Gaming and Outrage Culture
I've written a thousand or so gaming related posts since I started blogging in 2008. I mention this to indicate that I have more than a passing interest in this particular leisure activity. However, that interest has waned somewhat over recent years. As I get older and allegedly wiser, I find that the two things that I like the most about gaming culture IE the actual games and the community, are becoming slowly yet inexorably less appealing. Commercial factors are turning games development into a mirror of the movie and music industry, driven by focus groups and metrics. The broadening of gaming’s mainstream appeal has also led to an angry backlash from alleged "core" fans. The net results are a stagnation of innovation within games development and a slavish adherence to proven formula, as well as an increase in tiresome bickering from specific groups of gamers. Both groups seem to fear change and tend to look backwards rather than forwards.
As I do not work in the videos games industry, I can only lobby for change and apply whatever leverage I can as a customer and consumer. The gaming community is another matter altogether. I have as much as a stake in it as anyone else and hence an equal voice. Or at least that’s the theory. There are fellow gamers that dislike such philosophies and cleave to their own criteria as to who should have a say and who shouldn’t. Hence the gaming community has fallen victim to that blight which has spread across all online public spaces and social interactions, namely outrage culture. That curiously twenty-first century malady that appears to be the adult equivalent of having a tantrum because you can’t get your own way, or you have to share with others. However, outrage culture sometimes serves a more sinister purpose. It acts as a surrogate for expressing and disseminating more controversial ideas.
Two such examples of this are the recent reveal for Battlefield V and the furore over the game Active Shooter. The first is an instance where a debate about the alleged historical accuracy of depicting women as combat soldiers in World War II, has been hijacked to express displeasure once again at any sort of equal gender representation. The second is about how a cheap and deliberately tawdry game with an exploitative premise, is being championed by a specific group of gamers because they see it as a “fuck you” to the progressive, socially liberal politics that they feel are “taking their games away”. Both points of view are factually, logically and morally questionable, but they are becoming all too common place these days. They reflect a broader infantilisation in the thinking of certain quarters of society, who have dispensed facts and now focus on how they feel, regardless of whether such feelings are justified. It also links into a growing form of zealous fandom that mistakenly equates enjoyment of something with some sort of ownership.
Both of these recent gaming stories are just further examples of ongoing exercises in community-based self-harm. As someone who enjoys being part of that community, I find it utterly depressing. I wonder how many of the participants in these ongoing controversies have stopped for a moment, taken a step back and considered how it looks to the wider world? Precious few I would hazard a guess. Furthermore, the net result of this dispute is that more and more reasonable and level-headed gamers withdraw from engaging with the wider community. This is particularly relevant to female, ethnic minority and LGBT gamers. I consider the marginalisation of any group folly and counterproductive. The net result of ceasing engagement is that is appears to imply that those who shout the loudest have “won” the culture war. Also, as controversy can be bad for business, it often forces game developers to further eschew creativity and experimentation, leading them to double down on tedious tried and tested formulas.
What is becoming clear from these outbursts of gamer outrage, as with wider societal pushback against the status quo, is that western society has not made as much social progression in the last fifty plus years as it may have thought. It has been postulated by many academics that this is the century of "self" and that Western culture has effectively given upon wider socio-political ideologies now. Rather than work cohesively as a collective whole for mutual benefit, we simply apply our consumerist outlook to all situations. We equate our personal expenditure as means of gaining individual representation. Everything is viewed and considered primarily through the prism of how it affects us personally, rather than as a group. This principle manifests itself in all aspects of our life, including gaming. Couple this with a decline in critical thinking and the ability to effectively debate and you end up with outrage, segregation and ongoing culture wars. Thus, by our own hands we fashion the very wedges that divide our community. What was that quote again about why we can't have nice things?