Game On

The culture war in the game industry.

gamergateThe culture war never changes. It shifts contexts. It flips through personalities and technologies. But its tactics remain the same.

When Anita Sarkeesian launched a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign to make videos denouncing sexism in computer and video games, she had few other skills to fall back on. Equipped with a master’s degree in feminist critiques of science fiction and fantasy, she was all but unemployable.

According to Anita she had sought out that topic because “I was attempting to imagine a future economic and social system that is rooted in social justice values” but instead she found that Science Fiction shows identified with Western values such as “individualism” and “meritocracy.”

Considering that her only skill in life was complaining about the things that more talented people created based on the content of her DNA, it was unsurprising that she had issues with meritocracy.

Internet research by her critics had traced her back to an appearance in a supposed pyramid scheme video and assorted dubious public relations and marketing work. But her marketing skills finally paid off when after claiming to be a victim of hostile comments on the Internet, friendly media outlets flooded her with publicity and instead of $6,000, the official victim took home $150,000 from her Kickstarter.

$150,000 is a lot of money for a few videos criticizing sexism in games. Before too long even her allies were wondering why there were few videos and why Anita didn’t seem to know anything about games.

Anita Sarkeesian had once told a class “I’m not a fan of video games.” Despite the sizable payday, her videos used stolen artwork. With interest fading, it was time for a feminist who critiqued the “Damsel in Distress” trope to play the damsel in distress once again soliciting rescue through money and media coverage.

This time her Internet persecution, which supposedly forced her out of her home, was covered by major media outlets. The Los Angeles Times claimed Anita’s plight revealed the “ugly side of gaming“ and the Washington Post editorialized “Anita Sarkeesian is a woman who dares exist on the Internet and have an opinion that some men find objectionable.”

Anita Sarkeesian had achieved what every unemployable grad student with a worthless degree dreamed of becoming. She is now a social justice icon.

But the story of Anita Sarkeesian and her $150,000 videos about the sexism in Ms. Pac-Man is only a sidebar in a larger culture war within a world that most people don’t pay attention to. For both sides, Anita is a symbol of what they hate. For her supporters, she is a victim of a misogynistic male online culture. For her critics, she’s a social justice scam artist creating provocations and cashing in on them.

GamerGate, the trending Twitter hashtag, is a response to an environment in which symbols disguise sides. Anita Sarkeesian is a convenient way of disguising what is really happening in a huge industry.

In an America where the lights of Hollywood are fading into diminishing box office receipts, the game industry is the new Hollywood. Americans spent $20 billion on games last year, twice as much as they spent on movies, and their immersive qualities make them into effective messaging tools for the left.

The political orientation of the game industry points to the left. And social justice advocates are pushing it even farther to the left with the willing consent of the industry.

In the latest installment of the popular Battlefield series some of the villains are Tea Party members. It appears to pick up where the cancelled Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6: Patriots with its own Tea Party villains left off. The heroes in the long running Assassin’s Creed series, whose opening titles boast, “This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs,” are the historical Assassins of the Muslim world. Its villains are the Templars. The games have sold over 73 million copies.

The game industry has always wanted to be Hollywood. Now the industry is a warped version of Hollywood with a handful of mega-publishers buying up smaller companies and merging with each other. Its AAA games are hugely expensive gambles which can cost upward of $100 million.

In that environment, nothing can be left to chance. The gaming press is an arm of the gaming industry promoting its products. Its “journalists” and “critics” can be fired if they review a game poorly. The “journalists” compensate by promoting social justice narratives and attacking their own readers.

Anita and Zoe Quinn, whose inappropriate relationship with a game reviewer generated the GamerGate scandal, make useful weapons, and joined the pantheon of "victims as weapons," but it’s not about misogyny. Game developers and journalists are all largely white men using women as weapons in a power struggle between a flailing industry, its apologist journalists and its disgruntled fans.

On the gamer side, women are tweeting under the #NotYourShield hashtag calling for accountability from the gaming press and an end to exploiting identity politics to silence industry critics. #NotYourShield may be the most explosive development of GamerGate because the gaming industry has duplicated Hollywood’s cynical use of progressive politics to shield a myriad of abuses.

In an industry where firings routinely follow the completion of a game and where producers receive far more recognition than the talented people who actually make the games, it helps to camouflage the abuses by choosing producers for their diversity cred and turning them into the public face of a game while those made it have been fired and looking for work.

That is why the industry finds it convenient to deploy identity politics against its critics.

Bioware, a subsidiary of one of the big game publishers, became notorious for pushing a social justice agenda in its games and for generating gamer outrage.

When Jennifer Hepler, a writer on Bioware’s Dragon Age 2, a game that had became a focus of criticism over inflated reviews, stated that she hated actually playing the games she was writing, the studio and the gaming press hid from criticism behind accusations of misogyny. Its lead writer, David Gaider, blasted critics of the game as homophobes. Social justice had become a way of protecting a corporate property.

The game industry is the frontier of a new entertainment industry. It’s a gold rush for corporations and for social justice activists looking to stake a claim on the entertainment of the future. As younger audiences tune out of television and movies, the left’s cultural grip on youth entertainment is becoming shakier. It has to colonize gaming or cede control over an entire generation’s entertainment.

Hollywood was hijacked by left-wing writers and directors while its overlords found it useful to maintain progressive alliances that would coat their industry with a patina of “cool” and cover for a myriad of financial, sexual and social offenses.

Their game industry successors are doing the same thing.

The game industry is trading social justice approval for complicity. It wants to cut deals with the Anita Sarkeesians to avoid any deeper scrutiny of its practices. Standing in the way are its own customers. The gamer is the group that the industry and the social justice warriors need and it’s a group that they hate.

The film and television industries often expressed their distaste for their audiences through their programming. The game industry is now behaving the same way. It loathes the “crude” tastes of the gamers; it denounces their lack of sensitivity and is forever boasting that it will leave them behind.

GamerGate has brought out the conflict between industry and audience. It’s not a new conflict, but the audience has more options than ever. Most game sales are digital. The same Kickstarter that allowed Anita to raise $150,000 to criticize the sexism in Ms. Pac-Man also allows gamers to fund the creation of the games they want. The biggest such game, Star Citizen, has raised over $50 million from gamers.

The industry has spent a fortune building a monopoly and is courting the approval of the left. But their Hollywoodized monopoly is already obsolete.

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