|Shankly Gates at Anfield, Liverpool via Andy Nugent|
Two words, sandwiched into one, kept appearing: GamerGate.
If you have any interest in video game culture, then you probably already know what I’m talking about. In case you don’t know, here are some more detailed posts for your perusal:
On 'Gamers' and Identity
A Conversation about Concerns in Videogame Journalism
#gamergate as reaction
If pressed to summarize GamerGate in a sentence or two, here is what I would say: GamerGate is a belief, held by an indeterminate number, that collusion exists between games journalists and games developers and that this nexus is corrupting games, or at least moving them towards a trajectory abhorrent to self-defined ‘gamers’. Yet to put the GamerGate controversy in such succinct terms suggests the movement possesses cohesion, which it certainly does not. One has only to survey #GamerGate to see the variety of opinions expressed. But a couple of developments caught my eye and seemed worthy of further exploration. The first was the start, and subsequent termination, of an Indiegogo campaign to create a legal fund for exploring the potential abuses between Games journalists and developers. The second was the posting of a Gamer Manifesto, anonymously written but edited by ‘Gamers’. What these examples demonstrate is that there is a desire, on behalf of some, to begin formalizing and structuring relationships within so-called Gamer Culture. It is, as Geertz would call it, an effort at ‘internal conversion’, an attempt to utilize rationalization as a defense against the intrusion of modern and post-modern critiques and ideals.
Last year, spurred by what is now a periodic outbreak of sexism/racism/transphobia from so-called ‘gamers’, Daniel Joseph wrote a post titled “Videogames are the gardens of the bourgeoisie" in which he argued that bourgeois values necessitated the creation of ‘spheres’ of activity separated from ‘real life’. “Mass produced hobbies, mediated through gatekeepers like trade and enthusiast press is one reason why “games” became a private sphere,” Joseph concludes, later adding that this private nature conjures within individuals the need to protect games from the pressures of capitalism. Using Joseph’s theme, I explored in my own post, “Games, Truth, and Defense of the Private”, the idea that the rise of bourgeois values correlated with the belief that games could become an arbiter of truth.
But now, a year later and with the rise of GamerGate, I wonder if we are witnessing something new, something that goes beyond the need to wall off games from the public. Videogames may be the gardens of the bourgeoisie, but what GamerGate reveals is that some feel compelled to venture out of their gardens and establish, in the public sphere, a nascent, rationalized belief in what games should be and how relationships around those games should be structured.
Of course, there are inherent issues for any culture engaging in such an ‘internal conversion’, or ‘rationalization’, of their beliefs. A brief selection from a larger article on Mari peasants in 19th century Russia highlights these issues:
|From "Big Candles and 'Internal Conversion': The Mari Animist Reformation and Its Russian Appropriations" by Paul Werth in Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia|
GamerGate appears to be following the same path, at least with regards to the two examples, that of the Indiegogo campaign and the Gamers Manifesto, mentioned above. By utilizing the colonizing discourse inherent in games to provide a Weberian rationalized view of what Gaming culture should be, a culture which is replete with contributions by misogynistic and paternalistic forces, the advocates of GamerGate can’t help but fall into the same conceptual modes that underlie such a discourse. These modes no longer address fragmentary concerns, like those that prompted Daniel and myself to write blog posts last year, but rather attempt to bring together universal and inherent qualities of Games into focus so that the problems those qualities bring to light can be addressed.
The rallying cry for supporters of GamerGate is that of ‘corruption’ brought about by the perceived collusion between games journalists and developers. Corruption is a handy conceptual mode to base the rationalization of Gamer culture, at least from the view of GamerGate supporters, because it does away with all the messy fragmentation of previous complaints (Feminism is ruining games! Transgendered people are ruining games! Fake Gamer Girls are ruining games!) and, instead, suggests that the larger problem stems from a collected erosion of Gaming ethics.
This is, essentially, what the Indiegogo campaign to establish a ‘Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption’ legal fund for investigatory purposes holds as central to its existence. By asserting a juridicial solution to the corruption issue, the ‘Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption’ wish to utilize one of the most pervasive patriarchal institutions available to find and perhaps punish the ‘true’ offenders. In an example that could have been taken straight from Girard, ‘Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption’ offered GamerGate supporters a rationalized process for finding the scapegoat that will absolve them all from the corruptive influence of gaming today and restore the supposed community to its more pristine state. Instead of having to answer critiques leveled at gaming culture as a whole, the ‘Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption’ offer a way to funnel anxieties prompted by these critiques into the far more defensible position of identifying and fighting corruption.
This logic becomes especially insidious when the corrupting forces are linked to those who raised the critiques in the first place, thus making attacks on female writers, for example, both a natural extension of the corruption ideal and capitulation to the patriarchal conceptional modes built into the colonizing discourse surrounding games. In trying to defend gamer culture from critiques of patriarchy or misogyny under the larger guise of corruption, the creators and supporters of ‘Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption are utilizing the very same justifications patriarchy and misogyny embody.
This becomes even more noticeable upon examination of the Gamer Manifesto, posted to Pastebin on 2 September 2014. Even though it purports to extol virtues of harmony and inclusion, the manifesto nonetheless offers up a tiered, almost caste like structuring of Gaming culture:
“There are three parts to this industry that we feel must be addressed for the general health of video games as a whole: the role of the consumer, the developer and the supplier. This trifecta makes up the core of the industry and thus each piece must be improved for games to continue to evolve.”At the core of this conceptualization, however, is one ‘truth’; that games “should be about the enjoyment of the player.”
The Manifesto states that gamers should add to the future of gaming, not demonize its past. That Developers, while recognizing that misrepresentation and under-representation of certain populations is a real problem, should not be required to change their own game’s vision and idea. That Suppliers, which is an unusual term for journalists or critics, should not be pressured by outside influences to “change their opinion to fit an overarching agenda.” In short, the Gamer Manifesto outlines a structural basis for how gamer culture as a whole should proceed and operate, all while articulating the need to avoid outside pressures that, as the Manifesto explains, are related to the corrupting influences in gaming today:
“It has been said that gamer culture is in the throes of death. This isn’t true. It has merely grown impatient as a wall of both divisiveness and radical ideologies have kept it from progressing further.
This article, this gamer manifesto has been made with the desire to break down that wall. It is both our branch of peace to those who believe we mean only harm and a battering ram to those who think we will simply comply with how corrupted video game culture has become.”For the writers and editors of the Gamer Manifesto, seclusion in their walled off, bourgeois gardens no longer provides adequate protection from what were once fragmentary issues now brought together under the aegis of corruption. Instead they must enter the public sphere and begin the process of 'internal conversion', of providing rationalized interpretations of gamer culture that both promotes distance between gamers and their games while also allowing structural links to surmount the distance, such as the concept of ethics or corruption above, so that the relationship between games and gamers can be harmonious and free from 'divisiveness and radical ideologies."
One important feature for Geertz and his notion of 'internal conversion' is that it is not a totalizing event, nor does it necessarily involve all the members of the cultural group in question. Therefore we can look at the disparate nature of GamerGate yet still understand some of the larger forces feeding the movement and its expressions. That the 'Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption' and the Gamer Manifesto are not representative of the whole of gaming culture is obvious. Yet the fact that these two examples not only put forth a sophisticated response but also attempted to outline and address what is perceived to be the larger illness of gaming is worth noting. What will happen from here on out is anybody's guess, but it is entirely possible that we are witnessing a decided shift in the evolving articulation of gaming culture.