Video games have been under the microscope of moral authoritarians since you pressed right on the controller to make Mario save a princess. The concerns used to be legitimate, if not misguided. Today, however, the reasons for pearl-clutching around video games have morphed.
Earlier this month, I wrote an article detailing the events surrounding a controversy that arose around the sandbox game Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), wherein a player posted a video on YouTube of himself playing as a bad guy in the game. The game, which takes place during the era of first wave feminism, contains a rather annoying suffragette insulting men as she protests for the right to vote. The player, going by “Shirrako,” records himself punching the feminist, then dragging her behind his horse. He then hogtied her and fed her to an alligator.
As I wrote in the article, many people may find this action — even a virtual action — horrific, and fair enough. However, it’s important to remember that this is an adult game made to be played by adults, and what’s more, it’s just a game. The church’s local youth pastor may get a chuckle out of playing the bad guy in the game and the real world wouldn’t be the worse for it.
True to form, the recorded attack on the suffragette caused a massive outcry from the social justice parts of the left which proceeded to write think-piece after think-piece on how video games go too far with its violence. This, in turn, caused a plethora of gamers to come to the defense of video games and the freedom of developers to continue to create what they please, including yours truly with the aforementioned article.
The problem with the outrage from the social justice gaming press is that, as usual, it seems very selective. RDR2 is an open-world sandbox game. You can visit violence on anyone and anything, and indeed, players from across the globe have posted videos of themselves playing the game with footage that contains violence ranging from something straight out of an action movie to the completely absurd. The gaming press was mostly silent on this until Shirrako’s video.
In short, they didn’t care that you could be violent toward random non-player characters (NPC’s), they cared that you could be violent toward a feminist character espousing a feminist message. I pointed this out in my article, highlighting the selective anger and ultimately, the social justice left’s hypocrisy.
My shining the light on this didn’t sit well with writer Justin Charity of The Ringer, who penned an article lamenting that people like me reach such “extreme” positions as the freedom to create unbound. This causes both sides to sit opposite of each other, not working together in order to reign in the disagreeable things that occur in video games:
This post-Gamergate discourse has changed what it even means to “politicize” a game, a studio, the journalists who cover them, and, finally, the player. It’s no longer the classic haggling, between gamers and nongamers, over violence in video games, nor is it necessarily the trending concern about political connotations that video games mismanage or repress. Now, instead of fighting external political threats, gamers fight among themselves. There are left-wing gamers dominating news websites and podcasts, and right-wing gamers dominating YouTube and Reddit, and they are soft-locked into a cold war with each other. It can seem as if there’s no intellectual spectrum, only the political extremes: right-wing trolls on the one end, lofty leftists in opposition.
The subreddit Charity is referring to that tackles and combat the authoritarian assault on the gaming industry, r/KotakuInAction, is no haven of pure right-leaning thought. It is the intellectual spectrum Charity claims doesn’t exist. Even a cursory glance at the comments within the subreddits many threads would reveal a plethora of ideological positions. It’s also laughable to label the subreddit the home of extremists.
Charity’s observation that gamers now fight amongst themselves instead of outside threats is accurate, but his misunderstanding of why trips him up. We fight amongst ourselves because the threat Charity mentioned comes from within the community, and that threat is dictatorial control over what people get to create, see, and experience. We faced the problem before, but we solved this problem easily.
In summary, gamers and non-gamers came together and tackled the problem of adult content in video games long ago by implementing the ESRB system, which rates a game from “E for Everyone” on through to “M for Mature,” and allows discerning consumers to decide whether the game is right for them or not. The overarching agreement was that the gaming community and the developers who serve them could continue to create and play whatever they wished, and the non-gaming populace would be forewarned what the game possessed in order to guard against whatever content may be disagreeable to them. The free market would do what the free market does, and that was that.
Over time, however, as the social justice left began to infest the gaming industry and the issue of what is and isn’t disagreeable content came to the forefront. However, unlike the first round, the concerns around the content weren’t just violence or adult content, it was how the violence and adult content approached the messages the social justice community concerns themselves about.
The history of the war between the social justice community and the gaming community is too long to recount here. In fact, you’d need an entire book. Suffice to say that the largest and most intense battle took place during the “GamerGate” era, which gamers inevitably won and the social justice community has been bitter about since.
Despite the gamers winning that battle, the war still continues with the social justice left continuously forcing its values on the games industry, and too often these values are less than moral. With the backdrop of identity politics shadowing every opinion they have, the social justice left makes enemies out of innocent people for things they can’t control, such as their skin color, sex, etc. If you’re a white, straight, male, you are public enemy number one. I shouldn’t need to point out that this is sexist, racist, and bigoted in and of itself, but in this day and age, it’s not widely acknowledged in the mainstream.
These identitarian beliefs — which I have written about ad nauseum since I first put my fingers to a keyboard — aren’t just suggestions to the social justice left. They’re mandates that must be followed by any community they come in contact with, be it the gaming, sports, or music community. Behavior by artists both on and off their respective stages must be agreeable to, if not mirror the social justice left’s codes of conduct. Failure to do so will result in punishments of some form, and some forms result in the ruination of lives.
This is an extreme position. The forcing of racist, sexist, and bigoted views on others in the name of “equality” and “justice” with a resounding “OR ELSE” attached isn’t just immoral dictatorship, it’s forcing others to be extreme with you.
And here we see the internal conflict within the gaming community. The social justice left is being opposed, not by “right-wing trolls,” but by normal people of all stripes who wish to be left alone. To urge that developers be left to make whatever they wish and that gamers are able to play whatever they will and in a manner that pleases them without interference from an immoral authority isn’t remotely extreme. In fact, it’s what any self-respecting person would do when confronted by tyranny.
This fighting back to be left alone may be seen as extreme from a people who really do think that their lofty positions by which they rain down judgments and force actions are an ultimate good if not by means then by ends. They may especially see it as trolling when the gaming community is so good mocking people who take themselves too seriously, which the social justice left absolutely does.
But in the end, Charity’s apparent sadness that the two aren’t coming together to solve problems is dismissing the point of the war. There can be no middle ground here. Either we’re free to create and play or we’re not. Even the slightest give results in putting our feet on the slipperiest of slopes.
All messages, all faiths, all ideologies, and all manner of people places and things should be open for commentary of any form in the realm of the arts. No sacred cows. Any concessions on this create social hierarchies that inevitably strips a free people of choice and voice.
This isn’t extreme, this is the mark of a free society. The social justice left needs to recognize this, and the sooner they understand that they’re the authoritarian villains in this story, the better.