The ori­gins of “cul­ture war” as it stands today are shroud­ed in uncer­tain­ty, with each side accus­ing the oth­er of fir­ing the first shot. It is defined as “the con­flict between tra­di­tion­al­ist or con­ser­v­a­tive val­ues and pro­gres­sive or lib­er­al val­ues,” but even this def­i­n­i­tion is a bit iffy to me. The term has moved on from its orig­i­nal usage, and is now used as an umbrel­la term for the idea that one ver­sion of cul­ture and pol­i­tics is inher­ent­ly bet­ter than anoth­er, that the media you con­sume should reflect your per­son­al polit­i­cal ideas, and that media has a pro­found effect on how peo­ple view the world.

Even before the ongo­ing shit-storm that is GamerGate there had been talk about “The Culture War” and how it affects us. Just look at what occurred Atheism+ for an almost mir­ror event of what was attempt­ed in gam­ing. In 2013 self-confessed misan­drist Samantha Allen pub­lished an post enti­tled “An Open Letter to Games Media” which calls for the whole­sale shift­ing of gam­ing cul­ture, and goes on to attack the very idea of neu­tral­i­ty.

Amazing side 1The thing is, this isn’t a war, this is a debate. War is trib­al. It builds fac­tions, and is fought to crush a per­ceived ene­my at all costs. There shouldn’t be one set of ideas that dom­i­nates the pub­lic dis­course, with alter­nate views com­ing under attack. “The first casu­al­ty of war is the truth” holds star­tling­ly clear for the imposed and unwant­ed “Culture War” that gam­ing has been thrust into. War breeds pro­pa­gan­da, dehu­man­iza­tion of “the ene­my,” and excus­es crimes in aid of the final vic­to­ry. The next casu­al­ty is rea­son.

The cul­ture war con­cept is an import­ed trait to gam­ing. The idea isn’t native, and the per­ceived battle-lines were drawn up exter­nal­ly. Those who rel­ish in cul­tur­al war­fare have been itch­ing to inject this idea fur­ther and fur­ther into what is seen as the next bat­tle­ground to them: the games indus­try and the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty.

This idea of cul­tur­al war­fare is a com­plete­ly American inven­tion in my view. It stems from the increas­ing­ly divid­ed pol­i­tics in the coun­try. Culture war ignores the cen­trism and mod­er­ate nature of the beliefs of the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple, and pits the right and left again­st each oth­er in an “Us vs. Them” sit­u­a­tion. There are two sides of very loud peo­ple scream­ing at each oth­er, and every­one else in the mid­dle suf­fers for it. This is seen as a desir­able state of affairs to some because some folks want to “win” for their cul­ture. Normal peo­ple don’t want to bul­ly and dom­i­nate oth­ers with their ideas, and the con­cept is abhor­rent to any­one who tru­ly holds the ideas of lib­er­al­ism and plu­ral­ism to heart.

Gamers didn’t seek out want­i­ng to rebut the­se ideas, but instead had it thrust upon them. “Progressive Vs. Conservative” is a false dichoto­my; people’s entire world­view can’t be boiled down to a sim­ple bina­ry choice. It’s so impor­tant for peo­ple like Samantha Allen, or any of the myr­i­ad arti­cles in The Guardian, Vox, or Gawker media that attacks the idea of neu­tral­i­ty because nuance and bal­ance pre­vent a cul­ture war from being per­pet­u­at­ed. It pre­vents you sim­ply accept­ing some­one else’s ideas as dif­fer­ent from yours.

That is, at a core lev­el, what the cul­ture was is: a way of whip­ping up sides in a con­flict with­out any­one ques­tion­ing why we have to be fight­ing all the time. We’ve seen it direct­ly men­tioned by Leigh Alexander in Time, and The New Republic put out an espe­cial­ly dense arti­cle called “GamerGate: A Culture War for People Who Don’t Play Video Games” (empha­sis added by author) pret­ty much admit­ting that the cul­ture war has lit­tle to do with gam­ing, and was just a way to crow­bar polit­i­cal divi­sions into it.

