This is written in response to Devin Faraci’s extremely patronizing but well-meaning article, which can be found here. Any comments about the Chinese copying shit are very much appreciated, because we are so very damn good at it and we’d like some kudos for that.
Double disclaimer: this was actually written last week when I discovered the original article, and as such some of the timings referred to are no longer valid (weeks, etc.). Any information that has been revealed over the last week is therefore not referred to in this piece. If Devin Faraci would be willing to start a rational and non-hostile dialogue with me, that would be wonderful. The offer for beer and videogames does actually still stand.
An old Chinese male nerd looks with sadness at Devin Faraci
I am not a shining paragon of perfect humanity whose infallible opinions you read with religious awe. If I was, that’d scare the shit out of me, and it should scare you as well, because I am a complete dick at least thirty hours a week, usually more.
And by more, I mean right now. And tomorrow. And stretching as far into the future as I can see. In my future I will hurt people, sometimes intentionally. I have not cheated on any women nor have I been with any women who were cheating to the best of my knowledge. I have lied and am professionally paid to lie. I have behaved like an absolute shit to people in real life. I think I do it less now – I try to do it less now, but I, like everybody else in the world, can occasionally be a giant shit.
For the last week I’ve been observing this thing called #GamerGate, which the internet has been documenting here. You should read it if you haven’t, as I won’t be doing much recapping here. Anyway, coverage and patronage of the videogames I love has been sort of hijacked by a lot of angry journalists, some of whom are conniving, bullying absolute monsters. I have not been fighting back beyond retweeting a few things because I know that doing so is counterproductive. My ancestry is Chinese, I live in Hong Kong and I almost don’t care about what happens in the western game industry considering they only occasionally make products I like anymore. I am a literate motherfucker with two fine arts degrees that are essentially useless, and leverage my literacy to con people into buying things that they don’t actually need.
Watching this from the sidelines has been eye-opening. A lot of these kids – and they are, without a doubt, largely kids – are simply ignorant. They don’t understand the world, and that includes everything from how a healthy, self-sustaining consumer market works to how the internet works. Their confusion about this stuff leaves them susceptible to crackpot manifestos trotted out by idealistic but misguided people like Leigh Alexander and con artists like Anita Sarkeesian (whose evil isn’t limited to conning people out of money – she’s using this entire #GamerGate mess to cement herself in a position of power in the annals of feminism).
And here’s the thing; I probably would have been one of these kids if I was 15 years old today. Between my own adolescent nerd issues and my love of controversy, I probably would be sending angry tweets to people demanding that they treat each other better on the internet, and that women deserve to be protected and shielded from criticism, and that you would be a fucking bigot and an idiot to even criticize these people who stand for equality and justice. Realizing that, seeing the sadness I recognize from my own young adulthood in these tweeters, I feel slightly more tender towards these people (at least until the next time they do something stupid like, say, try and censor the internet).
Let me tell you where these kids are coming from, because I used to come from there. The first thing that’s happening is that they’re mostly young people who haven’t found their meaning in life. They see the world run by rich old white men and a 20th century world shaped by racism, bigotry, inequality and injustice, and they think they can do better. And they should! They have ideals and hopes and dreams, and all they’re looking for is a cause to rally behind, something that lets them feel better about themselves and reassure them that they will be different and destroy the old guard who have run the world for centuries. What’s happening is that these people have no cause to rally behind and no princess to save, and then along comes someone like Anita Sarkeesian who paints a target on her back and dares the internet trolls to come calling.
Imagine the happiness that results. These people have been looking for a cause, any cause, to get behind – and here comes this woman who dares to stand up against the faceless internet mob and blame them for perpetuating a culture she feels is wrong. They attack her, because people don’t like change and they’re invested in the culture the way it is. These kids see a woman being attacked for speaking her mind, so of course they ride to her defense, with all the high-handedness and idiocy one expects from people who see their opponents as morally lesser beings.
I’ve been there. Self-righteousness is a powerful emotion; I’ve often thought that if I had been slightly more literate at a younger age I would have become one of the people who tries to actively shape society into something better out of a belief that people are ‘wrong’ on some inherent level and need to be fixed. Now I wonder if that kind of emotion is inherently self-destructive. The same ideology has been responsible for most of the world’s most horrific events; the belief that you’re doing the right thing paves the road to hell in a thousand different ways.
