Wrote a thing a few days ago on why I’m not a “gamer” and it got picked up and passed around by a whole bunch of smart people. To be honest, I had mixed opinions about the piece, because while I think I’m pretty good at writing words that cleanly convey what I think and why I think others should probably think that too, I knew that the odds of my words winning over someone who didn’t already agree with me were fairly low.
That’s because, as far as I can tell, where you fall on #GamerGate breaks down fairly cleanly along American liberal/conservative lines. It looks slightly different than we’re used to seeing in typical American political battlegrounds because the average age of the participants appears to be significantly lower (because it’s video games and not, say, lobbying regulations), but because I think everyone participating is fundamentally looking at the world in one of two different ways.
The world I live in is full of ambiguity. Truth is established by both validating methodology and establishing perspective. When I communicate through words or actions, the meanings of those words and actions are not solely defined by my intent, or even the intended recipient’s reaction; instead, their meanings are changed by the power that social ideologies and political institutions exert upon us all. Communication is not a simple act, in my world; I can never have absolute control over my message, so I must learn as much as I can about how those ideologies and institutions change my meanings to become a more effective communicator, thinker, writer, journalist, and human being. And if you were to categorize my worldview into politics, you’d probably describe me as a radical socialist.
At first, my world can seem pretty terrifying. How can we live in a world where even something like “truth” isn’t clear-cut? How can I write when I don’t have complete control over the meanings and messages I communicate to others? Why even get out of bed in the morning if everything I do is mediated by power that I have no control over? Isn’t everything just confusing? Don’t you feel powerless?
You would think so. Certainly, when I read all the outraged #GamerGate tweets about journalistic integrity this and that, I see a force of conviction and unshakable belief in the World As They Know It, where facts are pure, bias is injustice, and Right and Wrong are wonderfully clear-cut. That is a simple, wonderful world to live in — one in which you must feel powerful, confident, capable.
Except that it isn’t, from what I can tell. The people in this world appear to be frustrated — frustrated that there are so many people that do not see the truth which is so clear, or the right and wrong which is so cleanly divided. And they’re frustrated because when they act or communicate in a way that makes sense to their worldview, it doesn’t actually yield the expected results.
And their response is simply to shout as loudly as they can — except for the crazies that do far, far worse — because the alternative would be to accept that their world actually does not make sense.
I get it. It’s frustrating as all hell to feel like the rules of the world that I learned aren’t actually the rules we’re playing under. I felt like a bull in a china shop, hurting feelings and smashing things left and right not because I meant to, but because I didn’t have complete control over my actions, my words, and their consequences. And when I got blamed for unintentionally hurting someone, I’d get angry, because I Didn’t Mean To, So How Could It Be My Fault, Maybe You’re Just Too Sensitive.
For me, learning about gender and feminism, about race and class and sexuality and all these different ways in which power affects who we are, what we think, and what we mean to other people didn’t make me feel powerless. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I can’t effectively communicate to people if I can’t first understand who they are, where they come from, how they think. At first, it’s about learning to read text and subtext; later, it’s about learning how to shape text and subtext to create the results you actually want.
Without that understanding, I’d still be frustrated, because I wouldn’t know how to read the signs.
From what I can tell, professionals in the games industry (devs, publishers, journalists) tend to skew fairly liberal, young, and well-educated. (The American side of the industry is largely in the West Coast and Pacific Northwest, after all.) I suspect that the real fallout of #GamerGate will be for the American conservative political media machine to discover that video games are another political battleground — they’ve lost the war on censorship only to discover that video games are great at inculcating fans of war and guns — and they’ll find that there’s money and influence to be won by further polarizing politics in games.