Wednesday, 15 August 2012

On "Days of Nothing"

Every day this week I've read something via Twitter that's made me want to rush home and (angrily) write something. Monday, Girlfriend mode: a topic so toxic and over-discussed that I realised after a paragraph I could say nothing original or useful or that would make me feel in any way good. Yesterday, rape culture in gaming and something I'm quite proud of. Today, Robert Florence's problematic Days of Nothing article. This isn't going to be a particularly considered, reasoned or well written piece - some other time hopefully - I'm tired and annoyed and I just want to get this shit out of my head and into words so I can stop thinking about it.

I actually kind of agree with the central point: don't only take action when something goes wrong. Make positive decisions all the time and call out sexism (or whatever you disagree with) wherever you see it, rather than just on the "headline" days. I fit somewhere into the "3. Gamers" category and I like to think I'm generally doing what is described (hence yesterday, hence not buying games with objectionable content or marketing - sorry Borderlands 2 I was quite looking forward to you. A slip up it may have been, but given uncle Duke I really can't give you the benefit of the doubt).

But AAAARG this giant, stupid fallacy that there's some special sexism unique to gaming. This insane idea that we've somehow created a toxic environment out pure excess testosterone in an otherwise tolerant world, which we need to band together as gamers and be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" of. Why do we need to not only subscribe to the counter-productive "outsider" notion that we're part of some specially problematic (and for that matter distinct, discrete and homogeneous) sub culture, but actively encourage this attitude? For fucks sake.

So, you're thinking, I'm one of those "knee jerk defend games" types. I'm someone who's pissed off because someone is pointing out a problem with my favourite hobby and wants to deny reality. I humbly submit that no I'm really fucking not: I disagree with the above not because I think it's overstating a problem or because I want to play down gaming's issues with gender, but because I think it so vastly understates the scale of this mess, to the point that it makes my head hurt lots and lots and lots and lots.

Gaming's problems are a manifestation and a symptom of the problems of our troubled, awful society. Yes, gaming contains some extreme examples. No, it's no as bad as some other bits (gosh it's really not, this is a cop out I'm aware, but I'll write about this another time). But what's important is that gaming isn't some distinct area or special case that can be looked at in isolation. It's certainly not in need of some theoretical enlightened souls from some fantasy gender neutral mainstream society to come and point at its failures, as if they don't have their own. The film industry is sexist, the music industry is sexist, TV is sexist, politics, business, science, all have their own manifestations of gender bias. If we - speaking here as a member of the human race rather than only a gamer - hold ourselves up to the standards we aspire to, we need to be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" of most of what we do.

A few tits and a lack of decent female character are a problem. A problem that should be shouted about one that pisses me off and makes me very depressed. But this is not the problem. The problem is we give Barbie dolls to girls and action figures to boys, that we expect men to achieve and women to serve, that we segregate our society and culture in idiotic and arbitrary ways, that positions of power in politics and business are dominated by a narrow, unrepresentative demographic. It's cripplingly idiotic to think that we can sort out all of sexism and gender bias in gaming by concentrating solely on games, and not on how fucked up the way we conduct and govern our society and raise our children is.

So of course every gamer who cares about this needs to factor gender ethics in to the decisions they make, the games they buy and how they conduct themselves with gamers and non-gamers. If gaming is the area of cultural expression you choose to spend most time with then it will naturally be the one where you concentrate your efforts and criticism - especially given gender issues manifest here relatively strongly. But we don't need to subscribe to the idea that we're some broken little subculture - in an otherwise decently functioning world - that needs to sort its shit out, or worse that needs external help with our special problems. We need to be good gamers as a manifestation of being good people, just as gaming is bad as a manifestation of a bad society.

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