In some arguments, nobody wins and everyone loses
So in the news this week is the “controversy” surrounding The Chinese Room tweeting out that a promotional image for CD Projekt’s upcoming title Cyberpunk 2087 suggests it is “just as sexist” as Witcher 3.
But just as sexist if that image is anything to go by… https://t.co/jlLW0lWP6z
— The Chinese Room (@ChineseRoom) April 29, 2016
Now, you might think: “hang on there, Chinese Room, you’re jumping to conclusions a bit based on one image”. You’d be right too. One image of a robotic woman attired in lingerie doesn’t necessarily mean CD Projekt want to urinate on Emiline Pankhust’s grave while wearing “This is the Patriarchy” t-shirts. Sadly, one of the first responses to Chinese Room’s presumptuousness was not a well-reasoned criticism, but an image of the same woman with a bhurka photo-shopped over her.
Of course, that’s obviously what The Chinese Room really want, isn’t it? Clearly, based on one sentence in a tweet, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that they’re a bunch of neo-puritans who want women to be ashamed of their bodies, right? Criticism of the Chinese Room continued in an equally petty way with Nercubed snarkily mentioning that The Chinese Room are just jealous because they can’t render a human character model… or write a story.
I think they’re just jealous they haven’t worked out how to model a human character yet.
Or write a story.
— Daniel Hardcastle (@DanNerdCubed) April 29, 2016
Gosh, sick burn, eh? The usual suspects on Twitter and YouTube continued to round on Chinese Room with insults aplenty. What seemed oddly absent though, was anyone asking The Chinese Room: “can you elaborate on your opinion a little so we can talk about it?”
This latest bit of twitter drama isn’t really “news” because it’s nothing new – this is now a rote weekly event like taking out the garbage. It’s not really a controversy, because it’s not controversial – it’s a dogwhistle for the Twitterati to call eachother “sexists” or “SJWs”. It’s not really a debate, because sure as hell, no-one involved is even attempting that. What it can safely be described as is an enormous waste of time. No-one involved is going to change their opinions or learn anything new. These twitter slapfights will yield no learned intellectual tete-a-tetes like Lincoln-Douglas or Frost-Nixon that will fascinate and inform future generations. It wouldn’t be a problem if this dumbed-down bickering was just background noise. Now though, time-wasting feces-flinging like this has dominated gaming discussion for the past two years, and looks set to continue to do so.
I remember when the various gaming websites were focused on discussions about whether games were art. Sure, it wasn’t a great topic to be debating. Obviously, art is subjective and anything can be art. But hey, it was good sign that gaming was becoming open to the same type of critical opinion that TV and film had been for decades.
In the heady days when New Games Journalism was on the rise; Tim Rogers used to write vaugely narccisstic 10,000 word reviews of games where he would talk about everything from who he was text messaging while playing, to heating himself up a burrito while he waited for the game to load. To him, the idea of evaluating a game as anything other than a completely personal experience was old hat. I remember reading Maoist essays on Fallout 2 about how the protagonist could be a force for liberating the enslaved tribal proletariat from the post-apocalyptic bourgeoisie. I also fondly recall a treatise about Stracraft 2 with a Freudian analysis about the Xel’naga artifact as a phallic symbol to subvert Kerrigan with its psychic ejaculations of energy. Sure, I didn’t agree with everything I read from these people, but they all provided a fresh perspective for me to consider and enjoy! At least no-one was organizing hate campaigns against them.
Now, every single week I have to struggle with the burden of having a nuanced opinion in a social media environment determined to encourage hateful stupidity. In Metal Gear Solid V, I think Kojima could’ve done better representing women than having a single mute female character in a cage who has orgasmic showers in a bikini. Does that make me a “social justice warrior” determined to destroy video games and human sexuality? I think Senran Kagura is a bit of harmless fun as long as you view it as escapism, and don’t think real women are like that. Does that make me a basement-dwelling mysognist? Am I a bad games journalist because I think #bootygate is a pretty ridiculous thing to even be discussing? I mean, as long as a games developer isn’t being harrassed or otherwise coerced, it’s up to them whether they want to listen to fan feedback – whether it’s the stat balancing on a gun, a breathtakingly awful ending, or a slightly posterior-emphasizing pose. Why should we yell at eachother over it? When we have games that include more complex political and intellectual themes than ever before, the fact that there even is a #bootygate at all just reveals how utterly trivial and nasty gaming discussion has become.
It’s hard to participate in any debate about events of the day anymore, because I don’t really want to put myself on either side of a crushingly tedious culture war, manufactured to give the self-appointed commentariat more ad money. However, even if you don’t pick sides, someone will twist the facts and ignore your actual views and opinions so they can feel self-righteously angry at you. I feel pretty dumb writing paragraph after paragraph to people I will never meet, thinking I’m perhaps getting through to them on some level, just to be called a “feminazi cuck”. I’m not really bothered about being insulted by random internetlings, but I do feel stupid for wasting my time.
Anyone reading this article, please do me a favour. Don’t try and have discussions about serious, multi-faceted issues on twitter. The character limit doesn’t really lend itself to more than cheeky one-liners. If you’ve got a point to make, maybe write an article about it on medium.com or respond to another essay written there.
If someone starts demonising you, or calling you names, just ignore them and have discussions with people who actually want to listen as well as reply. Treat whatever internet person you’re talking to as a rational individual with complex opinions, and maybe you’ll be treated the same way. There are plenty of e-celebs with a financial stake in stirring up drama, or feeding into it by making the same childish insults and tiresomely redundant points. If we stop giving them views, clicks and attention – and stop being part of the inanity they feed off – they’ll have to either think of something new and refreshing to say, or fade into obscurity.
If we can do all this, then maybe gaming discussion will be about compelling issues again – with the overriding aim being mutual enlightenment, not brain-dead partisan bickering.
Or at least, you’ll have a bit more spare time because you’re not arguing about stupid shit on the internet.