Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One…

Really

Game critic Anita Sarkeesian and her family were driven from their house earlier this week after she received a series of extremely violent sexual threats towards her and her parents. The week before that, game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest) had her personal life (both real and imaginary) strewn across public forums by an angry ex-boyfriend in an attempt to destroy her career.

Both of these terrorist acts–because what else do you call rape and death threats?–occurred because some gamers have decided that “…gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors.”

Or that feminists “have to corrupt every single facet of our hobby that we bought up because they aren’t being victimised”

Or possibly because feminists would like nothing more than if “someone, preferably the state, take over the Internet and make it safer for lying, feminist con artists.”***

I don’t need to go into just how ridiculous and horrifying it is to respond to disagreement (even strong disagreement) with threats of violence and mental and emotional trauma. That’s been beautifully covered by many other writers this week, including Gaming Editors Andrew Todd and Tim Colwell.

Instead, I want to address the charge that feminists want to ruin gaming. Not because it deserves a response (it doesn’t), but because it’s a question I run into every time I sit down to write a blog post or participate in a podcast. What does it mean to be a feminist gamer? What do I want?

Lately, I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s powerful and engaging essay collection, Bad Feminist. In her essay “Feminism (n.): Plural”, she offers this beautiful quote:

“I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain … interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I’m not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in while also being myself.”

I don’t presume to speak for all feminists, or all feminist gamers. I don’t presume to speak for the other, wonderful, intelligent writers for Not Your Mama’s Gamer. Instead, I can only say what I (a gamer, writer, teacher, student, scholar, woman) would like to see as a result of the feminist influence on the gaming community.

I want more stories.

A lot of the fear I see about feminism comes from the idea that giving in to feminists means giving in to censorship. For some, that fear takes its shape in nonsensical arguments about threats to masculinity or stealing of power from one group to another, but there are more reasonable concerns, too.

Lately, I’ve had to answer the question of whether I felt all narratives should be didactic…should teach something. When I write about problematic trends or disturbing content in the games I love, I’m obviously hoping to see something change…but does that mean that these problematic topics should be removed from games in their entirety?

I don’t believe so. Maybe that makes me a bad feminist, but I don’t think it does.

Those who fear censorship could read my posts (or other feminist critiques, such as Sarkeesian’s video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games) as an argument to “clean up” narratives…to remove sources of conflict in order to avoid disturbing female gamers who play these games. But I believe women are made of tougher stuff than that, and most of us want a good story as much as the next gamer. It’s not that I want games to be without conflict or to always end with some moralistic theme. I just want more stories.

If you’ve ever watched bad horror movies, you’ve felt this. The creepy sound comes from the basement. The car stalls in a remote location. Eerie light can be seen spilling out from behind a closed door. And you sigh…because you know the characters are just going to walk straight into the trap anyway.

That’s what violence and misogyny is like for women in popular culture. The screen pans on some pretty young thing in a short skirt talking to a guy, and you barely need the music to start before you sigh and go “Well, she’s not going to last long.”

It’s old. It’s tired. It’s been done to death a million times.

Is this really the only way to write a story? How many more games do we need with damsels in distress, with sexualized victims, with rapes, or with shallowly drawn women who disappear after two scenes? The market is full of that already. This isn’t just sexism. It’s lazy and it’s bad writing. I want more than that. I want writers to explore the stories that haven’t been explored. I want to see the guy win the girl, and I want to see the girl win the guy. Or the guy win the guy or the girl win the girl. Or to say to hell with romance and kick ass with a sword and possibly a few choice explosions. I want the cliche and I want the innovation. I want to see gaming grow…not wallow in the mire of what’s come before.

Of course, there’s one other side to the proliferation of misogyny in pop culture, and it’s here that the bad horror story analogy falls apart. See, horror stories aren’t the only ones out there. There are plenty of movies where the car stalls and they call the cops and get a tow instead of wandering around in dark, haunted woods. There are plenty of stories where the conflict comes from romance or job issues or where it’s scary because the creepy ghost/monster/ax-murderer keeps coming even when the protagonists aren’t complete idiots. But there aren’t a whole lot of games or movies that don’t treat women like disposable objects, or that put minority characters in as anything other than token roles.

