Pushing agenda

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Last week Unwinnable featured an interview with Stephanie Anne, Editor-in-Chief of Goodgamers, more or less as a briefing on what to expect from the brand new outlet. Despite the site’s youth it harbours an already storied history—Goodgamers was born out of the hashtag-cum-social movement known as GamerGate, thereby deliberately inheriting many of its purported values as well as inadvertently its widely notorious reputation.

For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with GamerGate, it was ostensibly a rather large social backlash against games journalism’s ethical failings (its tenuous marketing spiel) while actually being a campaign to oust notable and highly-esteemed women from the field of games writing. If you remember a few years back, the harassment towards Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs Women in Videogames—GamerGate was simply that, rebranded. Like any lynchmob, some optimistic yet naive villagers thought they were chasing out witches, but were, in fact, merely the muscle in someone else’s political and social powergrab.

To interviewer L. Rhode’s credit, he mentions none of this, and thereby avoids marring Goodgamers by the dubious company it has chosen to keep. Instead the interview focuses on Anne’s motivations as site founder and, I suppose, the inspirations she might have taken from its social roots. Her answers to Rhode’s second and third questions particularly struck me:

Unwinnable: So is the goal to serve the GamerGate community specifically?

S.A.: I think really all gamers, as long as they aren’t pushing a socially political message. Because obviously there are people who game who have social messages that they want dispersed around, but we’re not in that business.

Unwinnable: Is it a matter of providing an alternative to readers who aren’t interested in those issues, or do you see social messages as a problem with how gaming journalism is handled elsewhere?

S.A.: I mean, let’s be honest, all the game sites today are basically game blogs. We’re just providing another alternative where they won’t see those social issues on the front page and they have a chance to help the direction of the site.

For instance, we put a poll out about if we should have a rating system for all the reviews, the response was overwhelmingly “no,” but we did add a policy saying a TL;DR should be at the bottom.

Now, “pushing a socially political message” is only a hair’s breadth away from the accusation of forcing a political agenda, so common a refrain in response to feminist and feminist-lite games writing it has its place on the Bingo card. While it differs in wording, the intent and meaning is the same.

So I found it surreal to read that a site created out of the momentum of a political movement is advertising itself as apolitical, as I imagine these people believe themselves to be. How anyone could look at a movement like GamerGate, so suffixed and so marketed towards uprooting scandal, and think of it as politically neutral, I don’t know.

It’s the idea of “pushing an agenda” as a slogan that has sat me down today to write this, however, since there’s a lot going on in those few words that generally goes unsaid. To this end, it is not my intention to dissect Anne’s words, or to elaborate on the well-trodden ground of GamerGate as a thinly veiled harassment campaign, or to analyse the allegiance between Goodgamers and GamerGate beyond what has already been stated. Rather, I would like to consider the sentiment as it often appears in its broader application to the topic of games writing.

The foremost implication in pushing an agenda is of someone else’s insincerity, that the message they convey is little more than a capsule for some mental poison. By this belief, feminists are dedicating copious articles to twisting various industry mishaps into excuses in order to tell other people how they should behave, as if feminists don’t actually believe this or that and really only want to control people, and will use any psychological tool at their disposal to achieve it. When something is written condemning Ground Zeroes for its gratuitous disregard for women, Ground Zeroes is merely a catspaw—it is not actually at fault. When Mr. Videogames suggests with a smirk that women don’t game or are shit at gaming, those opportunistic feminists are only using poor Mr. Videogames as a strawman to have their anger out.

This is the mentality with which feminist leanings are often viewed. For one thing it necessitates a fictional boogieman be created as the target of feminist critiques, detracting from the actual root factors many feminists hold culpable for culturally ingrained misogyny, so that everything criticised prior to this boogieman is collateral. In doing so, the text or the person in question is absolved while the feminist is painted as cruel, manipulative and coldly utilitarian.

