Dies ist eine Replik auf einen englischen Blogpost und daher in Englisch verfasst (bzw. das was ich für Englisch halte 😉 )
This is a reply to my friend @DanielaKayB, who wrote a blog post titled »Go on, we’re listening« in which she talks about #gamergate and other issues she considers relevant for modern feminism in the digital age. The people who have seen Daniela and me discuss various issues (e.g. liquid democracy) know that we tend to have very different opinions, but get along surprisingly well discussing those. She asked for replies in form of rationally articulated arguments. Well, rationally articulated arguments is what I do, or at least what I try to do most of the time. I also see myself as a critic of modern »internet feminism«, which is enough for many people to brand me a generally bad person, but since Daniela and I do have a little bit of history I want to answer.
So first of all: go and read the read the original post, it is not that long. In the main part of her post, Daniela picked four examples she wants to discuss and wrote a brief paragraph how she perceives the issue. I will quote those four paragraphs and write my response to them. But before I do that, I want to give you some context for the first two issues which consider video games. I am a long term »hardcore« gamer and the discussion about »killer games« is what made me a politician. That said, I am not neutral on this issue, but perceive it from a very subjective point of view. So, here we go.
The case of Anita Sarkeesian
Take Anita Sarkeesian and her Tropes documentaries.
She calmly lists the ways in which the representation of women in video games doesn’t exactly contribute to a society of equality. The implicit question of “why” is often answered with “because realism”.
Their argument is:
We can imagine a world in which dragons are fluttering about everywhere, but we can’t have playable female characters, because that would be unrealistic.
I can easily imagine a world in which I am a mighty wizard, but I cannot imagine a world in which women are anything but punching bags.
Go on, we’re listening.
It is very tempting for me to go all out on the whole issue of »Tropes vs Women in Video Games«, because from my point of view this whole issue around that series is like a messy hairball of different causes and effects in different people. I actually did go all out on it in the last post on this blog (in German). So for the sake of keeping this discussion short I try to stick to Daniela’s original statement as good as I can. For those that cannot or do not want to read to long German post, a short summary of my opinion on the matter: Like any other media, video games contain gender clichés and sexism, which is reason enough to debate the issue. I think Sarkeesian’s observations are of interest for this debate, but I have issues with the way she presents them. First of all she tends to jump to conclusions I cannot follow and often perceive as at least borderline defamatory. Secondly, I have issues with every other example she picks, because she misrepresents them by cherry-picking or putting them completely out of context, in a way that is obvious to everyone who played the game, but not to people who have less experience in the genre. There are patterns in the debate that remind me of the way the »violence in video games« issue was debated.
That said, back to Daniela’s statement. First of all, I agree that one of Sarkeesian’s strong points is, that she stays very calm. They™ say the one who keeps calm wins the debate and if this is 100% true she has to best chance of winning here, because the reactions are often times very angry to say the least. But I still want to try to address the issue of realism as the reason for sexism. Let’s take Sarkeesian’s example of watch dogs. In this game there is a random event, where the protagonist observes a case of domestic violence (quote: »You think you can just break up with me?!«). The perpetrator is always male while the victim is always female. If these gender roles are realistic can be argued, feminists would agree while male rights advocates would not. Of course we could just leave out that event, but then you could make a similar case for the murder, the mugging or the manhunt events. Since it is a game we could replace it with an event of a care bear mugging a ring wraith, but the game would really suffer from it. In this particular example, the game designers wanted a setting which is more realistic and therefore aimed for random events the player would perceive as reasonably realistic and domestic violence is a real issue. We simply cannot expect every game to challenge reality.
Of course there are games that can do that, most notably – as indicated by Daniela’s statements – fantasy and science fiction games, with the exception of so called low fantasy. Those are games who try to keep a realistic historic (often medieval) setting and spice it up with just some fantasy elements like wizards or dragons and are therefore more limited in what they can make things up. But in other cases, the game designers have the freedom to challenge reality and here they do.
Today »we can’t have playable female characters« is wrong. I don’t say there is room for improvement, but we have come a long way since Samus Aran and Lara Croft were the only notable examples. Furthermore I simply have to disagree that »women are anything but punching bags« in games, this statement seems a bit fatalistic to me.
The case of Zoe Quinn
How about Zoe Quinn?
As far as I see, Zoe Quinn made a revolutionary game about depression. And she has an opinion, which is a dangerous thing to do for a woman.
Apparently that is enough to try and destroy her utterly. Her private life is dragged into the public and judged. Her professional life is smeared.
And about what? About games?
Because you are practising your craft in a way that I disagree with, I have the right to insult you.
Because what you do in your capacity as a gaming professional destroys games as such, I have the right to drag your private life into the open and ridicule it.
Because you said something I disagree with, I have the right to dox your family.
Because you did _something_ in the gaming industry, I have the right destroy your life.
