Lost Humanity 8: Days of Nothing
It's not the Girlfriend Mode days that do the harm, says Rob Florence, it's all the days of nothing in-between.
This week's scandal. This week's thing. A sexist guy makes a sexist comment, it explodes, and is carried across social networks. Video game websites write about it. Bloggers blog about it. Tweeters tweet about it. Game devs get involved, defending their colleague. Gamers get involved, either defending or attacking the sexist guy. It blows up, and up. People who don't play games catch onto it, frown, tweet and blog about it. It spreads, threatening change. And then?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I don't want to talk about Girlfriend Mode. I don't want to talk about Monday. I want to talk about all the other days. All the days in between these big video game industry internet dramas. I want to talk about the days of nothing, where all the harm is actually caused.
There are always four camps when these things kick off. Let's take a look at them.
1. The Journalists
The journalists who break these stories are never the ones who cause the outrage or are outraged. They understand, of course, that there will be outrage. It's their job to get clicks, so when someone steps out of line like John Hemingway did on Monday, that's gold. So the journalists do their job. They report the thing. And then, if they get lucky, they sit back and let the clicks roll in. Later, the journalists get accused of writing "click bait" pieces with "flame bait" content. This always happens. The messenger always gets a bullet, simply for doing his job.
2. The Dev Community
The game dev community circles its wagons. They don't all get involved, of course. Some game devs are good people, who express distaste and back away from the mess. But others protect their friends. "I KNOW THIS GUY, HE AIN'T NO SEXIST." "THESE JOURNOS ARE HACKS." "THIS IS A CLICK BAIT PIECE FULL OF FLAME BAIT." Randy Pitchford defended Hemingway's "Girlfriend Mode" foolishness by tweeting "A personal anecdote has been twisted and dogpiled on by sensationalists." That's the click bait defence again. Essentially, the wagon circlers always fall back on "THESE FOOLS ARE MAKIN' SUMTHIN' OUTTA NOTHIN'." In truth, what we are seeing is human beings trying to make sure that a fellow human being doesn't lose his job for acting like a dick.
3. The Gamers
Gamers are pretty predictable when these things kick off. Some of them are outraged, some of them share a weary sigh, some are plain ignorant, and some are plain horrible. The outraged ones rant about sexism and how too many people within the industry are dinosaurs. I myself am in this camp, and tweeted this: "The Girlfriend Skill Tree. What is it with these dicks? Games industry is full of f***ing DINOSAURS." The weary ones have seen this kind of thing a million times before and know that nothing ever changes. The ignorant ones genuinely can't see that anyone has done anything wrong. I mean, they literally can't see it. "I don't get why there's a big deal. What is going on?" You almost want to hug them. And then there are the horrible ones, who see these events as a right and just continuation of a history of white male dominance, and use the opportunity to try and hurt more people with their words.
4. The Outsiders
The people on the outside usually find out from a tweet by an influential figure who happens to play games. They check the story out and roll their eyes, like adults watching children squabble. They too recognise that the industry is full of dinosaurs, but they recognise it in a detached way. It's nothing that they will have to deal with, so an expression of contempt is usually the full measure of their input before they walk away and leave us to it.
And then, the moment has passed. And nothing.
Here is a stone cold fact: The games industry is dominated by white males. And most white males are sexist.
For change to happen, the fight has to happen in the days between the drama. In fact, we have to eradicate those days. We have to create drama every day, by seeking it out. It's easy to find.
1. The Journalists
If sexism is wrong, and it is, why are journalists not writing about it every day? If misogyny is evil, and it is, why are our journalists not challenging the creators in the industry over their misogynistic products every single day? It's fine to report f***-ups when they happen. It's fine to spread the news that one developer thinks players want to protect Lara Croft, and that another developer thinks a mode in his new game is great for girlfriends. But why wait to be invited to shine a light on these things? Where's the actual journalism? And the next time any journalists attend a game launch in a strip club, I suggest they ask themselves what their actions represent.
2. The Dev Community
Internally, developers need to address why these things keep happening. The answer isn't to get better media training for stupid men in your studio, it's to have fewer stupid men in your studio. Where is all the outreach to bring women into gaming? Where are all the attempts to eradicate sexist thinking and sexist terminology on your studio floor? And where are all the games with strong female characters? Sure, they can argue that they are serving their audience. But they do have the power to change the way that audience thinks. All creators have that power. They need to take responsibility.
3. The Gamers
So some were outraged. Then what? They forgot about it all a few days later and ordered the game anyway. They buy things like the Yakuza games and turn a blind eye to the constant, disgusting misogyny held within. They allow all the little casual things to become invisible. The characters with the big tits and the impossible hips, characters that have fathers' daughters asking, "Daddy, why doesn't she have any clothes on?" All invisible. Not even given a second thought. The weary ones, who have seen this all before, just give up. Nothing ever changes anyway, so they just eat the swill they are given and force it down. The ignorant ones aren't educated by anybody, and so stay ignorant. They carry on, somehow, not understanding why it's bad to reinforce negative stereotypes. No-one has a word in their ear.
The horrible ones enjoy the wares of the industry they helped create, as part of a status quo they will defend to the death. The good guys mix with the bad guys, play with the bad guys, as commerce tramples them underfoot. What needs to happen is an online civil war of sorts. The decent people need to stay angry, and attack the ones who drag us all into the dirt. Somehow, an ideological schism needs to form, and the industry needs to notice it, and fear it.
4. The Outsiders
I want to speak directly to the outsiders, because I believe that they might be our only hope. I'm going to assume that at least a few of them might see this column. And if they do, then...
Hi. Thanks for reading.
I know you don't play games regularly, and wouldn't consider yourself a gamer. And I understand that you don't know much about the industry, or how it works. But I'm glad you don't really play games, and aren't steeped in our world. Because we really need your help, and I think we might be beyond hope without you.
Did you know that the games industry is unfriendly towards women? Did you know that many of our games, creators and gamers are misogynistic?
If you have a quick google, you'll find plenty of stuff to back up what I just said. If you could do a bit of reading, I'd be really grateful. I think you'll be enlightened, and horrified. And then maybe you could do us all a favour.
Could you talk about it? Tweet about it? Blog about it? Could you write about it in mainstream publications? And could you stay with it? Don't highlight it and then walk away. Don't lose interest. Stay on it. I'd like you to embarrass us every day. I don't think we're all ashamed enough. I'd like you to make us feel embarrassed that we put up with it for so long. Force us to change.