After an exhausting few years, it’s nice to be reminded that while the games industry and the communities that have sprung up around it may harbour their fair share of assholes (pardon my French), they don’t actually ,emph>belong to assholes.
All the howling, empty fury that greets every minor progressive step in the industry grants an outsized importance to a very small and relatively recent constituency of thoroughly awful people. It has always been the case that the vast, vast majority of people you meet through gaming — be they industry people, fans or just casual consumers — are decent, kind people whose hobbies distinctly do not include shrieking at women or minorities on the Internet.
As such, I feel genuine gratitude to Henry “Hbomberguy” Brewis; not just for doing an objectively wonderful thing with his Twitch live-streaming marathon for charity over the past weekend, but for serving up a timely and welcome reminder that the misdirected anger, trolling and harassment that make headlines with such depressing regularity aren’t truly representative of gaming — or, more broadly, gamers.
“The amount of blood, sweat and tears that worthwhile charity initiatives have to spend to get any amount of coverage is a little depressing”
Hbomberguy’s livestream in support of UK trans charity Mermaids, which provides counselling and assistance to gender nonconforming young people and their families, started out with a target of raising $500. It ended up raising over $340,000 after being signal-boosted widely around gaming communities and beyond. The effort was supported by other streamers and journalists as well as veteran developers like John Romero and Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer, and it attracted mass media attention thanks to the participation of US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – whose gushing over the merits of the Nintendo 64 were also a reminder that gaming has been attracting diverse audiences for a very long time.
It’s amazing to see the industry and gamers come together to support a worthwhile charity, especially one that helps out a vulnerable minority group that’s come under serious attack in recent years. It’s even better to see that effort make headlines, both in the specialist media and beyond — because the reality is that good people in the industry and in gaming communities alike have been doing amazing things for charity or making positive differences in other ways for years and years.
Few individuals have raised as much as Hbomberguy, but the amount of charitable and progressive work that can be identified with gamers or the gaming industry over the years is significant. This work is rarely broadly publicised, however; the sad fact is that, without some star power, no amount of money raised, or positive change campaigned for and won, is ever going to earn as much media attention as a handful of rabble on Reddit filling their nappies over women in Battlefield or non-white NPCs in Red Dead Redemption. The huge mass of gamers — and enormous majority of the industry — who are solidly progressive and think it’s pretty damned cool that games are growing upwards and outwards to represent and speak to more kinds of people are not a silent majority, per se; they’re just a majority that it’s a lot harder to write a snappy headline about.
“The success of that wonderful effort should remind us that we need to work harder and smarter in terms of promoting positive narratives”
Negative stories always steal oxygen from positive ones; “if it bleeds, it leads” and all that. It’s nonetheless worth pointing out what a problem it is that a handful of accounts on Reddit and Twitter — more than likely operated by an even smaller number of astroturfers puffing up their digital plumage with multiple fake identities — can drive stories even in relatively respectable media outlets by finding some new daft thing to get outraged about, their Red Pill inflected frothing cited as evidence of a fresh consumer backlash.
By comparison, the amount of blood, sweat and tears that worthwhile charity initiatives have to spend to get any amount of coverage is a little depressing. To pick an example, look at the UK games industry’s charity of choice, Special Effect; it does inspiring and important work for people with disabilities, but despite its deep links with the industry and the media and the real, fantastic results it can show, it’s rare to see news related to it elbowing out the latest invented outrage.
Being realistic, Hbomberguy’s stream — which was joined by easily the most famous of the new group of US Congresspersons and promoted on Twitter by the likes of Cher and Neil Gaiman — has drawn a solid amount of media attention, but it will still be eclipsed the next time some bored troglodytes decide to spin up their fake accounts for round five thousand of the endless cycle of fake consumer outrage over “politics being forced into video games.”
I don’t really blame journalists or the media broadly for this warped focus, but I would like to see all of us do better on this front. There was a time when it was important to call out this kind of behaviour, to show solidarity with the harassed and the abused and to shine a bright light on the slime-ball behaviour of their tormentors. But we’ve reached a point where, all too often, that bright light is being used as a spotlight by people who bask in their own awfulness and lap up the notoriety it grants. They’ve learned to game this outrage; well-intentioned coverage designed to say “oh god, look what the misogynists, the queerphobes and the racists are up to now” is actually providing them with a public stage upon which they cavort to score points with their equally shameless idiot friends.
They don’t speak for the gaming industry, or for gamers. This medium, for all that it’s had its faults and has been too rough around some of its edges for a little too long, has always been one that welcomed a diverse range of people — including providing escapism, community and refuge to those who needed it. This isn’t to whitewash past failures; the industry has had a poor scorecard on its treatment of women in employment, not to mention the representation of both women and minorities in games, which cannot be ignored and still needs work. But nonetheless, the communities of both creators and consumers that sprung up around games have always been welcoming places for people of all stripes, and especially for the kinds of young LGBT people for whom Hbomberguy was fundraising.
The success of that wonderful effort should remind us that we need to work harder and smarter in terms of promoting positive narratives. Every time we clutch our collective pearls at some awful racist, misogynist or queerphobic dribble, we simply give these people the attention and the platform that they want. Working instead to promote and build upon the positive things the industry and gaming communities do would send a much more vital and useful message — that this medium doesn’t belong to that kind of person, and that bluntly, they’re not welcome here.