None of those finer details are necessitated by the accusation of “pushing an agenda”, as there are about as many perspectives against feminism as there are variations of it. For instance, perhaps the boogieman is correctly identified as the patriarchy or the kyriarchy, as the case may be. Or more likely, perhaps the boogieman is imagined to be the cyborg ghost of Sprocket the dog. The more incredible the feminist’s ‘ulterior motives’, the easier it is to dismiss her criticisms as irrelevant to the topic at hand without even hearing them out. Which is typically the goal.

I don’t quite know what these people genuinely think feminism is targeting, but to be honest it’s beside the point: right now I’m less interested in what they think feminism is about and more in what they think feminists are doing. Whatever the case, the insinuation is that in her quest against the boogieman the writer in question is using every chance she gets to spread her anti-boogieman propaganda, in spite of the fact that it is presently unwarranted. And she very well knows it’s unwarranted, since she plots and plans to insert her propaganda whichever way she can fit it, regardless of suitability.

The “agenda” accusation would have you believe an article pre-existed and then politics were syringed into it, or that writers start off with a topic on today’s schedule and go about contriving some games criticism around it. It fundamentally misunderstands how politics feed into someone’s writing, just like how politics feed into our everyday lives. When somebody writes something that is politically inclined, they don’t reach outside of themselves to dislodge an iota from an ephemeral blob of political ideology, and then incorporate the substance into their message before returning it to its external metaphysical plane.

What they actually do is self-express—they look inside themselves to find out how they feel, and, discovering themselves, go about articulating that sentiment to their readership. Their politics, like everyone’s, live deep inside them as soundless, formless forces that tell them how the world should be or how people should be. As in any case of self-expression miscommunication may occur, but almost never in my experience of feminist critiques is it due to deception, so rarely should I doubt a writer is sincere in her words.

Why it may appear to vocal opponents of feminism that such writing is put upon is because, to a person whose politics align with the dominant cultural expression, they do not perceive their own messages to carry political connotations. For feminism that contrasts with the social status quo, its visibility coincides with a perceived externalization of its ideas and their wellspring. In severing the political realm from the human realm in cases of an opposing ideology, a fellow can avoid the self-reflection that comes with comparing these visible politics with his own invisible politics, and so can carry on oblivious to the political ideology living within his own breast. The product of this is the feminist as a person is perceived as alienated from her politics, so that her expressions of these politics are not self-expressions, and do not rise naturally from her heart and mind with the sincerity with which she insists they do.

GamerGaters and Goodgames claim they want two things: they want to go back to the old ways, and they want politics to no longer be an issue. They do not conceive the old ways to be politically inclined any which way because it is the same air they have always breathed. To them, an alternative politics is like a pollutant to their native atmosphere—learning that the air can carry a scent is a jarring experience; realizing that their air always carried a scent even more so.

Many of them don’t want to hear it. They view any political deviation from the norm as a distortion of their reality, and so they hold that feminists are colonizing games writing for no other reason than to claim the land as theirs. Fundamental to their logic is the suspicion that feminists are politicians and rhetoricians first, and writers and critics never.

An increasingly regular counter-argument to accusations that feminists are “pushing an agenda” is that of course they are! Everyone is pushing an agenda—even you, Mr. Videogames! It’s expressed with the sentiment that politics pervade our lives, but I think in biting back with overt agreement, all that goes unsaid about a feminist’s purported insincerity and self-alienation is implicitly condoned, and the narrative is perpetuated. It suggests feminism is something we always force into the forefront of our minds, as a factual, fully-formed thing that we wrench our thoughts into resembling.

In reality, in my own experience writing and reading feminist criticism, it flows out naturally from analysis in the same way as one’s philosophical perspective, or one’s personal history with the text, or one’s general tastes and preferences. I believe feminism can become ingrained within our minds just as patriarchal values are culturally ingrained at-large, and to deny ourselves the possibility of the former, and the reality of the latter, does us few favours in the long run.


