It was a weird decade for everyone to be honest. Comics featured large, musclebound, gun-wielding, tiny-footed and oddly proportioned anti-heroes that all looked like a clone factory had suddenly exploded next to the set of Mad Max. The Nintendo-Sega War reached its apex with inventive slogans and terrible, awful raps. Someone made a video about not ‘copying that floppy’ with a straight face and not even a single giggle. Rob Liefeld became a millionaire off of his artistic merit. Superman had a mullet. Ladies and gentlemen, that decade was the Nineties, and four years into it, I got my first console.
If when I got that console, you told me what we would have in the future with regards to gaming, comics and other forms of, for lack of a better word, nerd culture, I would have thought you crazy. A stable franchise of comic book characters starring in blockbuster movies? The replacement of Captain America and Thor in comic books making mainstream news? A series of books about medieval politics, murders aplenty and lots and lots of sex becoming one of the most popular TV shows ever? Two webcomic creators making a massive franchise of charity events, conventions and games? Non-Dial Up Internet? True, there’s no flying cars, but aside from that, I think the checklist is pretty full for best future ever!
And then you would have ruined the whole thing by sitting down and telling me about all the controversy that comes with those wonderful things.
So it’s been a bit of a time for gaming, huh? We’ve had a bunch of controversy over such events as Gamergate (Was Watergate the only scandal going around for the last few decades that we can name scandals after? Stop it). If you aren’t familiar with Gamergate, it’s an exercise designed to kill your faith in the human condition. In real terms, an embittered ex-boyfriend posted an essay about his ex-girlfriend on various sites before setting up his own site to host his masters dissertation when all the other sites deleted it on detection. If this was a proper, just world, we’d quite rightly laugh this guy off the internet, but the ex-girlfriend in question was a female game developer.
Ignoring the quite frankly insulting insinuation that ‘Gamers’ are a collective hive mind that have the same opinions and that these ‘Gamers’ can speak for the entire community of people who happen to play games, I’m not going to go into why this is the utterly insane manifestation of an insular misogyny in the gaming industry. Our own Linda has done an article on the matter which has gone into the matter in a much more coherent and professional manner than my opinionated self could ever have done. Internet comedy website Cracked has done a number of articles on the matter, dissecting exactly why the whole incident was stupid, and offering Zoe Quinn a chance at rebuttal. Kudos.
Instead, I’m going to take a step back on this situation. This is the latest manifestation of an increasingly crazy trend, not only in gaming. The comics industry has to struggle with its acceptance of female writers and how it treats its female characters. It’s been a while since Frank Miller has had a shot at reinterpreting some of our more iconic female characters as whores and prostitutes, but we’re still in a world where the reboot of the DC universe had one of their most iconic heroines, Starfire, reimagined as an amnesiac, sex-driven character who sleeps with her teammates at the drop of a hat, and sees humans as ‘a collection of sounds and smells’. A world where Batman can be rebooted and keep all four of the male Robins in some capacity or another, but write two fan-favourite holders of the Batgirl mantle out of existence because they’re ‘difficult for new readers to get’. A world where neither Marvel or DC can make a movie with a female lead without sneaking her in with a Batman/Superman team up. A world where controversy about ‘Fake Geek Girls’ is an actual thing which does exist.
Misogyny is a part of this, but there’s another element to it, and it ties back into that bit about the nineties that I mentioned at the start.
Perhaps my experience was a bit different, because I went to a smaller school. Most of the people in my primary were into gaming, and I don’t think I’ve ever hit higher heights of popularity when I walked into class one day with a copy of Pokemon Gold and Silver, bought in America at least a few weeks before they were released in Europe. But the fact is that the explosion in popularity of comics, games and other, ‘geeky’ pursuits is a pretty recent phenomenon. You only have to look at movies of the time to see the popular perception of ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’; that is to say the bullied, unpopular, glasses wearing, acne-ridden, pocket protector-wearing, often overweight boy/man in his mother’s basement type.
Now, that’s a massive over-exaggeration. Have you ever worn a pocket protector? Do you know anyone who has? But the fact remains that gaming, comics, fantasy, role playing, these were all seen as less popular activities, constantly under attack by the ‘cool kids’. But then, the wheel turned. Knowing the last few years of comics history was suddenly important. Being good at games was important. People started to want to get into traditionally nerdy activities! You would think this was a good thing. Most people did anyway.
It’s the people that didn’t that are the focus of this article.
Yes, some people, seeing that the things they were once ridiculed for were now the popular thing, took it upon themselves to make damn well sure that newcomers were made to feel unwelcome. How dare these new people suddenly turn around and embrace this new ‘fad’? It’s things like this that are at the heart of most controversies in comics and gaming, the idea of ‘us’ against ‘them’. The gaming industry is under attack, the comics industry is under attack, and only ‘we’ can save it by fighting these threats!
The fact that this behaviour is entirely self-defeating seems to have passed them by entirely. If you drive off new readers, or new players, then unsurprisingly, the industry stops expanding, and less money is put into new ideas and concepts. If you alienate an entire gender from your product or from your fandom, then you lose a vital stream of revenue, new talent and dedicated fans. Maybe you think you’re saving the industry by driving developers like Zoe Quinn out of their homes. In a world where EA can charge you all the money to release The Sims again with slightly improved graphics and fifty million expansion packs, the greatest threat to gamers is, of course, a free game designed to spread awareness of depression and its developer.
To the fan of the gaming, comic, and creative industry who genuinely welcomes new people, likes that women are becoming increasingly engaged with the creative community, and recognizes these real, serious issues within the community: these people do not speak for me. They do not speak for you. They do not speak for anyone but themselves. Narrow-mindedness will be the death of the creative industry, unless we choose not to accept it. That it’s wrong to antagonize people for participating in a fandom. That it’s wrong to alienate women from the creative industry. That it’s wrong to mistreat female characters and reduce them to bare bones characterization. Heck, that it’s wrong that this needs to be said in the first place!
To everyone else not in that category, an experiment. Try popping in an eighties movie some time. The Karate Kid, Back to the Future, some other teen movie of that time. Sit back, watch it. Really watch it. Now ask yourselves, given the recent controversies, who do you most identify with in this scenario? Are you the plucky teen rebel using their wits to outsmart a more powerful oppressive force? Or are you the guy with power, who’s using that power to make someone’s life miserable?
Because if your antics resemble the plot of a bully antagonist in an eighties teen movie, something has went horribly wrong. Just a thought.