They begin as though they are Moses descending from Sinai, sent to bring the word of God back to the unenlightened. "You must listen to me," they command, "because I know the truth. I am enlightened. Heed my wisdom." Of course, to us, the masses, their words sound more like arrogant tirades than benevolent wisdom, so we ignore or disagree with them. They, of course, believing themselves to be in the right, choose to see our disagreement as vicious women-hating.
Make no mistake, this is an article about women in games.
I started this way because I want to approach things differently. The average "underprivileged-in-games" discussion begins something like "hey, I'm a straight, white male, but I know how life really is, so let me tell all you other straight, white males, about the truth, because you don't know anything." These articles, though written with the intent to solve real problems, often cause more harm than good, because that arrogance can upset people, causing them to turn away.
My hope is that I'm not arrogant. I'm like you, whoever you are, reading this article. Most of us, I think, believe that we're basically good people. We recognize we're normal. We want life to be good. We'd like to be happy, and we'd like to see the other people around us happy.
So instead of writing an article that blames everyone who reads it, I'm going to try to talk about a problem and how we can fix it.
I have a great deal of women who are friends. The most important people in my life come from a wonderfully diverse heritage. I believe that the best art is art which reflects all these people. I look at my friends and I think "hey, I want them to experience more protagonists like them in art." It's inspiring, for instance, watching a guy on my Twitter feed trying to make a comprehensive list of Sikh characters in media. As for myself, I am currently developing an indie game, with an eye towards future projects. I believe that the best games are the ones that let us be someone else, seeing what it's like to experience a different life.
In other words, I too want to solve the women in games problem. It is my belief that women should not be groped at cons. I don't feel women should be forced offline due to inappropriate sexual harassment. I believe that we should see more women as protagonists of the video games we play. I think fixing problems for women in games is great and healthy.
And I think one of the biggest obstacles to fixing problems for women are people who agree with me.
A recent tweet by a higher-up at one of the more prominent games websites essentially claimed that people who were boycotting the site due to their coverage of women in games must be bad people who hated women, and thus, good riddance.
I happen to be one of the people who no longer reads the site, but that's because I feel that the people there promote ignorance and thoughtlessness while they pat themselves on the back for being on the right side of things. Dissent of any kind is treated as misogyny. In other words, yes, absolutely, their coverage is what puts me off, but it's because I feel the ignorance they spread hurts women more than it helps them.
It seems as though, in the minds of people relating to the "women in games" discussion, it's very much a "you're for me or against me" mindset. Not women, mind you—despite what they say, women rarely seem to be important. Their words, despite their intentions, are more about condemning others and praising themselves than anything else. For all the "I want to help women" that goes on, an awful lot of the discussion sounds like a lot of authors who want to be in the right than authors who actually want to solve problems. They're more concerned with "I'm privileged but I get it and you don't so I'm better than you" than "this is a problem, but we can fix it together."
Instead of treating people with compassion or understanding, many of these discussions involve "hey, you, jerks, straighten up and do what I say."
This arrogance often comes from a place of "the comments are bad," but you know what? The people I've met who say "the comments are bad" are often… well, arrogant. They talk down to their audience. They treat them like scum. These people enter discussion with the mindset that their audience are "plebs."
One of my favorite gaming websites happened to hold that position precisely because of the quality of its comments. It was a site that was actually known for having some pretty smart commenters. Then they hired someone who talked down to his readers, some of the previous staff began to change their tone, and within a few months, that site's comments became incredibly toxic.
You. Right now. Are you stupid? Do you hate women? Are you actively attempting to hurt them?
Is it any surprise that articles stating "you suck, and I'm better than you" upset the people who read them? Most of the "women in games" issues are phrased like "I get this, you don't, there's a problem but you're too stupid to notice," and this upsets people.
The average person reading those articles isn't a bad person. Nobody believes they're a bad person either. If someone believes they're a good person, and you tell them they're a bad person, they're going to go "well, that's obviously untrue; this person clearly doesn't have anything to tell me."
The average person—you, me, and, yes, the person writing the article—is a person who wants good things for good people. Maybe we just haven't heard about the problem, and thus need information. Maybe in our cultural circle, what is perceived as a big problem to some isn't a problem to others.
If we want to solve problems for any group in games, then instead of condemnation, instead of arrogantly whining at people we've never met and don't know, we should consider education. Instead of "hey, you, jerks I know nothing about, you're hurting women, and you should do what I say because I'm better than you," we should say "hey, guys, there's a problem facing women, and we can fix it."
Writing a list of all the ways women face problems men don't is more likely to make people want to respond with their own list disagreeing with it. Talking about how they get it so that makes them great isn't going to do women any favors. Taking issue with completely innocent games because they're looking for something to criticize? That makes them look foolish.
We aren't burying our heads in the sand.
To put it simply, nobody pushes an audience away like a jackass.
But, to be clear, that's just arrogance. There's a bit more to it than that.
See, it's one thing to ignore someone 'cause they're discourteous. We can say, after all is said and done "yeah, they were a jerk, but they had a point." For some people, however, being rude is just the first step. After that, they feel the need to layer on a great deal of ignorance
The other day, I read a review of a game in which the reviewer lambasted the game because of how it made him feel politically, even though he clearly chose to play in a vile way. All those deaths he caused—his fault; having played the game myself, I know for a fact every bad thing he did was his choice.
A few months ago, I read a spate of articles criticizing a game for exaggerating the design of its female characters, even though literally every element of the game was exaggerated, was referencing classic fantasy art that had a history of exaggeration, and sexualized all of its characters, male and female. I can recall reading an article asking whether or not a gay author's clearly innocent joke was homophobic. I've seen videos proclaiming that the basic "grail quest" story trope is sexist, or people proclaiming that a flamboyant Chinese character cruelly subjugating someone of mid-Asian ethnicity is racist.
