I read the other day that Intel decided to pull it’s advertising off the gaming website Gamasutra. They did it rather abruptly and publicly which of course led to speculation why the struggling chip maker would take such a drastic measure.
“We take feedback from customers seriously.”
That’s Intel’s very ambiguous response because it neglects to address what exactly the customer feedback was or why this was the response. Pay attention to that line, you’ll see it again when Intel realizes they made a mistake.
Apparently, upon researching things further the #GamerGate initiative had something to do with it. The misogynistic offshot of the gaming community that promotes violence against non-conformists has been seeking to purify gaming against what it calls are feminist liberal progressives that wish to neuter gaming and it’s traditional content and creators. Their stances is exactly the kind of adolescent temper tantrum one would expect when one feels their identity is somehow compromised by change. You see this same assinine attitude with music fans who blast their favorite artists for selling out.
If the group did indeed lead a campaign to pressure Intel and other advertisers from dropping their financial commitments to media outlets that support equality it might have seemed to make sense for Intel to get out from the middle of the dispute. Rather than inadvertently getting caught in the crossfire Intel probably felt it was best to get out of dodge. It’s a rather protectionist was of doing things, but running away from it shows no real corporate ethics particularly if Intel actually believes their own statement, “When it comes to our support of equality and women, we want to be very clear: Intel believes men and women should be treated the same. Intel does not support any organization or movement that discriminates against women.”
Intel had the opportunity to stand up and do what was right by the sentiment in that statement and instead cowered away putting the potential profit loss of a boycott by #GamerGate fanbois ahead of the women who work for Intel, who purchase Intel products and who otherwise supported Intel in other ways. Make no mistake it was handled completely wrong and continues to be by Intel in their half-assed apology, but Intel is a symptom of a much bigger problem and that’s the entirity of the gaming community not crushing this anti-women’s movement swiftly due to their own protectionist attitudes.
Folding to pressure by #GamerGate a seems like a pretty bad idea , particularly considering how much violence against women has made the headlines lately thanks to the NFL and yet the #GamerGate agenda is able to be supported both tacetly and explicitly because there aren’t enough voices speaking out otherwise against it.
When gaming first began arcades were fairly gender neutral and that’s because many of the early game mechanics could appeal cross-gender. As the code was able to support more complex scenarios and graphics able to render more action genres like shooter games, fighting games and sports games began being developed and these primarily appealed to men which drove growth in the industry thus perpetuating the trend to design games and market them in a way that appealed to men. While there were still plenty of gender-neutral games that were successful the real gatekeepers for mass gaming were part of the underground and that was primarily men. The few women who infiltrated it did so because they were tom-boys and had as much in common with the stereotype of the guys being anti-social, introspective and generally different.
It is debatable if the early underground of gaming was misogynistic on its own or if it was a combination of influences coming from comics, music, fantasy+SciFi, and so on along with the fact that it’s dominated by a bunch of socially awkward adolescent guys who’s only experience with adolescent girls was probably less than fun. It is common in counter-cultures to create a level of exclusivity to the culture and the boy’s club mentality that becomes established in the hardcore gaming community.
The real change to what is commonly viewed as the anti-feminism of the gaming community probably can be tracked in parallel with the improvement of game graphics from pixelated, low-fi renderings of characters concepts to television-inspired image quality. Suddenly characters could have definition and definition they were given in order to address the stereotypes of the target audiences. Male characters are ripped. Female ones are curvaceous. These depictions represent what the underground gamer aspired to have but implicitly felt they couldn’t. The fantasy was able to be controlled by the gamer thus bringing the impossible to temporary reality in the confines of playing the game. The skewed vision of the world, of what possible perfection could or should be drove the character modeling and thus you end up with both men and women that look like extreme versions of real life. There’s similar attributes in how comics treat the presentation of men and women as well, but most notably it’s the fact that the mainstream too is struggling with how to depict men and women, albeit not a perversely to the extreme as often as what we see in video games.
While simply making women extra curvy probably isn’t a deciding factor in fostering misogynistic behavior it certainly doesn’t help the situation. However, it is more the rest of the characterization of women, particularly those in games more specifically directed at the hardcore gaming underground than that of more mainstream titles that’s a driving force. Few lead characters in games exist and those that do except in a few occurrences have flaws greater than that of their male counterparts if they exist. Secondary female characters fall into subordinate roles dominated by their male character counter parts, or are to be saved perpetuating the mystified damsel in distressed, or are otherwise included in the plot in the category of either conquest or prize. Tertiary female characters are completely marginalized and are inconsequential other than in a pure eye candy role. Being these characters are presented specifically to the developing minds of adolescent boys one can argue that it is one of the factors helping shape their interpretation of women and their societal roles.
