Comments on the recent video game controversies

I’ve debated with myself numerous times over whether I would chime in on the recent controversies that have been plaguing the video game community. Every time I went to write a post, I always stopped before I started, deciding that I was no expert on these subjects, and would likely write something based on false assumptions and be mocked for my lack of knowledge. But, I feel that ignoring these controversies is a bad route to take as well, because they are becoming a big part of the community now. So, while I would rather gush about my love for the Bayonetta 2 demo, I am here instead talking about serious issues. Whoo.

That tail is worth 3000 words alone.

I am no expert on any of these subjects, and I won’t ever claim to be. I am nothing more than one guy with a keyboard and an opinion. I’m going to share that opinion now in what I hope is a clear and not too rambling post. But the GamerGate controversy and the others surrounding it are truly too huge to discuss well in one post.

Now, I present to you, my opinion.

Let’s start with sexism, because why not. I dated a feminist for a year or so a couple years back. Without going into it, let’s just say that I’ve seen, first-hand, the good feminism attempts to do for the world. I’ve also seen how it shoots its own ideals in the foot. I’ve seen her eyes light up when her arguments open my eyes to something I had never seen nor understood because of my own gender, and I’ve seen her rage illogically when I point out how something she said becomes hate speech. I’ve seen both sides.

I don’t think Feminism itself is the true problem here. Feminism is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “the theory as political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” That is a definition I agree with, and I guess that makes me a feminist. Unless you’re a bigot, I think a lot of people agree with that definition too. The problem is that many of the most vocal feminists don’t follow that ideology. They don’t strive for equality, they strive for superiority. Those ideas quickly become the most vocal, because an extreme idea is far easier to share in 140 characters than a more moderate one. I don’t think most feminists hate men. I just think it seems that way, because of the vocal extremes and the ways those are easily spread.

Got your attention, didn’t it?

There’s not an ounce of science there. It’s just my opinion.

Gamers are uncomfortable with feminists bursting into their medium. And why wouldn’t they be? I think most of the quote/unquote hardcore gamers never fit in in school. They’ve been told time and time again that their hobby, video gaming, is a waste of time. And not only a waste, but also leading them down a road of horrible violence, misogyny, and other names. Of course they are going to get defensive and fight back. We all do when we’re told we’re wrong. My ex-girlfriend would get horribly defensive the moment I disagreed with something she said. She hated the idea that she could be wrong, that these ideas she read online could have someone disagree with them. Gamers do the same thing. Seeing a feminist come in and tell them their hobby is wrong inspires the same defensive reaction. No one likes being told they are wrong.

You don’t have to stay within the realms of sexism to see gamers have this fear of being wrong. Look at the comments section for any negative review of a popular game. There is always a few, maybe many, leaping to the game’s defense. They call the reviewer names, they make exaggerated claims, they type in all caps—they get angry. And defensive. After all, here’s a reviewer telling them that they are wrong. The reviewer says that the game is crap. Somehow, that becomes a personal attack on the gamer’s tastes, and the gamer reacts with rage.

It seems as if the negative review somehow diminishes the joy the gamer had with a game.

THIS GAME IS NO LONGER FUN.

On some level, this does make sense. In gamer culture, there’s a huge focus on pre-ordering, buying the game the day it comes out, etc. No one likes to feel that they made a bad purchase, especially with games are expensive as they are. But rather than rage at the reviewer (and make yourself look like a child in the process), why not just play the game? Find out for yourself if it’s good or bad. You might like it. The things that the reviewer didn’t like may not bother you. Find out for yourself.

A video game reviewer is simply a guy or girl who gets paid to review games. A review is nothing more than their opinion on a game. They are only an expert in that their job allows them to play more games than you. Their opinions get posted on bigger websites. But their opinion is no more valid than yours. Their opinions deserve respect, as does your own. But Jim Sterling’s low Mario Kart score should not somehow make your enjoyment of Mario Kart invalid. It’s just a discussion. That’s all a review is.

I don’t believe that reviews are objective. Like, ever. They are opinion pieces. Sure, they could discuss how such-and-such game has an extraordinary polygon count, or that its textures are unreal. They could say that the game has a solid 30 FPS, or a 60 FPS. But, do either of those really affect the game itself? Is there an objective way to rate…fun?

One needs only to look at Deadly Premonition to see that there isn’t. From perfect 10s, to 2 out of 10s, the game meant so many things to so many different people. Yes, the graphics were crappy, the textures bad, the voice acting terrible, the plot silly, etc. That didn’t wreck Jim Sterling’s experience with the game, in fact, it enhanced it. But it wrecked the experience of the reviewer who gave the game a 2. Is one opinion more valid than the other? No. Is one more objective? Maybe, but how can it really be objective from an enjoyment perspective? The bad graphics enhanced the game for Jim, wreaked it for others. Objectivity? Doesn’t really exist.

Zack, they said our game’s crappy graphics improved the experience.

Something that gets thrown around the GamerGate thing is the idea of integrity in the video game journalism…thing. For the longest time, I never understood that. But, then again, I’m one of those people who always thought that the concept of video game “journalism” was laughable at best. With rare exception, there is very little actual journalism in the industry. Interviewing developers, generating previews, posting news, all of that is essentially a glorified ad for the industry. Journalists may have more connections than you or I, but the news they post is almost always what the developers and publishers have decided to tell them.

A preview event is something carefully constructed by a developer/publisher. The “journalist” gives his opinion on what he played, but that’s it. There’s no real objectivity there—it’s just an opinion. Same as a review. Interviewing a PR person, dev, or whoever? Carefully constructed statements meant to shine a bright light on an upcoming game. And most journalists can’t land an interview until the publisher says so. Is this integrity? I don’t know, I don’t really think so. Are exclusive reveals of a new trailer integrity? Is obeying a review embargo integrity? I don’t know.

After all, publishers give limits on what can be discussed in a review. They say that the review cannot be posted yet, and cannot discuss certain aspects. The reviewer is expected to obey that, if they want to keep their job and continue to get advanced copies of video games. Why does the publisher set those limits? Because they view the review as another form of advertising for the game. Positive buzz is advertising, after all. A review is often the equivalent of people telling their friend to play such-and-such because it’s “so good.”

A reviewer should always give their honest opinion. I believe almost all of the reviewers out there do. Is that integrity? I think so. I think a problem that stems up though, and often the reason that inspires so much rage, is that it’s easy to forget that a review is an opinion. Most review writers won’t explicitly state “I think this part of the game is crap” in their reviews. They will just say “This part of the game is crap.” That implies that it’s a fact, not an opinion. Because of that, if someone was not bothered by whatever the reviewer thought was crap, it makes them seem wrong. After all, it’s a fact that this part is crap. Therefore, the gamer feels wrong, and therefore acts defensively.

Whew. That’s enough typing on this subject today. It was more rambling than expected, and kind of jumps all over the place. But those are my thoughts on the subjct. Happy to discuss them in the comments section. :)

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