Here’s where I modify my earlier statement. I don’t believe that stories should be written to be didactic. I think they already are. We learn through narratives. When we are exposed to a whole bunch of stories, we grow. We learn to evaluate and critique and engage with people on many levels.

And when we’re only exposed to one story, repeated over and over and over and over, we learn from that, too. It colors our interactions, reactions, and judgments…sometimes in ways we never realize, because we know nothing else. We were never given any other stories to pull from.

So that’s what I want. Scenes of domestic violence make my stomach churn. Rape plots leave me aching inside for the victim–not the fictional one, but for all the real ones out there who have experienced that same helplessness and horror. But I don’t think we need to get rid of them. Rape happens. Racism happens. Death and crime and awful chance happen. These are the things of life and fiction both. But it can’t be the whole story. It can’t be the only story.

The goal (or my goal, at least) isn’t censorship. It’s finding new voices and letting them tell their side, too.

***These quotes come, in order, from Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini’s Patreon project, “The Sarkeesian Effect,” Anti-SJW Tumblr writer Rationalnonsensecomics, and A Voice For Men founder Paul Elam. They are not quotes about the threats towards Quinn and Sarkeesian, but rather samples of the discourse attempting to drive women from gaming communities and/or justify the violence female gamers experience. I will not link to them and add to their hits, but they can be found with a quick Google search if you want to see these quotes in their original contexts.
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7 Responses to “Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One…”

  1. Jean Kalyx says:

    “The goal (or my goal, at least) isn’t censorship. It’s finding new voices and letting them tell their side, too.”

    There’s nothing stopping a new voice from writing an alternate game narrative. I usually don’t care for game narratives as I’m pretty much dogmatic about gameplay theory, but I don’t think there’s anything stopping somebody from writing a story that speaks your language. And it seems you agree that current writers shouldn’t adjust and sacrifice creative freedom, yes?

    You’ve misrepresented the arguments against Anita, btw. Neither me nor the Sarkeesian Effect creators have ever threatened anybody with rape and violence. Those are trolls and trolls are universally hated.

    • Jennifer Justice says:

      You’re right. I do believe that current writers can still write narratives that they want to write. However, there are things stopping new voices. Some has to do with marketing pressures (companies note that certain stories don’t sell, so they don’t approve new stories coming in. Those stories continue to get low representation, so they don’t sell well. Rinse and repeat), and some have to do with status barriers (women and minority writers are an amazingly small percentage of those working in games companies). If game developers are also interested in more stories, it becomes a question of finding awesome people to tell something new, rather than shying away from those because they don’t have a proven market. With women making up a larger demographic of gamers than ever before, trying new things isn’t anywhere near as scary as it might seem from the outset.

      As for misrepresentation, I’m very sorry if it came across that way. I did write that these arguments were NOT part of the threats against Sarkeesian and Quinn. My hope was not to paint those quoted as the attackers, but to look at the arguments against these women that OTHERS took as excuses to attack them. When we try to exclude people from having a voice, there will always be some people who take that even further. They don’t stop at arguing. They use it to justify awful behavior, such as the actions against Sarkeesian and Quinn this week.

      I would like to say you’re right that trolls are universally hated, but the number of supporters egging on these attacks make me skeptical that that’s as true as you or I might want it to be.

      • Jean Kalyx says:

        “Companies note that certain stories don’t sell, so they don’t approve new stories coming in. Those stories continue to get low representation, so they don’t sell well. Rinse and repeat.”

        Well what you’re really assuming is putting enough of these stories out would make people buy them. The videogame industry is moving toward a more segmented consumer base where cult followings and niche brands are paramount. The AAA model is slowly imploding on itself, and already companies are pushing subscriptions models. If you can’t sell Battlefield to everybody, just make the ones who do zealously devoted.

        It’s exactly the kind of market indies should be waiting for. So rather than wait on companies to green light certain kinds of stories to increase awareness of ‘Hey, you may like this,’ I would suggest you build your game (mechanics first, narrative second), attract players and build a sub-community. Mark my words this is the Blue Ocean indies are failing to sail. Don’t wait for EA to push a game they’re not gonna risk revenue on. You guys should claim this opportunity if you really mean to show the world your vision of interactive entertainment.

        “Women and minority writers are an amazingly small percentage of those working in games companies.”