For people who live comfortably in the world the way it is and are satisfied with their lot in life, it’s hard to understand why this matters so much to a young person. I was young and naïve, and desperately unhappy with the way things were. I thought I could change the world and destroy the corrupt, tainted order with dreams and words alone, and that gave me an identity. However, there was a sense of community in the groups that accepted this. People saw me as someone with great aspirations, someone to be looked up at and admired. I was young. I wasn’t in the real world yet. I was in school, on the internet, in college where that kind of thinking is rewarded and actively encouraged. They were safe places for me, and became an echo chamber for my beliefs. However, in the real world people are just people, and the world is just the world. People are not “broken”, they do not need “fixing”, and if you try and do it they will fight you tooth and nail. Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
I’m not saying this is the right way to be, but I get it. I get that panic of finding out the world is way more entrenched and solid than you believed, and that people – even the horrible, terrible people you believed were holding the world back and retarding us as a fucking species were far more complex and far more complicated than my early idealism would have had me believe. That panic of finding out that most people don’t make decisions from logic, that terror when you realize that you have been lied to every second of every day every moment of your life prior to that moment, and that shock when you realize that for all your learning and self-professed knowledge you are just as goddamn clueless as every other meatball on the planet. And that panic makes people act poorly, and compartmentalize individuals who are just as much people as you are into a threatening larger whole. This is how wars start. This is how the ‘us vs them’ mentality thrives. This is groupthink, this is dogma. Humans are social animals; they are universally insecure and they enjoy belonging to a group, any group.
For most people there’s a disconnect with what they believe and what they see in action around them. They get told lies that I think are really insidious, like “it doesn’t matter what’s on your outside, it matters what’s on your inside”, which leads to people getting pissed as hell when they realize no, it’s what’s on the outside that matters after all, because that’s the way the world has worked for millennia and it sees no reason to change because of your pathetic sentiments. This leads to a horrible cycle where people try and make a stand against racism and inequality and body shaming – all the while perpetuating those things they claim to stand against. They do it because they have been raised to see the horrible world that the last generation has left for them, replete with outdated funny words like ‘nationalism’, and want to do things differently. All the while they forget that the previous generation that raised them was much the same in their youth. They do it because they see hegemony and systems set in place to put them down, to deny them their rightful heritage as world changers and life shakers. They can’t understand that the world has been turning for a very long time and they, in the grand scheme of things, are insignificant dust specks.
There’s a lot more at play here, including unwarranted self-importance and the idea that “progressive” values will improve us as a society (progressive means ‘forward-thinking’, who doesn’t want to be ‘forward-thinking’?) as well as the way the media exploits this young, starry-eyed generation to gain maximum possible influence, traction, and influence by telling them exactly what they want to hear, but this is the heart of it. It all comes down, again and again, to the same problem: people who see their opponents as being less than they are, as being incapable of change and therefore must be destroyed.
I’ve done it! I’ve bitched about how girls only go for assholes, therefore perpetuating the asshole gene to the next generation of humanity! I’ve whined about idiots invading my geek spaces with a vague, generalized and clearly wrong idea of how things are supposed to work! I’ve felt bad for myself because I couldn’t understand why places I’ve worked didn’t treat me like a genius because I was clearly in the right and everyone else was clueless! I’ve hated people – not just disliked, actively, deeply, hated people for lowering the standard of literature, a standard that only existed inside my own head.
This hate has manifested itself in #GamerGate in a big way. They see ‘gamers’ as being ‘misogynists’ and ‘bigots’. That’s because they don’t understand that videogames transcend gender and skin color, and barely remember that Nintendo were the ones who brought videogames out of a crash white people started. These people don’t even understand how a market works – when the gatekeepers of said culture, what you’ve set yourself up as – begin attacking said culture, it is the death knell for you. People who have sold things since the beginning of time understand this. The customer is always king, and if you treat the king like a peasant he will go somewhere else. When you work in any field, your beliefs and your work become impossibly intertwined – that’s a guarantee. However, for the scraping-by, underappreciated games writer or critic struggling to eke out a living off the goodwill of advertisers and people with the attention span of gnats, this just looks like the latest in a long history of attacks on people from the nebulous legions of socially inept and ignorant fanboys, chomping at the bit to find an excuse to vent years of pent-up anger.
