The world of videogames is no stranger to moral panics. Recently, researchers at the University of Oxford published the latest in a long line of studies debunking the persistent myth that violent videogames cause aggression in children. The study – published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture – found that, regardless of a particular videogame’s content, children who played videogames moderately were actually less aggressive than those who do not game at all.
But this was no great triumph over media-effects theory. Indeed, the children who weren’t playing videogames were presumably on Twitter, whining about how videogames cause and promote misogyny. In recent months, this new hysteria has been at the forefront of the gaming discussion. Proponents of the idea insist that gaming culture is ‘toxic’, not inclusive enough and that women are represented exclusively as sexual objects in games. They have put forward censorious arguments, which have been countered by a new pro-gaming movement called #Gamergate.
In the past, you were a gamer because you liked playing videogames, regardless of non-issues like gender, race or sexuality. However, the people behind the recent fuss see everything through the warped lens of identity politics. Their narcissism and willingness to harass game developers into submission has made the art of making a good videogame even more of a chore. Instead of developers being able to portray their own vision and tell their stories, they are constantly being coerced by mobs of online activists to adhere to particular neurotic standards. Even when game developers aren’t being shouted down for creating an allegedly aberrant game, the spectre of the Twitterati, the coercive power of their fury, must be ever-present.
Gamers, rallying under the #Gamergate hashtag, are rightfully outraged that their hobby and community are being co-opted by ideologues. The professionally sensitive and perpetually offended crusaders are determined to undermine everything that makes the gaming community great. The fact that small cliques of right-on gamers, and censorious onlookers, have the ability to censor and pressure major game developers shows how influential and belligerent they have become. Nothing, it seems, can faze them. A study published last week categorically debunked the idea that videogames cause sexism, but this has hardly made a dent in the anti-#Gamergate’s self-confidence.
Women have always been welcome in gaming. There have been countless female game developers who have contributed to many gaming masterpieces. What the gaming crusaders can’t seem to get past is that the gaming community doesn’t see them as ‘women in gaming’, in need of special concern – they just see them as fellow gamers. And, surely, if equality is the goal, isn’t this the ideal?