I read Heather Alexandra’s post yesterday on Kotaku and made the very obvious mistake of reading the comments. Heather’s article was an objective report of a transphobic tweet by a video game company that had a prior tweet that had also attracted criticism. The article was a great example of objective journalism in a highly politicized time in video games and internet culture. The comments were highly subjective, as they should be, since they are comments. What’s so concerning, besides the aggressively transphobic comments by a few people I hope were banned, is that many people commenting wrote as if the article was subjective and their own opinion was objective. The only subjective thing about Heather’s article was the choice to write it, but that choice only makes sense in the given political and cultural climate both inside and outside of the gaming world and Kotaku’s commitment to the cultural critique of games.
The comments were infuriating to me. They were ignorant, occasionally hateful, and very melodramatic. I thought about what I wanted to write for this post today on the train ride this morning. While thinking I couldn’t help but listen to two men talking next to me. What started as two strangers discussing subway directions turned into a 30 minute discussion about how smart phones make women mentally ill and thats why women in NYC are egotistical and uptight and demand something from men when “all they have to offer is p***y”. The discussion was disgusting, misogynistic, and littered with sexist judgements, stereotypes, and jokes. But I bet if you ask either of these men if they were being sexist they would say no. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite segments on the Daily Show. I highly suggest you watch the clip because it’s mind boggling and, I think, very applicable to what’s going on all over the gaming world now.
I think most people in the comments of Heather’s article have a general idea that being prejudiced against people who are trans is bad, but they don’t actually understand what transphobia is.
Transphobia operates out of people’s rigid understanding of gender and sex. It stems from an assumption that all people are cisgender and the resulting anger/confusion/fear/negativity when people are not. The critique of this assumption of gender is the “joke” of the retweeted meme in the Kotaku article. This same rigid misunderstanding leads to all the old tropes in games that even many cisgender men are tired of: boy is born, boy has an innate superiority, boy realizes his destiny, boy saves world. This rigid understanding of gender and sex influences.....well, just about everything, small or large. From pink “women’s razors” to domestic violence to Black Widow’s butt on a poster to a retweeted meme to Trump being elected president.
For years we nerds have wanted video games to be taken seriously and now they finally are and people are complaining that they’re being taken seriously. People will talk about games, critique them, ask what they do or don’t offer our culture, talk about their effect on society, on art, on media, and on human interaction. As fans of games we should be leading the way in this discussion. Many of us, like Heather and other staff at Kotaku and Polygon (the two sites I primarily read for game news) are already doing that, and unfortunately many others are scrambling to defend their own subjective interpretation of games by clinging to their old and prejudiced ideas.
I, for one, want anyone who is a fan of games to not be attacked in gaming communities for who they are, I want us all to feel represented in games, and I want video games to push the envelope on what is good for humanity. If no one had ever questioned the gender dynamic of men saving women we never would have had Shiek in Ocarina of Time. If no one thought to have a more realistic and relatable Lara Croft we never would have had a quality reboot of Tomb Raider. We wouldn’t have as many relationship options in Mass Effect without characters being queer. The idea of having a young girl of color be the protagonist in a brutally violent video game about human empathy would have been UNTHINKABLE in the 1980s, and now we have Clementine in The Walking Dead. Diversity and inclusion makes games better. It tells new and better stories. It allows for new relationships and characters. It deepens plot. It creates more games for more fans.
What’s ultimately so grotesque about Heather’s article is the amount of aggression in the comments. The comments section reads like bullies in a school yard. The article is a short and concise report on a tweet, something incredibly mundane in the news world today. And yet it has hundreds of raging, cursing comments from primarily overly emotional and defensive men complaining about censorship, freedom of speech, and “their” games being changed. All I have to say to those people is this: change is inevitable. Transphobia only limits games and we should all consider ourselves lucky that this type of serious discussion is happening now, in our lifetimes, instead of later.