Kotaku’s Policy on Patreon Support

Kotaku's Policy on Patreon Support

Originally published on Unite Youth Dublin on 28/8/14. My writing is community funded. If you like this article, please consider supporting my work by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

This week saw major videogames publication Kotaku updating its ethics policy in an unpopular direction. Given that games journalism is generally notorious for corruption and nepotism, Kotaku opted to mend the field’s reputation by barring its writers from supporting the potential subjects of their reporting via Patreon, a platform for creators to fund their work through patronage. By banning its writers from backing any game developer on Patreon, Kotaku hopes to present the staff as personally, emotionally and financially detached from the developer’s professional success. By this policy they believe an ethical standard is met.

However, Kotaku still allows its writers to directly purchase a game for reviewing, or to back projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, two other, more established platforms for people to crowdsource revenue, despite the fact that both of these transactions also involve the writer financially supporting the developer. Where Kickstarter and over-the-counter purchasing differ from Patreon, according to various writers and figureheads at Kotaku, is that through them you support the product, whereas through Patreon you support the person.

That is the logic they have outlined. To briefly recap: supporting via Kickstarter is ethical; supporting via Patreon is unethical.


Corruption in Game Journalism

While there are many problems in this new policy, two particular concerns stand out in my mind. The first is that the reasoning behind it presents ethics as rooted in the extent to which a trade relationship resembles traditional capitalism. The further removed a creator is from the thing you’re buying, the more dehumanized your purchase so the more ethical it is. Although on Kickstarter you’re still funding a developer’s livelihood and receiving a game in return, the sense of removal is familiar and comforting, and has grown normal as Kickstarter has melded into common usage in the industry.

Since patreon phrases payment as if to a creator’s work in general, rather than in exchange for a specific product, investment doesn’t result in property for a patron to claim and consume, conflicting with the values of a consumer-orientated culture.

My second concern is with who this policy targets. Patreon users tend to be those creators who have found little support through mainstream industry channels, notably in this case for structural reasons, and so migrate to the more-accommodating patronage model. By this, under-appreciated and marginalized game developers and writers find an outlet for their work. In essence Patreon is a way for marginalized voices like women, queer and trans identifying people to find their work rewarded by a hungry audience. Out of the mutual support and interest this platform facilitates, a self-sustaining community has formed among marginalized developers and writers.

Establishing a videogame monopoly


While Kotaku is quiet as to whether its writers may pledge to the Patreons of other writers, by disallowing pledges to devs, it threatens to nip this community in the bud. Now, if a freelance writer with a Patreon wants to have their work published for Kotaku, they must distance themselves from the support they give to other creators and presumably discontinue the pledges they receive from their peers.

As well as driving a wedge into the community of marginalized creators, this could also be a tactical move on Kotaku’s part. By monopolizing the sources of revenue of its writers, Kotaku is guarding a treasured resource—its pool of freelance writers—by restricting them from turning to Patreon as a viable alternative to mainstream publications. In doing so they simultaneously drain away Patreon’s clientele, thinning the damage it could do to the gaming press status quo. As many outlets seek to court marginalized voices and tap into their previously dormant audience, by making its writers financially dependent on the outlet Kotaku is acting to control and exploit the workforce.

It should be noted that Polygon has published an alternative policy for journalistic ethics surrounding Patreon support. From now on, Polygon’s writers must disclose whoever they pledge to when it might be relevant to the story. That’s all it takes.

Flappergasted by Videogames’ Colonialism

Although Flappy Jam is premised on being a motion of moral support either towards the creator of Flappy Bird or to Flappy Bird itself, I wonder if its not further perpetuating the problems it thinks itself opposing. It’s a big jumbled knot we face in trying to find out what it thinks it’s attempting to say, what it’s actually saying, what’s provoked it to say that, and so on, because all the factors playing into its creation are of varying visibility and meaning. Perhaps a good way to untangle that knot would be to grab the nearest loose thread and follow it backwards.

So, it’s a game jam that uses certain rules and contexts to encourage political activism. The parameters Flappy Jam lays down are that submitted games must be near-impossible to play and their assets must be classically inspired. The implicit statement here is that it’s OK to make a game with either of these things, that it’s not shameful or inferior as an example of the medium, in protest to perceived cultural pressure that difficulty and derivation are objectionable. Putting aside the fact that you needn’t look deep into any videogame community to find the error there, such as how difficult games are traditionally labelled ‘hardcore’ and elevated to elite status, and how retro-aesthetic games are still quite fashionable, I suspect few people interpreted these as earnest contentions by opponents of Flappy Bird, nor the true cause of its creator’s ostracisation.