        An amazingly small number of women and minority writers enter the biz. This sort of thing will change in time, imagine. I will agree that this accounts for the lack of diversity in not only story telling but games in general. The coming industry environment I mentioned will grant people the chance to run with it if they want. We need people with vision and drive and less Phil Fish types.

        “If game developers are also interested in more stories, it becomes a question of finding awesome people to tell something new, rather than shying away from those because they don’t have a proven market.”

        Publishers are soulless entities only interested in making money. What is and isn’t proven in the market means everything to them. Smaller studios will have the leeway to attempt things like this, though I’d contest that this trend has already begun anyway. The people asking for this really have to put their money where their mouth is, though, because to make a footprint in any market – and consumers and creators have to trade hard. It’s my observation that SJWs and feminists, perhaps not you personally, do not support companies that adhere to their tastes like you’d think. I touched on this in a recent blog post.

        The biggest difference between Core Gamers and SJW Gamers? The Core Gamers are the ones who feverishly support the brands, they stand in line for the midnight releases, they buy all the DLC, and they preorder to a mindless degree. I have seen SJWs scoff at these actions and let me tell you: Unless you guys have that kind of passion for your products the market will simply never allow the kind of exposure you aim for. Sail that Blue Ocean and get your creators and buyers trading.

        “When we try to exclude people from having a voice, there will always be some people who take that even further. They don’t stop at arguing. They use it to justify awful behavior, such as the actions against Sarkeesian and Quinn this week.”

        Sarkeesian wasn’t stifled from speaking. She releases her vids just fine. In fact, nobody important is trying to stop her from talking. If anything we wish she would to with us rather than at us. Not a single debate, not a single video response. Quinn doesn’t seem interested in saying anything of merit, and has instead chosen to fabricate harassment against her (of which I find personally disgraceful, and will certainly provide evidence of at your behest).

        Nobody is using anything to justify awful behavior. These are trolls. And they don’t represent me or the guys making the documentary. They are not the Core Gamer public. Think of them as extreme radicals splintered from the moderates.

        And on censorship; how do you feel about the unprecedented censorship game journalists took against me and my peers? Not a single one interviewed the project leads, myself, MundaneMatt, and others who are not trolls but very invested in solving the issues arisen the last two weeks. Comments are deleted or left perpetually pending, threads are closed or also deleted, people are blocked. This isn’t happening to trolls, it’s legit people being shut out of the convo. It’s been one sided, nobody is talking to us. You’re only listening to trolls. Why? Are we not funny enough? I tell jokes all the time, you should see my wardrobe.

        Listen, at the very least you have to admit the lack of contact with us is a little fishy, especially when we’re not the bad guys here. I mean, you’re already doing more than any game journalists the last two weeks even responding to me. Your side has NOT been this nice to us out there.

        Can you urge your peers to ignore the trolls and start addressing us people? Like you’re addressing me now? Like I’m addressing you?

        • Jennifer Justice says:

          I apologize in advance for the length of this response. It’s difficult to do nuanced and concise, so bear with me.

          I won’t address everything in your reply because a lot of it goes in very different directions (such as marketing concerns) in which I can’t claim expertise. So I’ll leave that to someone more versed in economics. What I would like to address is the distinction between “SJW Gamers/Feminist Gamers” and “Core Gamers,” and censorship.

          The thing about “Feminist Gamers” and “Core Gamers” is that they are all *gamers*. You really can’t (and don’t) claim that title unless you love games. And while there might be some feminist gamers who don’t want to wait in 5 hour lines to buy the newest release, there are plenty of us who will be right there with you, coffee in hand. Some of us love casual games. Some of us buy every AAA release. Some of us search out innovative new indie games. Some will just play whatever they can get their hands on….because we’re gamers. Just like you.

          What makes us “feminist” gamers is that, after we play, we try to discuss the experiences from a critical viewpoint (and by critical I mean analytical, not necessarily negative). The idea is that we love games…we really do…but we want to help games be even better, and that means pointing out some of the harmful things that these games do…even the games that we love. And, addressing another of your points, most of us don’t boycott all the companies and games that don’t make games the way we want them. Let’s face it…if we did that, we’d have nothing to play. We’ve become very skilled about playing around things that are often disturbing, because we love games too much to just walk away.

