The End Of Gamer Culture?

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 24 2014 @ 1:05pm

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Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.

So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.

Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).

There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.

But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.

The analogy a reader made this morning between the end of gamer culture and the end of gay culture was really helpful to me. I’ve written and blogged a lot about the end of gay culture; and I’ve always tried to present both sides of the argument. Yes, I wouldn’t trade our freedom for the closeted, marginalized past; at the same time, it’s impossible not to feel some regret at the close-knit, marginalized, very distinctive solidarity gays have lost as a group, and some affection for a world, built defiantly to defend itself against outsiders, that is dissipating before our eyes and on our apps. I’m for integration and against identity politics. But do I miss what, say, leather bars once were – and feel very conflicted now that bachelorette parties come and go as they please in some of them? Do I harbor some traces of resentment at those who treat gay culture as some kind of straight playground, or at the mob of straight folks who will swamp any gay presence at next week’s once-very gay high heel race in Dupont Circle? Guilty as charged.

And look, many gamers were the bullied in high school; this was their safe space; it was a place they could call home. They now feel it slipping away, and it has unhinged some and disconcerted many, as a lot of mainstream culture has heaped scorn and ridicule on them at the same time. And I’m sorry, but I feel some sympathy here. That sympathy has, alas, been swamped by revulsion at the rhetoric and tactics that have come to define this amorphous movement. I haven’t, to continue the analogy, gone stalking bachelorettes or yelling obscenities at them. I just sigh and move on. But these people do have a point; they have long been ostracized and marginalized; their defensiveness exists for a reason; and, in the last couple of months, they have also been the target of truly out-there dismissals and vitriolic abuse – often from other men, and often from those who were not bullied in high school at all.

Am I wrong to detect in this pile-on another round of bullying of these people, of treating them as scum, of dismissing anything they might have to say? Here are Gawker’s Sam Biddle’s tweets last week:

Just to make sure his point wasn’t lost, he then facetiously tweeted:

This was meant ironically, of course – a debating flourish. But the joke only works when you’re re-visiting those high school wars, only to dismiss the losers of them. It was a piece of condescending ridicule, designed to rub the losers’ faces in their own demise, from a prominent perch. Biddle is not alone. Here’s a now-infamous piece by Leigh Alexander:

‘Game culture’ as we know it is kind of embarrassing — it’s not even culture. It’s buying things, spackling over memes and in-jokes repeatedly, and it’s getting mad on the internet.

It’s young men queuing with plush mushroom hats and backpacks and jutting promo poster rolls. Queuing passionately for hours, at events around the world, to see the things that marketers want them to see. To find out whether they should buy things or not. They don’t know how to dress or behave… “Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad.

These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had.

This last meme – that these people are not even worthy of a hearing – is pretty endemic among the college-educated cool kids running online media operations. Here’s one Kyle Wagner:

What’s made [gamergate] effective, though, is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides…. Tomorrow’s Lee Atwater will work through sock puppets on IRC. Tomorrow’s Sister Souljah will get shouted down with rape threats. Tomorrow’s Tipper Gore will make an inexplicably popular YouTube video. Tomorrow’s Willie Horton ad will be an image macro, tomorrow’s Borking a doxing, tomorrow’s Moral Majority a loose coalition of DoSers and robo-petitioners and scat-GIF trolls—all of them working feverishly in service of the old idea that nothing should ever really change.

This is Deadspin’s spin on this. It’s pure vitriol, resting on an unspoken, hard left view of culture that is more disturbing because it presents itself as snark and analysis, rather than tired, easy agit-prop. It’s a classic piece that asks all the cool kids today to smear and dismiss all the bullied of yesterday – and give them one last shove into the locker. Gawker’s Joel Johnson actually cites the piece thus:

Gawker Media has been covering the often-confounding phenomenon of Gamergate in detail, and will keep on covering it.

That piece was not so much “covering the phenomenon” as viciously skewing it. And yes, its tone smacked of bullying and dismissal. When you’re telling people they don’t even deserve to be in a debate, and associate them with segregationists and every other entity good liberals have been taught to despise, “dismissive” is the least of it.

Look: whatever case the gamergate peeps have, they have botched it with their tactics. Those tactics have been repellent in every sense of the word. But bullying has occurred on both sides, and only one side was bullied before.

From my update, regarding that last sentence:

The two sides I am describing are the journalists whose work I was just criticizing and the gamergate supporters. Not the whole two sides of gamer culture; not men and women; just the journalists I’ve been citing, and the people they’ve been lambasting.