To be short on that point, there’s a neat and accessible rundown of the game’s commercial history by Christina Warren here, together with tidbits showing the creator’s increasing anxiety since it’s sudden boom of popularity late last Winter. Note one central platform for motivating scorn at Flappy Bird was a preposterous Kotaku article initially titled “Flappy Bird Is Making $50,000 A Day Off Ripped Art“, which I hope you’ll agree is safe to assume as having inspired the framing of Flappy Jam’s parameters. It’s a big messy affair resulting from rowing factions of many collaborating feelings, values, and perceptions; the best I can hope to do is suggest a broad social phenomenon as the causing factor, for although certain individuals may have contributed to the storm, I find it more to be a travesty of social weather.

Mattie Brice wrote that capitalism was the driving factor behind the blacklash, as it always is when gamers get in an uproar about something that might challenge the status quo. To this sentiment I would add colonialism as forever pivotal to the interests and behaviours of the videogame community-at-large. If capitalist values are the values that must be protected, colonization is the manner through which it will be done. It means cultural protectivism, insularity, centralization, elitism. It manifests as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and so on. The hate against Flappy Bird bears remarkable similarities to that against Zoe Quinn or Feminist Frequency or Gone Home or Jennifer Hepler, for it’s much the same mentality spurring it on: a sense of protection over gaming as culturally owned by a certain group with certain values, with anything going against this group or these values thought alien or threatening. The horrible sexism of videogames is not wholly disconnected from the horrible racism of videogames.

Colonization isn’t just a mentality of aggressive ownership and expansion, it’s also a process, insofar as social and political phenomenon can inspire behaviours to abide by a pattern. As a process it’s characterized by treatment of the ‘foreign’ culture according to the rough stages of denial, destruction, belittlement, tokenism and exploitation.* It’s a flow of power that wants to obliterate anything in its way; if it can’t do that, the obstacle must instead be weakened and demeaned, then appropriated, co-opted and profited from. Political history has seen colonization stripping countries of their natural resources and people and wealth, but it’s also taken shape in the spread and control of cultural ideas, such as demolishing an entire people’s native religion and language and self-worth.

You might be looking at that and thinking where the exploitation of feminism comes in within the sphere of videgames, which is a fair thing to wonder. I’d hazard we’re seeing some of that already in the ways some major outlets stage feminism within their marketing strategies–Lana Polansky articulated it very well regarding Polygon in this podcas regarding the kyriarchy of Western cultures from which gaming inherits its social structure; undoubtedly these past few years have seen a shift in how quick most publications are to hone in on controversies of a sexist nature and benefit from their reporting, though very few have internalized feminism structurally.

Feminism is just one example of a threat to the cultural mores of gaming, however, though it’s one with an abundance of evidence to suggest a colonial nature of games press and communities. In the case of Flappy Bird, I see denial, destruction and belittlement, though for what reason other than colonialism I can’t fathom, given that here is an unknown Vietnamese developer making a casual game which attained stunning popularity through no marketing or purchasing of market manipulation. There’s a lot there going against the grain of what’s contrived as acceptable to the perceived common wealth.

Considering that the cold light of day reveals the supposed criticisms of Flappy Bird’s difficulty and use of assets as impossible tripe, of so little substance they couldn’t possibly carry a mob all the way to the front gate, they are more likely thin excuses to justify a desire to harass and belittle, a mask to hide behind from oneself. A game being bad or tough isn’t generally enough to incite such vile and rage in massive amounts. It’s normally coupled with some other inflammatory character, such as a person having the wrong gender, or looking slightly different, or perhaps they abided by a different understanding of the nature of the medium and its potential. In every single case, there’s an underlying motive that’s so deeply seated as to be presently immovable from the enraged person’s worldview. It’s usually dreadful and much, much bigger than the appearance of familiar art assets.

