Sunday, December 28, 2014

Here Lies Critical Theory, Slain by #Gamergate

Recently, I was alerted to the deeper issues of #Gamergate. Perhaps you've heard of it. It's been going on since August of this year.

From the tone of the hashtag by which it proliferates, one may think that #Gamergate is a scandal of some sort. When I first began to hear of it in August that was the conclusion that I drew. My understanding of it at the time was that the hashtag was for discussion of a scandal regarding collusion between video game developers and video game journalists. That was partially true.

More recently, Victor Vargas explained to me that the real importance of #Gamergate was in defending the artistic medium of video gaming from so-called "social justice warriors" who demanded that the medium be subjugated to their extreme agenda.

For the uninitiated, #Gamergate is less a cohesive social movement and more a group of individuals who are concerned about the state of video gaming in general. They don't want to see the quality of video games as an artistic medium degraded by journalists who will not report honestly or ethically about games. That includes not only game "reviewers," but also those who report on video games via an op/ed format. This is where the social justice warriors become an issue.

If there's any one thing that these social justice warriors -- or SJdubs as I call them -- seem to excel at it's misrepresenting the medium in order to magnify, exaggerate, or outright invent examples of sexism or misogyny in gaming.

A prime example is that of Anita Sarkeesian. No one has dismantled and revealed her misrepresentations nearly so well as Thunderf00t has.
It turns out that Sarkeesian is not the only one misrepresenting video games in order to try to advance her toxic ideology.

Recently, a game developer by the name of Henry Smith published a blogpost mocking the notion that gamers could feel oppressed as gamers. It's as confused, disjointed, and internally inconsistent as any other piece of SJdub pontificating. For example, he dismisses gamers commenting on their perception of oppression as "white men with expensive toys."

Strangely, this overlooks the number of women, people of colour or LGBT gamers who may feel oppressed specifically as gamers. Surely Smith believes that such people are oppressed as women, people of colour or LGBT, but seems to insist that they cannot feel oppressed specifically as gamers.

Well, with gamers intermittently targeted by the media, government and assorted busybody groups, who could blame them? It seems like every time there's a mass shooting in the United States video games are put under the microscope and gamers examined as ticking time bombs.

Perhaps what troubles Smith about this idea so deeply is that "gamer" is self-identification that crosses the boundaries of race, gender and sexuality. Given the idea, popular among SJdubs, of intersectionality -- an idea that holds that individual identities are multi-faceted, and so an oppressed person may experience oppression on any one or multiple bases -- Smith simply isn't adhering to the critical theory ideology very well.

I suspect that what alarms him most deeply is that, despite the idea of the intersectional identity, a white person can even possibly be oppressed, or even permitted to feel oppressed. And in order to deny any white person who feels so oppressed that sense of entitlement, Henry Smith -- by all accounts himself a white male -- instead sets out to dictate to PoCs, women and LGBT how they may or may not feel oppressed.

It seems like he's failed to check his privilege... if you believe in that kind of tripe.

It's very lazy thinking. But it turns out that lazy thinking is something he excels at. Here's an excerpt from his blogpost, another little bit of kvetching that he didn't bother to give even the most basic amount of thought to:
It's enough to make you wonder if Smith has actually seen that ad, or bothered to think about it any further than using it as a jab against the so-called "sexist" video game industry.

That's a notion disabused by doing something so simple as actually watching the advert:
Just as Anita Sarkeesian blatantly misrepresented Hitman as allegedly "inviting" the player to murder strippers, Smith misrepresents the Advanced Warfare advert by amputating the context.

In Sarkeesian's case, she claims that Hitman "invites" (her words") players to murder strippers. And while the player does, indeed, permit the player to murder some strippers, Sarkeesian ignores the detail that the game mission in question not only does not require the player to do so, but discourages the player from doing so by penalizing them for the act. In fact, the game encourages the player to avoid any interaction with the stripper NPCs (non playing characters) altogether.

Not to mention that should the player listen in to the stripper NPCs' conversation they learn that these women have been traumatized by their exploitation at the hands of a man named "Dom." Listen to that conversation and it becomes clear that the game developers intended for the player to be disgusted by these women's suffering.

Many feminists would applaud that commentary on the exploitation of strippers -- unless they're one of those "sex work is empowering" lunatic third-wave types.

That's how Sarkeesian misrepresents Hitman. Smith misrepresents Modern Warfare by simply pointing out that it -- le gasp! -- features a skantily-dressed and breathtakingly-hot woman in it. And doesn't bother to acknowledge the context in which she's presented.

In the ad, the player falls into a stall in a bazaar from a very tall height. Instead of being killed on impact, he is instead stunned. While stunned the player sees a gorgeous woman is approaching him, cooing with romantic interest.

Then the "expert player" character -- played by Taylor Kitsch -- commands his immediate attention by shouting at him "what are you doing!? We don't kiss goats."

When the player looks back to where the woman was he sees that she has been replaced by a goat -- or rather that she had been a goat the entire time.

She was never real. She was a hallucination. And that's very telling. A deeper analysis of the ad could suggest that this even offers comment on the standard of beauty this woman represents: she isn't real. Her beauty is fleeting, and perhaps even illusory. And even if she was ever real, the idea that she is available to the player, sexually, romantically or otherwise, is just as illusory.

Who should be offended by that ad? Perhaps people who kiss goats. Henry Smith seems to think the answer to that question is "women," or at least "feminists." Yet when we examine the advert more deeply than he does, we find that the cause for offfense is far more questionable than he implies.

This is just one example of why I feel video gaming, and #Gamergate in particular, will ultimately provide critical theory with the grave this toxic ideology so requires. They've picked their target poorly this time.

The modern video gamer is well-educated and not particularly fond of being told what to do or what to think; perhaps less about themselves and their hobbies than anything else. The intellectual battle being waged over #Gamergate has laid bear the bag of tricks preferred by the SJdub hordes, and gamers are proving not especially susceptible to it. They excel at identifying and outing dishonesty and deception, and that has not worked to the advantage of the SJdubs. Not in the least.

Very soon we can look forward to the following epitaph: "here lies critical theory, slain by #Gamergate."

The world will be very much better for it.

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