GUEST EDITORIAL by Matthew Conway
If you’ve ever listened to Ralph’s Wednesday streams (aka ‘the relatively sane streams’) you might know me as the idiot who vainly attempts to get a little gaming talk going at some point during the show. I’ve been flirting around the GG discussion since the start, and the main thing that brought me into it in the first place was, well, because I’m a gamer. As much as I enjoy a good scandal, as much as I enjoy discussing politics, and as much as I enjoy exposing social justice warriors for the hypocritical hobgoblins they really are, I’m a gamer first and foremost. Outside of masturbation, I’d say gaming is easily my number one hobby. I’ve been playing since I was old enough to see the screen on the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet and I’ll probably still be turning Tetris pieces over in my head as I lay on my deathbed. Basically, I think video games are pretty fucking magical.
A charge I often see thrown at Ralph from fans and detractors alike is that he doesn’t focus on games enough. (He most recently talked about it HERE) Even when he produces an article specific to a GamerGate related happening, those pieces are more often than not directed at the principal players of anti-GamerGate and their usual shenanigans of fleecing money from unsuspecting rubes or trying to get their freak on with animals and small children. In other words, the space is dedicated to these cataclysmic human train wrecks who hate gaming, not on gaming itself.
Thus, I have taken it upon myself as The Ralph Retort’s self-appointed in-house “game journalist” to talk about gaming for a moment. And since this is TRR and we’ve talked GamerGate a fair amount here, something that deserves to be examined is what kind of effect GG has wrought on the games industry and gaming culture at-large. We often muse on what changes (if any) GG has brought about for games journalism, but what about the games themselves?
Strictly from the gamer’s perspective, I don’t believe there’s been much effect at all. Granted, development cycles for big budget titles often take up large chunks of time, so it’s possible we may yet see some more significant reactions to GG as the next wave of AAA games are released – but I wouldn’t bet on it. On the whole, after a year and a half of GamerGate, I’d say the effect it’s had on the average gamer is almost negligible.
Yes, I know some of the more ardent supporters find this difficult to come to terms with, but GamerGate is merely a storm in a teacup as far as the masses are concerned. Most ‘average joe’ gamers I’ve spoken to over the past year and a half don’t have the first clue what GamerGate is; they’ve not been exposed to either the pro-GG camp nor the despicable mainstream media’s ‘hatred of women in games’ rhetoric. To these gamers, the type who routinely go out and purchase the latest AAA titles and related DLC packages without much of a second thought to politics (ie. the core demographic keeping game publishers in business), a seemingly never-ending online culture war is simply not on the menu.
Even for someone like myself, who has tried to keep up with the swathe of scandals and controversies surrounding GamerGate, I find all of the bitching comes to a screeching halt when it’s time to get my game on. As I sat on my couch the other day playing a Hell in a Cell match in WWE 2K16, I’m 100% certain I was entirely oblivious to the bleating of the likes of Jonathan McIntosh or that ghastly homunculus otherwise known as Ben Kuchera. I was not thinking about how there was no transgender option in the create-a-wrestler portion of the game and the only ‘punching up’ I was doing was to the Undertaker’s stupid face as I desperately tried to retain my goddamn WWE Title. This is the experience of the vast majority of gamers. When you’re knee-deep in escapism trying to survive a Covenant onslaught in Halo or navigate the turns of the Nürburgring in Forza, the last thing you’re going to contemplate is whether or not the game caters to otherkin on Tumblr sufficiently. You’ll be too busy experiencing that ‘neurological trick’ they call ‘fun’.
As far as the games themselves, the GamerGate controversy doesn’t appear to have done much in changing the thought process of developers – at least not any developers that really matter. For all the grandstanding of the progressive sect about ‘evolving’ games and urging games to ‘grow up’ and be ‘more inclusive’, the most praised games of 2015 – whether it’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Super Mario Maker, do not contain a lick of social justice brio in them. It is clear developers in AAA-land have ignored the online shitstorm and simply continued to go after those ‘average joes’ who aren’t hooked into social media outrage all day long. These games cater to the wide-spectrum of appealing pop culture, not the uber-niche San Francisco crowd calling for wholesale changes to the heart and soul of gaming. The best part is, social justice warriors are keenly aware they’ve been ignored. So hungry are they for some kind of validation in the wake of GamerGate, they will latch on to a tangential occurrence such as EA’s decision to include women’s international teams in FIFA 16 – a move that was most likely always on the cards for them anyway – and proclaim it as some kind of great moral victory against the evil, misogynistic gamer empire. Never mind the fact that those same alleged misogynists were the ones shooting FIFA 16 up to the top of the sales charts…
Yes, there are exceptions that might indicate social justice has had an adverse effect on the current gaming landscape – a dirty limerick removed in Pillars of Eternity here or a booby beach volleyball game missing out on a US release there – but if you step back and look at the history of gaming, censorship issues are a constant bugbear that rears its head throughout the years: Nintendo replacing blood with sweat in the first Mortal Kombat or Thrill Kill getting the axe on the original PlayStation because it was deemed too violent and sexually charged, to name just a couple of the many game-related censorship controversies that have arisen in the past. Then, as now, developers and publishers are always vigilant of fringe groups looking to cause them grief through bad press and will take countermeasures against damage to their bottom lines. Yesterday that grief came from the religious right; today it’s the progressive left. Regardless of where it comes from on the political spectrum, the gaming industry is simply too big a global powerhouse to be brought to its knees by hand-wringing and moaning from people who don’t even play games in the first place.
In other words, a scandal initially involving improprieties in games journalism really hasn’t done fuck-all to video games. Who could have guessed gaming journalists were really that insignificant to the people who make the games? :^)