Gamers are blamed for everything. From mass shootings to the election of Donald Trump, there is nothing that the media will not hold video games accountable for—even if it’s a stretch to do so.
In the LA Times, Todd Martens has penned an article that’s incensed supporters of the GamerGate movement, in which he paints a grim picture of the gamers as “Internet trolls,” blaming the movement for misogyny on the Internet. The author refers to them as the “gaming world’s radical right,” and claims they are “fighting back against what they see as the onslaught of political correctness.”
Martens is only right about one thing—the movement, which was sparked after prominent game journalists attacked their audience as “wailing hyper-consumers,” has expanded its scope from being about ethics in the games media to counter progressive agenda-driven journalism. But that is where his grasp of the facts end.
It’s worth noting that the articles were penned in defense of independent game designer Zoe Quinn, who is alleged to have received favorable coverage of her projects through undisclosed personal relationships with game journalists.
The writer says that supporters of Donald Trump and GamerGate are the same. He says that Trump’s supporters, like GamerGate supporters, are white men (“for the most part”) that “a significant portion of the country didn’t take seriously pandered to humanity’s most base instincts and won.”
He goes on to refer to Milo Yiannopoulos, who penned several articles favorable towards the movement in 2014 and 2015, as GamerGate’s “de facto leader.” The claim is in contradiction to the fact that GamerGate is a leaderless movement with no organization nor overall political viewpoint. Additionally, most GamerGate supporters do not identify as alt-right.
He draws further comparisons between the alleged harassment of female game designers and journalists to the hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign emails. Referring to “female game designers and journalists,” Martens says that their emails were leaked. He is presumably referring to the “GameJournoPros” Google Groups mailing list uncovered by Yiannopoulos, in which 150 writers, bloggers, and editors of various media outlets (most of whom are men) had their correspondence leaked by one or more of the group’s participants.
The claim that female game designers and (presumably female) journalists had their emails “leaked” is a distortion of the facts, heavily implying that their email accounts were hacked.
The GameJournoPros leak revealed collusion between journalists as well as some game developers to promote a singular narrative of GamerGate. One of the group’s members was Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson, who stood at the center of the controversy due to his undisclosed personal relationship with the independent game designer Zoe Quinn. GamerGate supporters accused the game journalist of providing favorable coverage to her text-based game despite its lack of notability.
Members of the games media struck at the movement by creating the misconception that its supporters were opposed to a non-existent positive review of Quinn’s game. He had never written one. Despite being constantly debunked, the narrative stuck.
In addition to the distortion of the GameJournoPros scandal, Martens also identified similarities between the “Lock her up!” chants of Trump’s supporters and “I hope you die,” a manufactured quote he attributes to GamerGate towards feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian was already notorious within the gaming community two years before GamerGate for her repeated claims that video games are misogynist. She called on game developers to reexamine how they depict women, based on wrong-headed interpretations on the fantasy-fiction narratives within the medium.
Martens goes on to blame the GamerGate movement for harassment lobbed at a former game developer, Jennifer Hepler, whom he claims was “singled out for the inclusion of LGBT-friendly characters in a sword-and-sorcery game.”
The controversy with Hepler erupted in 2006 when members of a 4chan board took issue with an interview she gave, where she said that playing video games was the worst part about being in the video game industry. Hepler stated her desire to see options for casual players who wanted less gameplay. She expressed her intent to push a progressive political agenda into gaming at the cost of cohesive storytelling—evidence of which is exhibited by her own work in Dragon Age 2. The controversy played out over several years before GamerGate across multiple forums before reaching critical mass in 2012, when game journalists blew it out of proportion.
Martens correctly asserts that GamerGate advocates are upset that members of the gaming media “were corrupt and were colluding to bring a politically correct makeover to the medium.” They are. However, he goes entirely off-course with his extended clarification:
read: take away our digital guns, treat women as something more than sex objects and cast someone — anyone — other than a white male as the lead protagonist
Gamers are right to be annoyed at calls for censorship of virtual violence, and once again, the suggestions that gamers are opposed to treating women are “something more than sex objects” and the inclusion of a minority as the main character are distortions. Contrary to his assertions, Lara Croft remains one of the most popular video game characters of all time, and protagonists like Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu and Watch Dogs 2’s Marcus Holloway enjoy widespread appeal. And in many popular games, players are given the option to create their own characters.
The author refers to the attempts at promoting progressive politics as “female critics who sought to intellectualize the medium.” It is a lie that erases objections towards outrage doctors like Jonathan McIntosh, the man who produced Anita Sarkeesian’s feminist criticism of games.
He parrots complaints about Super Mario Run and its problematic depiction of gender for a while before comparing calls to keep politics out of games with a Trump campaign slogan.
“Keep politics out of games,” was Gamergate proponents’ rallying cry, but they may as well have been saying, “Make games great again.”
Martens claims that there is evidence major developers are listening to a “broader audience” rather than “being bullied by GamerGate,” as exhibited by a few recent games that “touched upon mature themes with a wide variety of characters” before concluding that the medium has a long way to go because every other game fetishizes guns and promotes a “fantasy vision of the world ruled almost exclusively by white men.”
This ignores the fact that games have had mature themes with diverse casts long before game journalists claimed they didn’t. Titles as old as Fallout, released in 1996, was heavily immersed in socio-political issues. In its sequel, two of the three playable characters were not white. It was also the first game to feature gay marriage, and revolved around the themes of slavery, colonialism, and racial purity with the player character’s tribe on the receiving end of a pogrom. Planescape: Torment, released in 1999, was about the myriad perspectives of existentialist philosophy.
Games are already great, and saying otherwise does not make the reverse true.