Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gamer, and Proud

Apparently, I’m dying; this is nothing to fret over because as a straight, white, heterosexual, well adjusted, career oriented, “Can-ist” (definition to come), atheist, alcohol drinking, muscle car driving, anti-environmental male my many privileges dictate I don’t feel things the same way everyone else does, so my death should be a fairly tame experience, akin to Master Yoda in Return of Jedi.  I think I like that idea.

Okay, drama aside, physically I’m fine.  According to Leigh Alexander over at Gamasutra, however, the label I have carried for 35 years, gamer, is “over”.  Thus, that part of me is dying.

Before I forget, and before the tumblr social justice mafia (TSJM) gets its hands on the term, I define “Can-ist” as follows: A person or group of people who answer life’s only relevant question (Can you <x>?) with “Yes” more often than “No…”.  Here are some examples: Can you get out of bed today?  Can you make it to the front door?  Can you drive to work?  I’m a very definite can-ist.

Okay, back to the Alexander article.  You can read the whole thing if you’d like via the link above.  I’m going to touch on a couple of things.

Now part of a writer’s job in a creative, human medium is to help curate a creative community and an inclusive culture -- and a lack of commitment to that just looks out-of-step, like a partial compromise with the howling trolls who’ve latched onto ‘ethics’ as the latest flag in their onslaught against evolution and inclusion.

Let’s start with inclusion.  Inclusion and inclusive principles have failed in every endeavor in which they have been tried.  Inclusive principles are 0/1 lifetime, having destroyed the American public education system by the only measurable that matters: The United States’ scientific, technological, economic, and military advantage over its enemies.  One might ask about inclusion in corporate settings.  Having an employee group for each race plus an LGBTA employee group is neither diversity nor inclusion; however, the existence of those groups does tend to check enough boxes to get a company diversity awards.  Inclusion, the way it was taught to me as I was being educated to be an educator in the mid-90s in Wisconsin, was a construct by which we made every student roughly equal at a level slightly worse than average.  It was verboten to take a student with aptitude in a subject, push that student to his/her limits, and cultivate a love for whatever subject that student showed aptitude in.  Inclusion and inclusive principles are the reason for assessments via standardized testing.  Those assessments are tied to funding, which force educators away from teaching subjects, life skills, and critical thinking, in favor of teaching the content in the standardized tests.

So, let’s apply inclusion to gaming.  Every game has to be slightly worse than mediocre; let’s go to Metacritic media scores and get some hypotheticals to compare our new PC gaming landscape to in terms of quality: Stronghold 3, Guns of Icarus, Tactical Intervention, Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Part 2

Here are some of the things said about those games, just so you get an idea of what the inclusive landscape looks like from the quality perspective:

It feels rushed and it's probably only good as a reminder how unapproachable team shooters have been at the turn of the millennium.

Half-cooked, bereft of ideas and technically despicable, this would-be triple-A production is an overblown movie tie-in to a flick you wouldn't want to see.

The game may be long but every level seems the same as the last, making it feel more like a repetitive endurance run than a game.

I thought I would've been more engaged in both campaigns, but I felt that both modes were pretty bland. Yes, it had its fun moments but they were few and far between.

The fights are fun, but the same opponents and surroundings become boring very fast. There's no story to speak of, which is a shame…

Funny that last quote mentions story, because in the inclusive landscape all characters, narratives, settings, and plots must be vetted through the TSJM, or the developers and publishers take the risk of the TSJM and their merry band of writers? (Leigh’s words, not mine) will inundate the gaming blogosphere (it isn’t journalism at this point) with pejorative invectives that, true or not, might affect the bottom line for game and company.  In an environment where taking a shot at making a game and missing is becoming totally unforgiving, would anyone blame a developer or publisher for not taking any risks in our hypothetical gaming landscape?  So every character, plot and narrative in every game is gender and race neutral, non-culture-appropriating, non-violent (accept maybe exclusively toward men?), and inoffensive to everyone.  There’s the inclusive gaming landscape—look hard: beige on beige with beige highlights, and this is the soundtrack.

Okay enough fear mongering, and let’s get back on point.  The other thing I wanted to touch on from the quote above is a difference between being a writer in the context of a content creator and being a writer in the context of being a journalist.  There is, in fact, a huge difference between the two.  So, yes, I agree completely that if Leigh Alexander as a content creator wants to curate a creative community and an inclusive culture, by all means, do so.  On the other hand, when one is a journalist, she/he has an obligation to present information in a factual and truthful manner.  That obligation is born from a trust relationship established between the journalist and the consumers of the journalist’s work.  I’ve been personally involved in broadcast media off and on for 20 years, and to see the obligation of the journalist to the consumer cast aside so flippantly is nothing short of repugnant.

Let’s apply this to current events. If Anita Sarkeesian gets crowd source funding to make a video series on tropes about women in video games, by all means report on it. If Anita Sarkeesian is being harassed or getting death threats for making the video series, by all means, report on it factually.  If someone wants to tack the Op-Ed tag on 10 pages about how terrible it is that anyone would have suffer such abuse, please do.  In fact, write as many op-eds as you’d like on any topic you’d like; so long as the work has the op-ed tag on it, push any agenda your heart desires, Leigh.

However, when there’s information that starts to surface about inconsistencies in the narrative Anita Sarkeesian sells to people publicly and the narrative she tells people elsewhere, isn’t it our responsibility to ask some questions?  Which narrative is true: the narrative that Anita has played video games since she was 5, or the narrative that Anita is not a fan of video games [12:50]?  That question is not misogyny; that question is not sexism; and in no way does that question undermine the work she is trying to do with Tropes vs. Women.  The follow up questions might lead us to discover that Anita Sarkeesian is talking about video games exclusively as a function of profitability.  How can we know unless the questions are asked in an environment safe from labeling as misogynists, sexists, trolls, or harassers?  The point is that there are questions that the gaming journalist community has an obligation to ask to get facts about the creator of Tropes vs. Women, and the gaming journalist community is refusing to do it.

Finally, what was totally missed in the Alexander article altogether, is that this gamer, among others, has something that every developer and every publisher wants, regardless of social justice agendas: disposable income, and lots of it.  So, while Leigh might wish to decry hyper-consumerism, capitalist pigdogs, and so on, gamers are on prowl for games.  Our wants are brutally simple—the games have to be good: compelling story, interesting characters, consistent mechanics, challenging but beatable, innovative in moderation, and graphically and auditorily palatable.  It’s no more complicated than that.

My name is Todd Wohling; I podcast, post, and stream under the handle Octale; and yes, Leigh, I am a gamer.  I have been a gamer since 1979; I am a gamer today; and I will be a gamer for a long, long time to come.  I don’t need your, Dan Golding’s, Mike Pearl’s, or anyone else’s approval to call myself one.

P.S. I’m not suggesting that a gaming journalist abandon class and decorum to go pester Anita Sarkeesian in the middle of a real personal crisis about inconsistencies in how she’s sold her gaming background relative to Tropes vs. Women.  That can obviously wait until all issues surrounding the safety of Anita and her family, and the security of her home are resolved.  To me, this is self-evident, but on further thought, I felt it should be said.

P.S2. It is deplorable that any gaming news site would pre-emptively cut off discourse about topics in gaming. I suppose you have to give Tim Colwill and credit for having the courage to come out and say they aren’t interested organizationally in being journalists. So, thanks Tim, I have one less place to waste my time when I am looking for legitimate, bias free gaming news and commentary.

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