Sunday, February 1, 2015

In Defense of In-Crowds



What I am about to say is going to be controversial.  I understand full-well that in this culture, with the way it views individualism and tolerance, the following statements will strike many as politically incorrect, and I hope you understand full-well that I don't care at all.  Still, I will endeavor to sound courteous and not repel people, as I feel this needs being said and needs being read, because these days, calls are being made about taking desegregation and harmony in an extreme direction--a direction that, I maintain, is against the interests of many of those involved, and should prompt us to take a fresher look at diversity.

One of the things that's at the center of the #Gamergate controversy is the rash of "Gamers are Dead" articles published in response to digital terrorism, which attempted to give evil a face and diagnose its motives--with very questionable logic.  I've thought of writing a blog dissecting these points, but this has already been done, probably more than once, so instead, I'm just going to focus on the calls journalists have made to make gaming culture more inclusive and less alienating, for the sake of a more harmonious society.  Writes Dan Golding,

"Today, videogames are for everyone. I mean this in an almost destructive way. Videogames, to read the other side of the same statement, are not for you. You do not get to own videogames. No one gets to own videogames when they are for everyone. They add up to more than any one group.
On some level, the grim individuals who are self-centred and myopic enough to be upset at the prospect of having their medium taken away from them are absolutely right. They have astutely, and correctly identified what is going on here. Their toys are being taken away, and their treehouses are being boarded up. Videogames now live in the world and there is no going back."

Golding is convinced this has already happened, and gamers are on a counter-offensive, but Devin Wilson argues the reformists still need to make their main offensive, as she proposes:

"We make and play fewer isolating games, including online multiplayer games. If our medium is designed for people to stay secluded for dozens of hours while having their egos stroked, then we reap what we sow in terms of the kinds of people who emerge from this pastime. We need to consider the very real possibility that the offensive behavior displayed by gamers in recent weeks is not unrelated to the artifacts they rally around (which I doubt are especially obscure). These people didn’t come from nowhere to fight about nothing. They came from games to fight about games. They’re organic results of the medium we’ve all played a role in cultivating, and they won’t go away if the medium doesn’t change significantly."

She goes on to say,

"We jettison the hardcore/casual dichotomy. It’s utter garbage that’s only used for three reasons: 1) to feel superior to others, 2) to tragically submit to unjust hierarchies of play, or 3) to sell products (and effectively reinforce the other two). Besides, what’s more “casual”: mastering a free mobile game over many years or spending a Saturday buying and exhausting the latest murder simulator that you believed you were supposed to play?"

The vagueries of these articles are worth contempt of themselves.  Whom are they attacking?  If gaming culture is already diverse, what hope has condemnation of an abstract stereotype have in affecting a more tolerant world?  If it's already diverse, how could so many people be concentrated against isolated targets?  What fans of what games do they think attack what fans of what games?  Objectively, it's impossible to get any meaningful discussion out of this sort of blanket statement unless we break "video games" and "gamers" down into sections to address individually, and opting to do that now with one segment of the culture, I declare that no; we do not need to get rid of alienation.  We do not need to board up the clubhouses, or dispel the hardcore/casual distinction.  In fact, these things should be maintained, and encouraged in others, for the sake of real diversity and everything that makes it beautiful.

I pick as my example one franchise that gets a fair amount of criticism and presumably is on a few hitlists of games to make more inclusive or kill off, Dead or Alive.  It indisputably qualifies for what Anita Sarkeesian calls the "Fighting Fuck Toy" trope.  It has never denied that, and it is not going to change that.  It wears the badge proudly.  Is that misogyny?  Only if you move the goalposts of misogyny from hatred of women to value of specific types of women.  Is that sexism?  Only if similar standards are not held towards men, and I would be willing to bet DOA fans would much rather hang out with an athletic woman cosplaying as Kasumi and doing martial arts than with a fat man delivering diatribes about how shameful their game is.  Is that discrimination, at least?  Of course it is, and that's what makes a subculture a subculture.  You have to draw a line somewhere, establish some rules about what you support and oppose, whom you will and won't hang with, and that's entirely fine.  Feminism may not like it, but it's here to stay.

Yet what is interesting is that while feminism has been attacking male-oriented sexual fanservice as discriminatory for years, last month feminism itself came under a similar attack.  The Vagina Monologues, a staple of feminist literature for two decades, was attacked and cancelled by a women's college for discriminating against transexuals--by which it means not making disparaging remarks towards them, but rather failing to include them at all.  Once again, I'm not trying to argue there's no discrimination on the part of the play, because of course there is.  As with the quintessential DOA mindset, a woman-oriented play must draw a line somewhere as to what a woman is; lest there's no point to writing such a play.  Speaking from the admittedly limited perspective of a man, but nonetheless a man who knows how reproduction works, I'd venture to say that yes; the vagina is an immensely important part of being female.  It is maybe the important part that necessitates women offering their own perspective on sexual adventuring possibly counter to the self-indulgent "playa culture" that pervades machismo.  Men can't get pregnant, have their resources and time sucked up by gestation and childcare, or experience the trauma that even strongly pro-choice women tell me goes with abortions.  If someone assumes this doesn't give men the innate understanding of women's rights to their own bodies that those with vaginas--and moreover, wombs--possess, why should an exception be made if men start declaring themselves women despite still not having those parts?  The Vagina Monologues may be crass, but its extreme valuation of vaginas is probably more exaggeration than lie--can so many girls be wrong?  A play that gathered legions of fans based on offering a specific perspective and  espousing the specific values of reveling in one's genitals regardless of who's offended, was quashed by external critics who suddenly thinks that's an intolerable problem; in the name of promoting a culture where transexuals have a voice, natural women were deprived of theirs as the first measure.