Video games are sup­posed to be fun. Yes, they can reflect our every­day real­i­ty, but they also provide escape from it —  they trans­port us to oth­er worlds. Anita Sarkeesian, Jonathan McIntosh, and the click­bait­ing gam­ing press are the antithe­sis of the joy of play­ing a video game. They are Jack Thompson, Tipper Gore, and Mary Whitehouse all rolled into one with a dash of half-understood teenage Marxism. They are dem­a­gogues, talk­ing heads con­tribut­ing noth­ing of worth to the gam­ing land­scape. Their doc­trine is based at a core lev­el around restrict­ing what can be made, rather than empow­er­ing cre­ators to make what they see fit (as our EiC wrote about here). I also wrote about this in my pre­vi­ous arti­cle “Linkle and the Geek Culture War,” and how their end goal was to dom­i­nate the polit­i­cal dis­course.

Amazing insert 1

The debate is rigged. “This is a dis­cus­sion we need to be hav­ing” is used every time some­thing is proved to be untrue, or a figure-head is shown to be dis­hon­est. It’s the same as what hap­pened with the UVA rape hoax; fem­i­nists putting for­ward the idea of a cam­pus rape epi­demic had one of their core exam­ples com­plete­ly destroyed. So what did they do? They focused on “high­light­ing issues” and retreat­ed to non­sen­si­cal par­ty lines about “no per­fect vic­tim” and “sys­tem­at­ic issues.” Whatever point you make will be drowned out by iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics of one kind of anoth­er.

The big­ger pic­ture is made up of indi­vid­u­al cas­es. You can’t talk about the “diver­si­ty cri­sis” in gam­ing with­out debat­ing the mer­its and valid­i­ty of speci­fic instances. Unfortunately, debate is not some­thing cul­ture war­riors want to have. If you engage on their own terms you are going to have a mis­er­able expe­ri­ence where noth­ing much actu­al­ly gets dis­cussed and you like­ly end up blocked. That’s what hap­pens when they turn the dis­cus­sion to “diver­si­ty,” every­one gets bogged down in minu­tia and counter-minutia, and noth­ing actu­al­ly gets done.

This cul­ture war is arti­fi­cial as well. It was cre­at­ed, and is per­pet­u­at­ed by those with some­thing to gain at the expense of every­one else. What needs stamp­ing out is not “the oth­er side” of the cul­ture war because they need the “oth­er” as some­thing to fight again­st. What needs ramped down are those prof­i­teer­ing and fan­ning the flames of an arti­fi­cial state of war in cul­ture.

The term “pro­fes­sion­al vic­tim” is bandied around a lot, and there are a sub-section of peo­ple who make a liv­ing from play­ing up the abuse they receive online, but there is a far larg­er group of peo­ple who make mon­ey as two-cent pun­dits who jus­ti­fy their own exis­tence by loud­ly pro­fess­ing the sky is falling with­in the gam­ing land­scape to any­one will­ing to pay their speak­ing fees.

The cul­ture war in gam­ing is a feast for sen­sa­tion­al­ists. It for­goes peo­ple hav­ing to build up a deep knowl­edge of gam­ing to cre­ate con­tent, and instead relies upon them mere­ly form­ing the loud­est, most head­line grab­bing opin­ion pos­si­ble. We are con­stant­ly bom­bard­ed with news of impend­ing doom in the games indus­try and com­mu­ni­ty unless action is tak­en. This sim­ply isn’t the case.

amazing side 2Controversy dri­ves traf­fic. That holds true every­where, even here at SuperNerdLand. Series like my Ratchet & Clank ret­ro­spec­tive, and some of my less con­tro­ver­sial Magic the Gathering pieces get a frac­tion of the traf­fic my gam­ing edi­to­ri­als and opin­ion pieces do. But as I demon­strat­ed in “The Death of Games Journalism Part 2: Business 101,” the out­rage clicks mod­el is short-sighted. I’d rather cul­ti­vate an audi­ence of a hun­dred peo­ple con­sis­tent­ly view­ing and appre­ci­at­ing my work than than thou­sand who occa­sion­al­ly click on an opin­ion piece, but don’t give a shit about you as a writer, or the com­mu­ni­ty. Taking adrev mon­ey from peo­ple com­ing to hate-fuck your delib­er­ate­ly sen­sa­tion­al arti­cle isn’t good enough to make up for not hav­ing an actu­al audi­ence built from trust and respect. The amount of mon­ey arti­cles on this site made from ads before we dis­abled them was usu­al­ly mea­sured in pence.

