On Losing Your Identity and #Gamergate

GamerGate and its bullshit makes the NYT: 

These players are so concerned about the fragility of big-budget video games in the face of cultural analysis and criticism that they circulated an online petition last year calling for the website GameSpot to fire a critic, Carolyn Petit, for daring to complain that Grand Theft Auto V “has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists that we’re meant to laugh at.” (There were no such demands for the heads of male critics — including me, writing in The New York Times — who said pretty much the same thing.)

To me, these anti-intellectual players, who want games to be “just games” and want criticism of them to be devoid of things like political and social context, are almost as worrisome as the horrifying, and criminal, actions of the harassers.

It’s been hard for me to wrap my head around this because it’s so predictable and sad, and infuriating, and difficult to explain. I mean, not, not really, when you’ve been around angry white geekboys your whole life, but to the Normals this seems like anthropology. Who are these strange creatures and why do they interact with their environment in this way?

There’s a bizarre comfort to being a picked-on underdog in such a minor way. Like back in the 90s when we were the only ones who understood the Internet. It was like having a secret language, like belonging to something when all the traditional, celebrated ways of belonging (cheerleading, jock stuff, honor society) rejected us. This, this geek thing, this Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, video-game thing, made us special.

It wasn’t that this was the only thing left to us after the cool kids took all the good stuff, oh no. It was that we knew something others didn’t. It was that we didn’t even WANT your mainstream culture. It wasn’t cool enough for us. We told ourselves this over and over and over.

(My first couple of boyfriends from this world were real shitheads, if you’re wondering.)

And this was it, okay. Trying to explain dork culture prior to the Internet is like trying to explain the loneliest, saddest thing there is: You like wrote letters to other people who watched what you watched, who loved what you loved. You had to buy magazines. Conventions happened because there was no other way to communicate. Everybody in the world could have loved what you loved but there was no way of knowing it. If the six people who lived on your block weren’t into your stuff it was incredibly isolating.

So you take what used to make you special, what felt like the only thing you have, and suddenly everyone’s into it. Everyone knows about it. Everyone has opinions about it. Pretty girls, who wouldn’t look at you twice, they think they can have what you have! They think they can speak your secret language! But if they can, then what makes you special? If the jocks and the cheerleaders can play games, too, what have you got?

What story can you tell yourself now to make yourself special? If being a gamer is something anyone can be, while being lots of other things, what are you?

I don’t mean to sound sympathetic to these douchebags, by the way. I have zero patience for pasty nerds with entitlement complexes and personality disorders. I’ve backed out of game-dates with Mr. A specifically because if I have to sit next to one more B.O.-reeking mouthbreather who hasn’t washed his hair in a week who’s going to be angry at me for not remembering all 12,000 rules to Seven Wonders I will lose it. I’m not saying any of these guys are right. But I think there’s something going on here nobody’s quite nailed.

Maybe I’m not explaining it right. Why shouldn’t you take joy in so many people discovering what you love? Why shouldn’t you rejoice that now you can sit next to the pretty girls and jocks in the cafeteria of life because you can at least talk Diablo with them? Why shouldn’t games be open to all of us, and every opinion about games be valid?

This is a cousin to the demographic freakouts and the stupid War on Christmas bullshit and the way everybody loses their shit when somebody says Santa might not be white. Like on its face, who gives a fuck if some girl wants to play your games? If some girl wants to write about your games? If somebody you think is a Chipster meatstick wants to call himself a gamer?

Who does it threaten?

Only those who want to keep one thing, one secret thing, in their secret hearts, and not let anybody else in. Only those with nothing else to feel special about.

A.

4 thoughts on “On Losing Your Identity and #Gamergate

  1. danps says:

    I think I must be a very slightly better socially adjusted version of these guys. I was totally into geek stuff as a kid, awkward, and dealt with exactly the kind of isolation & punching down you describe. I get the bunker mentality that developed around it. So on one level I’m completely sympathetic.

    But here’s what I don’t get. As a kid who was completely horrible approaching girls as objects of romantic attraction and who was drawn to interests that for some reason females weren’t into, do you know what my reaction would have been if girls suddenly started thinking D&D was cool and wanted to play it? It would have been PRAISE JESUS THIS IS THE GREATEST FUCKING DEVELOPMENT OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!

    I simply cannot wrap my head around the idea of heterosexual dudes seeing girls taking an interest in their formerly male-dominated hobby not as manna from heaven but as some kind of threat to its purity. Or as a prompt to obsessively master the minutia of it in order to once again differentiate oneself. It’s just completely mind boggling. Again, strictly as a straight guy, the only possible reaction I can envision is: “Hey, girls are starting to show up. That is absolutely fucking awesome.

    If you’re the type who starts to hyperventilate and have a heart attack the instance he starts talking to a cute girl – and again, I’m completely sympathetic, I was totally like that – then having girls in the scene is a great way to get comfortable around them and not see them as some kind of strange, exotic creatures. And if you hit it off with one one and play your cards right she might even touch your wiener, which everyone knows is a hell of a lot better than pretending there’s something great about not being able to get any.

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  2. danps says:

    And of course I meant instant and not instance.

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  3. gratuitous says:

    The secret language and clubby, clique-y thing is, I think, a big part of it. The first time I remember noticing it was (yeah, I’m old) when Billy Joel’s album “Piano Man” came out. Suddenly, everyone knew about this grinder kid from New York who finally struck it big after years of toiling in obscurity. I had a couple of friends, though, who were quite conversant with pre-Piano Man Billy Joel, including the two very good albums “Turnstiles” and “Streetlife Serenade.”

    You would expect them to be happy that one of their favorite musicians had hit it big, but they were (at the time) put out that Joel had gone commercial. They liked “Piano Man” (except for the title cut, of course) and liked “The Stranger,” but after that, it seemed to them that Joel had abandoned his previous work and style for a more pop sound to appeal to the unwashed masses. There was a time when selling out was seen as a compromise to artistic integrity, instead of being excited that your heavy rotation radio hit had been adapted for an insurance commercial jingle.

    If my friends from nearly 40 years ago got over it (I think), today’s butt-hurt geeks will get over it, too.

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  4. maplestreet says:

    Agree fully that having a female character in the game doesn’t bother me in the least.

    Looking at it pragmatically, don’t ladies have fantasies too ? For the gaming industry attracting female players (where they previously have been overwhelmingly male) is a chance to double their market. They’d be fools to pass up the opportunity. And the more possible revenue the industry has, the more money that is available to produce better and better games (whatever the meaning of “better” is, be it better graphics, better motion, better story lines, ……..)

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