Go on, we’re listening.
I have played »depression quest« only once, but in my humble opinion it is not really ground breaking. I even have problems calling it a game, because it blurs the line to an interactive novella. It resembles an old school text adventure, so the production value is quite low compared to modern games. That does not mean it is bad, because it can have a strong message. As someone who suffered from depression in the past I could relate to a few things, but not the most. But then again depression is a broad condition and other people can probably relate more.
But the problem here is not the game, it is the reaction to it. Similar to Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn got a backlash that is not acceptable. As I said in my previous post about Anita Sarkeesian, I am not one to be appalled by the every bit of cheap insult, ridicule or passive aggression of people posting on the internet. But there is a limit, a line that is crossed with threats of violence and doxing. And while many people tend to strong language, these – pardon my language – assholes that cross the line do not represent the majority of gamers and I think I speak for most gamers, when I say, I do not want to be lumped together with them. Therefore I would appreciate it if feminists and journalists would refrain from doing that.
Apart from that, there is a huge number of gamers that do not cross that line, but still bombard Zoe Quinn with a lot of criticism, which if often everything but objective. The reason for that is, that this case combines two issues that have been swelling in the gaming community for some time now. The first issue is the connection between game publishers and gaming journalists. There have been cases and there have been rumors of corruption, i.e. journalists that have written favorable reviews of games because they had some sort of connection to the publisher. The second issue is publishers (including small independent developers) using Youtube’s copyright system to block unfavorable critique of their games.
Both these issues come together in the case of Zoe Quinn. First there was the post of her ex-boyfriend telling people of a sexual relationship with a gaming journalist. This post basically accused Quinn of sleeping with journalists to get favorable reviews for her game. If those accusations are true, this would escalate the corruption issue a whole new level. After people started to call her out on that on Youtube, these videos got blocked by Youtube’s copyright systems, because they allegedly violate the copyright of »Depression Quest«. So Zoe Quinn suddenly was the center figure of a scandal, that combined two of the most pressing issues in the gaming community.
But if we try to be objective here, the proof for this scandal is very thin. On the one hand, we have the ex-boyfriend’s statement, which cannot be considered very reliable. Maybe he was just heart broken and tried to find explanations, maybe he exaggerated because he was angry. People are not always objective when they are heart broken, many of us have probably been there. The copyright claims maybe harder evidence, but still not very good, since Youtube’s copyright system is so fucked up, that just flagging the video could really have been done by anybody.
As I understand it, the ex-boyfriend already retracted the original post, at least partially. The problem is, that once the fuse on the powder kegs of those two issues was lit, the explosion was inevitable. This viral spreading of facts and half baked facts we know from social media has its own life. Actually I myself do not want to claim to have actually understood what happened. What I described were just those facts that reached me. And while many people probably treat Zoe Quinn unfairly, making her a scapegoat for problems she is not responsible for, I have to disagree on the fact her opinion is what she is criticized for.
Don’t get me started on PUAs.
In short, we’re talking about men who feel that all those women are so superficial that they only go for the really hot guys and totally don’t see all those not-so-handsome gentlemen who are just waiting to treat a woman the way she deserves.
Their answer? They devise a system to woo women, but here’s the kicker: you’re only supposed to use it on at least an HB8 (a woman who scores an 8 out of 10 on their Hot Babe scale #theMoreYouKnow).
So what they are saying is:
Women are so depraved that they only chose handsome guys instead of the plain ones, but then I (a plain guy) turn around and use my “skills” only on hot women, ignoring the plain ones. Also, because they are so depraved, I’m well within my rights to treat them like cattle.
Go on, we’re listening.
This is another issue where I am not really objective. Some years ago I had my own phase in the pickup community. I know, most of you have probably had a very satisfying love life since your teenage years and you can laugh at me, the nerd who had to read books and watch videos on how to get a proper romantic relationship, I don’t care.
From what I see, the pickup community is a mess. It started out as a number of news groups where heterosexual nerds met and tried to approach the problem of dating women in a more methodical way. Somewhere along the line, at the least since the release of »The Game« it transformed into a lot of guys trying to sell you books, DVDs and other stuff. After the community went public, it became a magnet for many sexist guys posting stupid stuff around many seduction message boards. And for some reason this stupid stuff seems to be everything people know about this topic.
Somehow single bits of the pickup community get torn out of context, tossed around through feminist networks and built into straw men, that are than attacked. Daniela’s Statement above is no exception. At least the popular authors I stuck to in my time did not say that at all. They did not say women only want handsome guys. In fact they said the complete opposite, i.e. for many women looks are not that important, but confidence is. Yes the Hot Babe scale is a thing, but at least I was never told to only approach HB8+, but that even I, the meek nerd I was at that time, can approach a HB8+ if I have confidence and learn to understand the woman I am talking to.
