(Note – This is kinda political, although it isn’t. I am noting something that I have observed which is neither good nor bad. I try to present it in as balanced a way as I can, but that doesn’t mean much these days. The issues are complex and subjective.
Also, I might come across as defensive or entitled, but that isn’t my aim. I’ve come to terms with most of this, not through some sense of optimism but rather a looming nihilism.
Feel free to disagree but let’s keep it civil, eh?)
Marginilisation in games is something that is being discussed more and more within the industry itself and the wider media sphere. Progressivism and diversity are big buzzwords that have been drawing a lot of emotions from both sides of a widening political divide. Is the media spin that gaming is still a straight white male environment hostile to other groups a fair representation though?
This topic feels like a whole lot of swings and roundabouts. It is undeniable that most games are about white dudes murdering folk. That is incredibly basic but essentially true. Diversity is designed to make games more appealing and representative to a broader audience, and I’m personally for diversity done right. Ciri from The Witcher 3 is one of my favourite characters in games while Franklin from GTA5 was the character I expected to like least but actually found to be the most relatable of the characters.
But something that I have noticed is that games, for all the talk of being havens of white masculinity, are moving away from the traditional gamer. Hear me out. This is something that can be witnessed all across geek culture. Everything that used to get the crap beaten out of you in school is now super popular. Video games, comic books, fantasy novels and cult TV shows were all sanctuaries were the nerdy kids would retreat to to avoid the rest of the world but now those doors have opened and suddenly everyone is a fan of these things.
The fact that more people are involved in our hobbies and now understand why we love them is a good thing, but this sense of positivity masks something that I fear is one of the causes of the growing resentment from a certain proportion of the gaming community. You see, for all the mockery that the term ‘Safe spaces’ might get, geek culture always was a safe space for us. We were a marginalised people, outcasts in society who turned to fictional worlds to fill the empty voids of our lives. We didn’t have anything to blame those on. We couldn’t say that we were mistreated because we were black, or gay, or any other factor that fills modern think-pieces. Again, this isn’t to say that these things didn’t negatively affect people, put that we had no safety net to fall back on. We didn’t fit in because of our own social ineptitude and not because of some greater injustice. We had all of the supposed privileged of being straight white males but none of it materialised for us.
Games, comics, DnD, it all became a part of our identity because we had nothing else. Geek culture became a ‘boys club’ because it was a place where everyone was united by a common passion and an understanding of the social stigmas we faced. I know that back at school it was only because of games that I made the few friends that I had. Everyone wants to paint old school gamers and comic fans as bullies these days but let’s not forget how they were portrayed by the media and wider society. Being a geek was an insult. We were laughed at, made fun off, pushed further from society to take ever greater refuge in those fictional stories.
And now the doors have opened and the world expects these people to suddenly adapt to having their secluded environments filled with the people who had previously ostracised them. When a subset of people flee society and build their own culture only for that culture to become the focus of society, where do they go from there? Just because geek culture has become popular, it doesn’t mean that those original misfits are suddenly cool now.
The industry that I see now isn’t the same as it was, for better or worse. Games are now marketed for the casual players, those new influx of people who see games as easy entertainment and nothing more. Sprawling, detailed games are now considered too difficult so mechanics are dumbed down, reducing games to simple and flashy set-pieces that market well. Morrowind becomes Skyrim, Theif becomes… well, Theif, and every military shooter becomes Call of Duty. Multiplayer only, pre-order bonuses and microtransactions are trying to become the norm and mindless sequels dominate the charts. It isn’t about introducing new people to gaming, but more about changing gaming to catch new people. Games, like everything, will always go where the money is. That’s just the way of the world.
So games are changing, as are the people who play them. I don’t believe in cultural appropriation, but if I did, I’d argue that this is kinda a case of it. When our identities are so intrinsically entwined with these hobbies and we see them drift from our hands, I can certainly understand the resistance to change that we are seeing. So much of it isn’t about diversity, sexism or racism, it’s simply a line in the sand as your home is filled with strangers who want to renovate it to their own ideals.
Gamer culture is far from perfect, but it was all that many of us had.
Games are art, and with art comes different experiences, perspectives and ideals. Diversity can be achieved but it requires cooperation with that which you seek to change. Telling people what they enjoy is misogynistic, regardless of the traditional female gamers who love them just as much, wins nobody’s mind. Coming into somebody else’s hobby and telling them that things should be different only breeds resentment.
Change comes by winning at something’s own game. Enforced diversity is worthless if there is no heart to it. Good characters and good games will always come out on top, and when diverse characters rise out of these then nobody cares what colour or sex they are.
Help gamers to step back into society rather than shunning them from their own culture. At the end of the day, many of us are just bitter, broken individuals who want to forget about the world as we play our games.