I went to the Game On 2.0[a] exhibition at National Museum of Science and Technology[b], and was planning to post some photos and a short writeup. But today it's impossible to write about games without also mentioning the cultural changes happening in the medium.
Briefly, what was once an exclusively young male pursuit, that was also seen as socially deviant, is now becoming mainstream. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones among other things, more people than ever before have been exposed to the idea of interactive computer entertainment - and they have enjoyed it. A small, isolated group of people in their own little bubble on the fringe - the "gamers" - have had their bubble burst and its content exposed to the outside world. Usually, the fragrance that comes out of these bubbles tend to be anything but pleasant. Isolation and withdrawal from normal feedback loops causes cult-like behavior: conspiracy theories and hatred of "the others" are common to the extent that their absence is the exceedingly rare exception.
"Gamers" were no exception.
It is a sign of how far the gaming medium has advanced when people that are outsiders start to take notice. Anita Sarkeesian[c], for example, holds a BA in Communication Studies at California State University Northridge and a master degree in Social and Political Thought at York University[d]. She started analyzing the contents of games from the perspective of how men and in particular women were portrayed in her Tropes vs. Women[e] series and on her Feminist Frequency[f] website.
This is a service to the community. Make no mistake about it. I'm convinced that her work will contribute to the improvement of games and of the tech industry in general. The more sources that are available, with more viewpoints, with higher quality - the better for us all.
Among one of the more telling arguments used to brush her off I find the accusation that she "isn't a real gamer" - which is sort of the whole point of her work: to provide a perspective that is severely underrepresented in the self-selected "gamer" community, by a person who isn't a fan. The accusation reveals just how insular and inbred the gamer community is. After having claimed games to be an art form (and not a nerdy hobby for social rejects), the gaming community seems unable to accept that games will be treated and analyzed just as every other art form, by people who are not dedicated fanboys.
Is it a minority that do these death threats? Sure. But let's not kid ourselves that those people came from nowhere. The difference between them and the average "gamer" is primarily one of degree, not kind. Their beliefs are simply an extreme point of the beliefs that are common within the "gamer" community. An industry that thought Duke Nukem Forever, with its violence against women, was a good idea, and where misogyny has been rampant for years[i], can't claim surprise when violent misogynists turn up in numbers in its midst. They are there because they felt invited and at home there.
Fortunately, attitudes are not static, and those who realize that being in that reeking bubble wasn't doing anyone any good have also started taking action. Industry heavyweights like Tim Schafer[j], Joss Whedon[k], Andrew G Davis[l] have come to Sarkeesian's support. Steve Jaros, developer of Saints Row, lays down a masterclass in how to take criticism.[m] She won the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award[o]. Even if you're not an industry heavyweight (and most of us aren't), there are things you can do:
One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences[p]. I hope she'll fight on, because, well as I said...
"I think it's fair to be called out on your shit," he said. "I think that it's a sad man that can never be self-reflective. I think that we tried to go and carry ourselves with respect, and try to respect sexuality and respect gender as much as we can, and sometimes we fail but hopefully we'll do better and continue to get better."