09 November, 2014

Adults in the Room

I've been playing video games since I was about 5 or 6 years old. I can still remember begging my technophilic grandfather to please, please, PLEASE let me play Asteroids or Paratrooper on his green-screened PC, or that my father, the Scholar, take my brother and I to the local video arcade on his Monday night visits. To this day, I hold a special place in my heart for the old Star Wars machine he taught me to play on our first trip.

In any event, video games have been a huge part of my leisure time for nearly three decades. I play less today, though the Beautiful Editrix might argue that point, than I did in the past, but I still enjoy them immensely. I'm not a hard core gamer, though: my tastes run to RPG's and strategy with a few casual shooters thrown in. I'm a sucker for storyline and cinematics, disdain anything requiring an overactive twitch reflex, and love a good builder sim. Graphics are negotiable, enjoyability is not. Most of my games are at least a year old, and the only way I grab a AAA title is if it's on one of Steam's blessed sales or has the word "Bethesda" in the title credits.

Recently, there's been a fracas going on in the realm of video games. Most non or even casual gamers are probably only barely aware of it. I caught the fringes of it through Vox Popoli (I think this was the first bit I ever read on it) and watched it unfold like a slow motion train wreck. When it popped up on AoSHQ, I knew this thing had some legs beyond the usual geek infighting.

How it started has long since faded in to inconsequentiality. I've seen it likened to remembering Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1916, and to my mind there's more than a little truth to that, at least from one side. Actually, that's one of the reasons the whole thing can seem so confusing: the two sides frame it in such a way that it almost doesn't seem the same conflict! Personally, I tend to think this is a tactical move by one side, which is notorious for reframing every argument in order to control the narrative rather than have an honest debate. They're so blatant about it, that the phrase "control the narrative" has practically become a buzzword, but that's a topic for later. If you want a good, mostly unbiased (because somewhat disgusted) perspective, Clark from Popehat wrote a decent rundown a couple of weeks ago. There's been some more drama since, but the essentials remain the same.

What I'm slowly making my way around to, is that I've been following this through the filter of intelligent, erudite, and mostly well spoken bloggers who, regardless of their stance, look at the whole thing with a degree of, if not detachment, than at least objectivity. They are, in some cases, rank partisans, but they give solid reasons and actual evidence as to why they took the side they did. They are almost exclusively pro-GamerGate, a term coined by actor Adam Baldwin when this mess first started, but then so am I. I recently have started following a few folks on Twitter in order to get a more unfiltered take on the whole thing, just out of personal curiosity. That may have been a tactical error....

Dear God, it's like listening to toddlers squabble! For a while, I had a hard time understanding why so many writers I respect treated what boiled down to a consumer revolt with such disdain, but I wonder no longer.

These are children! On both sides!

I mean, it makes perfect sense, and it clarifies a few of Vox's more cryptic statements regarding Omegas and Gammas, but still! What kills me is that it's on both sides. I'd been spoiled by reading solid analysis and a few philosophical takes on the whole thing by luminaries such as John C. Wright and some of the cobs from Ace's place (to say nothing of Vox, Clark, etc), so the picture I had in my head was that of rational people against frothing SJW's. While that is true, to a point, it is a gross oversimplification and loses sight of the fact that both sides have their contingents of adults and children.

I know, this should have been painfully obvious, especially to one who prides himself on being able to take the long view. Regardless, it took a moment to look away from the whining, hair pulling, and chest thumping to recognize that there are battle lines that extend beyond the cheap snark of Twitter and confirm that I am still on the side of individual liberty and the market. One thing that is abundantly clear is that there are a lot of pissed off people out there!

As to the adults in the room... On my side, the pro-GG side, they are developers, thinkers, a philosopher or two, and independent critics who love games for what they are, and encourage anyone who wishes to to go out, create their own, and let the market sort out what works and what doesn't. On the other, they are generally journalists and academics who want the creation and playing of games to be tightly controlled, either through legal or cultural strictures, based on their views of what is and isn't acceptable. To them, there is no market, or rather there are two: the usual economic market where people buy what they enjoy and a second, hidden cultural market where only those games deemed "acceptable" are permitted to be released. I say market rather than gate, because the higher the acceptance, the more advertising and push the product receives, while those with less acceptance may simply be "allowed" to enter the real market. We've seen this before in publishing and movies. The adults on the pro side are gamers, those on the anti side are at best players, but quite often dabbling busybodies who want a say disproportional to their actual ability or participation.

To borrow a conceit from Neal Stephenson, this is a Hobbit fight. In the short, it is utterly inconsequential and more than a little absurd, pushed by pompous drama queens and only made intelligible by a few deep thinking individuals who can see the long game. In the long, this is one more incremental entryist push by the neopuritans of the hard left into a small segment of the entertainment media that they already largely control. What makes it unique is not that they are being resisted, but that for the first time, they are losing.

The journalists, those cheap idolatrous coffee house revolutionaries who so often mistake the symbol (the written or spoken word) for the thing symbolized (reality), are almost exclusively on the anti side. This means that what gets out to the non gaming public is often slanted at best, and more often than not twisted beyond recognition. The gamers, however, are almost exclusively pro. And why not? Their hobby is being threatened by people too stupid, lazy, or incompetent to actually compete with them! The losers in the gaming world are screeching that the only reason they are losing is that the game is unfair, and that it must be changed so that they can always win. Anyone who either played games as a child or has a child who plays games recognizes that screed: the difference is that the gamers figured out how to beat the game on its own terms, while those who simply dabble threw down the controller, walked off in a huff, and found the nearest authority figure to complain about the unfairness of it all.

Reality doesn't change because we want it to. Regardless of how the argument is framed, GamerGate is a consumer revolt against those who would bypass the market for Ayn Rand's economy of pull. Gamers say go ahead, make whatever game you want, but don't expect me to like it if it sucks. The interloping antis don't want to have to go through all that work: they want competition limited to what they like and find acceptable, with the ability to squash anything they might find threatening. In the end, their vision is untenable: as with SF/F, when faced with a diminished and widely distasteful selection, consumers will leave the market rather select the lesser of two evils. It's one of the main reasons that centralized, planned economies always fail.

Yet for some reason, there's always a sucker willing to buy into them, usually under the illusion that he's going to be the one making all the decisions...

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