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I’m a Social Justice Gamer, Why aren’t You?

I’m really getting tired of writing this stuff, but I haven’t done anything particularly interesting with games in a while and this is something that needs to be said. I’m not going to waste any time dithering around with an introduction, so let’s just jump right into it.

First, let’s define our terms. ‘Social Justice’ is being used to refer to advocating and working towards dismantling the current patriarchal system of privilege and oppression. ‘Gamer’ is being used to refer to someone who plays games; and considers that activity to be an important part of their self-identity, regardless of whether they feel comfortable using that term or not. While this definition of ‘feminism’ is accurate and conveys the salient point, the definition of ‘gamer’ still leaves open a discussion that needs to be addressed before proceeding.

This definition of ‘gamer’ is really broad, and that’s the point. Games and the people who play them cover a wide spectrum. The idea that I have much in common with a professional League of Legends player or someone who only plays mobile games is absurd. Whatever overlap exists isn’t something that you can use as a basis for a subculture. For one thing, all of these games have different values. While the examples I gave aren’t quite that diverse, remember that this spectrum also includes the sanitized government oppression of Call of Duty and the storygame of Dear Esther. Even then people can play the same game for radically different reasons; the psychographs used by WotC or FFG are a perfect example, albeit a not exhaustive list by any means.

Now between this stated position on social justice and dismissal of any sort gate-keeping nature in regards to the term of ‘gamer’ I’ve placed myself outside of what is often thought of with the term ‘gamer culture’. But there’s one problem with this line of thought, ‘gamer culture’ is an illusion. At best it’s an idea borne out of naivety that games in and of themselves are somehow a unifying force, at worst the concept is exclusionary. Yet this idea still exists and has done so for a long time, so let’s look at this from a more historical perspective.

There are four major historical events or trends to look at. The first has to do with the origins of modern day gaming. In a lot of ways it was limited to white males who, or their families, had the ability to buy the luxury goods needed to be a gamer. The second is the anti-DnD scare from the 1980s. The third is the anti-videogame movement that existed in full force from the late 90s to the mid 2000s. Finally, it’s mixing in the values of things like Revenge of the Nerds. Taken all together, this leaves us with a privileged group who are united by an opposition to what is perceived as censorship and outside forces interfering with their hobby.

Again, it’s tempting to think of this as ‘gamer culture’ but that’s misleading for two key reasons. First, it places this kind of behavior outside of the mainstream, and can anyone honesty claim that this isn’t true in society at large as well? Sure, the intensity and nuances might be different, but it’s still a microcosm. Secondly, it denies agency to people who got into games but don’t’ fit the above profile. It denies agency to people who fit that above profile and the differences they have from one another.

Now why was this historical tangent relevant?  Because it’s time to talk about Gamergate. Last week I wrote about how they’re essentially a terrorist movement and I stand by that statement. It’s not telling the whole story. Gamergate is a reactionary movement, the new culture war, bent on maintaining that privilege. This is a result of what I’ve come to think of as gaming’s original sin.

Gaming, and nerddom in general for that matter, got their start in no small part among those who didn’t live up to the patriarchy’s ideals of toxic masculinity. The reason for that qualifier being that the patriarchy discouraged women from buying into it. Now, they had this safe space and instead of using this safe space to deconstruct the patriarchy and make it safe for others, they recreated it. The values may have shifted slightly, if at all, but it’s still the same patriarchal system that said they weren’t good enough. If instead of recreating the patriarchy they had demonstrated enough collective self awareness to realize what had brought them to that point and turned to something along the lines of feminism, then we would be better off.

Now given my use of qualifications so far, it’s important to draw attention to my relative lack of qualifiers in that last paragraph. This is intentional. Why? The anti-gamergate language has a whole has a tendency to veer into ableist territory. This. Is. Not. Okay. If we want gaming to actually be an inclusive, safe space, then that shit has got to go as well. This trend of infantilizing those who support gamergate and encouraging this talk about how people with mental illnesses are the real problem with gamergate is harmful and hateful. It reinforces the patriarchal idea that of ‘boys will be boys’. It denies them their own agency, obscures the fact that they know full what they’re doing and equates them to people who are already marginalized in a negative tone. It feeds the ableist idea that that neuratypical people are Others to be feared and ignored instead of actual people who need help.

It doesn’t have to be triggery to be a problem; it is a problem in and of itself. Nor do you get to decide what is and what is not triggery for someone else. This. Is. Not. Okay. This isn’t something that’s all that hard to avoid either. If you don’t care enough to correct yourself, then you are nothing more than the enemy of my enemy.

Gaming should be as safe a space for everyone else as it was, and is, for me. That’s why I identify as a Social Justice Gamer. Still, it leaves me thinking. If we fight against reactionaries using exclusionary language…then what’s the point?  If this isn’t actually a safe space for everyone, then why bother? Why do we have to persist in what amounts to fighting over table scraps instead of actually being decent human beings to people who aren’t the enemy? I’d rather gaming cease to exist then we go forth this again and again so we inch towards being a safe space for everyone. And this, this doesn’t make me sad or sickened or embarrassed like the other things I’ve written about in regards to Gamergate. This, this makes me angry.

So I leave with this thought, why aren’t you a social justice gamer? Why don’t you want gaming to be a safe space for everyone?