I made this post strictly to say to fellow bloggers/vloggers/gamers: your voices matter, especially when it comes to the social issues that affect gaming.
I especially want to direct that statement at men in the community who brave the topic of sexism and sexualization in games, or who are interested but are hesitant to get involved. It’s OK to engage and we should do so. Don’t be afraid to walk into the waters, but slowly, one step at a time, looking back at the shore to ensure expert swimmers are watching and trusting that they won’t let you drown or be eaten by troll-sharks. Your voice matters. (Also, don’t run at fullspeed into the ocean when you *know* you can’t swim; that makes everyone’s task harder and the troll-sharks might get to you before we do. Again, slowly, one step at a time!)
That said, it’s sort of culturally ingrained in men that we should be experts about everything and it shows whenever the topic of sexism turns up in the games community. That’s why the stereotype of the guy getting his family lost on a road trip while refusing to consult a map is such an apt observation. On the topic of our games, we feel we *are* the experts and as such we are an authority on everything. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. We OFTEN just don’t know how bad something can be when we love it. We OFTEN don’t know the harm we are doing until someone tells us. If I spill red wine on someone’s white carpet, I don’t shrug and say “you know I didn’t mean to spill that, don’t be so sensitive” or “I’m a guy, I spill stuff” or “why would you serve red wine in a room with white carpet? It’s your own fault.” We all would agree that you should still apologize for spilling it and try to clean it up as best you can; that you don’t then claim to be a slob who can’t do better; that you don’t berate the host for serving you wine. This same courtesy applies to the important conversations about sexism and sexualization in video games.
Misunderstanding or lack of knowledge doesn’t make us evil or lesser men; they just mean we don’t know. There are many passionate people who take the time to share their awareness and knowledge. They tell us about their experiences with sexism and it’s dangers to help us see the systemic aspects of it. The crime is not our lack of those things, but the insistence that we know better even as we have little knowledge of the issue; that our opinion is as worthy as expert research.
This post is partially inspired by a wonderful exchange I’ve been having with Astalnaris, a good writer, newly minted blogger, and a gamer who cares about knowledge. I tried to encourage him to do more research on the topics he writes about to not only bolster the credibility of his critiques, but to actually become knowledgeable of the issues. Sometimes we don’t know things …and that’s OK. Any one of you can read some of my older articles and find they contain their fair share of bad assumptions and errors. You can also find me in those old comments sometimes defending things that I shouldn’t have. The thing is, it’s not a crime for me to get it wrong — it’s a crime to defend those errors, especially when knowledgeable others are giving me good information.
Bloggers are able to engage in opinion-sharing in a way professional journalists can’t. That’s a great thing. As Liore spoke about with games criticism, there’s a lot of room for constructive critique, and well-researched opinions can offer valuable insights. However, that criticism, especially on the topic of sexualization, should be tempered with the inclusion of relevant research and the application of theory to those opinions. If we are writing about it, we ought to try to learn about it, approach it with respect and an open mind, and not rest on our opinions as though they have as much merit as earned knowledge of the topic.
It’s true that lately men have been put on high alert in the sexism debate the past few years. It’s easy to feel picked-on right now and I understand where a lot of men are coming from when they react (sometimes poorly) to the research, such as what Anita Sarkeesian has published. Everywhere in the news we’re seeing stories about the bad things we’re doing to others or how we benefit and often at their expense. This impacts how we feel about ourselves, how I feel about myself, how my son will see himself, how little girls will view him and on and on. So it’s a serious issue and men have legitimate concerns about the onslaught of negative news about us. But those feelings should be discussed with acknowledgement that the impacts on us aren’t more important than the impacts on others (be careful not to shout-down others as I’ll explain later). We can acknowledge the problems and in doing so, highlight our awareness and conern. Basically, we can use our voices and let others around us know that we interested in change, but we’re afraid of what all of this implies and means for us. We are capable self-awareness, empathy and learning, and we can make self-aware decisions about these things. We are capable of yielding to knowledge and being open-minded.
In using our voices, we have to be conscious not to shout-down the voices of others, especially those immediately affected by the issues. It’s easy enough to take on the position that gaming is a guy’s clubhouse and those wanting to come in have to accept our (low) standards, because it doesn’t require us to look in the mirror and examine our biases and the impacts of them on others. That’s a difficult thing to do, because it challenges our identity in a major way. I want to invite every guy who’s ever thought this to raise that standard and don’t be afraid to strive to meet those high expectations. Try not to resort to the old “but it’s always been that way/it’s made for men, deal with it/we can’t understand how to write women characters” because in doing so, we are dismissing the voices of others. Their voices count too and often even more so than ours.
Just as we want others to be less sensitive (“have thick skin”), can’t we pride ourselves on being more sensitive at the same time, to meet them half way? To be more inclusive? We would benefit from fresh ideas, perspectives, and just the general sunshine that comes in the door when you open it for others. The more gamers we embrace into the community, the more and better games we get. Everyone wins in that scenario.
Don’t be afraid to write about touchy topics, but definitely read about the things you write about. Think about the ways in which those ideas might benefit you; you have nothing to lose. Making inclusive video games isn’t a zero sum game.
Use your voice. Join the conversation. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Be open to different ideas. No one will hate you for being interested in the topic and your voice is sorely needed if you’re open to the idea of change. In fact, let’s all take it from Michael Jordan, obviously one of the most successful athletes in the world. We all get some things wrong, but let’s be the kind of people who keep trying anyway because our voices are needed.
Quick Edit: I forgot to mention the real inspiration for the related conversations. That would go to Dustin Browder and the Rock, Paper, Shotgun interview in which he revealed Blizzard thinks the issues of sexism is for presidents, not game developers. He wrote a short, hasty, probably-PR-mandated follow-up apology. I found that Blizzard’s efforts to dodge the topics entirely was exposed in Browder’s response and that was, in my opinion, the real problem with the interview. Blizzard should have been prepared for the question given RPS’s very public stance on the matter and the fact that almost every game developer with a woman (or lack thereof) in their new games has been pasted time and again on frontpages on this very question. It really doesn’t say kind things about the company that they fumbled on this, but we shall all see how they recover. Having printed those statements many gamers will be expecting to see how much they really care about the topics by how their future work is done.
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