Tuesday, October 28, 2014

can the Cathedral survive: demand for action-free, politically-correct games cannot be coerced


NYTimes |  The interactive age had arrived, and video games were its most promising entertainment.
And then came GamerGate. Over the past few weeks, as this inchoate but effective online movement has gathered momentum, I’ve begun to wonder if I’ve made a horrible mistake.

GamerGate — named for its Twitter hashtag — began this summer when Zoe Quinn, the designer of the game Depression Quest, received threats of violence after an ex-boyfriend posted a long diatribe about her on the Internet. Some of the crusaders against Ms. Quinn justified their actions by constructing flimsy conspiracies that she colluded unethically with journalists who write for enthusiast websites about video games.

After targeting Ms. Quinn, GamerGate widened its scope to include others perceived to be trying to cram liberal politics into video games. The movement uses the phrase “social justice warriors” to describe the game designers, journalists and critics who, among other alleged sins, desire to see more (and more realistic) representations of women and minorities. That critique, as well as more accusations of collusion among developers and journalists, attracted some conservative gadflies to GamerGate, like the “Firefly” actor Adam Baldwin.

For all of us who love games, GamerGate has made it impossible to overlook an ugly truth about the culture that surrounds them: Despite the growing diversity in designers and in games — games about bullying, games that put you in the role of a transgender woman, games about coming out to your parents — there is an undercurrent of “latent racism, homophobia and misogyny,” as the prominent game designer Cliff Bleszinski wrote in March, before GamerGate even began.

It’s the players who enjoy this culture, even as they distinguish themselves from the worst of the GamerGate trolls, who truly worry me. If all the recent experimentation and progress in video games — they’re in the permanent collection at MoMA now — turns out to be just a plaster on an ugly sore, then the medium’s long journey into the mainstream could be halted or even reversed.

The very word “game” understates (and in some ways restricts) the promise of this new form. Video games have been used, yes, to create digital translations of sports, folk games and carnival games. And they have also been used to invent new modes of competition, from classics like Pong to the “e-sport” League of Legends.

But like any medium of communication, the possibilities for what games can do are close to limitless. Already we use video games to exercise, to make music, to advance political arguments, to tell stories, to create beauty.