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GamerGate, criticism, ideology and 'They Live'

There are two levels to pop culture.

There is the surface layer, which is where most of us live, and the deeper layer which often changes the way we think about the world around us.

Call of Duty is, at the surface layer, a well-made, extremely fun game about shooting people in the face. On a deeper level, it tells us something about how our culture looks at warfare, and can create or enforce subtle stereotypes about how we deal with soldiers, other cultures or the military as a whole.

My children, for instance, have never been alive during a time when my country was not at war, and one of the most popular pieces of pop culture in that time has been a game that sells violent, armed conflict as entertainment. The well-trained operator, decked out with the latest equipment but still willing to put a knife through someone's throat if the situation demands it, is a character as well-known in pop culture as Iron Man.

This is what bothers me about Gamergate as a whole: the idea that the existence of a second level to pop culture is by itself worth rebelling against. Before the hashtag the critical world mostly fought over what we saw when we wore the metaphorical glasses. After Gamergate, we're fighting over the question of whether the glasses exist at all. The movement wants to insist that the surface level is all that exists.

This fight to maintain a surface enjoyment of video games makes sense. If you see that games support a certain political idea you have to somehow react to it. If you begin to explore what the content you consume means you then have to do something. That takes effort, and saying something is "just a game" is not only easier, but more comfortable.

People get hung up with the idea that violent games make people violent, which is a tired argument. The real danger isn't just in actions but in patterns of thought. Do I think that Call of Duty makes you pick up a gun? Not really. Do I worry that it makes us accepting, if not welcoming, of a certain type of armed conflict? Absolutely.

It's okay to enjoy Call of Duty — it's one of my favorite games in fact — but pointing out a constant glorification of a certain kind of war isn't an attack on the game. It's more like an attempt to try to meet the game on its level. It's about trying to have a dialog instead of treating games as a lecture.

GamerGate wants to pretend that the world they see is the "real world," with no subtext or damaging systems in place that impact people who aren't them. The existence of any other points of view force them into action, which is why we're seeing the current environment of intimidation and silencing tactics. If no other interpretations of video games exists, theirs becomes by default the only one that matters, and they can settle back down into comforting inaction.

The video below does a great job of pointing out what GamerGate is: a movement that fights for the status quo, or how things have always been. It's a movement aimed to keep things the way they are, and the best way to do so is to claim that games are inherently unpolitical, and any attempt to make their content political makes you the enemy.

GamerGate exists to reject the idea that there is another way of seeing things, and to stop the conversation about subtext that they think attacks games directly. If we admit that games treat women poorly, then games have to change, or at least we need to be honest about our relationships with them.

Change is hard, and from their point of view it's worth fighting. They don't see it as the tent widening to invite others, they think they're being kicked out. Whatever the subtext of games may be, and that's a huge question every critic tries to answer on a daily basis, the fact remains that having the conversation is important.

I'm not trying to claim that I can see through the "bullshit" of the surface to tell you how things are, the argument is that more people need to look deeper and share their thoughts. By ignoring our own ideology we become blinded by it, and GamerGate is attacking others to preserve the right to keep its eyes tightly shut.

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