These cul­ture war prof­i­teers have sold their integri­ty for nick­els and dimes. Look at YouTube and what makes mon­ey there. The top chan­nels are footage of games with com­men­tary peo­ple find enter­tain­ing. People want to be enter­tained. They also want to look at raw footage of games and make up their own minds. Outrage con­tent and cul­tur­al crit­i­cism is dwarfed by actu­al gam­ing con­tent in the areas of media that are grow­ing. The gam­ing press aren’t going to sur­vive long on their twen­ty pieces of sil­ver from stab­bing gamers in the back much longer. This also extends to those who are bas­ing their entire busi­ness mod­el of per­pet­u­at­ing out­rage again­st “Liberals” or “SJWs,” and per­pet­u­at­ing the idea of a vic­to­ry for their “side.” In my mind, out­lets like Reaxxion were just the oth­er side of the cul­ture war coin, much like The Mary Sue or any oth­er agen­da dri­ven press, and its clos­ing is a sign that out­rage isn’t strong enough to sus­tain an out­let for long in the gam­ing space. You can’t replace the actu­al pas­sion for gam­ing. As Boogie2988 said in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly eccen­tric video, “More peo­ple just need to shut up and game!” The orig­i­nal refrain of Vivian James was “Can’t we just play video games?” More peo­ple need to remem­ber that.

I keep being told that “the vast major­i­ty of gamers don’t care about GamerGate,” and that’s true to a point. It’s also true that the vast major­i­ty of gamers sim­ply don’t care about polit­i­cal issues in the first place, and would rather just play good video games, not get ripped off to play them, and not be told they are shit for it.

That’s the way it should be. People should be able to enjoy and cre­ate games free from all the polit­i­cal bile being pumped into the indus­try from the out­side. I’m not here to “win the cul­ture war,” I’m here to rebut what I see as faulty ideas that are being strong-armed into a com­mu­ni­ty — and an indus­try — caus­ing unnec­es­sary mis­ery for many of those caught in the cross­fire. Stop try­ing to make devel­op­ers com­ment about GamerGate and stop try­ing to Kafka-trap them into issu­ing state­ments you can spin to say they sup­port your “side” of what­ev­er pet­ty inter­net slap-fight is hap­pen­ing this week.

The politi­cized envi­ron­ment turns most peo­ple off. If you don’t fit into what a cer­tain group con­sid­ers to be an “ally” then attempts are made to twist your words into a form more con­ducive to con­flict. Those who refuse to aban­don an idea of mod­er­a­tion or neu­tral­i­ty end up dragged and shout­ed down, or cajoled into silence.

Writer Trever Bierschbach artic­u­lat­ed this idea very well in his piece for Trigger Warning “Allies or Yes-Men, why I Don’t Much Care for Social Activism

Cries of “Just shut up and lis­ten,” “Your opin­ion doesn’t mat­ter,” and “Silence is con­sent,” are con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments that tend to make peo­ple dis­en­gage and walk away. How can one be an ally of a group that doesn’t want diverse opin­ions, yet still want their diver­si­ty to be rec­og­nized? How does one find the will to care, when the extent of one’s involve­ment is expect­ed to sim­ply be “Listen and believe?”

(I encour­age you to read the full piece. It’s a bal­anced cri­tique of social media activism.)

It’s lit­tle won­der most devel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers don’t want to get caught in the cross­fire of an arti­fi­cial cul­ture war. The safest option whilst there is a high­ly charged envi­ron­ment is not to com­ment lest your state­ments become twist­ed, and you’re pil­lo­ried by one side or the oth­er. Anything you say that does not adopt one extreme or the oth­er will always “not go far enough” for one side or the oth­er.