I just defended two groups that probably have very different perspectives, even if quite possibly, they rival each other in their level of gender nihilism, and some would say I can't take both sides; that there is an irreconcilable conflict between feminism and male-oriented video games (and now, apparently, transexual rights) that needs to be resolved.  On the contrary, I'd say the only reason these conflicts exist is because absolute unity has long been our traditional ideal of diversity and tolerance, and in some progressive mindsets, any amount of bumps and compromises are to be taken in order to achieve it.  I understand why.  We've all learned about Jim Crow at school.  We've learned that as an important civil rights victory, it was concluded that "separate but equal" is an inevitable paradox, because separate facilities are inherently unequal.  We've seen movies lamenting situations where the nerdy girl is ostracized when she wants to hang out with the cheerleaders, or the nerdy boy can't get a girlfriend because he's a nerdy boy.  We've seen shows like W.I.T.C.H. promote a situation as ideal where people of all races hang together.  I do not disagree that all of these developments are positive, but there are behavioral traits that go along with identity, to which discrimination against the more touted visible elements of identity cannot and should not be considered as analogous.

Let's look again at that nerdy girl who wants to hang out with the sharply-dressed, shapely cheerleaders; we feel bad when the cheerleaders say no, but what would happen if they said yes--and it just didn't work?  What if they invite her to come hit the gym with them, where she struggles to breathe, after which they go clothes-shopping, where she finds herself so bored that she gets depressed?  The tolerance is to be lauded, but that outcome isn't ideal, either.  So where to go from there?  Ought the cheerleaders decide that when they hang out with their new nerdy friend, they won't go to the gym or clothing stores, to the detriment of other group members who like those things?  Maybe--hopefully--that's not the end of it all; maybe the nerdy girl and cheerleaders both enjoy Dead or Alive or The Vagina Monologues, and over those interests they can come together in a way they couldn't elsewhere.  If they can't, though...it's unfortunate, but it needn't be horrible.  They just need to conclude that this isn't going to work, and continue the search for companions they find more to their liking.

As an autistic man, and before that, an autistic boy, I have faced this sort of situation throughout my whole life.  Spending time with my brother and our neighbor, they almost always voted two-to-one against what I wanted to do.  I was pushed by my parents to join Scouts, where people hated me, forced to attend birthday parties that just annoyed me, forced to get out of the house because they didn't like how I found more solace in video games than any of the people close by, to the point they ended up taking away my games to force me out--that didn't work, either.  To this day, I get recommendations from people who are concerned about how I'm a lonely autistic man, to go try this or that group that's meeting, and the groups they recommend wind up being full of people with Down's Syndrome.  I'm not rude to the people, but I can't associate with them.  None of the things I want to talk about have been things they want to--or maybe, even can--talk about.  There's this assumption, it seems, that a black sheep getting into a flock is, in itself, a great accomplishment.  For many, in relation to why they're black sheep, it's not.  Many specific people need specific flocks, which is why strongly-defined subcultures are important.

Moving back to Gamergate, another article has been written condemning the Journos' call for reinventing gaming subculture (condescending to the view that assumes there's only one), citing Madonna's co-opting of the gay culture of "voguing" as an analogue for gaming, and revealing that the original purveyors of that culture are not necessarily thrilled with her watering it down.  It's wordy enough that it might intimidate some readers, but it makes good points and played no small part in inspiring this article; I recommend it.  Perhaps it is no accident that gay culture is what's getting brought up, because I am increasingly convinced that gay culture provides possibly the best model of an alternative approach to diversity and tolerance; one that welcomes cliques without putting them on a collision course with one another.  Consider the context in which gay bars/clubs actually exist.  The rainbow flag flying outside needn't be taken as a "no straights allowed" sign, but it is, if the boot fits, a warning to straight people that in this venue, there is a high chance that people of the same sex will try flirting with them, and if the straights have a problem with that; they should consider going somewhere else to get a drink or vogue.  Some will see this as an imperfect solution to deescalating conflicts in a society with some traces of homophobia still lingering, a society that, when cured of those tendencies, will have no more need of such segregation, but in fact, the warning is not just there for the consideration of straight people who don't want sexual advances from the same sex--not even primarily for that reason--but also in the service of creating a safe space for gays to make those advances without the risk of offending at worst or being encumbered by distractions at best.  Gay society has drawn a line, behind which it can indulge its own unique interests unrestrained by concerns for people outside it, and it has made that line blatant for those people who will travel a long way in their desire to partake in it, with all of its quirks that might offend others.