Most of the people making these claims are well-meaning, but they're wrong.
What follows is my favorite example.
Dead Rising 3 releases. It's got bosses. Each boss is one of the seven deadly sins—gluttony, lust, sloth, you get the idea. Then there's the "pride" boss. One review of the game goes "hey, I think this game is transphobic."
This character isn't an LGBT character, as far as the game informs us (the game tells us nothing of her sexuality). She's a bodybuilder, obsessed with her physique. As best I understood it, the reviewer's argument went something like this: "she's a bodybuilder. Bodybuilding is a masculine pursuit. Her voice is deep. She has muscles. Her name, Jherii, sounds like Jerry. It's not womanly to have a deep voice and big muscles. Clearly she wants to be a man."
Basically, because a bad, narcissistic person didn't conform to gender norms, the reviewer (who I otherwise think is one of the best games journalists out there), vigiliant for a breach of social justice, decided the game was transphobic. Other people quickly picked up on this, claiming that the character never claimed to be female, and so on and so forth.
Well, here's the thing: I happen to know a little bit about male and female bodybuilding. I think it's a fascinating sport, and I admire the athletes who do it. I'm especially interested in their motivations for bodybuilding, and I've learned quite a bit about these people and why they do what they do. Bodybuilders are fascinating people, far beyond the stereotyped Venice Beach airheads they're often made out to be.
This is why I feel comfortable saying claims of transphobia are little more than people looking for problems where there are none.
First, she absolutely identifies as female. The entire reason she attacks the player is because the player calls her "sir." Why the name? It's a joke. The player hears "Jerry" and assumes it's a man. The muscles? Again, manly. The series has always been funny, and this is just another joke. The game builds up our expectations of a man, then subverts it by giving us a woman instead. It's a pretty simple bait and switch joke.
The claims of transphobia come from ignorance. You see, a lot of female bodybuilders see their hobby as very feminine. While it's not traditional feminity, to them, muscles are curves, strength is a sign of dominant feminity, and so on and so forth. In other words, bodybuilding may seem masculine to the average person, but some people see it as an alternative form of feminity.
By claiming the game's 'transphobic' because it uses a pretty common joke about female bodybuilding, the author's essentially assigning gender roles to Jherii, saying she must not be comfortable with who she is, so she must want to be someone else. Through his ignorance of the lifestyle, and over-eager desire to combat social injustice, the reviewer actually stuck Jherii in a box. She had to be transgendered. Instead of embracing an alternative gender norm, the author rejects one lifestyle in favor of another.
The author, in other words, has promoted ignorance when he sought to overthrow it.
And when games writers do this—and they do it often—they give us less reason to trust or listen to them. Next time this author talks about transgender issues, I'm less likely to listen to him, simply because he's given me ample proof that he isn't informed on the subject. One major games website has an author who elicits groans on my twitter feed, skype groups, forums, and so on whenever she writes something, because she's cried wolf so many times. Nearly everyone I know assumes whatever she writes will be patently false, simply because she's failed so many times before.
And the worst part is, she, and everyone like her… as far as I can tell, they want good things for people. They want a world where diversity is celebrated, where women aren't groped at cons, where companies aren't afraid to have any race or ethnicity on the cover of their game, where trash talk is never offensive. They're creating a world where a great deal of people are reinforcing their positions—people who may be causing problems without realizing it are saying "that person's so ignorant, clearly their side has nothing to say."
Those people are like a flat-earthers trying to convince creationists of evolution. They might be on the right side, but they're obvious ignorance isn't doing their argument any favors.
I know very few people who want bad things for people. I've met plenty who, in their own way, have caused more harm than good. I'm one of those people. Some time ago, someone wrote an article, and I responded with a lengthy tirade back—at the time, the article was basically claiming certain things wouldn't happen to people like me, and in my life, I was going through a sexual assault situation that ended up with me being laughed at. I told them what happened, and I was laughed at and told to "see it from her perspective, she's going through a rough time." These same people nearly expelled a boy because the girl he broke up with was mad about it and tried to get revenge. Her word was enough to nearly get him expelled before the truth came out.
So right there and then, in an environment that disregarded one gender entirely, I lashed out.
I wrote it well enough that some people used it as a reason not to change poor behaviors. I wrote it angrily enough that others used it as proof that people who didn't agree with them were bad people. I wrote it, and it didn't do women any favors. No matter how justified in disagreeing with this article, the way in which I did it helped no one.
I'll never get over that mistake.
I've been the problem.
I want to help be the solution. Anger, arrogance, disrespect, you name it. None of that helps. None of that solves any problems. Ignorance, foolishness, even over-eagerness to solve problems? All any of this does is push people away.
Gaming should be a happy, safe space for everyone. Nobody—nobody—should feel marginalized or hurt. If we want to change this, though, we need to approach it in the right way. Before we start laying the righteous smackdown on everyone we see for problems they might not be responsible for, before we start getting angry at everyone for problems caused by only a few… we should measure our approach.
We should be calm. Rational. Loving. Respectful. Intelligent. We should be social justice educators, not social justice warriors, because fighting creates enemies, educators breed enlightenment. Let's solve the problems that plague our industry, but with compassion, rather than anger or ignorance. Instead of leaping at things, let's make sure we know what we're talking about first.
Wanting the right thing doesn't make us right, nor does it permit us to handle things however we see fit. Above all else, we must be good people to other people. Arrogance and ignorance only disadvantages us; to do the right thing, we must be humble and intelligent.