I love games too much to be a "gamer"

When I was a high school and university student, I wanted nothing more than to feel like I belonged. I was never a complete social outcast in school, but my passions didn’t always line up with everybody else’s. I loved playing games more than anything -- more than watching TV, movies, or listening to music. It’s easier as a teenager to find people to talk about those forms of media than about games. And while I did find people who love games and were just as nerdy as me, it took a road trip during one college summer to finally reach nerd nirvana. When I first attended the Penny Arcade Expo in 2006, I finally felt like I had arrived. I’d been to concert festivals that feel like a celebration of music, or sports events that feel like a celebration for your chosen team, but I’d never been to someplace that celebrated gaming in the same way. I felt like I’d found my tribe, the tribe of game players, and I was proud and happy to be a member.

That started to change a few weeks ago. And just this past week there have been some pretty horrible examples of what people are doing for the sake of “gaming culture."

Over the last two to three years, a steady drumbeat of antagonism has built up from the Internet. Twitter, gaming websites, news post comment sections and forums have become echo chambers full of steadily worsening views. These views come from a predominantly white male vantage point and are becoming more misogynistic, racist, homophobic and radically conservative by the week. And these views are, sadly, only getting louder.

Attacking writers in the games press and indie developers because of their personal views? Calling names is never nice, and Lord knows the Internet is a place full of people eager and willing to spout abuse, but what we’ve seen this past week has gone too far. Verbal abuse has spilled into DDoS attacks, revealing of private photos and personal information -- the kind of information that can leave major scars on a person’s life. It’s gross to see “self-identified ‘gamers’” on Twitter and forums attacking women for the crime of having a dissenting point of view, but leaking Social Security numbers is an abhorrent new low.

And as I woke up a few weeks ago Monday morning in Japan I saw that some collection of ne’er-do-wells issued bomb threats to a commercial air flight that also had a Sony Online Entertainment executive onboard. Are you fucking kidding me? Reportedly these jackasses also DDoSed Battle.net, League of Legends, and the PlayStation Network over the weekend as well. Why? Because they can? From some perceived slight? Because they’re man-children? I don’t get it. They caused a commercial flight to divert from its course and land at a different airport because of these threats. They ruined the weekend for other gamers who simply wanted to get online.

Anita Sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian

These are just the freshest logs on the fire. However, it’s a fire roaring with flames of misogyny: see the treatment of Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarted YouTube series, Feminist Frequency, and any number of female members of the press or game development. Female game developers have been scared into changing industries, and just this week, writer Jenn Frank has been barked up a tree for the crime of being a woman. It roars with stupidity: these “self-identified ‘gamers’” are the same ones who bark like seals whenever something new or different is announced in a game, from a redesign of Dante for the re-booted Devil May Cry to Blizzard having the audacity to add colors to Diablo III to the current “#GamerGate” controversy I don’t really want to give much credibility to. It all encompasses a narrow-mindedness, dickishness and entitlement that makes me wonder if these “self-identified ‘gamers’” do anything else with their lives besides complain on Twitter and messageboards.

If this is what being a “gamer” in the year of our lord 2014 entails, then I’m sorry, but I can’t be a member of this tribe anymore. I might make a joke or two, but I can’t get behind outright misogyny; I might get upset with choices made by a developer or opinions displayed by a writer, but it’s not the end of the world. And most importantly, I can take all of these slights in stride because I’m not a gamer — I’m an adult. I know right from wrong, I understand good from bad, and I can see when something is important and when it’s just a storm in a teacup.

We love games. But some people with horrible world-views are squeezing the life-force out of this hobby. It’s the same as any conservative reaction around the world: treat the past with reverence, bemoan the present, oppose progress (in this case, games that feature alternative views or styles of any kind), become a vocal minority, and berate women and other indidviduals on the fringe. Notice how women and others who aren’t straight white males are bearing the brunt of “#GamerGate”? How in a recent high-profile case, female game developer Zoe Quinn takes all the abuse but her ex-boyfriend appears to be covered in Teflon? This isn’t about games, it’s about misogyny and double standards; these “self-identified ‘gamers’” aren’t defending games, they’re attacking women and minorities. They aren’t furthering a cause—they’re attacking progress that’s been made in this generation of games.

To most normal people, this is what the trolls and #GamerGate supporters appear to be, whether in actuality or as caricature.

To most normal people, this is what the trolls and #GamerGate supporters appear to be, whether in actuality or as caricature.

It’s sad to see so much vitriol and hatred come up and manifest itself to ruin people’s lives because of an entertainment medium. Because at the end of the day that’s what it is: It’s just a hobby. Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann made an incredibly salient point during his site’s PAX Prime 2014 panel: Would you really want to hang out with anybody who identifies purely based on their hobby? Gaming isn’t a “culture,” and the word “gamer” was (as Gerstmann also noted after being asked that question) something dropped into the lexicon by the major game publishers. Ten years ago it was a term shoe-horned into press releases, and now it’s apparently the definition of a culture and way of life. I guess that’s the difference between how I felt at my first PAX and how I feel now: I’ve always been a guy who played games and loved it, and I found camaraderie in numbers there and on the Internet in years past. You could discuss games with like-minded people and maybe get heated about opinions but it was nothing like now. But now, that has shifted into being a “self-identified ‘gamer’”, and a member of a culture. It’s only as good a culture as what is being put into it, and unfortunately it's full of nothing but garbage. It’s hard to take much away from this culture when it’s being subjected to so much bad, and it’s sad to see a small number of people override the good work and positive vibes of so many.

So here’s what I propose: A hearty and long-overdue two-fingered Fuck You to anybody who falls in the negative camps that are dragging so many people down with them. You do not get to bully people in this way. Because that’s honestly what this is: Bullying. It may also take the form of misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia and any other form of hatred, but at its root it lies in bullying. Women-haters? Trolls? Hate-mongers of all shapes and sizes? Either grow up or get out. Sometimes, the only way to overcome a bully is to bop them in the nose one time. Most bullies are just paper tigers; if you join me in standing up and telling these assholes “Fuck off!”, we can make this hobby a nicer place for everyone.

I do not speak for all of us here at Silicon Sasquatch, and I can only speak for myself, but I refuse to suffer fools and bullies, and that goes for man-babies as well. Gain some perspective and manners.