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GamerGate demonstrates game culture is sick. We all have to cure it

Carter Dotson on curing the disease
GamerGate demonstrates game culture is sick. We all have to cure it

I don't believe that what fuelled #GamerGate over the past month or so was necessarily just a movement of 'social justice warriors' versus misogynistic 'gamers'.

Certainly, sexist behaviour is inseparable from what has happened, and that has been covered en masse pretty much everywhere else.

However, I think that it was also fueled by an unrest surrounding gaming culture.

Change is coming - some of it social - that is being repelled by old beliefs that die hard.

But other changes in the market look like they're threatening core gaming – and unless they're examined and resolved, then more culture wars will happen.

Rest in peace?

Gamers aren't dead – but the culture is sick and needs medicine to be better. And it's not just gamers that need to change the culture – there are plenty of good people that got caught in the crossfire.

What's more, developers and publishers helping to facilitate the change in the industry, particularly the shift to mobile and free-to-play, need to find ways to appeal to gamers to help heal the culture, but also because there's major monetary benefit for doing so.

Social Justice Warriors - Wanted or Lauded?
Social Justice Warriors - Wanted or Lauded?

So why are gamers so mad?

Put yourself in the shoes of a passionate 'core gamer.' The games you enjoy are getting more expensive – sure they still cost $60, but they feel like they're getting shorter and DLC season passes add on to the cost from day one.

Meanwhile, there's seemingly a story about layoffs at the studios who make the games you love every other week, and the idea that this might be the last console generation is bandied about often enough to be concerning.

And if you're a PC gamer, sure Steam has been a bastion of great titles, but there's a lot more low-quality content being dumped on the store regularly. And the difference between something like Depression Quest and Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme may seem trivial on the surface.

Gaming has really taken off on mobile, but those games largely aren't for you.

Gaming has really taken off on mobile, but those games aren't for you.

Either they're casual games with 'exploitative' IAP, or dumbed-down core games with awful virtual controls, and maybe support for an expensive gamepad if you're lucky. And even those dumbed-down games aren't being made that much because it's all the casual schlock that looks like it's making the money.

In the back of your mind, maybe these gamers fear that their favourite gaming series might go under if the publisher suddenly starts profiting more off of a casual game, or a heavily-monetised version of what they like.

Oh, and the loudest voices in the gaming community, including both prominent indie developers and much of the mainstream media that you would hope speak for you?

They don't care - they shout down your concerns by calling you hateful, and call you names, often insulting your appearance and gender in a way that if you did to them, they would be outraged at.

Looking ahead

Many progressive-minded developers took your money, then made t-shirts reveling in how they're destroying your hobby. They may be ironic t-shirts, but sometimes sarcasm just is deflecting real emotion.

Now we know who to blame
Now we know who to blame

Combine all this, and yeah, perhaps you might be willing to join up with vile, troublesome people in the name of taking back what you love from the forces who would dare destroy it. Zoe Quinn, Phil Fish, Anita Sarkeesian, and Jenn Frank, all getting harassed, some to the point of leaving gaming?

Maybe you'll feel like they're just collateral damage in the name of a greater cause.

Now step back. Rhetorical experiment over. Perhaps the 'gamer' side of things makes more sense? Yes, pro-GamerGate people are irredeemably linked to misogynist behaviour that would do things like threaten sexual violence against industry critics,and leak personal and financial info of one of their supporters.

A poisonous atmosphere

I don't like Phil Fish much either, but leaking his router password was just spiteful, and the current gaming social culture needs to change because it is hostile in so many aspects.

If gamers open up, there will be room for crushing candy, crushing depression, and crushing skulls.

Women, people of colour, and LGBTQ folks get the brunt of it, but I think even white, cisgender, and heterosexual gamers can agree that something like Xbox Live voice chat can be unbearable because of all the awful people that tend to yell at each other, creating a terrible atmosphere.

There will be improvements for all when gaming culture is more open and friendly to everyone, but especially to those outside the mainstream/traditional audiences.

And I think gamers will find that if they open up, there will be room for crushing candy, crushing depression, and crushing skulls in gaming.

In order for this to happen, however, the change that is happening in gaming has to work out for gamers as well. If not, then there will be more culture wars – and there's plenty of people with powerful poison ready to silence those they disagree with.

The economic forces at work in gaming's changes can go a long way toward finding ways to address the concerns of gaming going forward.

There's no real reason why mobile and free-to-play can't be more gamer-friendly. I also think for the developers and publishers who find a way to crack the code, they can be the landing spot if sections of the industry that support core gaming start to collapse.

Biting the core

Platform holders like Apple and Google can go a long way toward supporting core games on their platform. Getting more gamepads out there, and encouraging developers to release games that support them will address many of the concerns.

Also, cultivating markets where higher-budget premium games aren't necessarily a risk will be important. Microconsoles will help in this facet, particularly if traditional consoles' growth slows down. Having compelling gamer-friendly content could help sell a lot of hardware and software for when the old providers fail at satisfying gamers.

But what about free-to-play? That's a tougher nut to crack on mobile. It's an economic reality, and there is a generation of gamers who are fine with it.

Look at how well Dota 2 and League of Legends do on PC. Dota 2 players bought items in large part to create a large prize pot for The International.

Gamers will have to accept that some of this change is inevitable.

Succeeding with core F2P on mobile is not going to take finally making a mobile MOBA, but creating an experience that players can have fun with, and will want to support the culture of the game. Candy Crush competes with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for people's time. Gamers want to play games, and finding a way to get their money may be a safer bet than casual players.

Will game like Super Evil's <em>Vainglory</em> placate core gamers?
Will game like Super Evil's Vainglory placate core gamers?

Gamers will have to accept that some of this change is inevitable. Mobile isn't going away, and neither is free-to-play, but there's no reason why either side of the equation has to be hostile to each other. Gamers need vote with their wallets to be the change they want to see, but developers need to provide it.

And gamers need to help police their communities, because more people want to play games and feel welcome while doing so. The toxic elements can be fought – and those in the media along with developers need to not just lump in the bad with the overwhelming good.

Gamers aren't dead and the culture isn't even close to being irreparably broken. Nevertheless, effort will be need to be put in to ensure that the issues surrounding gamers and gaming are addressed. If not, another 'GamerGate' is just around the corner.

Formally of 148Apps, which was acquired by Pocket Gamer owner Steel Media in 2012, Carter Dotson is a freelancer writer working for Touch Arcade and Gamezebo.