Learning to Re-Embrace the Gamer Tag

It’s been a rough month or so for video game fans. All of us– the players, the critics, and those of us who choose to write about them daily. I won’t go over the details of what’s went on exactly since there’s a good chance you’ll know where you stand already when you read this. No, this is not Junkies Nation’s official stance on #GamerGate nor an investigative report firmly planted on either side of the argument. It’s simply a series of thoughts– coming to you from one LGBT-identified woman, writer, and gamer who’s no longer comfortable being quiet about all this. It’s also a personal plea of sorts. A hope of sorts.

You see, it’s during times like this– when negativity is being slung on an hourly basis across all sides of a major issue– when we begin to reach outward instead of inward. It’s human instinct, really. This is the very essence from which #GamerGate became as popular as it did. This is why, in part, this is such a popular issue for sites and blogs to cover.

The negativity affects all of us, no matter what side we’re on. We can be adamant supporters in gaming critical theory and feminism but we can also cringe at the negativity being covered on sites we’ve loved for years. We can believe in what #GamerGate stands for while still acknowledging that no gamer who’s passionate enough to write about games as a career choice (let’s face it– any career in the gaming industry is at least 75% a labor of love) deserves to be chased off by assholes. The negativity is simply everywhere, and there’s no way to avoid it. It’s time to reach outward and embrace one another. And re-embrace the ‘gamer’ tag.

There is nothing wrong with labels. You’ll notice I used a few in describing myself above. Labels are a personal choice, and no one has any right to tell us we can’t identify with a given label if we so choose and it makes a basic amount of logical sense. If you feel opposed to social injustice there’s nothing wrong in calling yourself a social justice warrior if you so choose (after all, warriors are pretty cool). If you write, you can choose to call yourself a writer– no matter if you’ve sold something professionally or not.

Similarly, if you game, you can call yourself a gamer– no matter if you enjoy Candy Crush or participate in pro LoL tournaments. The ‘gamer’ tag is ours alone to wield and wield it with pride we should. You know why? Because we game. And because no, we won’t let the assholes bring us down.

Not all gamers are toxic. Hell, most aren’t. I’m currently fairly re-addicted to World of Warcraft (this thing’s drugged I swear– I’ll totally blame my shaman for drugging the banquet noms), and sure, I’ll meet an occasional asshole in LFR or in trade chat who I’d consider toxic. Does that mean all gamers are toxic? Nope. Does that mean all males who game are toxic? Not in the least. Toxicity is not gendered.

Maybe the nom tables are drugged? Let's make my shaman find out...

Now, the toxic assholes who are making death threats? They’re a whole new brand of toxicity and vitriol. Wait, scratch that. They’re really not new. Death threats/threats of violence have been around for a while, folks, but they’re getting a lot of coverage right now, especially in regards to the gaming industry. Death/violent threats are never okay. Repeat that with me– Never. Okay. And nope, it’s never the victim’s fault. Threats of stealing one’s private info/pictures and sharing that content online? Inexcusable. Causing someone to be afraid to speak their mind? Also inexcusable.

But that doesn’t mean that we should lose faith in gamers as a whole and toss away our ‘gamer’ label. It means we should reclaim it if we would like to, stand tall, and show others an example of how game fans should act towards each other. And yes, I do include gaming journalists/bloggers in that ‘we’. We write what the world reads. We should definitely set the example. It’s paramount that we do, in fact, but we do make mistakes. With how large the overall gaming community is beginning to become, we need someone to set the example. We need for professionals to act professional and for human beings to act like human beings. It’s part of getting along in a diverse society.

And that, really, is a large part of the reason why we’re experiencing such a hard time right now. The gaming community is larger than ever. Gaming culture is more widespread than ever. Gamers have embraced the ‘gamer’ tag all around the world, from all walks of life– and that’s totally awesome. What isn’t awesome is the fact that some video game fans aren’t okay with the rest of us embracing that diversity. I’ll say it loud and I’ll say it clearly: The diversity is here to stay.

Mainstream games, indie games, puzzle games, action games, console games, PC games, mobile games, cutsie pony games, tractor simulators, MMORPGs, story-based graphic novel-esque games, beat-’em-ups, and space sims– They’re all potentially wonderful games. As the audience of games gets more diverse, so will our games. We’re totally free to pick and choose which games we like based on our preferences, but there’s always one answer to the question of, “Is this game worth being called a game?” That answer is, “Yes, of course it is.” Just because we don’t like every game that’s out there doesn’t mean only our favorite games can be considered worthy. Different strokes for different folks, and different games for different gamers.

embracing the gamer tag gone home

The same can be said about game criticism. As our games become more diverse and our gaming culture becomes more diverse, our gaming criticism will also become more diverse. There are more gaming sites and YouTubers out there on the ‘net than ever currently, and that’s fantastic. The more people out there sharing fair and respectful opinions, criticisms, and ideas for future games means that game developers will gain a whole lot of feedback they can use to make better games. Our games may be awesome now, but there’s always, always room for improvement. And that’s why game criticism is vital.

Thanks to game criticism, we’re starting to see more games that include female protagonists, protagonists of color, and content that isn’t afraid to showcase QUILTBAG characters and lifestyles. Thanks to a diverse gaming community, we’re starting to see developers take risks and create games that aren’t just a simple copy and paste. Sure, we have a long way to go still, but it’s a start. And it’s all thanks to diversity.

As for the argument of whether games should include politically-charged content or not? Everything can be considered politically charged in the right light. Gun control, women’s rights, the threat of a major world war, the onset of a massive scientific breakthrough. Most modern games contain some type of politically-charged message but aren’t necessarily political. The two can be separated.

Likewise, games featuring female, racial minority, or QUILTBAG protagonists don’t have to be political. If made well, they’ll simply be games with awesome characters. In our everyday lives, people are awesome because they do awesome things– not because they’re of a certain race, gender, or political background. This is the exact same logic games need to be made with. The more diverse our games are, the more natural this mindset will become for game developers. This is why criticism and diversity matter.

To shut down this diversity at this point would be a tragedy. And this, in essence, is why we all need to continue reaching outward and work together to embrace the games we love, our fellow gaming fans, and the diversity that makes this world beautifully complicated at times, but just plain beautiful in the long run. This is how we work through the negativity and begin to see positivity again. This is my plea in a nutshell. It’s time to claim our ‘gamer’ labels again if we so choose and remember that this is our gaming future we’re paving together.

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