          I address this point because trying to pigeon hole “feminist gamers” (read:women gamers) into a separate category from “core gamers” is damaging to everyone involved. By splitting them, you’re saying that feminist gamers aren’t *really* gamers…which is insulting, and makes a dialogue almost impossible. Just like you don’t like being grouped with trolls, we also don’t like being separated from the things we love. We might disagree on the necessity of feminism in games, but I am most definitely a gamer….core, SJW, feminist, troll and all other labels need not apply.

          However, the more important point is the idea of censorship. You mentioned that you and your peers have been ignored by game journalists this week, and I can understand the frustration. No one likes writing into a vacuum, especially when we truly care about our subject. But I would like to clarify what I mean by censorship when I’m talking about it.

          Free speech gives us the right to say what we believe. It does NOT obligate anyone to actually listen to us. It’s frustrating to be ignored, but–like you mentioned in your reply–it doesn’t mean we can’t just speak up louder the next time.

          But what happened to Sarkeesian was and is censorship. Or, at least, attempted censorship. When you (meaning trolls or governments or whoever else uses these methods) threatens someone or actually attacks them in order to “persuade” them to stop talking, that’s an attempt at censorship. If Sarkeesian had decided “Nope…not worth it” after this week, I couldn’t blame her. What she’s been through is terrifying. But it would also mean that the trolls would succeed in censoring her. She is still writing and posting and working, so she hasn’t been censored…but that’s because she’s willing to take the chance that someone will follow through on their threats…not because she wasn’t nearly censored.

          That’s why feminist gamers (men, women, white, black, middle class, upper class,and socioeconomically challenged alike) keep highlighting that this is an issue. It’s one thing to ignore someone you don’t like or agree with. It’s another to threaten to kill them or destroy their livelihood.

          Now, I do think we need to talk if we’re going to get anywhere. And if you and your peers have been threatened with bodily harm, I am so, so sorry. Because that’s not okay either. But I don’t want to downplay the severity of the censorship that occurred last week.

          I’m glad you chose to address me. I appreciate the discourse. But we do disagree on the fundamental necessity of having more equal representation in games. Right now, people who disagree with my stance are using horrible, horrible methods to silence the men and women writing for equality in games. If they were all willing to talk with me (as you have been) we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. But the way the current gamer community is, expressing a view that we could maybe improve games for everyone is a way to get yourself threatened and attacked…that’s a pretty horrifying reality.

          I can’t change the way my peers view your movement…but you can. If you and others like you are willing to say these troll behaviors are NOT okay and are not tolerated, even against the people you disagree with, then I’d imagine more people would be willing to start a more reasonable discussion on other topics.

          • Jean Kalyx says:

            Now we’re getting somewhere, because the actual rifts and misunderstandings are becoming clear.

            “The thing about “Feminist Gamers” and “Core Gamers” is that they are all *gamers*”

            I’m sorry but the last week, as well as hashtags like #DiscribeAGamerIn4Words, along with a unified campaign attacking the ‘Gamer’ (10+ articles of the same talking points from multiple sites in two days) – show that SJWs clearly distinct themselves from Core Gamers.

            “What makes us “feminist” gamers is that, after we play, we try to discuss the experiences from a critical viewpoint.[...]The idea is that we love games…we really do…but we want to help games be even better, and that means pointing out some of the harmful things that these games do…even the games that we love.”

            Well actually gamers like myself can be extremely critical of games. I suppose the subject that we criticize varies. I would tear a game apart if the gameplay was bad. I have spoken out against the growing trend of presentation over gameplay, and Japanese developers adopting western tropes to the harm of key franchises. That is what worries me in gaming. Taking my issues to action, I support the games that speak my language and avoid the ones that don’t. By doing this, we can collectively improve games for everybody.

            There’s no objective way to classify what is ‘harmful’ in a game. I totally get that some games have elements that make you feel uncomfortable, and I’m fine if you wanna blog on that. But you have to expect some debate on the matter, especially when you proclaim to ‘improve’ games doing this. For instance; just mentioning that you feel you could improve games by pointing out elements in the narrative (I assume this is your key area), comes off strange to me since I feel narrative is beside the point of videogames.