And here is the thing, if you cut your way through all the pseudo science that comes with many pickup books, you get messages that sound very similar with what feminists demand. »Attraction is not a choice«. »Do not be a creep«. »Be honest about your intentions, with the women and with yourself«. »Treat women like humans, not like objects you just want to sleep with«. I was one of those guys who got friendzoned by women I liked and then started buying expensive gifts and playing the emotional punching bag; she had to realize that in reality I am the perfect guy for her, right? So I basically was a stupid, sexist idiot. But it was pickup books that did teach me that, not feminism.
I know that there probably are a lot of legitimate issues feminists have with the pickup community, e.g. like the language of the »technical terms«. But I would really appreciate it, if we could discuss things that actually are part of popular pickup teachings and not things someone found on a message board or heard from somewahre. My recommendation is to read »The Game« by Neil Strauss, it is actually more critical of the community than you might think. As I said, many people will still have issues after reading it (like I still have issues after reading feminist books), but it might help to defeat some of those myths going around in feminist circles.
Leaked private pictures.
Someone apparently hacked private clouds and leaked private pictures of celebrities. I can’t help but notice that so far only the pictures of *female* celebrities have made the headlines, but that is neither here nor there…
Now reddits answer to “hey, what about my privacy?” is either “haha, you trusted a cloud? How stupid are you anyway?” or “if you didn’t want your nude pics made public, why did you make them in the first place?”, thus brushing away a very real right to privacy in favor of accusing the victims of stupidity or attention whoring or both.
Okay, so if I put something on the internet, I can’t complain if it’s used to my disadvantage. Got it.
Well, now there are rumors the FBI is investigating the leaks. Investigating against redditors maybe? Oh the outrage! Their privacy should be protected, so that things they said on the internet can’t be used to prosecute them.
So what they’re saying is:
if *your* privacy is violated, you shouldn’t complain, and it’s totally my First Amendment right to *ahem* _express_ you private data whereever I like. But if it looks like I could encounter negative consequences for what I said on the ‘net, protecting *my* privacy at all costs should be a Holy Cause to the all of the ‘net.
You are a stupid slut and you should shut up, but I am an upstandig knight for the lulz and I should be protected.
Go on, we’re listening.
Finally there is this issue that goes by the name »The Fappening«, courtesy of »creative« people on 4chan. This thing is a mess. My inner privacy activist cannot help but see the blunt violation of those celebrity women’s privacy. And since all victims are female, I cannot deny that we have a case of sexism. My inner internet activist on the other hand, would argue that this is one of those parts of internet culture we should not be proud of, but is hard to stop. Both of them agree on the fact that there is a difference between a cracker, some redditors and the FBI violating someone’s privacy.
The cracker commited a crime by getting illegal access to other people’s private data. If that person is the target of investigations, that’s only fair. But if we talk about redditors, does that mean people who are suspected to be involved in the crack or people who have just reposted the already leak pictures? While I cannot argue against the fact, that the reposters are playing a crucial role in the issue, going against them raises the stakes to way higher levels. If the FBI gets involved, they will use a lot of man power and all those data banks and lawful interception backdoors that have been carefully laid out. This is the only way to actually get all those people reposting the pictures. And this response would be totally disproportionate and a terrifying demonstration of power of the surveillance state. And therefore the only thing I can say is, there is good reason we demand higher standards in privacy protection from a powerful government agency, than some people on reddit.
Posting private nude pictures of celebrities online is of course no issue of free speech. But it is the simple truth of the internet, that once data is released to the public and makes its way through the net, you cannot unpublish it. So the only way to really address the issue, is to prevent private data from leaking in the first place. This is not an easy task, because data security is often not the primary concern; neither of users nor of states. Really secure systems are more complicated that less secure ones and most users seam to prefer easy usability over safety. For the states „lawful interception“ is the bigger concern and they therefore have no interest in passing legislation that would oblige service providers to implement strong security standards, because those would also shut out the intelligence agencies. But even if it is a mammoth task, it’s the only option we have other than to simply accept the facts, that there will be leaks.
A final personal statement
Pew, I am done. This text exploded in my face and got way bigger than I imagined when I started writing it. But there is a reason I wanted to complete it. It is a rare experience for me to see someone identifying herself as a feminist, to actual openly ask for dialogue. Since I went into politics most of the time the feminist approach I came in contact with was to (for the lack of a better term) demand obedience and not to offer dialogue. Therefore I actually genuinely appreciate an offer like Daniela’s and want to use the chance to present my point of view.
Of course we basically had four different issues, each of which actually deserves to be discussed on its own, so even though this text already has more than 3000 words I somehow feel I could only briefly touch each topic. But I need to stop somewhere and I will do it here.
If you, dear reader, identify as a feminist and you actually made it this far to completely read the text, even though you probably disagree with me a lot, let me close this text by repeating its title: Thank you for listening.