An Angry Discourse
“Video game discourse has gotten me down lately. Why are some people so shitty about their favorite hobby?” This comment from Jake Baldino, a presenter over at Gameranx, appeared in my Twitter timeline today and garnered some interesting responses. A lot of people stated it was all down to a “loud minority” of gamers, which is a very common refrain. But I’m not so sure. Whereas I may well have trotted out such a response a decade ago, recent events seem to indicate otherwise. I have a sneaking suspicion that “people” aren’t as nice as we may have previously thought and that includes gamers. Yes, the anonymity of the internet does encourage some hostility among “keyboard warriors”, but you only have to turn on your TV to see people happily being bellicose and objectionable in public. So perhaps it’s not just a case of the “the squeaky wheel” getting noticed. May be there has been and continues to be, a major cultural shift in the way we interact with each other.
Contemporary politics has shown us that despite what a lot of us thought, we don’t all share the same values. Politics and the wider discussion to be had around it, has become far more partisan. There’s no longer seems to be any attempt to “agree to disagree”. A lot of the media are no longer concerned with balance. It’s all about clicks, viewing figures and “likes”. So pretty much everything in the news, be it politics, economics or social issues is just presented as a binary choice. You’re then invited to pick a side and scream, because we live in an age where we are encouraged to get angry and its fast becoming a national pastime. And this mindset then bleeds out into everything else. The work environment gets angrier as a result. People will fly off the handle while queuing at the supermarket. So it’s therefore hardly surprising to see such behaviour appear in out leisure activities.
Gaming is a broad church but two of its biggest defining features are competitiveness and social interaction. These are things that people become very passionate about. Furthermore, we live in an age of growing identity politics and defining who we are on our own terms. Gaming has therefore become a facet of personal identity for some, as opposed to just a leisure activity. When you mix such a mindset into a wider culture that is becoming increasingly adversarial, then you’ll eventually encounter problems. Despite what some people think, you cannot keep politics and social commentary out of gaming because it has become more than the sum of its parts. Whenever people interact and engage on masse, you’ll find pockets of an emergent communal identity. Groups then become mediums for wider ideas. But groups can also lead to hierarchies, power struggles and conflict.
It is also naïve to ignore the financial dynamic to gaming culture and the impact that it has. Becoming a cash cow in a relatively short period of time is not always as beneficial as you may think. Money has a habit of causing conflict. What gamers and game developers want are not necessarily the same thing. So when you add this to the seismic change in public interactions and the angry world that we now find ourselves in, it is hardly surprising that video games discourse has taken a reciprocal nose dive. Perhaps the eternal optimists among use need to recalibrate and come to terms with the fact that a lot of people aren’t inherently good. I’m not saying that the battle is lost and that we have to roll over and play dead. Human failings should be challenged and not ignored. But I think we need to come to terms with societal change and temper our expectations with regard to video games discourse, until the pendulum swings the other way again.