An Open Letter to the Teenage Male GamerGaters About Growing Up
I seem to run into you a lot online these days. Mostly through friends who share articles I've written regarding gaming and the current state of harassment of women in it on Facebook. I don't mind debating and arguing with you or anyone else. It's where I get a fair amount of ideas for my work after all.
Lately, though, I've been playing a game when I do so and the results are all strikingly the same. When I find a really dedicated GamerGater, someone that can pull up 8chan screenshots so quickly I know that they were already saved on their hard drive, I ask a simple question.
How old are you?
No one ever wants to answer this question, but I usually press it with every response. Almost without fail you turn out to be a teenage male. College age at the most, and here's where I see some of the problems we're about to discuss.
First, I want to apologize. My generation did indeed steal an empire from you.
Well, actually, what we did is we stole an empire from a demographic that you now inhabit. From the very first days of the NES and the rebranding of video games as a toy, and a boys' toy at that, young men have been the avatar of the concept of gamer. Were there women playing? Of course there were, but the point is that nobody was marketing to them. They played anyway, but to the mass media cultural machine they were invisible and insignificant. No one ever asked what they thought because the industry did just fine with their laser focus on appealing to young males. Why change it?
It was always assumed that we would grow out of video games like you grow out of playing with toy cars or Candyland. The thing, though, we didn't grow out of them. Folks born in the '70s and '80s were the first generation to really take their toys with them into adulthood in a big way. What other explanation is there for the massive Transformers movie franchise?
We grew up with gaming, and in turn gaming grew up with us. Technological ability to tell a story, for instance, improved to the point where a game like Beyond: Two Souls or The Wolf Among Us is indistinguishable from a film at casual glance. It became much easier for games to become a respected art form once they got bigger paint boxes.
This, however, had an unexpected effect. The loss of the stigma of playing with children's toys regarding video games wasn't limited to boys-turned-men. The taboo was shattered for everyone. Senior citizens took up the Wii, women became the muscle of MMORPGs, and smart phones and tablets suddenly meant way more people were constantly carrying around a video game console with them.
In short, gaming went mainstream the way superhero comic movies and tabletop RPGS and Doctor Who and dozens of other geek and nerd bastions have done. A ten-year-old girl, a professional football player, and pensioner across the ocean can all have a conversation about the same title because why not? Gaming is everywhere.
Here's where I think your problem lies.
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That egalitarianism means that the focused marketing approach to the young male mindset looking for boobs, blood, guns, and heroic wish fulfillment fantasies is over. The market still exist, of course. Those stories are older than the written word for a reason, after all, but the uniform, industry-wide adherence to that and nearly just that alone is gone. Forever. The market simply relies on too many different people to grow to put all their eggs in your basket.
I can understand why that makes you mad. It's easy to get entitled and to take that entitlement for granted. It's also very easy to get why this all feels like an invasion. In a sense, it is. So many people who felt shunned, shut out, and who put up with a vast miasma produced by catering exclusively to little lords don't feel like they have to take that any more. They say their money is as good as anyone else's, and some of them are wondering if Bayonetta necessarily needs to be a walking fetish dolly or if maybe women's vaginas are worth more in games than healing stations.
Look, no matter what spin is placed at any given moment this whole thing, from GamerGate to the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian that's been going on for years, is about fear of change. It's not about ethics in journalism or Social Justice Warriors pushing an agenda or anything of the sort. The change is huge. It's way bigger than gaming. We have positive consent laws in California and same-sex marriage is spreading at a ridiculous pace throughout the country. GamerGate is not a revolution. It is a small skirmish led by the opposition to the actual progressive revolution happening in everything from politics to pop culture. This exists because of the larger tidal shift. It didn't cause it.
It is not the end of the straight, cisgender white male, but simply the loss of our status as the default. The target. The power players. The big cheeses. The Other becomes The Us, as it should be. It's gathering guild members, improving affinity, leveling up, or however you want to look at it.
Remember something very positive about this that should show you the path of righteousness. It was young men who braved ridicule and said, "No, I'm going to play Legend of Zelda when I get home from my big person job if I freaking want to. And hey, I've got lots more money now. Bring me a blinged-out, special edition 3DS to play it on!" We broke the mould and turned gaming from child's play to art form. We demanded adult themes and less cartoonish characters and we got it. We opened the door to this world.
It wouldn't be very nice of us to keep trying to force it back shut on those who are trying to come through, would it?
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