At the Corner of Politics and Video Games: How the Left let the Right Walk Right in the Door by Pete Dodd

I tend to shy away from talking about politics much anymore. I went to school for Political Science back in the mid nineties when everything was awesome. What I found over the next twenty years of my life is that most political discourse is toxic and intellectually bankrupt. I'm still intrigued by political systems themselves, but I try to stay out of the banter.

This entire reaction to the so-called "Gamergate" movement is forcing me out of retirement. I am a staunchly liberal person when it comes to social issues. I'm fairly liberal with economic issues as well, but that has less relevance here.  Or maybe I should say I am what was staunchly liberal when it comes to social issues.  I believe in personal freedom. I believe in gay marriage (my aunt's was one of the first in the country and I still gush about how it felt like I was watching history). I think women should be paid equal pay for equal work. I think a number of drugs should be legalized, even if I have no plans to do them. I'm agnostic and think churches should pay taxes. I don't even care about things like plural marriage. If everyone is ok with it, go nuts. I'm not sure if that's considered liberal or libertarian anymore. 

I stopped using headsets in public games almost a decade ago because just about anything anyone said was homophobic, racist, sexist, or sometimes.... all of those things at once. I don't have much tolerance for that. But, and here is a major distinction between myself and many other liberals - I don't feel the need to get up on a podium and speak down to the unwashed masses and tell them how incorrect they are. Joe Lieberman, a Senator I voted for (I'm originally from Connecticut) opened up a giant can of worms with gaming but it was somewhat rational. Having a rating system made sense. Hillary Clinton, someone I admire and probably will be voting for (wink wink) also was extremely opinionated about how games are part of this evil enterprise that is eating our children alive. It was gross, politically (ie vote getting) motivated, and nonsensical. 

Lately, the preaching about video games has come from the media itself. Article after article about misogyny.  I am all for video games becoming a better and more responsible artform, so the message itself did not bother me.  What bothered me was the delivery.  It was "If you don't find this offensive than you are a misogynist."  Whoooooaaaaaaa.  Hold on a second. I don't even get to present my side of the argument? I'm just automatically a misogynist if I think that maybe shades of grey exist in between the black and white of each extreme? It happened over and over and over and over and gamers got sick of it.  And, I will admit, some (a lot?) of those gamers are misogynists. But the net was cast over all of us. If I think that Leigh Alexander is hyperbolic I must hate women. It can't just be that I don't like her style of writing. I hate women. The net has caught me. 

The sad part is that I agree with Leigh's politics, but what she and many other gaming journalists have done is opened a GIGANTIC door to conservatives to come in and say "Hey there gamers, guess what, we don't think you are pieces of shit, we think you're just fine." The preaching journalists have had absolutely the opposite intended effect. It makes me sick to my stomach that I got gaming news from Breitbart today. Conservatives are jumping all over this issue because all they have to do is say "look, those guys hate you, we think you're awesome."  Christina Hoff Sommers is like 100,000 people's favorite "feminist" because she said "you guys aren't bad" and argued in favor of that. 

As someone who leans far to the left, I've seen this happen over and over. It's the elitism, the judgement, the unwillingness to listen to the other side (not that I feel conservatives are any better in that regard). You don't think Affirmative Action is a good thing?  You're a racist! While I do think that Affirmative Action is a good thing, personally, I also don't think people who don't are automatically racist. It's throwing the net and who cares if it grabs innocent bystanders. This, in my opinion, is what we've been seeing from a number of gaming journalists over the last year or two. What it has accomplished, unfortunately for people of my political persuasion, is pushing people away from liberalism and allowing the conservatives to come in and play the role of the white knight and win hearts and minds. 

I am a liberal. I am a gamer. I believe myself to be a feminist. I believe in social justice. I also have more in common, in terms of Gamergate, with Breitbart than I do Polygon. I feel ill.  