In this case, what does Flappy Jam achieve in its moral support? It mistakes the symptoms of a broader social ill as characteristic of the problem itself and recreates the ‘offending’ trait over and over, just to be cheeky really, to give the finger. As it was with Candy Jam and as it generally is with game jams of a protest nature: take some political stance that is preposterous and objectionable and antagonize it.

Except where Candy Jam was activism against corporate greed, with a very clear line drawn between something King.com wanted to stamp down on and a clear expression of resistance through celebration of that thing, it’s unclear how Flappy Jam offers moral support by opposing criticism of derivativeness and difficulty. Fundamentally, it’s making the assumption that these criticisms are what bothered the developer, and that copying his game and rebranding it over and over will satisfy him. (Though it’s not mandated in the Jam’s guidelines, many of the games submitted are in fact just rebranded copies of Flappy Bird.) Perhaps the idea is to show how it’s actually acceptable to make a derivative game if it’s made by the right people, to highlight the double-standard of the gaming press and community against ‘outsider’ developers**.

It is still the case, however, that the right people are stepping in to co-opt this game and redefine it to suit their ends, that this is a privilege they are entitled to, and they don’t challenge that privilege by exercising and entertaining it. Similar to how ironic sexism is really just more sexism.

Remember that tokenism and exploitation are further manifestations of colonization. While there certainly can be games successful in honouring Flappy Bird while presenting the above protest narrative, and games definitely have potential to be critical responses to something upsetting, they mustn’t be divorced from the social conditions in which they exist. Flappy Jam is a social structure informing and contextualizing its games; it’s a form of grassroots organisation towards a rhetorical goal, and to that end it has encouraged the twisting and reforming of Flappy Bird for the benefit of its participants. If Flappy Jam never existed and the same games came about naturally as a stand alone complex it might be another matter–it might be wonderful and benevolent and justified–but sadly that’s not the case. As it is, it’s an example of people rebranding someone else’s game and manipulating his personal narrative to fit their present use.

It’s souring that this is a cultural sphere colonizing something in supposed opposition to that same sphere previously colonizing that thing. Top this off with the traditional nature of game jams as opportunities for developers to get creative juices flowing, to self-serve and self-promote, and this particular game jam asks participants to have fun, it’s hard not to see Flappy Jam as irreverent and exploitative in form. Earlier this week, Aevee Bee insightfully said this of reportage on Flappy Bird:

“There’s nothing inherently different between this article and any other, except that it is misleading and ragemongering (as well as angermongering), which should be of no comfort because, by taking someone else’s story into your hands and making something out of it you are always, always going to be selling that person out.”

As well as I know that’s true of Kotaku’s articles and Flappy Jam, I fear it’s now true of me. This morning I had wanted to avoid writing anything, absolutely anything, on Flappy Bird, for despair of contributing to the state of games criticism as irrevocably in love with whatever’s trending. I see it as a symptom of gaming’s perpetual centralization of ideas and “what’s relevant”, because what’s relevant only ever feeds the machine or is wrung and misshapen until it does. It demands that we talk about the latest games, the most exclusive social affairs, the most prestigious expos and conferences, or be drowned out and irrelevant and frustrated. It privileges the wealthy and the well-located at the same time as it stunts the flow of ideas from more unknown games and unknown voices. It’s another colonial tactic.

Although I never wanted to add to the five hundred or so articles about Flappy Bird this week, I’ve found myself this way compelled in the hope that my message is justified despite having transgressed it. I’m contributing to the trend to try to break the trend. So, rather than leaving with my hands in the air, in the spirit of breaking the centralization of ideas and in replacing Flappy Jam with something less alarming, perhaps we could collectively redouble our efforts to share around and celebrate games made by ‘outsider’ developers, not just on one day but in general.

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*I’m taking these points from here because they seem fairly on the ball but I haven’t researched the source past that page.

