"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."
~ Friedrich Nietzche, patron saint of nerdy teenage outcasts.
Dear Gamers, I don't hate you.
I mean, I'm one of you, or at least I'd like to think so. I grew up with games, and loved them so much that I taught myself to code, draw, and animate just so I could make games myself. But as much as I want to love you, Gamers, you've been acting kind of weird lately.
Gamers, we need to talk. This isn't about Zoe Quinn or Phil Fish or Anita Sarkeesian or Dear Esther or Electronic Arts or whoever's the target for this week's Two Minutes Of Hate. Whether it's harrassing women in games, or people who make non-traditional games, or that journalist who didn't rate your favourite game an 11 out of 10... there is a lot of toxicity in this community.
I get it. You want to protect games. I do too! Hell, I make the damn things. Back in the day when Jack Thompson wanted all games banned, Roger Ebert said games never could be art, and pseudo-psychologists were blaming games for school shootings... yeah, games needed to be protected.
But do you remember why we loved games so much?
They were a means of escape. Chances are, you used to be a bit of a nerdy kid like me. A nerdy teenage outcast who got bullied and harrassed and shunned... and games were the only place where you felt like you could win against a world that was out to get you. There's nothing wrong with a little power fantasy. Who wouldn't fantasize about power, if they felt disempowered most of their daily life like we were?
Games were our safe haven.
And when we felt the world was trying to take that away from us, trying to oppress us, we solidified ourselves into an identity called "Gamer". (By the way, trying to attack a group of people only strengthens their identity, which is why Gamers' attacks on Feminist Gamedevs have only proved their point and strengthened their movement.) We were a tight community. No moral panic guardians -- misguided people with good intentions yelling "GAMES ARE RUINING SOCIETY" -- were going to break our community's hard shell.
And this was where our good intentions miguided us.
See, in solidifying ourselves, we confused preserving games with preserving games in their current state. So we created not-so-unspoken rules of what can and cannot be a game, pouring outrage over "casual" games, "narrative-driven" games, and any type of game that didn't fit the action-packed power fantasies we grew up with. We made set rules for What Can Be A Game.
More disturbingly, we decided who can or cannot be a Gamer.
For various reasons, us nerdy teenage outcasts who got into videogames tended to be white, straight, and male. (I'm Asian and bisexual, which is sorta half-white and half-straight.) And so, that was our norm for Who Could Play Games, and Who Could Make Games. Anyone who fell outside of those categories, we felt, were trying to destroy our identities as Gamers.
Women, queers, people of colour. We shunned them, harrassed them, bullied them. We yelled out...
"GAME/PERSON X IS RUINING GAMES"
Do you see?
We are the monster we once fought.
Psychologists - real psychologists, not the ones who blamed games for all social ills - call this "the cycle of violence". It's the same reason why kids who were bullied at home became your bullies at school, and why some of those bullied at school became school shooters that Jack Thompson kept blaming our games for creating.
We continue the cycle. Gamers are a very toxic community. You don't see readers doxxing authors or filmgoers sending gore GIFs to directors. More than toxic, we're self-destructive. Today, the main group of people threatening to silence and censor game players and creators are Gamers themselves.
This is not the community I once knew and loved.
This is not the community I want to make games for.
But, goddammit Gamers, I don't hate you.
You may summon 4chan raids on anyone you perceive causing the tiniest slight against games, but I understand why that knee-jerk fighting reaction exists. Games almost lost their 1st Amendment rights just half a decade ago, but we fought for it. And we're still here.
Jack Thompson was permanently disbarred by the Supreme Court of Florida. Roger Ebert retracted his statement on games before going to The Big Cinema In The Sky. And psuedo-psychologists, if anything, are now claiming gamification will solve all social ills.
We can relax now.
By the way? The reason games are accepted in the mainstream now is because of casual and mobile games, games which fall outside our close-minded ideas of What A Game Should Be. And the reason more and more people think games can be art is because of games telling diverse and personal stories, usually from people who don't fit our old beliefs of Who Can Be A Gamer. You may not like those kinds of games, and that's okay. Just respect that others deserve a seat at the table.
No one's going to take away our games.
If you're worried about the traditional Gamer games, they're not going away. The market is huge, and there is space for everyone. There's no need to fight. Even previously-thought "dead" genres like adventure games and roguelikes have been resurrected through crowdfunding. Besides... the AAA game companies make hundreds of millions from the action-packed power fantasies we declared What Can Be A Game, and these companies are mostly run by the nerdy white straight guys we declared Who Can Be A Gamer. So yeah, those types of games are still safe.
Seriously, relax. The toxicity and rage is not good for your health, or you know, anybody's health.
There's just one question we have to ask ourself now...
Games were our safe haven. When we were growing up with them, it seemed that all of society has hellbent on destroying it. We won. And now, other marginalized groups, women and queers and people of colour want to be a part of games, too. They want this to be their safe haven, and we have more than enough space for everyone.
Are we going to continue the cycle of hate, become the monster we once fought, and ultimately prove all our worst critics right... or will we welcome this new batch of nerdy outcasts?
Come on. We can be better than our bullies.
~ Nicky Case