Far more subcultures should be interested in doing the same thing, and laugh in the face of outsiders who are offended by them.  The inconvenient truth about diversity is that it's not always pleasant--and moreover, that pleasantness is subjective.  People develop their own interests and their own tastes, they flock to others similar, and that means what pleases and doesn't please becomes a matter of group consensus that, when the group faces pressures from outside to change, might well come apart from its foundation being upended.  Nobody can truly be him or herself when their hands are tied by the fear of alienating anyone who's not him or herself, which is why being aggressive in asserting one's own identity and repelling incompatible personalities ahead of time is a better option than letting incompatible personalities come together and then come to blows.  If you're a woman who objects to the DOA club's fetishism of prominently displayed attractive women, don't join the DOA club and whine, don't try to silence them; make a game where women aren't displayed that way. If you're a transexual worried about how feminists celebrate the vagina as the essence of their gender, don't silence them; don't scream that they're transphobic, find other transexuals and make your own play highlighting your own perspectives.  If you're straight and don't like homosexual advances, don't enter the gay bar.  If you don't like swearing in lyrics, think twice before visiting the ghetto.  Find your own subculture, or make your own subculture, and go wild doing what pleases your own subculture!

Because the alternative is very, very bleak.  Voguing, and Madonna's watering it down, have been discussed, but I'd also like to refer back to my own criticism of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks.  As tragically flaccid as that film's music was, it can't even claim to be the first time rock music has fallen victim to My Little Pony, as evidenced here (skip to 24:34 for the episode: Battle of the Bands).  Listen to the saccharine, "Sweet Music" song the misnamed "Rockin' Beats" played to win the battle, and shudder to think how the bands that lost might have sounded.  Nor is the"not-rock" music issue limited to that series; listen to this mess:

Even after decades of forced neutering of rock music, such a cool design for a character as that might briefly raise people's hopes that you'll hear something cool, but no; just the same old gym theme with a small bass part and "lyrics" about--what else--Pokemon.  The problem arises because Pokemon is catered to children at the expense of many others (which is worth its own post, and I do intend to write that entry soon), and that means that it, like so many child-centered, rock-related media before it, cannot rock.  It cannot, because, as I stated in my RR review, that musical genre is designed with the intent to unnerve someone, somewhere, sometimes a lot of people, sometimes, as in the case of subgenres like death metal, most people.  That's the reason it appeals to its core demographic, and to them, bastardization may be more embarrassing than it is to anyone else.  Rock is a subculture whose subjugation by the "offend nobody" drive to make all culture feel inclusive to everyone is essentially complete; media now channels it for attention only to defecate on it, when they would be better off just sticking to musical styles whose appeal does not depend on offending people.

To see the same sensitivity facelift attempted everywhere else is a scary thought indeed, because in spite of the high ideals of its proponents, it doesn't lead to true diversity, and the tolerance it hopes to achieve, if possible at all, will be bought at too high a price.  It co-opts elements of society that produce diversity when left to their own devices, forcing them instead to compromise on their own vision until they can no longer produce anything appealing, and makes people hate each other when they're forced together and inevitable conflicts between their interests come to a head.

Should anyone be left alive when the smoke clears, the new world may be polite, tolerant, and sensitive, but it will struggle to be any more, because while this factor is not usually stressed in our traditional way of looking at it, individual personalities need conformity as much as they need diversity.  Diversity, and the promotion of it as a value, are obviously very important to create a situation where nobody is afraid to walk down the streets for what they are, but what good are even safe streets if they don't lead anywhere?  What happens to the gay man who's tolerated by all in his town, but loved by none, because there's no place where gays have an in-crowd anymore?  Where does he go to find a significant other?  What happens to the person who wants to marry a woman who cosplays as a DOA character when there's no longer a club designed to select for such people?  What happens to women who want to converse among women, as opposed to converse among everyone?  What happens to the girl who likes rock music, when rock has made so many compromises to non-rock fans that it no longer is distinguishable from other music?  This is where conformity has to come back into people's lives, in order to get an individual together with other individuals of a similar nature--and that means throwing some other sorts of people out of the clubhouse.  Not hunting them down, not telling them they can't start their own, not shaming them for opting to add their own color to the rainbow, but maintaining one's own color with heels dug in.
 That's the thing about real diversity--it's not harmonious.  It's not clean.  It's not seamless.  It's stubborn.  It builds walls as often as it builds bridges.  It's hundreds of identities asserting themselves at once.  It can be scary.

Yet even so, it is beautiful.  Let's keep it that way.

2 comments:

  1. this is such a well written and objective observation of the events involving gamergate and the attack to the gamer (and in extend the nerd) identity of late, you are such a good writer you ought to get more audience!

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    1. Thank you. I wouldn't mind trying my hand at getting a paid position at a major journal, though it's anyone's guess if they'd want to hear from me. Still, there are quite a lot of them emerging whose values gel with my own, so we'll see. Meanwhile, I've gotten quite a spike on my latest article for the new Chinese Kunio Kun game!

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