**Imagined barriers are still barriers.

This Week I Read – On racism, violence, and gamer

Quite an active week for articles so I’ll get right to it. This week saw discussion on the value of the terms ‘gamer and ‘gaming community’, discussions about violence and purpose, institutionalized racism, and a fair bit on BioShock Infinite.

Links and articles that contain minor spoilers (minor narrative beats or gameplay segments, etc.) will be marked with a *. Those with major spoilers (major plot twists or story beats) will be marked with a **.

Leigh Alexander interviewed Merritt Kopas for Gamasutra* (small spoiler for GTAV) on the purpose of violence in videogames.

Amanda Lange continued the theme of game violence over on Tap Repeatedly,* discussing the purpose of shooting in BioShock Infinite, tying it in to game literacy and accessibility.

On Geek Empire, Liza Daly* reflected on BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, and The Last of Us in relation to the question, “What do I want out of videogames?”

Way back in May on The Brog, Isaiah T. Taylor* shared his own opinions on BioShock Infinite‘s one-dimensional personality, including its pretence of a narrative on racism.

Which brings us nicely to Sidney Fussell, writing for Salon, where he addressed the racism systemic in the medium as an effect of that of the culture and industry, and how to overcome it.

Making the rounds this week was Simon Parkin’s piece for The New Statesman on the terms ‘gamer’ and ‘gaming community’ and why he thinks we would do well to drop them from our vocabulary.

Over on her own site, Mary Hamilton offered a defence of ‘gamer’ as a term of self-identity.

Brendan Keogh shared a blog post in response to both, focussing on the term not as a self-identifier but as a signifier informed by broader culture. On the point Keogh makes about male being the assumption, I’d like to draw in the now-faded identifier of ‘girl-gamer’ since that was expressly in reaction to the exclusionary connotations embedded within ‘gamer.’ It’s great that now we can reference a variety of studies to show that a significant portion of people who enjoy games are women, but it also makes me a little bit sad that we would even need a near 1:1 split of women to men to fuel putting a stop to ‘gamer’ as a term of exclusion. Although ‘girl-gamer’ has fallen out of fashion, ‘gamer’ is still a term implying legitimization or delegitimization of character.

And on Gameranx, perhaps implicitly related to this discussion, Seb Wuepper argued that gaming culture is nothing more than a marketing construct. Each of these articles on the subject of ‘gamer’ and ‘gaming community/culture’ is well worth your attention. And if you’re interested, I weighted in with some of my thoughts on ‘gamer’, culture and accessibility here.

Mattie Brice talked about the use of labels inherent in identity politics as something that she feels can be dehumanizing, and her frustration at how intersectionality is sometimes warped to justify Oppression Olympics.

On Indie Statik, Chris Priestman cautioned against procedurally generated indie games on the basis that more does not mean better.

From earlier in the month, Cara Ellison wrote on Unwinnable about the loneliness of adventure games. I’ll be linking you shortly to a great little adventure game that really carries through on this sentiment.

And again on Unwinnable, but this time from last March, Ellison talked about the social and psychological connotations of a gendered AI.

I’d also like to share this wee post I put up near the end of last week. It’s about aboutness, as in intentionality, that the need to make games about something might perhaps misconstrue what some are.

Next to last is this write up by Zach A on the process of curating Critical Distance and some of the obstacles he experienced the past few weeks.

Finally, it’s not an article but you might be interested in this event for game critics being organized by Zoya Street.


Only a wee handful of games this week but every one of them is well worth your time for different reasons. First is The Linear RPG by Sophie Houldon. You can use left and right to run across a line, and as you progress right two things happen: you lose health but gain experience (representing an automated battle system), and the crappy story unfolds behind the gameplay. It’s delightfully cynical of jrpgs. But it also says something to me about the relevance of the scale of a game’s systems, because ultimately that can be a relevant factor in a player’s enjoyment – Liza Daly’s piece flashes to mind.

Next up is Mind Game by gert_johnny. No joke, this is what I wanted out of Remember Me. It’s a little difficult to extract memories and I wasn’t able to complete the game but the simple execution of its mechanic makes for some design notes worth considering. Most notably, how to implement telepathy without automating it to ‘does telepathy.’

