Contempt for Your Audience

I like games. Games are good. People should play them. But every once in a while they should put those games back on the shelf and see what else the world has to offer.

This is the closing line from this Paste post about PAX East 2011.

I’m rather angry at the condescension on display here, and it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. It seems to me that some (read: not all, or even most) people in the industry–whether they make games or write about them–just don’t understand what the big deal is about conventions for non-industry fans.

Does the author of this piece really not understand that fans who go to game conventions actually don’t live, eat, and breathe video games? And that this is, in fact, why they go to conventions? The scolding about not being obsessed with games is completely ridiculous. His job is games. Mine? Is not. I spend about eight hours a day doing a job that has nothing to do with video games. When I come home, sometimes I play video games. Sometimes I do other things, like sew or read or write stories or watch TV or go out to dinner or go to concerts or hang out with friends and family. PAX East is the three days out of an entire year that I do nothing but play games, talk about games, drink, and sleep. The fact that people who go to PAX have lives outside of games is also the very reason they can seem so intense: this is their only chance out of the entire year to be immersed in the game industry, to meet other gamers, play tons of games, and maybe even meet some of the people who make the games they love, so yeah, people go overboard with the geekiness. If you are immersed in the game industry 365 days a year–if you make or write about games–I guess it’s hard to see what the big deal is, since there are so many more industry and press events than there are fan conventions (reminder: there are TWO video game fan conventions, PAX and PAX East, on opposite sides of the country from one another).

But that’s not my only problem with this piece. At first, I understood the comment about it not being enough to love games, you have to love the idea of loving games. I had moments at PAX East, both years that I went, where I looked around and thought, damn, I am in NERDLAND. But then I laughed it off and continued to enjoy myself; it certainly didn’t send me spiraling into self-loathing. If just being around a ton of nerds makes you feel disgusted with yourself for even being in the same room as them, that’s your own problem.

The thing about how it’s cool to be a nerd now is a total lie, and it always has been. It’s cool to like Star Wars and video games, and be socially awkward in a cute and endearing sort of way. It’s cool to be a nerd like Zachary Levi’s character on Chuck. It’s not cool to be the sort of nerd who isn’t Hollywood-attractive, who is actually socially awkward in an awkward and uncomfortable way, the sort of nerd who can’t make small talk and takes things too literally and obsesses over things no one but other nerds care about (in case it’s not clear, I am describing myself here). So it makes me pretty angry when someone who perhaps self-identifies as a nerd but is a cool nerd comes into a space with non-cool nerds and tells those nerds to stop being so nerdy, already.

Telling people they should be more reserved and dignified in their interests is puritan and ridiculous. It’s not your job to police other peoples’ enthusiasm. Commenter Peter Stocking put it best: “A convention isn’t about liking everything in the place. It is about having a place for the things you like.” When it comes to conventions, take what you want, leave the rest, and don’t judge other people.

Edit: I enjoyed this response at Gamers With Jobs by Rob Zacny, particularly the last couple paragraphs. I’ve been both judge and judged (I used to the think the days of considering cosplayers losers was behind us, but apparently not…), and neither roles are particularly pleasant. Less judgment of others in general can only make things better.

Joystiq Donates EA Cash to The White House Project

If Joystiq and I had a Facebook relationship, the status would be “it’s complicated.” I totally adore the podcast, but the site itself is often troublesome, having incited anti-feminist trolling in the past and having unmoderated comments that are a total cesspool of misogyny and general hatred, among other things. There have been incidents where I’ve sworn off the site all together, only to begrudgingly pop in the next day ’cause I need my game nooz and it’s this or… that other gaming blog.

But then, once in a while, they go and do something totally awesome.

So today, my hat is off to you, Joystiq!

Joystiq Boys' Club Strikes Again

You know, this update wouldn’t have been necessary if they had at least one woman on staff.

The apology is cute. I didn’t find the glaring omission offensive, I was just really goddamn annoyed at being an afterthought yet again. It’s little things like these that are so revealing, reminding everyone that in video game land, it’s nothing but a boys’ club, no girls allowed.

(ETA: Since the first update has been deleted, I’ll clarify what happened: the original post contained a gallery of screenshots and a plain list of “all” the items in the Avatar Marketplace, but it wasn’t actually all the items, just the male ones. Later on in the day the post was updated to say that they were working on getting pictures of the female items, saying that they were sorry “for offending any female Avatars.” Some time this evening the post was updated with the pictures and the current update notice.)

Making Light

[TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of domestic and sexual violence (not graphic).]

This post contains a spoiler for Metal Gear Solid 4.

This morning I was trying to listen to the Joystiq Podcast’s Metal Gear Solid 4 special from last year, having just finished the game last night. I had to stop halfway through because I just could not stand David Hinkle’s misogynistic jokes any longer* (thank goodness he isn’t a regular on the show).

