I recently wrote about #GamerGate for Avidly. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular corner of Internet culture (lucky you…), #GamerGate was a campaign that was ostensibly about corruption in games journalism but was actually a campaign to harass and silence female game developers and so-called “social justice warriors” in gaming culture (those who advocate for diverse representations in games, for more parity in game development, etc).
Recently, the massive computer hardware company Intel became wrapped up in #GamerGate when it made the decision to pull advertising from the games website Gamasutra. Intel had been on the receiving end of a letter-writing campaign by #GamerGate participants who demanded that they stop supporting the site for “attacking gamers.” A spokesperson for Intel told tech news site Re/Code that this decision was made because of feedback from customers about a “controversial editorial” on the site:
“Intel has pulled its advertising from website Gamasutra,” Intel spokesperson Bill Calder said. “We take feedback from our customers very seriously especially as it relates to contextually relevant content and placements.”
This article, written by editor-in-chief Leigh Alexander, urged games developers to stop feeding into a toxic version of “gamer culture” that insisted on denying entry to anyone who isn’t an adolescent straight white male.
It makes a strange sort of sense that video games of that time would become scapegoats for moral panic, for atrocities committed by young white teen boys in hypercapitalist America — not that the games themselves had anything to do with tragedies, but they had an anxiety in common, an amorphous cultural shape that was dark and loud on the outside, hollow on the inside.
Yet in 2014, the industry has changed. We still think angry young men are the primary demographic for commercial video games — yet average software revenues from the commercial space have contracted massively year on year, with only a few sterling brands enjoying predictable success.
It’s clear that most of the people who drove those revenues in the past have grown up — either out of games, or into more fertile spaces, where small and diverse titles can flourish, where communities can quickly spring up around creativity, self-expression and mutual support, rather than consumerism. There are new audiences and new creators alike there. Traditional “gaming” is sloughing off, culturally and economically, like the carapace of a bug.
This is hard for people who’ve drank the kool aid about how their identity depends on the aging cultural signposts of a rapidly-evolving, increasingly broad and complex medium. It’s hard for them to hear they don’t own anything, anymore, that they aren’t the world’s most special-est consumer demographic, that they have to share.
In other words, Alexander is arguing that the stereotypical image of the “hardcore gamer” is no longer accurate, and so companies in the gaming business would do well to ignore those who insist that that demographic is the only one to which gaming, as a past time, belongs.
Intel found itself facing a decision not unlike the one faced by BioWare over its decision to include same gender romances in games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Star Wars: The Old Republic (see my piece on this here). When faced with two different constituencies of fans, both making opposing demands for your support, how do you decide who to support? Intel had to ask itself: what would be best for their bottom-line? Continuing their ad campaign on a gaming website that vocally and stridently called for a broadening of gamer culture (and thus risking the ire of an equally vocal group of hardcore gamers, proven consumers who have bought their products since the inception of gaming)? Or pulling their advertising to please those who claim to be their core demographic (and risking alienating a broader group that might be enticed into joining gaming culture)? Intel initially decided to go with the former option, the one the doubtless perceived as the “safer” one: keep pleasing that group of hardcore fans. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that.
However, what Intel failed to consider is that the dualistic frame being put forth by the #GamerGate brigade is a false one. The #GamerGate fiasco is not about hardcore gamers vs. feminists because hardcore gamers and feminists are not mutually exclusive groups. Those gamers who are afraid of losing their influence as consumers over the gaming culture as games become more mainstream and more different types of people start playing have a vested interest in making it seem as though hardcore gamers as a group are resistant to change and are resentful of criticism by writers like Alexander (and Anita Sarkeesian and Courtney Stanton). But this strategy is getting more and more difficult to pull off. Just ask Nintendo, which had to quickly mollify angry consumers demanding the inclusion of gay marriage in Tomodachi Life. Or Blizzard, which had to apologize after a flippant comment by the game director of Heroes of the Storm on the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in games. Or Ubisoft, which faced derision over its decision to not include female playable characters in Assassin’s Creed: Unity because including those character models would have been too much extra work for developers (never mind that creating six separate special editions of the game was considered a more reasonable use of developer time).
Intel has since also had to issue an apology for their foray into gamer politics:
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. And, diversity is an integral part of our corporate strategy and vision with commitments to improve the diversity of our workforce. And while we respect the right of individuals to have their personal beliefs and values, Intel does not support any organization or movement that discriminates against women. We apologize and we are deeply sorry if we offended anyone.
However, this apology has not yet been backed up by the restoration of their ads on Gamasutra. One gets the sense that they hope to have their cake and eat it, too.
If you want to let them know how you feel about that, you can contact them here.
“Gamer” doesn’t have to mean “straight white male bent on keeping everyone else out of his secret clubhouse.” And its poor business sense to assume that is the case, no matter what a few vocal fans might say.