But I have good news! You can just play video games if all the pol­i­tics and bull­shit depress­es you. You shouldn’t fight just because you were told to, and you don’t have to choose a side — no one can force you to care about an issue if you don’t want to. You are an indi­vid­u­al, not some ally or sol­dier for the ser­vice of some­one else’s cause. You are account­able to your­self and your peers; social media is a false envi­ron­ment and the pres­sures stem­ming from the emp­ty noise on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook can rarely have an impact in your real life unless you let them. Publishers and indus­try orga­ni­za­tions ampli­fy­ing the demands of those who feel enti­tled to inter­fere with cre­ative work should feel ashamed. They are bow­ing to paper tigers, and loud but iso­lat­ed dem­a­gogues.

People are sick of divi­sive­ness, sick of those at the top try­ing to turn groups again­st each oth­er for their own gain or grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Stop. Stop turn­ing some­thing so well loved into anoth­er polit­i­cal mine­field where every­one is con­stant­ly at each other’s throats. Gaming exist­ed just fine before the­se vul­tures came along. I rebut the­se faulty ideas not because I believe in the pow­er of some final vic­to­ry in a con­trived war state, but because I believe in the need for a mul­ti­fac­eted debate.

If this is indeed a debate then we should be able to make our argu­ments pas­sion­ate­ly, but shake hands after­wards. My hand has always been, and will remain, out­stretched. In my writ­ers intro­duc­tion — my very first thing on the site — I wrote “I’m not here to tear down, I’m here to build back up” and I stand by that. The cul­ture war is a con­fi­dence trick, an illu­sion. You don’t have to be at war. You can just get on with build­ing a bet­ter indus­try and press. You can just go for­ward cre­at­ing your artis­tic vision. When you stand up to bul­lies they invari­ably crum­ble.

Amazing insert 2

This piece rounds out of a loose series of arti­cles I’ve been try­ing to write for a good num­ber of months. If you could boil down my work two core con­cept it’s the­se: pol­i­tics fucks every­thing up, and video games are a medi­um I have a deep love for that have enriched my life. I think the­se are sen­ti­ments many can relate to. Being bogged down in a polit­i­cal quag­mire is no fun. I’ve said it before, but I real­ly think many “cul­tur­al crit­ics” are more a fan of their own pol­i­tics than any­thing relat­ing to art or enter­tain­ment. There are some peo­ple who very obvi­ous­ly have a deep love for video games, the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty, and their audi­ence. There are those who love to be enter­tain­ing, and it shi­nes through in their work. It’s easy to spot a fake, and gamers are par­tic­u­lar­ly adept at it.

They don’t know much, but they know what they hate” sums up my thoughts on the chat­ter­ing crit­ics tear­ing down the work of oth­ers whist build­ing noth­ing. I want to be a man who’s known for what he loves, not what he hates. I want to evan­ge­lise for the trans­form­ing pow­er of an inter­ac­tive medi­um, and I want to share the good that games have done in the world. I want those who have cre­at­ed expe­ri­ences, and yes works of art, that have helped form me as a per­son to know just how much their work means to me. Media still regards gam­ing as the runt of the lit­ter, and all the talk of a “per­se­cu­tion com­plex” won’t change how gam­ing is stig­ma­tised in the mass media.

My role here is to remove the lies, bull­shit and mis­di­rec­tion heaped on top of the gleam­ing dia­monds of gaming’s past, present, and future. There is no cri­sis here. There are only accu­sa­tions of sex­ism, racism, big­otry, and homo­pho­bia because it helps an entire class of untal­ent­ed social sci­ence majors jus­ti­fy their exis­tence. Of course some­one who is paid to pro­mote “diver­si­ty in tech” is going to scream “fire” at the top of their lungs when say­ing that there is a prob­lem. Their job depends on it.

If they just admit­ted that every­thing was going pret­ty well, then all things con­sid­ered they would be out of a job. We need to get used to things not being in a state of cri­sis. Fact is, we have dozens of great titles made each year from all over the world by all kinds of peo­ple with all kinds of view­points.

