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On Video Games and Harassment

by Trent Polack on 09/06/14 09:02:00 pm   Expert Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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This post will, likely, accomplish nothing. The people who don’t need to read it will see it the most whereas it won’t even be on the radar of the people most in need of reading it.

I’ve been busy lately — working on two big work projects, one big indie project, a couple smaller indie projects, Diablo 3 (again), and sometimes even sleeping— so I’ve missed the whole #gamergate thing until now. I don’t even have much to say on the matter, but these are people I “know” through the Internet, so I feel obligated to post my thoughts.

Firstly, the harassment is beyond abhorrent. It’s something that should never happen in any office, industry, or any scope whatsoever. It’s completely and wholly beyond reproach. Those involved should not only feel ashamed to call themselves “gamers”, but ashamed to call themselves human beings.

I feel the need to figure out why anything Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, or Jenn Frank have done would elicit such a response. My answer would be “nothing”, but clearly that’s not the case, because the harassment exists and continues. So, what’s next? The analysis of games from a feminine perspective? Well, to put it pretty bluntly, games are by and large male-oriented. There’s no shortage of male power fantasies, objectified female characters, or generally male-dominated topics and attitudes. That is a true fact — plain and simple. There’s no arguing it and, if you try to argue it, you’re already wrong.  Sure, you can find examples of gender neutral or female-oriented games and try to use that as a counterpoint, but you’ll be trumped by twenty male-focused game at the very least. So, gamers, don’t worry about your favorite hobby getting, I don’t even know what to call it, “diluted”? Call of Duty will still sell millions of copies to the millions that love that game (myself amongst them), and there are no shortage of other games like it if that’s your sort of thing.

If you don’t want to play a game like Quinn’s Depression Quest then, believe me, you’ve got plenty of other options out there. I haven’t personally played the game because, as a systems guy, it doesn’t interest me on a mechanical level. On a thematic level, though? Absolutely. I’m a bipolar, anxious, OCD-driven person, and games that analyze any kind of mental syndrome are totally up my alley. So, eventually, I’ll give the game a try for that reason alone. Realistically, when I play games these days, it’s almost an afterthought. And I go to “comfort games”. Right now, I’m playing Diablo 3 on my PS4. I’ve also played Diablo 3 on PC/Mac and Xbox 360. And I’m doing it again. It’s just what helps me unwind. That, and whatever Vita/3DS game I play on the bus, are the games that I play right now.

My point here is that, no matter who are you, there’s a game for you — if you’re a man. Now, I don’t know the words to say what I’m trying to say here, so I apologize if they’re wrong, but: if you’re a woman looking for a AAA game experience that will deliver the same sense of empowerment that a game like Call of Duty does for million of males (and females, it’s not a black-and-white situation here)… You’re out of luck. Your best bet is AAA game that’s gender-neutral. And that’s horrible.

As a game developer, I make games that are important to me. I’ve made games about emotions like Balance (work/life balance), Doubt (… doubt), and Broken (bad relationships). These were great for me at the time. For the most part, though, I really enjoy just making a variety of systemically-interesting games. Starhawk was super interesting to work on, Dragon Academy was a lot of fun, Cat vs. Aliens was my first officially-published ‘baby’, and SPACE COLORS was my second ‘baby’. I just enjoy making games. I have a tremendous amount of emotion attached to all of these games, but for the latter bunch, they’re not my attempt to express any emotion, they’re my attempt to express fun gameplay through different mechanics. And that’s going to continue to be my contribution to the industry. I’m a systems guy, and that’s what most interests me about games.

So, when you attack people like Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian, what you’re doing is reducing the number of voices that games get made by. Jenn Frank and Anita Sarkeesian may not be a game developers, but that doesn’t mean their voices doesn’t impact games. They do and they should impact games. They’re just impacting the individual game developers who make games.

And here’s the thing: all of those game developers — male or female — are people. They are people with personal lives divorced from their profession. They are people with their own problems and joys. The thing we all share is a love for games as a medium. This is not a left-leaning or right-leaning (which, somehow, inexplicably entered into this whole mess) issue. This is a person issue. And attacking people for making games or discussing games or analyzing games is despicable act. Not only because it’s crude, rude, or unprofessional — though it is all of those things and more — but it’s completely irrelevant.

Engage the ideas. Take a moment and reflect on the arguments being made. If you disagree with them, figure out why, and attack the hell out of that argument with witty rhetoric and a sense of mad style.That’s what will further the industry and the medium. That’s constructive. And that’s what humans should do.

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