Which brings us back to Anita Sarkeesian. There are a few major complaints about Sarkessian, which boil down to 1) she’s a con artist who knowingly and with complete foreknowledge of what her actions would mean exploited people for money and influence, 2) if not, she does the bare minimum of research necessary to make her videos if she makes them at all, and 3) definitely did not deserve the amount of money she got. Point one paints Sarkeesian as a genius who conned suckers en masse, point two paints her as a slacktivist, and point 3 just goes to show how much people care about their video games. The people defending her are howling that gamers hate her because she’s a woman, because they hate change, and because they don’t like being criticized – all claims which, let’s not lie, have at least some basis in truth.
Sarkeesian was, in a lot of ways, the lighting of the fuse that finally exploded with Zoe Quinn. These people have colluded together in secret for too long and too often; the web stretches for miles in every direction drawing in people from all across the industry. They wanted a cause, they wanted power and influence and they wanted to change the world. They just found something that was culturally new enough and strange enough and financially lucrative enough to influence. Video games. They couldn’t get into the Hollywood mansion, the music industry has been bulldozed by the internet giant, and nobody goes to the publishing house anymore since they spruced up the furnishings, so they invaded the kids’ video game clubhouse instead. It’s getting redecorated. Nobody asked the kids.
Understanding all of this doesn’t mean excusing it, and God knows I don’t. But understanding all of this does leave me at a loss – I don’t know how to get through to these kids. Devils like Sarkeesian and Quinn have the ears of these kids because they offer soothing reassurances that they’re the ones who can change the world and that the entirety of the world is wrong. They’re recruiting young people for hate. They’re turning the sense of youthful frustration with entrenched systems these kids feel into hate for other marginalized people, a standard tactic of Neo-Nazi groups, for instance. I have been an idealist, I then became a cynic, I now like to consider myself a humanist on my good days, although on occasion the gilt flakes off and you can see the bitterness seething underneath. I’d like to think I would never have bought into the line of bullshit these guys are peddling, but I’m still cynical enough to believe I would. This is why I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve been there. I hope that one day they look around and see the damage they’ve wrought on themselves, their relationships with others, and the society around them.
Maybe we just have to let it blow over. Perhaps we just have to let these kids grow up. I know that when I grew up I began to understand more and more the mistakes in my thinking. I began to realize that the world isn’t such a terrible place after all, and to appreciate my fellow human beings by finding what united us instead of divided us. I began to understand that other people were hurting in ways that I couldn’t immediately identify, and that attempting to listen and understand that pain not only helped them feel less alone but gave me a new way of looking at the world. That’s when I stopped being unhappy with the way things were and started seeing joy in the world around me.
It might seem weird to those who don’t do it, but sharing a video game with people taught me more about others than any other experience did. Playing together is something that brings out the best in people and the worst in others, and the experience of play is something we can all share in, for better or for worse. I’ve had the most extraordinary connections happen in my life around video games. I’ve met some great and terrible people, and I’ve played all sorts of games. My understanding and knowledge of people and the games they play only grows from day to day.
Obviously video games aren’t for everybody, but I have to believe in the experience of play. The experience that allows you to understand why so many of us love video games the way we do, why old and young alike can play together whether in the same room or half a world away. The experience that fulfills the lie – because it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, but what you do in the game that matters. To feel the exultation of victory, the shame of defeat, to feel like you are something and you can do something that matters, even if it is all just glorified make-believe.
I hope everyone can have this experience. I hope someone like Zoe Quinn is able to design a game that gives it to the world.
In the meantime, I’ve come down from my position on the fence with regards to #GamerGate. Over the last two weeks a lot of ugliness has been exposed, a lot of people have seen that ideologies and sides are composed of individuals and those individuals are fallible, and hopefully some people have begun to question their initial assumptions about the world. For me, it’s time to pick a side, and not just laugh myself sick at the horrifically inept attempts at PR and ass-covering that companies like Silverstring Media are attempting to pull. Because I, like everybody else in the world, can occasionally be a giant piece of shit.
Game on, Devin Faraci. Game on. Let’s have a beer sometime and play some video games. You like video games, right?