The source of my anger, the indig­na­tion that fuels much of my writ­ing, is how bad­ly writ­ten games media sells gam­ing short with its focus on the polit­i­cal, and its instance on forc­ing the same con­ver­sa­tions over and over. They inject of guilt and shame into realms of the imag­i­na­tion made of pure joy. That is the great crime of the cul­ture war: the tug of war that pulls the arms of some­thing won­der­ful and leaves bit­ter par­ties fight­ing over the shreds. Gaming has had grow­ing pains, and it has prob­lems, but over­all it is a com­mu­ni­ty and a medi­um capa­ble of stag­ger­ing good. I want to show the wider world the won­ders that cul­ture crit­ics are putting down, and make them answer to the cre­ators they are tear­ing down with­out a sec­ond through.

If the first casu­al­ty of war is the truth then the first casu­al­ty of the gam­ing cul­ture war has been the voice of the rank and file devel­op­er. I’ve spo­ken behind the sce­nes with some of you folks — peo­ple I nev­er expect­ed to have a chance to talk to — lament­ing how they can’t express their opin­ions any­more for fear of being seen as tak­ing the wrong “side.” We are in dan­ger of caus­ing last­ing dam­age to a medi­um sim­ply to gain a hol­low, polit­i­cal vic­to­ry. If you would sac­ri­fice whole gen­res and audi­ences in order to make gam­ing bet­ter fit your polit­i­cal posi­tion then you don’t belong with those who hold a real affec­tion for the medi­um.

Amazing insert 3

Stop. Just stop. Look at what is being done to this medi­um and com­mu­ni­ty in the name of pro­gress, and ide­o­log­i­cal vic­to­ry. If they tru­ly loved gam­ing as they claimed they do then they would be able to put the pol­i­tics aside and share in the pas­sion of oth­ers. There is pre­cious lit­tle talk encour­ag­ing con­tent cre­ators who often feel trapped as mid-level cogs in the machine with­out them hav­ing auteur sta­tus. Demagogues are allowed to drown out the voic­es of those who have put decades of work into build­ing stu­dios and fran­chis­es because of pol­i­tics; because it makes for some nice clicks and con­tro­ver­sy. We can’t have a log­i­cal dis­cus­sion about game design any­more with­out hav­ing to wade through this extra­ne­ous non­sense.

No mat­ter what you believe, if you love gam­ing and that’s what you ded­i­cate your time to then you are a gamer. “The State of Gaming” by Alexander Macris is still essen­tial read­ing for any­one want­i­ng to cut the through the noise and under­stand where the com­mu­ni­ty stands right now. The con­cept of the gam­ing enthu­si­ast is some­thing that is imper­vi­ous to cul­tur­al attack, no mat­ter how hard some try. You can’t shame peo­ple out of lov­ing video games .

This is your hob­by, your pas­sion, you can enjoy it as you like. You don’t need to take abuse, and you don’t have to lis­ten to it. Simply enjoy­ing the games you love on your own terms makes the cul­tur­al crit­ics, the cen­sors, and the gen­der war­riors of this world screech in fail­ure. I’ve heard so many times that “the­se are dis­cus­sions we need to be hav­ing,” or talk of “tak­ing peo­ple out of their com­fort zone and chal­leng­ing them,”  but any­thing out­side of a cul­tur­al crit­ics nar­row safe space is “prob­lem­at­ic” or “big­ot­ed.”

The gam­ing press and the hip­ster indie devel­op­er cir­cle jerk is like some­one insist­ing the movie the­atre has a lec­ture about geopol­i­tics before the movie starts, and if any­one dis­agrees with any of their points they get upset and try and shut the entire film down. Ultimately this is a bat­tle between fun and unfun, between sim­ply enjoy­ing a medi­um and anx­ious hand wring­ing. In the long run I know what will win out. People don’t buy prod­ucts because you make them feel mis­er­able, they buy games that will provide them with some lev­el of sat­is­fac­tion.

I’m here for the games. You’re here for the games. If you’re not then you’re in the wrong place. SweeneyCultureOpinionCulture,OpinionThe ori­gins of “cul­ture war” as it stands today are shroud­ed in uncer­tain­ty, with each side accus­ing the oth­er of fir­ing the first shot. It is defined as “the con­flict between tra­di­tion­al­ist or con­ser­v­a­tive val­ues and pro­gres­sive or lib­er­al val­ues,” but even this def­i­n­i­tion is a bit iffy to…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.