But I’d like to address one of his comments in particular. The one where he “joked” that Naomi deserved to die, because she “broke my man Otakon’s heart.”

Naomi did lead on Otakon and use him, though she also makes it clear she genuinely liked him. And she deserved to die for that? Really?

Hinkle, I found out this week that a young woman who went to my high school, who graduated with my sister, was killed by her ex-boyfriend, one week after she dumped him. Did she deserve to be killed for breaking his heart? Evidently he thought so.

I didn’t know her very well, but hearing this “joke” reminded me of her, and brought back all the sadness from when I first found out about this. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for family and friends of a domestic violence victim to hear someone joke around about such things, as if they are insignificant, as if they don’t actually happen.

In fairness, Hinkle isn’t the only game journalist to make light of violence against women. This week, I also unsubscribed from the GiantBombcast because Jeff Gerstmann just will not stop making jokes about domestic violence. He compared himself to a “battered wife” because he keeps playing bad Sonic games (this is not the only place I have heard this comparison). It’s really easy to, you know, not buy and play Sonic games if they are so bad. Calling yourself a “battered wife” because you “keep coming back for more” makes a joke out of ACTUAL battered wives, ACTUAL abused women, who are emotionally and financially dependent on their abusive husbands, who CAN’T just up and leave.

I can’t speak about the rest of the world, but the US has some serious attitude problems about domestic violence. When the average person hears a story about a woman abused or killed by her husband, they don’t ask “Why would he hit her?”, they ask instead, “What did she do to provoke him?” or, most commonly, “Why didn’t she leave?” In other words, most people immediately blame the victim for her abuse, placing the onus on her, rather than on the abuser, where it belongs. In a society where we force victims to take responsibility for their abuse, comparing being an abused wife to buying a fucking video game reinforces the narrative of the woman who is too stupid to just leave, as if leaving were as easy as not buying a game.

Stop making it easier for your listeners to blame victims of domestic violence.

Further reading:
Feminist Gamers (A post about Melissa Batten)
Two posts from Better By Design:
Melissa Batten
Game designing while female (about Jade Raymond)
(If anyone knows of any other articles related to making light of domestic violence, please post them in the comments and I will add them here. I did a brief search but was only able to find posts about sexual assault jokes, which have similar ideas but isn’t quite the same thing.)

* The last straw was when the others were joking about how, if Tomonobu Itagaki, creator of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, made a game about Raiden, he would give Raiden huge, jiggling breasts (I actually thought that was pretty funny). Hinkle said: “[Raiden] is a whiny bitch, so maybe he deserves a pair of hooters.” Translation: Raiden is such a “whiny bitch” (bonus points for the gendered slur!), he might as well be a woman. WOW. Just wow.

This is What I'm Talking About!

It’s kind of awesome that Joystiq proved me right within a few days of my last post.

Justin McElroy writes about How to Fix the VGAs, and what’s first on the list?

Stop objectifying women: They may not be half of the Spike audience (or even half of video game fans) but they are half of the planet, and it would probably be smart to stop alienating them. Not having topless girls present awards was a great first step, but next time, let’s try it without the models coated in enough silver paint to give Buddy Ebsen a seizure.

We don’t, fundamentally, have a problem with attractive female presenters (though finding ones with a connection to the industry isn’t as hard as you’d think), but would it be too much to ask to give them pants? We don’t think so.

Hell yeah. The clincher? Inane comments like “Only dudes who hate objectification are gay or out to impress women” are voted down to practically invisible, with many a rebuttal, including comments from the staff. GG, y’all.

I don’t expect a feminist crusade from these guys or anything (leave that to me! /grin), but when something like the VGAs is current, relevant, and blatantly obvious, it’s really nice to see someone on a major gaming site calling them out on it.

Unfortunately, Kotaku also recently proved my point about them when some editor decided that, on a post about Mirror’s Edge (that I will not link to), they would represent the game using not an official image of Faith, but the fan-altered image I talked about in an earlier post, after the game’s producer stated his disgust with the image. This reopened the discussion of the fan image, prompting comments about how MOST ASIAN PEOPLE feel about the image, among other outrageous things. I wish I was kidding.

In conclusion, Joystiq rules and Kotaku drools. And now back to your irregularly scheduled thoughtful commentary.

The Importance of Leadership on Gaming Websites

Over the past few months I’ve had an interesting experience being the designated feminist at a small online gaming community: a Facebook group dedicated to the Joystiq Podcast. Since Facebook uses peoples’ real names, there is next to no flaming and discussions are generally thoughtful, funny and interesting. The group of regulars are a bunch of pretty cool people. Even so, there’s still a problem with institutionalized sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and fatphobia. It’s been very challenging addressing these problems because I really have to pick and choose what to point out and what to let slide. So for example, I felt compelled to point out the problems with a photoshop of one of the podcast hosts in blackface, but asking people not to use “bitch” or “retarted” seems like it is going “too far.” It helps that I participate in other stuff regularly, so people recognize my name and don’t think I’m just a random person coming out of the woodwork to complain; and to be honest, I really enjoy participating in the group because about 85% of the time everything is peachy. But on the rare occasion there’s a pretty big problem, it’s really upsetting, especially when no one else sees it as a problem.

