Thursday, September 18, 2014

I support games criticism

How many people here have heard of #gamergate?  At first, all I heard was that it was a harrassment campaign against indie game developer Zoe Quinn, who made Depression Quest.  Apparently over something really petty, like her ex-boyfriend accused her of sleeping with a reviewer.  I didn't really read into it, because I think I've already seen enough harassment campaigns against women on the internet, and I already know it's not pretty.

But I did eventually read more about it, because I follow Giant Bomb's linkspam.  Apparently, there are some supporters of #gamergate who think that gamergate is more than just harassing women.  To them, it's about "corruption" in the games industry and games journalism.  It's about social justice bias.  It's about journalists getting too chummy with games developers.  It's about journalists failing to be utterly objective about reviewing games.  It's totally not about harassment, that's just a small minority, they say.

This deserves some major concern trolling.  Don't they realize that the entire image of their movement is dominated by the harassment campaigns?  Maybe they should be uniting under a different banner?

But even putting aside anything about harassment, the "gamergate" cause is deeply misguided.  This can be illustrated with an op-ed written by Jenn Frank about Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.  Look at the footnote:
• The following footnote was appended on 5 September 2014: An earlier footnote, appended on 1 September, made clear that Jenn Frank had purchased and is a supporter of Zoë Quinn’s work, although this is the first article she has written on the developer and that Frank has also briefly met Anita Sarkeesian. These facts had been included as a footnote by Jenn Frank when she filed her copy before publication but removed by editors because they did not fulfil the criteria for a “significant connection” in line with the Guardian’s editorial guidelines. However, the Guardian wishes to make clear that it was an editorial decision originally to remove the original disclosure, not one made by the author, and we are happy to have restored it in the interests of full disclosure.
There's a story behind this footnote.  Jenn Frank had added in a footnote disclosing her relationship with Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.  The Guardian decided that this wasn't relevant to include, probably because the relationship is so tenuous as to be irrelevant, and plus it's an op-ed.  An op-ed is supposed to be biased, and supposed to express personal opinions.  But gamers found out about it, and demanded* disclosure, in the name of journalistic standards.  Apparently, #gamergate thinks it has a better idea of journalism than the Guardian, and their idea involves "objective" op-ed pieces with entirely irrelevant disclosures.

*The demands were backed up by a harassment campaign, which caused Jenn Frank to quit games journalism entirely.

Despite wanting games journalism to move forward, people are demanding that games journalism move backwards.  They want it to be a glorified buyer's guide.  Gaming is a hobby that really requires a buyer's guide because there's a big upfront cost and large time investment.  But is that really all gamers want? 

It's worth understanding the distinction between game reviews and game criticism.  Game reviews express opinions (yes, subjective opinions) on games, with the intent of informing buyers.  Game criticism also expresses opinions on games, but with the intent of considering wider cultural implications (or at least wider game implications).

For me, games criticism is the main reason I pay attention to gaming news.  Criticizing and understand games is a lot of what makes them fun.  I want to understand the design elements, the constraints imposed by the game industry, the structure of game narratives, the representation of women, and so on.  Basically, I like to talk about games, in addition to playing them.  And I'm convinced that all these vocal gamers on the internet... they must like talking about games too, or they would be playing them instead of mounting misplaced campaigns.

The other half of it is that games criticism is why I play games.  I had stopped for a number of years, but when Anita Sarkeesian started producing her videos, I got more enthusiastic again, and bought my very first home console (the first one since I've become financially independent).

One of the things #gamergate was outraged about, was an article declaring that "gamers are over".  People saw it as an attack on gamer culture.  And to be honest, I think the attack is entirely deserved, considering the legacy that gamers have produced.  We're literally talking gaming terrorists!  And while that's obviously coming from some small minority, you don't have to look very far in the comments to find people who think this counts as Anita Sarkeesian "playing the victim".

But that's just an "attack" in the sense that a criticism is an attack.  Now, the discouragement of games criticism, that's a real attack on gamer culture.  Without people talking about games and what they mean, what is left of gamer culture?  I think there would be nothing left for me.