Lastly is Good Morning, Commander by alllen, which is pretty much Moon: The Game. Be sure to turn down your volume before clicking that link! It doesn’t run too smoothly on my laptop which made it a little bit of a trial to play – hopefully you’ll find it easier to handle. This is the one that stirred me with loneliness, and from that a prevailing sense of dread. I adore that it wasn’t afraid to fill the world with so much empty space, risking boredom, but survived by filling that space with the beating of my heart, my fears, my wandering thoughts.

On “If you love games you should refuse to be called a gamer”

Earlier today Simon Parkin wrote a piece for The New Statesman denouncing the word “gamer” and the concept of the gaming community. I agree with his conclusion that we should stop using the term, so I find the sentiment of the piece to be commendable. In getting there, however, Parkin shares some thoughts that I feel are worth catching and reflecting on, as I suspect there’s a little bit going on behind the scenes that benefits neither his argument nor the specific mentality advocated.

I’ll start with the last one, as it’s the most direct claim he makes and it’s only really incidental to the gist of his argument, but it’s one I fiercely oppose. This notion that games are “the great contemporary leveller”, as he puts it, where everyone exists on an equal ground, is not an original thought. It’s long since been incorporated into the inside cultural narrative of the medium that games offer treasures and possibilities only a hair’s breadth from the trials one might face daily. It inspires nostalgia and pride and a sense of protectiveness bordering zealotry. Sharp advertisers have ran with it, spreading the concept that no matter who you are or where you are, you can be the hero.

It’s nothing but a romantic daydream, a very successful fiction that many critics now struggle to dispel from two directions: that games on an individual basis are inherently political, and that games on a general basis tend towards inaccessibility. For the first, fans of GTAV and Hotline Miami 2 rebel at the accusation, at the very thought, that their beloved game might carry a message, and that this message might be hazardous to the social well-being of some of its players. Games as forms of expression, as things carrying along and preserving the cultural baggage of the creators, even by accident, is as if a brand new concept to the vast majority of people. Anecdotally, I’ve found comparatively few people even outside of games who consider the latest movie or comic as a cultural text. That games are “just games” is an enormously difficult attitude to penetrate, in and of itself, never mind appending on the idea that the accidental baggage of a game might make it a nasty piece of work.

So when I say this, bear in mind that many messages can make a game inaccessible to many people, precluding them from enjoying it on the simple basis of its nature. The existence and necessity of trigger warnings are evidence enough, although less prolific, more conventional sorts are abundant. Remember, for instance, those people who protested that homosexuality was included in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, who were so outraged they couldn’t even play it. If politics in involved, and politics is always involved, a game’s narrative will likely be inaccessible to someone.*

Further to this, a game might be inaccessible to players by its language, the level of skill needed to manipulate and progress through its gameplay systems, the technicalities of ability it asks of the player (eg. I have trouble with platforming mechanics, someone else might have trouble with shooting mechanics, another person might have trouble navigating in a first-person perspective). There might be a level of knowledge of videogame conventions expected of the player, which excludes players new to the medium or genre. Then there’s the platform it’s on, the internet requirements it mandates, the technology it needs to run adequately, and the costs of all these things and more. Then there’s the tangible market availability of the game, the place where someone can go to buy it. There’s also the buttons it might require the player to be able to press or the speed they need to be input, which can be a very real physical obstacle to players for all sorts of reasons. And there’s further obstacles in the auditory and visual expectations of the player’s capacity – there’s very few videogames for those sight-impaired, colour-blind people might struggle with colour conventions widespread through the medium, and sound can be a very important component for progression in some games. And so on.

In claiming games as an equal-opportunity space, Parkin assumes everybody is homogeneous in ability and context – ironic given his earlier railing against that precept.**

Would that his internalization of common gaming community wisdom ended there, but I suspect there’s something more in his denouncement of the term “gamer”, just a hint suggesting a wound needing tending to.

