the face. But art, and I believe that all fictional media and even some non-fictional media qualifies as art is a luxury, a toy, a thing not strictly necessary for the continuation of life.

As such it's often experienced and controlled by the privileged who can afford to produce, purchase and comment on it. That's kind of shitty but for most forms of media eventually a time comes where the cost of production and communication comes down so it can be experienced by more people. The moral arc of the universe and all that. We are at that point, that glorious point.

My Point
Okay the reason why I occasionally jump on the feminism bandwagon is because I see a lot of similar issues with race. I love anime. I will champion as a serious medium until I die but I can only think of two not insulting black main characters off the top of my head.

See growing up while I liked video games and anime I was also aware that I wasn't the audience they had in mind. I dealt with it, but it kind of disappointed me that more of my friends weren't willing to give it a shot and to a degree ostracized me for doing so.

But part of me doesn't blame them when the the industries and the media they produced refused to think of them as a potential audience and in some cases dismissed them so thoroughly as to straight up insult them in the products they were buying.

See these aren't new issues. Hollywood already did this.  You want to know how Blaxploition happened.

Hollywood finally realized that black people were spending money in the cinema and wanted to appeal to and then include them Were some of the attempts misguided and embarrassing? Sure. Was Hollywood completely disinfected of racial bullshit. Hell no!

All the same it's kind of hard for me to take even the best stuff Hollywood had to offer prior to Raisin in The Sun seriously.

It's long time the same thing happened for all my other favorite forms of media and that's only going to happen if there is a diverse range of voices passionate about media being heard.

Video games, not just the games, but the press, the culture, the industry should be fair.

Also note that since I live under a rock I didn't start paying any attention to this stuff until a few days ago.

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