            Remember Me had a complicated female protagonists who took action. And it bombed. Mirror’s Edge also had a badass female hero, and it was successful enough to have a following demanding a sequel. The difference? One is a good game. The industry is better by having a sequel to ME rather than RM, and that was a convo between core gamers and company. If feminists concerned themselves with gameplay as well as narrative, I believe they would be more in league with how core gamers see things. We could eliminate the ‘fog of war’ between the two parties if we all remember what the point of games were.

            When Anita makes a critique of Pac-Man or Mario Bros., ignoring the context of those games’ developments, gameplay, and history – she marks her separation from the core gamer who considers these elements. See what I mean?

            “I address this point because trying to pigeon hole “feminist gamers” (read:women gamers) into a separate category from “core gamers” is damaging to everyone involved. By splitting them, you’re saying that feminist gamers aren’t *really* gamers…which is insulting, and makes a dialogue almost impossible.”

            I don’t agree feminist gamers = women gamers. I know women gamers, and they don’t concern themselves with what feminists gamers tend to.

            Now let me be clear; by adding pre-fixes to Gamer I’m not marginalizing you – it’s just what it is. There’s obviously a distinct approach to the industry that differs us. Naturally, just for the sake of conversation, labels appear. Now if I didn’t believe you were gamers I wouldn’t use the that word at all. You’re clearly gamers of some sort, like myself, but the kind of gamer you are severely affects how you view the industry.

            When I look at the industry, I see a terrible trend of garbage games that put narrative and resolution over gameplay. Are these strictly Core Gamer issues? Perhaps not; maybe I’m a technical type not yet identified. Point is even I have views that exit me from the mainstream, and I’m fine with that. And I’ve actually been vilified for daring to criticize a game over bad gameplay. It blew my mind. But you know what; I’m gonna support that games that adhere to me, spread the word, and one day make games that have my philosophy. I won’t waste time trying to talk an industry into making games I wanna see.

            On your censorship comments:

            - You should be careful treating censorship and ‘almost censorship’ as pretty much the same. It’s disrespectful to people who really get shut down. Either she got blocked from speaking or she didn’t, and she didn’t.
            - We already vilify trolls. We are not in league with those who make threats. We can’t police them anymore than you can – because they are not of our group. Please remember this.

            “It’s one thing to ignore someone you don’t like or agree with. It’s another to threaten to kill them or destroy their livelihood.”

            - Agreed. We all hate trolls.

            “I’m glad you chose to address me. I appreciate the discourse. But we do disagree on the fundamental necessity of having more equal representation in games. Right now, people who disagree with my stance are using horrible, horrible methods to silence the men and women writing for equality in games. If they were all willing to talk with me (as you have been) we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. But the way the current gamer community is, expressing a view that we could maybe improve games for everyone is a way to get yourself threatened and attacked…that’s a pretty horrifying reality.”

            Can you read this over and possibly see why I’m having to constantly reiterate that we are not the trolls you keep mentioning? I sorry about them but they are trolls. We can’t stop trolls from ruining either of our day. They’re not ‘gamer community’, they’re assholes who play games. Saying things like how I can change things with my peers by vilifying trolls – is basically saying my peers are in fact these trolls. And we can help by telling our peers to chill out. But we can’t, because they are NOT peers of ours.

  2. dr. b. says:

    As a gamer with more than 3 decades of gaming experience I consider myself both a Core and a Feminist gamer so for me most of your argument falls apart when you make the assertion that you are not the one who puts the two identities at odds with one another, but we (Feminist Core Gamers) are. And ultimately the thing that I find most confusing is that you say “Social Justice Warrior” like it’s a bad thing.

    • Jean Kalyx says:

      The observed actions of SJWs have shown them to be very vindictive when met with counter arguments or not allowed their way. It took a while before that title became an ironic moniker but there’s enough documented stuff to warrant it. With my experience I don’t find mentioning them that way bad at all. Even now there’s been some ugly stuff on Twitter from SJWs. They’ve even excommunicated their friends and co-workers for helping us gamers be heard, while we are more united than ever. Reconsider your position on this, at least after you take a look at what’s going on. It’s beyond idiotic trolls.

      Continuing on the concept of titles, I’m very interested in your status of Core Feminist Gamer. You are fine with how the industry is going?

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