I’d like to compare two incidents where an offensive picture was uploaded to the group’s photo album. The group (called the JPAG) has a tradition of hilarious and skillful photoshops, often featuring the podcast hosts and sometimes the group members. So I think it’s worth noting that both of the offensive photoshops were simply stock photos with captions; they weren’t really very good, or funny, or had any effort put into them–neither added anything to the group even aside from being offensive.

The first was a picture of George W. Bush with a caption containing the word “cunts”. The second was a picture of an old woman with a caption containing the word “faggot”. On both I pointed out the sexist or homophobic (respectively) nature of the words and pointed out that it was inappropriate for the group. On the homophobic picture, someone else agreed and asked for the picture to be removed, and it was removed shortly thereafter. On the sexist picture, however, the creator tried to tell me that the word “cunt” isn’t sexist in the context because it was also directed at a man, and because the word wasn’t offensive to all women, everywhere (!?!?). The argument got a bit heated. Since I was clearly not getting through to this person and didn’t want to keep arguing, I appealed to the moderator of the group, who informed me that he appreciated my concern, but after consulting with a few of the group admins (all men, naturally), they decided that the picture would remain. I asked for an explanation and never heard one. In fact, the picture is still there. (ETA: It’s gone now.)

There is one clear reason that the sexist picture was left up and the homophobic one removed: the sexist language was condoned by people in authority in the group, namely one of the podcast hosts. The sexist picture is a reference to a listener email from that week’s podcast, where the listener spouted nonsense and called his parents “cunts.” One of the hosts thought this was particularly hilarious. In all fairness, he responded to my concerned email with a full apology, which tends to happen whenever a listener has a concern, which is one of the reasons I stick with the podcast. However, this apology never made it on-air or to the group, so for all intents and purposes, nothing really changed. (As a side note: this person also wrote a post on Joystiq decrying homophobic and racist language on Xbox Live. This led to a lot of commenters chiming in against such behavior.)

The point of all of this is that, despite claims by games bloggers that they have no control over what random people say on the internet, they actually do have a lot of control over the community on their sites, without even getting into moderation: it’s all about tone.

Tone is why Destructoid and Kotaku are sexist cesspools. When you post sexist headlines like “Jade Smells Pretty at London Games Fest“, when you post pictures of booth babes that are completely irrelevant to your post, when you think the height of humor is using the word “pussy” as many times as possible, you are not only engaging in sexist behavior, you are inviting sexist people to your site and making them feel at home, while simultaneously turning away most women and non-sexist men. It is truly the editors that build their site’s communities.

Joystiq generally does not do the above things, so things are marginally more civil there. However, any time a relevant picture of a woman accompanies a post, there are always a slew of sexist comments that go unchecked. I saw this happen to two posts that went up within hours of each other; the first was about a new executive at EA, who is an older woman, and many of the comments were extremely violent and objectifying (one charming example: “I’d hit it… with a crowbar”). The other was about the Lara Croft model, and since she’s young and beautiful the comments were instead about how much they would like to fuck her. It’s true that the posts did not encourage this sort of behavior the way they might at Kotaku, but at the same time, allowing these comments to remain up does–silence is the same as agreement.

When Joystiq posted about Feminist Gamers’ reaction to the game Fat Princess with an exasperated headline (“So it begins…”), it encouraged its readers to spam the blogs with hundreds of comments reading nothing but misogynistic, racist, fatphobic language that I’m not going to repeat here. Other gaming blogs were complicit in this as well, and much of it was probably a coordinated attack. It’s clear these bloggers were not aware of how common and severe cyberstalking and harassment on the internet is for women, especially women with opinions.

Contrast all of this with the MTV Multiplayer blog, which not only responds publicly to reader concern, but generally has thoughtful and respectful posts to begin with. And that attracts thoughtful and respectful people. It’s no safe space like IRIS, but it’s got a solid foundation.

I guess my bottom line is that gaming sites and their communities are what the editors and writers make it. If they care about fostering a community for all gamers, not just the young, white, straight, male crowd, they will not encourage behavior that is hateful toward other people, either deliberately or through inaction.

Note: Comments, as always, are more then welcome, but please stay on topic. I will not publish comments that derail the thread by turning the discussion to questions about basic feminist ideas, no matter how polite you are. If you want to know why the word “cunt” is sexist, use Google, or even better, check out the Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog.