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I finally found an article with the full interview up and got a chance to watch it. I was honestly pleasantly surprised by Colbert's questions and I think this was an interesting watch. This is the kind of questioning that I wished the gaming media was doing from the very beginning, and I think it's worth looking at this interview critically.
We can all agree it was a great PR victory for her just on visuals alone, but the actual content discussed doesn't seem to really back up many of her claims or positions. Even with this being a relatively softball interview, I think it's actually the most pushback and questioning I've ever seen her get ... ever. That is a sad statement on how little discussion has actually occured around her videos and her theories. It's sad that it took a comedian that is completely outside of gaming to be the first to do this in a mainstream way.
Anyway, let's look at some of the exchanges I chose to highlight. They also talk a bit more about harassment, and her Utah speaking event that got canceled. I think everyone but extremist trolls agrees that harassment is not okay, so I don't find it to be a particularly compelling topic to discuss since there's really not much to discuss. Report it to the authorities, which she did. Good. Okay, moving on to her actual ideas now -
I. Colbert: "It's a culture war, it's a sub-culture war."
Anita: "There is something going on, and what it is is women being harassed and threatened and terrorized -"
Colbert: "After you first attacked male gamers for enjoying looking at big-breasted women with tiny armor that barely covers their nipples. What is wrong with that? I like that. I like what that looks like. I'm a man baby!"
Anita: "Well -"
Colbert: "Newsflash, I like it."
Anita: "Well, one of the problems with that is that it actually reinforces this cultural myth that women are sexual objects and sexual playthings for male amusement. And, we're not."
I thought this was actually a pretty interesting exchange, because Colbert is basically arguing that heterosexual male fantasies are entirely normal, healthy parts of male sexuality. "News flash, I like it." He's arguing that there is nothing wrong with games that are purposely made to cater to male sexual fantasies, because sexual fantasies are healthy, normal parts of what it means to be a human being.
Anita says that male sexual fantasies are "problems." They reinforce a cultural myth that women are sexual objects. I just don't find that compelling at all. What is the evidence for that statement? Is there even a way that anyone could scientifically prove that? It just sounds like an idea that is plucked out of the air and can't be proven. I could just as easily say that violent fantasy games reinforce a cultural myth that murder is fun and death has no consequences. But that doesn't prove true in reality. Violent crime continues to decline nationwide in the US at the same time that violent gaming rises.
I just find her whole message here to be anti-inclusive, anti-sex, and anti-tolerance. I'm all for supporting any and everyone's sexual expression whether it's LGBTQ or anyone else. That also includes my support for heterosexuality. How can we casually demonize someone's sexuality, or sexual art? Many men are attracted to women, and like to spend their money on fantasy games where they can interact with women they are attracted to. Would anyone feel comfortable calling a game allowing gay men to explore their sexuality a "problem?" No they wouldn't, and they shouldn't. But the same goes for heterosexuality as well, which is being unfairly demonized here.
II. Colbert: "We're saving them. Damsels in distress. I'm saving the princess, am I supposed to let the princess die? Is that what you want? That's kinda harsh, that's kinda hostile."
Anita: "Well maybe the princess shouldn't be a damsel and she could save herself."
Colbert: "They've got games where - [interrupted by crowd]."
This seems like a very unconvincing comeback from her that doesn't persuade me in any way that the damsel trope is problematic. As Colbert argues here, most games portray a story of trying to save someone you love, someone that is more important to you than anyone, someone you are willing to risk death to save. Is that really a story about objectification? Sometimes it may be in extremely simplified NES games that barely even have the capability to tell a story. But sometimes, it's a game merely about selfless heroism and risking your personal safety to save someone. That is a positive message, and she doesn't really have any criticism of that here at all.
Maybe the princess shouldn't be a damsel? Sure, that's fine for some games, and those games exist already and continue to be made. Colbert said it right here himself. Anita even says it later in the video. So if those games exist, and will continue to be made, why demonize a story about selfless heroism in other games?
III. Colbert: "By criticizing these, male fantasy games, male objectification of women games -"
Anita: "Some of them that would be an accurate description"
Colbert: "So, give me some names, name some names."
Anita: "Well, in the work that I do, I look at hundreds of examples of videogames that -"
Colbert: "So, can you think of 3?" Can you think of 3?"
Anita: "I can, but I think it's a bigger issue to talk about the industry as a whole and how it perpetuates these ideas of sexism and mysogyny as opposed to just Grand Theft Auto example."
I thought this section was also pretty convincing, since she basically fully runs from repeated, focused questioning here, and simply refuses to answer his question. Instead, she wants to discuss how the entire industry, collectively perpetuates sexism and mysogyny. I just don't think that's really true. The entire industry doesn't perpetuate hatred of women. If it did, why are 48% of gamers female? It just doesn't make sense. How would any prove her claim scientifically? Can it even be proven scientifically? It doesn't fit with reality.
IV. Anita: "Women are perceived as threatening because we are asking for games to be more inclusive."
Colbert: "Why not just have a separate game? Have separate but equal games."
Anita: "Well, we do have lots of different kinds of games that -"
Colbert: "So, what are you complaining about?"
Anita: "That's one of the things that I think is happening here is that, we have this wide range of games that - we're seeing mobile games, we're seeing indie games, we're seeing this influx of different kinds of games, and that's what gamergate is responding to. They're actually responding to the fact that we're saying that gaming can no longer be this little boy's club anymore. There are many of us women who have been playing games our whole lives, and so they're lashing out because we're challenging the status quo of gaming as a male dominated space."
Colbert uses charged language here that harkens back to segregated schools and it gets a laugh from the audience. But his actual question and premise here are perfectly valid. Lots of content is segregated across gender lines, simply because they have different intrests. Men don't call Ellen and Oprah sexist because the talk shows don't have enough action segments in them. They just find something else to watch; seperate but equal TV shows. That's basically what Colbert is advocating for here; and he's asking if she's even comfortable allowing games made specifically for men to even exist. In response to that, she basically says that gaming can no longer be a "little boy's club." Does that mean that no games purposely made to appeal to men can exist? It doesn't really mean anything specific because it's just a catch phrase. If 48% of gamers are women, if games where women are the heroes exist, if diverse indie games exist, why would anyone call it a little boy's club? She basically entirely dodges his question here, which is saying that not every single game will be designed to appeal to every person. Some games will, and some games will be designed for a more specific audience. If she agreed to this obvious, non-confrontational point, she would have little reason to demonize games or criticize the industry.
V. Colbert: "What about the accusations of collusion between gamers, designers and journalists? Do you understand how important it is? We are talking about ethics in G-A-M-I-N-G J-O-U-R-N-A-L-I-S-M. Do you understand how huge that is? I mean, what if there was no ethics in Hollywood journalism? If we can't trust Entertainment Tonight or TMZ where would we be? Is that what you want for gamer journalism?"
Anita: "I think that that is a sort of compelling way to reframe the fact that this is actually attacks on women. Ethics in journalism is not what's happening, in any way. It's actually men going after women in really hostile, aggressive ways. That's what gamergate is about. It's about, like, terrorizing women for being involved in this industry, being involved in this hobby."
Colbert's question here is basically saying, "of course gaming journalism is corrupt, just like Hollywood. It will always be corrupt." He is probably right here as well. But what does that actually say? That says that there is of course going to be corruption, and so of course the claims of ethical issues in gaming journalism deserve more serious attention because they almost surely exist due to its inherent sensationalist attitude and conflict of interest built in as a consumer press. Gamers complaining about the press has been a consistent theme for years, and it does exist. Just ask any game journalist and they'll tell you that a lot of their audience is hostile, and suspicious of them.
But Anita basically dodges that point completely and goes out of her way to really eggregiously mischaracterize the whole gamergate movement with broad, generalized strokes. It's really a very bad answer that tries to blatantly simplify, demonize, and marginalize a diverse and complex collective of people and complaints.
VI. Colbert: "As a man am I allowed to be a feminist?"
Anita: "Well, do you believe that women should have equal rights to men and that we should fight for those rights?"
Anita: "Great, then you're a feminist."
He asked if he was "allowed to be a feminist." The answer is yes. He didn't ask what a feminist is. Feminism is something you self-identify with, you don't label people as feminists against their will if they don't want to be included. This is something that feminists have a huge problem with, because huge numbers of people (including large percentages of women), purposely go out of their way to not label themselves as feminists even when directly asked. For example, I of course think that women should have equal rights to men and that we should all fight for that equality. But I'm not a feminist, no matter how badly she wants me to be. Feminism is not that simplistic, and it includes numerous sub-ideologies that have various beliefs and views about all kinds of things that go well beyond this purposely reductionist definition. She basically ends the interview on a misleading cannard that is parroted online very frequently.
A better question to ask would be, why in the world are so many people purposely against calling themselves feminists? That would require some self-reflection, and honest acknowledgment of their faults to determine though, so instead they will just use the broadest, most benign definition possible to label others as feminists after they go out of their way to disassociate themselves from the movement.
Ouch. And this relatively softball interview represents the most criticism she has ever had in an interview.
I've been reading about Gamergate and gender / political issues in gaming since the beginning, but for the most part, I've largely done so from the outside looking in. I don't have a twitter account, and the precise number of tweets I've sent in my life is exactly zero. But looking from the outside in on this most recent explosion of gender debate and harassment, I think I've finally found a working a thesis that explains what is happening in a way that makes sense to me.
Gamergate is a response to political disenfranchisement. The political process is controlled social chaos. That is how modern societies take differing views and peacefully negotiate a middle-ground in terms of policy, law, and the values we hold as a society. Journalism has always been a key aspect of politics (enshrined in the first amendment), and most political philosophers believe that without a free press, it is impossible to have an informed public, and therefore impossible to have any kind of a meaningful democracy.
It's in everyone's best interests to bring as many people as possible into the political process. The actual process of political debate is largely peaceful and non-violent. But when people are shut out of the government, or shut out of the press; when people feel that they have no peaceful means to express themselves and be heard, that is where we see small pockets of desperate people take up extremism, revolution, and protest. These are political actions you take when you no longer belong to a functioning political system.
I. the iraq war
As most of you know, a few journalists have infamously compared Gamergate to ISIS.
This was likely just a crude way of saying that GG is "the worst thing in the world." But if you actually think about this in terms of political disenfranchisement, I actually can see a few similarities that I think are worth thinking about seriously.
Drawing this parallel is controversial, so I want to first list my source; the fantastic documentary from PBS' Frontline series, "Losing Iraq." If you haven't watched it, I recommend doing so, as it really does a fantastic job of explaining the key political mistakes made after the beginning of the occupation.
The first road side bomb in Iraq was the very next day after the Baathists (Sunnis) were shut out of the Iraqi government. It wasn't when the US invaded, or during the first few weeks of the occupation. It's now referred to as "Order #1," Ambassador Paul Bremmor's first major order after arriving to Iraq; and it is now seen as the largest tactical bluder in the entire Iraq War.
"There are two reasons were wanted to keep the Baathist party intact. One, they were the only folks that had experience running the government. Number 2, the Sunnis needed to have a voice. And, if you don't give people a voice, they have relatively few options. [...] What history tells us is that the next option is violence." - Col. Thomas M. Gross (Office for Humanitarian Assistance) (15:00 min)
Transitioning from this severely serious example to discussion of gamergate is admittedly silly in just how vast the disparity is in terms of consequence, and severity. But what we're discussing is uprising, revolt, and if we can learn anything about the crowd psychology of political revolts. There are parallels worth noting.
II. The gaming press
For several years now, we've seen a surge of feminist-focused gaming stories on all the large gaming websites. Most of the major gaming websites are run from coastal cities in the US, made up almost completely of liberal, white male journalists. The infusion of an explicity political agenda into gaming journalism is the turning point. For several years now, that political discussion has consisted entirely of only one very narrow band of politics. All other political expressions and ideas have been systematically shut out from all mainstream exposure. Commenters expressing alternative views have been heavily moderated, whether it is on the gaming websites themselves, or the total lack of comments allowed on Anita Sarkeesian videos. The consistent theme has been to push one small slice of political ideology onto a large and politically diverse readership, and to silence and marginalize any opposing voices.
After years of this escalating tension, Leigh Alexander declares war on anyone outside of her narrow political spectrum, and declares that they are "dead." This was so extreme, that even with no representation over the last several years, I think most readers still expected to see dissenting views represented in a response article. That response article never came. What followed instead was a media blitz, and a wholesale endorsement of that declaration of war. Anyone outside of the accepted narrow political spectrum was not given a voice, and they were now under siege. Comments were censored, forum threads were crushed, dissenting articles never materialized at all.
You all may be aware of the existence of the "Gaming Journalist Professionals" google mailing list. It's a semi-secret, private list of email correspondence between gaming journalists from almost all the major sites. That list has been leaked by a whistleblower, along with several extended email conversations. In one of these leaked emails, we can see that even allowing a forum thread on The Escapist was seen as a threat that had to be systematically crushed. Journalists from completely different websites were secretely pressuring the Editor in Chief of The Escapist to crush a forum thread on his site. I think we can agree that political diversity was being systematically crushed.
III. political desperation, revolt
With no peaceful alternatives left to express their political views, small subsets of gamers have turned to extremism of varying degrees; some appropriate, and some inappropriate. Why? Because they were shut out of the political system, and their voices were systematically crushed.
You see an unfortunate, and dangerously threatening subset of these disenfranchised people take up violent reactionary behavior not unlike that first roadside bomb in Iraq in terms of the psychology of it at least. They tweet harassing behavior and make shockingly violent threats that have gotten the police justifiably involved. These people have escalated to the use of force, and have to be shut down by law enforcement. We can see how political disenfranchisement leads to a predictable backlash, but that doesn't justify violence or threats.
We also see people emailing advertisers in what is the gaming journalism equivalent of a BSD (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) political protest; like we've seen against South Africa's apartheid regime, or more recently, Israel. That's a perfectly valid form of political protest for someone that is marginalized and systematically excluded from political representation. What else should they do? They have no other options.
Understanding the psychology of political representation helps us understand how misguided "gaming journalism" at large has been; and how badly they've misunderstood what is actually happening here. The solution to this extreme tension is political representation. The solution is to give these people a stake in the political system because if they participate in politics, then they have a peaceful stress release valve. They have a way to have their voices heard, and they have no reason whatsoever to move to more extreme measures to express themselves. The solution is to include their viewpoints in more articles, and to increase their political representation. The solution is for the press to stop being driven by narrow ideological agendas and activism, and to start representing diverse political viewpoints and include more voices in the discussion.
Just like in Iraq, the solution is not merely a matter of involving the military. The solution is political. It is convincing people that they have a voice in their government, and that it represents them. The press is a critical part of how people interact with each other and with their government, and if if a society does not have a free and fair press, it makes democratic representation impossible. The last thing we need is a #stopgamergate movement that marginalizes these people even more and limits their political expression. The solution is more inclusion and more diverse representation of political views.
The current climate in political gaming discussion is equivalent to having not just one bised station that is a liberal version of Fox News; but rather having every single major station be a liberal version of Fox News. And I'm a liberal, but I still want a free press that represents multiple political views, and not an agenda driven press that shuts out any dissenting political ideas. It was journalists who decided to include politics several years ago. Their mistake was in thinking that once they opened that door that they could only include politics they liked and have no one react to that. Everything we know about history tells us otherwise.
I was listening to the inFamous Second Son OST today in the car, and I was again struck by just how great it really is. This is really of the most refereshing and unique OSTs I've heard in quite some time. It starts with two premises: capture the feel of 1990s - present Seattle rock, and convert that into an appropriate OST. So, it's not as straight ahead as most rock. It's more ambient, a little bit more muted and suited for the background , especially being an open world game. But, that unexpectedly ends up giving it a really original and refreshing sound. Finally, they combine electronics work with it, which I always love to hear in combination with rock. The final product is equal parts relaxing, and rock out, which is pretty unique - dark ambience, punctuated with playful rock. I can't recommend it enough for curious music fans. It's one of the only western OSTs I've enjoyed listening to front to back without skipping songs.
"Second Son" is built for the cinematic intro, and takes me back to that introduction with the skyline and the speeding car as the tension builds up, and it has an awesome melody on guitar. "The Vandal King" is almost like bluesy southern rock, and maintains a really laid back feel and just has nice warm tones. "Speed of Light" is super original, almost combining street drumming style with rock guitar and electronic vocal samples. I can't say I've heard anything quite like this, and it's awesome. One of my favorite songs. "Conflict Resolution" is just a solid song, similar to Vandal King with some bluesy rock. They turn up the heat a little bit and have a more pronounced, rocking chorus. "The Bio-Terrorist" is one of the best songs on the OST, with a super catchy build up and rock out line that I've listened to probably 100x and it never gets old. "Cumulonimbus" is the song that hit me the most in the car today, and it's just a really kick ass mixture of dark ambient electronics with rock that I'm in love with. "Martial Law" has a very cool intro, mixing electronics, drumming, and light bass before the guitar kicks in. The drum sound is interesting, and reminds me a bit of street drumming. "Freedom and Security" is one of the main melodic lines in the game, and it's stuck with me ever since I played it. "Serial Tagger" is also a personal favorite, and really is one of the more complete songs as a stand alone piece of music, and perfectly demonstrates this interesting intersection between OST, electronics, and bluesy/warm rock. I really love this one. "owning the Future" is one of the main boss fight rock tracks. It's fantastic, and despite being one of the heavier songs, has a great melodic line. "Smoke and Mirrors" is the big climax rock track for the game, adn it's one of the best. "Alibi" is one of the more relaxed tracks, but I love it. Really uses some interesting effects on the strings, and mixes it with rock drumming.
These are just my favorite ones. They're all pretty good. 22 tracks in total. Not only great to listen to alone, but really captures the feel of the city for the game.
"Phil Fish absolutely fulfilled his side of this bargain, with a big chunk of the web fulfilling the other side. It’s tempting to say that Fish tells it like it is, if ‘tells like it is’ wasn’t a euphemism for ‘is a mad bigot with no off-switch’. Phil Fish isn’t a mad bigot; only the most perspective-challenged self-identified fans of Japanese games would accuse him of being a bigot, which is admittedly still at least 50 per cent of self-identified fans of Japanese games."
"Phil Fish isn’t a mad [sexist]; only the most perspective-challenged self-identified fans of [games made by women] would accuse him of being a [sexist], which is admittedly still at least 50 per cent of self-identified fans of [games made by women]."
"They suck. I'm sorry, you guys need to get with the times. Make better interfaces and better technology. We're totally kicking your ass."
"They suck. I'm sorry, you [girls] need to get with the times. Make better interfaces and better technology. We're totally kicking your ass."
"Orientalism" is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous. Edward W. Said, in his groundbreaking book, Orientalism, defined it as the acceptance in the West of "the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, 'mind,' destiny and so on."
According to Said, Orientalism dates from the period of European Enlightenment and colonization of the Arab World. Orientalism provided a rationalization for European colonialism based on a self-serving history in which "the West" constructed "the East" as extremely different and inferior, and therefore in need of Western intervention or "rescue."
"We're so used to seeing developers' public personas through a mesh of corporate hierarchy and external comms policy that seeing someone filtered through the mesh of being a sarcastic real-life person is frightening and confusing. And following this weekend's announcement, it looks as though those meshes were there for a reason; the corporate mesh deflects and absorbs abuse, deforming and ricocheting off to one side like a bullet on kevlar, whereas Phil Fish's normal person mesh just lets everything through unhindered, to grim cumulative effect."
The game industry needs more people like Phil Fish, and it’ll be all the poorer for his absence if he’s really gone. The internet isn’t short of people saying things are rubbish, in the same way that there’s probably enough creepy artwork of characters from Mass Effect already, and Sonic-themed erotic fiction is so oversubscribed as to be on a one-in-one-out system. But there are precious few people in Phil Fish’s position who are willing or capable of stirring up such debate, and almost none who are as entertaining. You might hate him, but he made Fez – and as such, he’s probably better than you."