I agree with Parkin that “gamer” needs to go, that it’s used to categorize people and exclude them from the treehouse. “Gamer” is a response to the pressure that people need to be on the inside of the treehouse to legitimize anything they say. He refers to the responses to Anita Sarkeesian, which is a great example for this exact phenomenon: early in the course of Tropes vs Women in Video Games it was a common criticism, framed as concern, that Sarkeesian might not be best suited to critique games because she’s not on the inside (note that at that point in time, it was assumed she was an outsider). Later on, only a few months ago, word hit the web that she had herself denied being a gamer some years prior, reviving the same ‘concern’ and scorn at her daring.

It’s worth repeating that “gamer” is the result of standards swollen by tradition, it’s a way of filtering out people and their opinions by measure of some arbitrary identity criteria, and not according to the sophistication of their arguments. I’d hazard that Parkin’s on the money in identifying the medium’s youth and the stereotype of its hobbyists’ as causes for their insularity. Parkin suggests this defensiveness is protected and demarcated by something called the “gaming community”, that this term is synonymous with “gamer” in their usage as banishing tactics. By virtue of the external consensus that the community is homogeneous (composed only of your straight white males), a belief out of tune with the reality of videogame players’ diversities, he says the concept of the community needs to die.

If the idea of the gaming community is intrinsically linked to the exclusivity of the gamer label, perhaps the world would be better off without it. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. I see “gaming community” as a parallel to the concept of gaming culture, that there are values and ideas and norms largely propagated as sets within the medium as a sphere for meanings and expressions. I see people as involved in that sphere by virtue of their presence, just as we soak in the values and ideas and norms dominant in our physical locale. (Having been yea long in Ireland, I have absorbed within my subconsciousness a lot of Irish culture – you say “thank you” to the bus driver, beans on toast are normal, etc.; the same principle is true for videogames.) I know there are quite a few people who would prefer to do away with the concept of gaming culture, too, but I can’t shake my conception of it as a particular cultural subset, as something that exists as a social and political structure. Even if its identifiability is ambiguous and fluid just like any other culture, still it is a thing within the world. And it’s incredibly useful as a structure through which to frame various phenomena and events centric to the medium and industry of videogames, although perhaps this is my laziness speaking as I clutch to the ease of the shorthand.

This said, I make no attempt to beautify the gaming community. As it exists, much as the culture exists, it is more often than not a putrification of lost childhoods and romanticized evil. But I’m not sure if pretending it doesn’t exist solves that, or if it would merely serve to hush up talk of it and delude us that no problem persists. Simply saying “the word gamer needs to die” is not enough to absolve ourselves of the habits by which we say it, nor ease away the cultural pressure that birthed it in the first place. Parkin still sways to it – he feels the need to quality Samantha Allen as “herself an ardent game player”, as if that’s relevant in justifying her perspective that the VGAs entertained transphobia.

The solution isn’t simply to stop saying a word, it’s to shift one’s whole mentality to be more inclusive. It means accepting a games-related post on a non-gaming blog as perhaps valuable for its insights into games, and not giving out that the author is ‘ill-informed’ on the ins-and-outs of the industry. It means conceding the point that mainstream games criticism is still an unattained goal, that while Critical Distance and similar sources provide much needed life in the right direction, the work you and I do is still comparatively niche and hidden. Very importantly, it means no longer romanticizing the medium. If ditching the term “gamer” is at least a starting point, grand, but we need to be sure we’re not just replacing it with the word “player”.***


*This is not to say we should make all games excessively bland to avoid upsetting anyone, nor that all games are exonerated of responsibility because narrative is unavoidable. Which are often arguments taken away by people who only want to protect games as they are. All I’m saying is, first thing’s first, we need to accept the premise that games carry meaning.
**It’s also unfortunate that he identifies Mattie Brice by her labels on the very same day she posted this on her site. Subject to bad timing.
***I’ve found “people” to be a good substitute in every context bar one, to mean the exact same thing I wanted to get at without presenting the subject as a club or dependant on self-identity. The one exception is when I want to refer pejoratively to the exclusionary self-identity that “gamer” culturally signifies. That is all it’s really good for.