Thursday, June 4, 2015

Gamer Journalism: Pointing Fingers Without Taking Blame

As a gamer, I like to think of myself as among a group of individuals (male or female) that may or may not have a selective interest in virtual media. I've perhaps stated once before that video games are akin to books in that (more often than not) they tell a story of some kind, whether it's simple or complex. They come in a variety of different genres and styles, all with some sort of protagonist and antagonist. It's fair to say that one individual's tastes may differ from another's, but at the end of the day, those that use the medium are all collectively and equally described as "readers" or in this case, "gamers".

...Or so I thought. Apparently within the "gaming community" a storm has arisen. Rather, several storms are on the horizon so to speak, as gaming journalists are under fierce scrutiny as well as the very vulnerable medium itself. On social media, common hashtags have surfaced such as #GamerGate and #GamesSoWhite. (For those unaware of what is trending, there have been numerous political discussions regarding racial depictions in video games as well as sexism in video game culture.)

Essentially, a culture war has been manifesting over gaming culture diversification, artistic recognition and social criticism of video games, which all incorporate a gamer's "social identity". 

Gamergate for instance, was the result of a sustained campaign of misogynistic attacks back in August of 2014 against game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, in addition to the feminist cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, who were subjected to severe cyber-bullying and multiple death threats. Now, while some individuals using the #gamergate hashtag have stated that their goal is to improve the ethical standards of video game journalism by peacefully opposing social criticism in video game reviews (which they claim is the result of a conspiracy among feminists, progressives and social critics) others have used more distasteful methods. It's become somewhat frustrating (as well as downright exhausting) as some gamers view this phenomenon as a detour of legitimate gaming reviews focused primarily on the premises of the games themselves while others view this as a rather valid critique.

The most recent trend has been about the depictions (or lack thereof) of minority characters in video games. I tend not to dwell too much upon how many minorities are visible in a video game (despite being a minority in real life), but every now and then, I'm reminded of the panel on Politics in Video Games I attended at ColossalCon back in 2012. That panel discussed many subtle issues in many of the games I played. I typically will create characters (whenever possible in a customizable game) reflective of my own racial skin tone, but for the most part I feel that it's mostly aesthetic and has no bearing on how I play the game. My skills tell the tale, not how my protagonist looks.

One troubling thought that never occurred to me prior to that panel was the fact that the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda franchise, Link, was a blonde haired, blue-eyed character that could have been easily associated with the Aryan race along with Princess Zelda, while Ganondorf, the antagonist (and the only male minority Gerudo character) was not, and was considered "evil" (In some of the games, he's merely jealous of Hyrule's prosperity and acted out of envy. One game in particular, The Wind Waker, comes to mind.) More often than not, there are few, if any, meaningful minority characters at all in a majority of video games. Most of the time, players are playing as a Caucasian male. This is certainly not reflective of the times. That's not to say that there should be mandated quotas, but some ethnic diversity is more than welcome.

Nonetheless, it has sort of popped my proverbial "bubble" in the fantasy realm. I now look at some of my games through a begrudgingly tainted perspective. A once enjoyable escape from the harshness of reality, has now become grossly entangled in its grasp.

As a political science graduate, I can obviously see the correlations between my favorite pastime and politics. However, as such, it truly pains me to see how hostile and divided the gaming community has become. I like to view the personal and political aspects of life to be somewhat equal, but separate entities (much like the separation of "Church & State"). There may be a bit of a spillover effect from one end to the other, or vice-versa, but too much of one aspect without consideration for the other can, and often will, produce disastrous results.

I suppose what I wish to happen is a tolerance AND a formal acknowledgement of the cultural and ethical dilemmas posed in video games, at least for now (that is, until gradual improvements have been made). Change will not happen overnight. In addition, many folks are not as tolerant of change as others (which is fine, to an extent). Yet, what players & journalists need to realize is that the industry itself is only one facet of the problem, while the consumers themselves are another. Both are at fault, as I see it, because consumers have the power to boycott those products that they don't agree with, thereby forcing developers to re-evaluate their content in order to produce a worthwhile product. (I've done so myself countless times).

I hope that as the dust settles, we can get back to discussing the plots and storylines of games rather than being so enamored with the political miasma of a game. Games are meant to be thought-provoking, amusing, and enjoyable...not capable of inducing undue burden.