Wow. Thank you Pete for writing this. I feel the same way. It becoming more and more evident that this generation of games media hates their audience, and is trying to shove their agenda down our throats.
Based on my limited reach on twitter i have largely avoided the whole GamerGate nonsense but just reading this article i can point out a few things that i liken to my political beliefs and such. I am a proudly registered Democrat in the middle of a big Conservative county in New York State. A lot of my views lean to the side of do whatever you want and if it doesnt effect me then more power to ya. Religion, some drugs, marriage etc. When it comes to the regulation of the games industry and the bullshit that the media lumps onto us consumers is where I get conflicted. I don't want government regulation. The industry has been policing itself pretty successfully for an awful long time. Hell i'm not even old enough to have owned video games that weren't rated by the ESRB. When politicians and media members alike lump us all in together it stings a bit. I am not a racist. I don't hate large swaths of people. Maybe individuals here or there but not a whole group of people. The conjecture that surrounds gamers is either, you live in your parents basement and are useless, or... you are an outright bigot who cannot possibly have normal societal impact on a daily basis. The problem is that a headset comes in the box. It will encourage teamwork they said. What we got though was little 12 year old Timmy yelling every slur he's ever heard combined with a few "sentence enhancers" as Spongebob might say, and boom. Toxic game environment, unfit for people of different beliefs, races, and sexual orientation. If the media thinks that "Gamers" are all bigoted then its because they don't spend time navigating through the millions of us that love games, love people (for the most part) and just want to have a good time. As gaming was intended. They chose to pick the segment of the market that will fit their agenda and then pump out story after story like thats the general population. It's bullshit and its frustrating. Not because we have a hobby that is interactive or that our friends may not always be people we have met in person, but because we have to go out and defend ourselves to these media types because they want to paint with a broad brush.
\o/ Great editorial. I think that the elitism that you hear on both sides of this argument (gamergate) stems from insecurity. Everyone on either end of the debate feels like they are under attack. People in the middle feel like they are not being heard. It's a nasty situation. But, it's a great opportunity for either conservatives or liberals to swoop in and take advantage of a wounded community by further polarizing them and scooping up people at the extremes that may not have been politically minded before.
Pete Dodd
The thing I've learned is that the more sure someone is of something, the less likely they are to be right. When I was a teenager/early 20s, I thought I had the entire world figured out. At 37 I don't understand a goddamn thing about this life.
Just my own theory...but COD and BF are basic military training sims for millions of young Americans. In my experience, FPS slant heavily conservative in their views overall. U.S. Air Force drone pilots have more in common with an advanced vid game player than an actual "grunt" on the ground. U.S. drones are controlled from the continental U.S. in a room that would resemble a vid game players best dream!
"When politicians and media members alike lump us all in together it stings a bit. I am not a racist. I don't hate large swaths of people. Maybe individuals here or there but not a whole group of people. The conjecture that surrounds gamers is either, you live in your parents basement and are useless, or... you are an outright bigot who cannot possibly have normal societal impact on a daily basis." Politicians and major media are clueless to the shifts in entertainment other form of media can touch half a billion dollars in sales for ONE game, in ONE DAY!
I really didn't fell the need or desire to comment on this until the military was brought up. I love you das, but I spent 10 years in the military and video games are nothing like real war, nor are they simulators. They are simply entertainment and a way for people to unwind and blow off steam. Military life is something that people simply can't understand unless they have actually lived it. And I've lived all the hell most people just watched on their TV.
Games like Call of Duty and Battlefield are as much basic military training sims for todays people as movies like Rambo was in the 80's. They are just today's big dumb aciton movies that people watch/play for an escape.
I'm reminded of then the UN commented on how military first person shooters have little to no respect for the tenets of the Geneva convention. Kinda misses the point of the genre, but it was an interesting thing to think about, nonetheless. Of course, most gamers responded with "just more old guys out of touch trying to make a bogeyman out of games." - We're not immune to this kind of thinking, is all I'm saying.
Yeah, I’m not one that signs up to the ‘military training’ aspect of FPS games. Granted, I’ve had no experience being in the military at all, but Call of Duty and Battlefield 4 are games where people are running around and racking up points to win a match. You can play these games as safe as you want, but because you know you’re just going to respawn in a minute anyway, you’re still going to take chances you wouldn’t have otherwise (in real life). Hell, even the latest Sniper game is something to wonder about… in reality, someone might wait HOURS before moving a half an inch. They cannot be detected. Don’t snipers sometimes take WEEKS to move a relatively short distance? They cannot take that risk with their life, and they cannot risk drawing any attention which would cause their target to flee. As far as drones: Just because they can be controlled remotely, doesn’t mean it feels like playing a video game. I’m not attempting to be harsh here, comparing remote operations to the stuff gamers dream about… it’s harmful to the ‘entertainment doesn’t produce violence in real life’ debate. Depending on who you’re talking with, making that connection could actually be dangerous. Again, I’d imagine if you’re operating lethal machines from a room in Washington somewhere, I’d imagine there’s still a significant weight on your shoulders (and mind) that wouldn’t be there if you were playing a video game. One slip could potentially cost the lives of people that were never supposed to be collateral damage in the first place.
I've been lucky enough to actually have some military pilots as friends, even the drone guys. I've also been up in the air in an F-18. None of it is fun or a game for those folks. It is a very serious and extremely stressful job. Most of us military people do not take this personally, but the image that the civilian world has of what it's like to be in the military or what the news shows you, or how games/movies portray war is not even close to reality. We used to watch war movies or news reports on what was going and laugh our asses off at how wrong it all was.
Pete Dodd
Slightly off topic, but the military has used video games in recruitment attempts though. They even had their own game series on the PC about a decade or so ago. Was pretty fun.
America's Army, yep. I just looked it up on Wiki, and am really surprised to see there were multiple sequels. Damn. I had no idea. Completely off my radar!!!
Great article! I think that what you're highlighting is an extremely common problem that comes out in a lot more contexts than the gaming debate. Basically, most feminist/progressive criticism holds that culture creates biases in thinking and behavior, which in turn perpetuates or justifies prejudices in society at large. The theory holds that this happens whether people are aware of it or not, so one role of the cultural critic is to highlight sources of these biases and encourage people to counter them. Basically, the primary source of the problem is the culture and the actions and beliefs of people are secondary to that. That's not how people tend to actually process or make the argument, however. Generally, we more often interpret things on the level of the individual and jump to extremely broad conclusions about a person's character based on limited data (social psychologists call this the 'fundamental attribution error'). I think that's how "we need to challenge the assumptions of our culture regarding gender" turns into "we need to track down and publicly shame all sexists." It's also how "I disagree with the viewpoints of these video game critics" turns into "there's a conspiracy by a shadowy elite to inject politics into gaming where it doesn't belong." For my money, Tom Bramwell in Eurogamer wrote the smartest and most powerful discussion of sexism in gaming a couple months before GamerGate was even a glimmer in 4chan's eye: ( ... -am-sexist ) I think I even made a post on the forum - subscribe now! - about it at the time.
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On side note, also think it's amazing and scary at the same time how much stuff we see in sci-fi movies, etc. that is coming true and ever more quickly. Star Trek has numerous examples, but mainly the similarity between current smartphones and their portable devices. Computers/devices you talk to and ever more talk back. Laser based weaponry resembling the "phaser" is almost here, if not already. Watch Terminator or BSG, and nearly autonomous drones are already here and being used that are very much like what you see in those movies. To be honest, is it that far fetched to think these drones may become "self aware" and turn against their "masters" not too far off in the future?

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