Videogames are Amazing and Fun, The Culture War is Miserable and Boring

Videogames are Amazing and Fun, The Culture War is Miserable and Boring


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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
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