Manufacturers targeting female games are tough to come by and during the big 1990s PC and console growth spurts the primary driver really was young men. Apart from Nintendo which maintains a few successful, and arguably gender-neutral franchises most of the rest of the console world as well as the majority of PC games skew to male players who are the primary consumers. It’s a little bit of a chicken-or-the-egg in understanding how this came to be but the failure of games created and marketed to women during this time heightened the industry’s desire to target the easiest demographic to drive revenues an that was young men.
Gen X, the Millennials and the post-Millennials spent the better part of almost 40 years with video games and much of this time it’s been a male demographic. If you are a guy and found refuge and solace in the gaming community it’s natural that you’re going to be protective of it and the exclusivity that’s been fostered in the underground for decades. It’s starting from this mentality that #GamerGate appears to take it’s roots.
This clinging to historical gender segregation is not new and it’s not uncommon still today. Much like Men’s Social Societies, bars, country clubs, colleges and other social groups were forced to desegregate and allow women into their ranks so to the gaming underground are feeling the pressure accommodate. Being the pressure is both inward (from girls who actively want to be gamers, boys who want girls to be gamers too) and outward (manufacturers embracing the new demographic, the media covering it) it can be a real psychological struggle for those who are unable or unwilling to accept change. You see it all the time in mainstream life as minorities slowly gain establishment and challenge the precepts of an existing majority … the underground gaming community is proving it’s not immune to the phenomenon.
#GamerGate is a pushback easily anticipated in the face of change but just because it’s an expected outcome does not make it okay. It wasn’t ok to haze and bully women during the suffrage movement and it’s not okay now.
Ironically enough, there’s a contingent of the gaming community who adhere to the counter culture because it’s the anti-sports thing to do. They deride sports as being macho, of being exclusive, of being bullies, etc. and yet this attitude about what to do with feminism in the gaming community reeks of the same terrible aspects gamers accuse jocks of having. One need only look at the image problem the NFL has right now and the absolutely ignorant comments made by some fans defending what the players have done to their wives and girlfriends to understand just how pervasive misogyny is. Again, this anti-feminism movement in gaming proves gaming isn’t exempt or immune.
It’s just as wrong in gaming as it is everywhere else though and the sooner the #GamerGate accepts this the better because change is coming no matter how hard they push.
There is absolutely nothing acceptable about women being raped or abused in video games any more than it is in the real world. There’s absolutely nothing acceptable about portraying women solely as conquest or prize in a pornographic fashion any more than it would be to treat them like that in real life. And, right now, most importantly there is absolutely nothing acceptable about threatening harm on a women in the scene or anyone supporting change in the scene to be more inclusive of women.
It is up to the silent majority in gaming to no longer be silent and allow the community to continue to be hijacked by a few ignorant trolls. If companies like Intel actually believe in their statements they would recognize this not just in their words but in their actions taking proactive steps to further women’s positive portrayal and involvement in the industry. Stepping aside as Intel did was a huge missed opportunity, one which their competitors and colleagues have already demonstrated they embrace which makes the whole Intel response all that more embarrassing to them
There are some fantastic examples of this already beginning to occur with programs like Astia, Hackbright, Girls Who Code, CodeEd and organizations such as WITI (Women in Technology International), Women in Games International, National Center for Women & Information Technology and others as well as tech and gaming companies already supporting initiatives to support women in the industry through both education and recruitment.
And, the consumer has already changed. Several reports detail that women make up 52% of gamers across all video devices and account for over 40% of the industry’s assignable revenue with that number steadily increasing. While the hardcore underground wishes to dismiss the growth of women on consoles due to Wii or the influence of women as the primary gamers on mobile with puzzles, the fact of the matter is white, adolescent, suburban boys no longer dictate what it means to be a gamer and this probably frightens more than a few of them in the same way that when girls get involved in sports or certain types of music or even certain professions it upsets the status quo.
It is time to put the antiquated image of the gamer away and along with it the antiquated notion that treating women like shit and portraying them as objects to be conquered or won – either in real life or in a game. It’s time to hold companies like Intel to their word and let them know that it isn’t okay to do what they did. It is time to stop empowering hate and ignorance and to stand up to, rather than cave in to, initiatives which seek to take gaming and society as a whole backwards.