Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What am I supposed to do about "Gaming While Male"?

I'll be keeping this one short, although I'd like to start updating more regularly again. Practically all work I'm busy with should be completed by the end of the month and I'd like to get back to the more regular updates that I used to produce, pre-college games development course. I feel less involved with gender issues in the games industry and could do with being more active. I have to admit, I feel a twinge of envy when I visit Vicsor's site and see how involved he is with some cool, creative people on Twitter, like devi ever and even Tamara Smith (cowkitty), back when the whole Anita Sarkeesian art theft issue broke. Not being a fan of Twitter, I'll have to make do with updating this blog more frequently.

A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan McIntosh -- producer of Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency video series -- wrote an article for Polygon magazine titled "Playing with privilege: the invisible benefits of gaming while male". I'm not going to link to that particular article because, if you've ever seen a "male privilege checklist" article anywhere online, it's basically the same regurgitated information, only tailored to gaming. It's pointless to argue against McIntosh's points because, just like the ones seen in male privilege checklists, they're written based on assumptions and beliefs rather than evidence. I could provide every counter-argument in the world but it's clear that anyone who writes something like ...
"I can be relatively sure my thoughts about video games won’t be dismissed or attacked based solely on my tone of voice, even if I speak in an aggressive, obnoxious, crude or flippant manner."
... Isn't interested in facts.

I wasn't that interested in writing about this topic at all until I came across McIntosh's article mentioned on NPR. At the top of the page is a picture of Nathan Drake from Uncharted -- which isn't mentioned in the article at all -- with the following caption:
"Nathan Drake (foreground) is the lead protagonist of the Uncharted series of games for the Sony PS3. His character is just one in a long line of games where the dominant figure is a white male action hero."
If you're anything like me, the first thought that crossed my mind was "so?" and I'm still not sure what point Steve Mullis, the writer of that article, is trying to make. Is it a criticism of all games with white men in the leading role? If so, what's wrong with white men as action heroes or being the "dominant figure"? And if someone does think there's something wrong with it, again, so what? The developer does not have any responsibility to cater to a demanding audience -- regardless of the entitled Jason Schreiers and Tomodachi Life same-sex relationship campaigners of the world -- because their personal tastes are irrelevant to the project.

That one screenshot got me thinking about how I felt about "Gaming While Male" and, right off the bat, I'll say that I loathe the term (much like I did when I first read "Interneting While Female" from Anita Sarkeesian). The reason being that it's obviously derived from the term "Driving While Black".

For those of you who don't know "Driving While Black" is a term for the racial profiling of black motorists by police officers, pulling them over based on the colour of their skin alone. Discrimination under the law based on skin colour is obviously a hugely serious issue, which is why I hate terms that trivialise it like "Interneting While Female". Sorry for stating the obvious but black drivers also cannot change their skin colour to avoid the "crime" of "Driving While Black". There's nothing they can do to avoid it, which is why it's such a despicable act of discrimination.

So ... what am I supposed to do about "Gaming While Male"? Just like "Driving While Black", it's not something I can easily change, nor should I have to. Inadvertently, it feels like Jonathan McIntosh has made male gamers out to be victims; in this scenario, male gamers are the driver while McIntosh is the bigoted cop, tapping on the window and ready to give us an earful about a characteristic we can't change.

Now, McIntosh doesn't want to perform an arrest. All he wants is for male gamers to "become aware" of their privilege. Part of the problem with this issue -- once again, apart from McIntosh's arguments being based on feelings rather than facts -- is the same problem with every single "privilege" argument out there; denigrating the "dominant" group for their "privilege" does not help the "unprivileged" group in any way. What does it accomplish, except for some brief catharsis of the "I sure told them!" variety for the person making the argument? If McIntosh and others who make the privilege argument spent half as much time helping the "unprivileged" as they do disparaging the "privileged", equality in gaming could probably be achieved within a week ...

McIntosh touched upon the idea of men being "blissfully unaware" of their privilege or knowing about it but failing to understand it. However, maybe McIntosh would like to read "Why I'll Never Apologise for My White Male Privilege" by Tal Fortgang, published in TIME magazine. It's an excellent piece, with Fortgang facing the idea of "privilege" throughout his ancestry, basically facing proponents of privilege theory on their own terms. If McIntosh reads that piece, maybe he'll consider the idea that not only are men aware of privilege theory and understand it perfectly but just refuse to accept it. And with good reason.

In other news, the BBC recently aired a documentary called "Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes", which I watched in its entirety. If it covered any new ground with regards to gender issues then I would be happy to write about it extensively here but, as it happens, it was all the typical go-to non-issues for gender issues online nowadays; a lack of women on bank notes in the UK, rape jokes in stand-up comedy and, yes, Anita Sarkeesian. She did a few minutes, basically repeating everything from her TEDxWomen talk, her Conference talk, her CNN interview, etc. At this point, it feels like Anita has become a parody of herself. I'm just going to link to a Youtube response by a woman named Vipersword100, who perfectly sums up the issues with Anita's portion of the documentary.