It’s been quite the summer for video games. Ubisoft made an infamous comment saying the addition of female animations to the new Assassin’s Creed would double their work load. The Playstation Network was attacked by hackers again, while a Sony executive’s plane was grounded due to bomb threats from the same hacker group. Zoe Quinn, developer of the acclaimed “Depression Quest,” received death threats for an alleged affair with a games journalist and for making her game in the first place. Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the Youtube series “Feminist Frequency,” received so many threats that the FBI started investigating them and she had to move. When developer Phil Fish spoke out in favor of Sarkeesian’s most recent video, his website was hacked, and it proved to be the final straw that pushed the frequently harassed developer out of the industry entirely.
This is the gaming world gaming right now. The floorboards are getting peeled back, the rot and ruin is exposed for everyone to see, and yet still there are those who are resisting change.
Mainstream and game journalists alike are writing that these events mark the “death of the gamer.” The industry is shifting toward being more inclusive and less of an [exclusive] boys club and some long time gamers are scared of this change, they claim. All the back and forth–the Twitter mud slinging and the forums dedicated to saving games–really revolves around one simple question: who owns gaming?
Is it gamers? What is a gamer? And why does the perception of ownership matter so much to some people?
In an opinion piece for Polygon, Katherine Cross explains how the psychological theory of “the terror dream” helps us understand why some gamers are scared of change. It revolves around the idea that as more and more non-traditional, empathy focused games flood the market and receive critical acclaim, the sort of traditional games fans have come to love–“Mass Effect,” “Halo,” “The Elder Scrolls”–will somehow cease to exist.
Cross’s piece, published mid-summer, is far more revealing now after the debacles with Quinn and Sarkeesian. The reactionary community of gamers has proven itself determined to suppress voices and opinions that challenge their conceptual image of what makes a true gamer.
And to some extent, the phenomena is understandable, if not excusable. Gaming, from “Dungeons and Dragons” basement raids in the 80s to PC LAN parties today, has long been subject to intense scrutiny and distrust from other media. Even the term “gamer” is proof: there’s no common equivalent term for people who enjoy movies, television, or books. Those people don’t get labeled as anything; they’re just people with interests.
So, is the gamer dying? Is this the end of modern gamer culture as we know it? For the time being: no. Cultural shifts like this don’t take place overnight because of a few well-worded articles. However, in the long term, the answer is maybe. According to a recent report from the Internet Advertising Bureau, 52% of gamers are women and only 29% are teenagers. The demographic is changing and it’s slowly being represented in new, stylistically daring games like “Gone Home,” “Depression Quest,” and “Papers, Please.”
Now more than ever, the reality is that games don’t have to prescribe to being anything. They can simply be whatever they want. The people who play games and the games people play are changing, and they’re moving in the right direction. Hopefully, that will lead us to a time when there are no “gamers,” just people who love to play video games.