Friday, 17 October 2014

Censorship and GamerGate

Now there’s been a lot of discussion in the last month or so about the nature of censorship. GamerGate has inspired this conversation with accusations of censorship being thrown back and forth by both sides. Now a lot of these arguments could probably have been cleared up by a quick check of the dictionary to see what censorship actually means. I appreciate however that that would be a lot of work and as I've always said, an uninformed opinion is still an opinion. It being completely incorrect shouldn't make it any less valid. No wait...that sounds wrong somehow.

Now GamerGate has become such a wide reaching and constantly shifting situation that I’m not going to try and summarise it. By this point it doesn't make much sense if you have been following it. If you’re reading this article and I have suspicion that you are, you will know the basics by now.

Some of the members on the side of GamerGate have claimed that Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency, is guilty of trying to censor the games industry and that she wants to stop potentially sexist material from appearing in games. Now if she WERE trying to actively ban such content I would completely understand some of the ill feeling, not the death threats part but I’d get the dislike. That being said, she isn’t doing that, or anything even close to that. All she seems to be doing is listing issues that she sees in games and suggesting ways they might be more positive towards women.

Now since all she seems to be doing is what I’m doing now, explaining an opinion, I don’t see how that is directly causing any censorship. I appreciate that her videos might encourage games companies to make more positive female characters but that wouldn’t stop them making the stuff that already sells now. All she is likely to do from these videos and talks is show that the gaming demographic is becoming more varied and more varied types of game could be sold to it.

Anita Sarkeesian has the right to say whatever she wants, pretty much. If she doesn’t than she’s being censored, that's how that works. That being said if she has the freedom to criticise something, people have the freedom to criticise her for her opinions on it. For example, I personally disagree with her on some of her points. I have the right to respond to her with any criticisms I have with her work, free speech is pretty cool like that. Free speech however does not, and should not cover threats. If you believe that she’s wrong in her views, prove it with discussion. New opinions and Ideas are only dangerous to a society built out of matchsticks. If one person can truly make a difference than the society you live in is already in a pretty bad way.

I find it weird that the concept and definition of censorship seems to be so fluid. I've always thought the word was relatively self explanatory. That being said, the very group criticising Sarkeesian for censoring, attempt to censor things themselves. There are those in GamerGate who say that reviews should be more objective. They say that issues such as racism and sexism shouldn’t be used to criticise a game.

The issue with this idea, well one of the many, is that racism and sexism in games doesn’t matter to these people because they are male and white. To those playing games that aren’t white and male, they will want to know how they are represented when considering the purchase of a game. Arguments have been made that bad review scores will effects game sales, such as with Bayonetta 2, and cause people to lose their jobs. Obviously is people lose their jobs it is sad but if the overall product is bad in some way then people shouldn't buy it. Multiple reviews help to establish this kind of trend and one or two dissenting opinions will not sink a generally good game.

Now I would say that crucifying a game entirely based on any single negative aspect wouldn't be a good review. That being said you can't ignore the culture that a game is created in, or the culture of the market it is being aimed at. A purely objective review can only go so far. Yes you can rate graphics for their frame rates and polygons for their David Cage-ness but you can't objectively rate an experience. Particularly if some of the audience may find it offensive. Which if it's made by David Cage they probably will.
There are definite, easily proven issues with censorship and corruption in the world of video games, ones that should be questioned. ‘The Shadow of Mordor’ blackmail stuff that has come out recently is pretty terrible and sets a very worrying trend for example. I have trouble seeing how one person/gender is seemingly being blamed for destroying games using stealth when things like this ‘Mordor’ stuff is going on in the open and nobody seems to care. If only there was some kind of group set up to fight games corruption and censorship, they could get right on it…

Society is partially formed by the media it consumes. It’s very clear that the games industry has less positive female characters than male ones. I can completely agree with anyone who says that women would benefit from better gender representation in games, society in general would. I think that the games companies, along with all media outlets have a responsibility towards what they give to society. I wouldn’t want a world where the law would stop certain types of game from being made. I hope however we can make a world where the idea of games with diverse genders and ethnicities is considered a good thing and that anything other than that would be thought of as censorship.

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