A reflection on #gamergate and labels


There's been a lot of debate going on about the whole #gamergate thing, and yes: I'm using the word "debate" very generously. It's been mostly two groups with next to nothing in common throwing insults at each other. One side has behaved worse than the other, but neither is engaging in much debate.

There's so much going on under the #gamergate label that it's impossible to have an opinion on "#gamergate" as a whole, but bits and pieces of it are of interest to me.

Yesterday I read something that Sean Howard wrote on Twitter that I found interesting: he suggests that the conflict is at its core a variant on gentrification. His interpretation is that the "SJW" side of the conflict is engaging in an effort to redefine the concept of being a "gamer", and to remove all references to things that they find offensive.

He expanded his reasoning in a blog entry , pointing at how #gamergate is part of a larger movement of adjusting geek culture to be palatable to the mainstream.

I agree with a lot in his analysis, but I did have an objection to the IMHO too literal application of the previous definition of gentrification. In normal cases of gentrification, members of the richer classes get interested in an area where poorer people currently live, and displace the previous inhabitants by force of their superior wealth: they buy property, adjust it to what they consider to be a suitable standard of living and thereby make it impossible for other poor inhabitants to buy the property back. Little by little, the poor are replaced by the wealthy.

The thing I object to is that in the case of the definition of gamerdom, there's no limited physical area that the intruding side can take over. Assuming that the existing gamers remain just as they are today, the most the newcomers can do is redefine the label "gamer" so that it applies to a different set of people. The group previously know as gamers will then find or be assigned a different label, but they can continue doing whatever it was they were doing. They'll even be able to call themselves gamers, even if the rest of the world refer to them by some other label.

I do think that the SJW side is right in that the label "gamer" really should refer to a wider group of people than "those who enjoy playing traditional male power fantasies". Even if that group has previously been a large subset of gamers, as evidenced by the amount of money put into creating generation after generation of FPS:s where the only thing that improves is the graphical detail, they are not the only kind of gamer. As more and more people play games, the definition of "gamer" is made less and less specific - at this time it really should mean no more than "someone who plays games regularly". To insist that "gamer" can only ever refer to a very specific subset with very specific tastes is futile. It's as if the 1920s definition of "car owner", and what that implied in terms of social standing and wealth, should still be the same. But now "car owner" means next to nothing besides the fact that you own a car.

Returning to the issue of the relabeled gamers, I'm sure that as long as they're willing to pay for them, developers will continue making games where you play a white male (probably an ex-cop with nothing to lose), kill everything that moves while pretty ladies shake their boobs at you. It's not like porn has disappeared just because feminists think that it's rather lacking in terms of providing good role models for women… If enough gamers tire of playing the same old game over and over again (just in better-looking textures), then I'm sure that development budgets will shift to follow the gamers, but until then the #gamergaters will have plenty of games to choose from. I think that their own tendency to pirate games instead of buying them is a bigger threat to their continued supply than feminists will ever be.