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I'm ashamed of progressive game culture, and here's why

Carter Dotson issues a call to arms
I'm ashamed of progressive game culture, and here's why

Over the last few years, I believe that the rise of progressivism and feminism has done a lot of great things for gaming.

It's helped to bring to the forefront a lot of talented people with interesting things to say in their art and writing that were quieted before.

Of course, as a white cisgender heterosexual man, I'm probably the wrong person to point all this out. Nevertheless, I have to get this all off my chest. I think that progressive gaming culture needs to take a big step forward from its current state.

It is very good at complaining and criticising – but it does a terrible job at actually improving things for the people it claims to represent.

It's time to turn words in to action.

Everyone's a critic

What it feels like right now is that the progressive movement that supports gender, racial, and sexual equality in gaming is very good at criticising.

Criticism is important. Allowing people affected by the actions and creations of the industry to speak out, and to have allies in the power structure who can amplify their voices, is important. I also think that if the power structures of culture and society are to become more diverse, it takes those inside those power structures to help make the change happen.

Retweet a few women or LGBTQ+ folk's angry tweets, maybe post an article about today's gaming drama, and you can look like an ally and be generally safe from the crusaders.

But the problem is that I don't think the current progressive movement is actually effecting any change.

What happens right now is that an issue comes up – usually a new issue every week – and a raging holy crusade arises from the depths. Yes, many of these issues need to be addressed, but there are two things that happen as a result.

One is that it allows people currently with power in development and gaming to merely pay lip service to diversity. Retweet a few women or LGBTQ+ folk's angry tweets, maybe post an article about today's gaming drama, and you can look like an ally and be generally safe from the crusaders.

You just have to ride an ever-higher horse to be safe yourself.

As well, there's a real martyr complex that occurs. The Feminist Frequency Kickstarter never gets $150,000 instead of its $6,000 goal if threats and harassment against Anita Sarkeesian aren't widely reported. With every video, it feels like she's martyred further, and the series becomes more popular because she's hated. As many people feel edified for what they've actually done as they do hated.

Well, guess what – there's people out there who think your martyrs aren't so holy, and that you're only riding the high horse to not stand on solid ground.


I believe that GamerGate is happening because the progressive movement's tendency to try and stand above everyone else - to preach from the mountain, if you like - has alienated a group of normal people from well-meaning folks that misuse their megaphones.

It takes a generous reading of their causes, but when I talk to pro-GamerGate folks and read what they're discussing, I don't think they hate women, or even feminists, as much as how the progressive culture is operating. And with that reading, I think they're right.

Progressive gaming culture has become so toxic, so disconnected from reality that the tactic of dealing with a vocal opposition has literally been the same for two months: don't address their claims (even if you think they're mostly invalid) and don't engage except to insult.

It's time for that to change. And I think I know how.

Remember the #1reasonwhy hashtag that had women revealing much of what they perceived as sexism in the gaming industry? Well, there was a bit of an offshoot, #1reasonmentors, which served as a way for people that are part of gaming's power structures to help mentor women to become part of the industry.

It was an evolution that helped take complaints about the industry and try to act on them in a positive way.

That's what progressive gaming culture is lacking: a positive action to its negative reactions. Negativity is a strong emotion. Criticism is useful, and outlets like Feminist Frequency deserve to address their opinion and to receive fair criticism, not violent threats. However, what this movement for fairness, diversity, and equality needs is more positive action to make that a reality.

One example of what can be done can be seen in the controversy surrounding The Fine Young Capitalists. This charity was criticised in its early days for not being fully inclusive of transgender women, and for only giving 8 percent of profits to its developers. Pro-GamerGate forces helped fund it, with the claim that they were helping to get women making games in the industry, unlike those against them.

Frankly, they're right – I think the progressive movement has faltered in this instance. Why not create a similar movement to help get talented women with ideas the resources to make games that has transgender and financial policies that are largely favourable?

I bet there's plenty of people who could make it out-perform The Fine Young Capitalists, easily. They did it with Feminist Frequency, right?

Talking tools

As well, let's get more game creation software into the hands of people with ideas so that they can help bring them to life. Twine is an option, but I think that gamebooks are a niche market – software for creating with limited programming experience does exist and can be powerful.

Let's get tools like GameMaker (used by Vlambeer), Clickteam Fusion (used to make the horror hit Five Nights at Freddy's), and heck, even something like GameSalad, into the hands of people with an itch to learn. These companies often give their software away for free or at least for cheap – let's get it marketed and get copies to women, non-binary people, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people who have ideas and want to make them. Twitter campaigns, Google groups, IRC chats, whatever can help bring people together, including artists with creators!

Let's get the people in the power structure to help support diversity by getting people from marginalised groups the credits they need to help get more work.

Speaking of creators, let's get the people in the power structure to help support diversity by getting people from marginalised groups the credits they need to help get more work. We live in a society where the best way to advance is through experience, and there are plenty of people in the indie space who could help get experience for people who deserve it.

Do like Adam Saltsman and Finji Games are trying to do: specifically target diverse hires. 

Heck, if developers and publishers need a financial reason to do so, look at the way that casual and mobile games have taken off in the last few years, and it's because women and other people not used to the current gaming structure have become a part of gaming.

Want to target women, LGBTQ+ people, or people of colour? Hire them, they'll probably have a better idea than if you're not one of them!

Call for action

Even through social media, let's not just have #INeedDiverseGames. Let's have #DiverseGamesWeLove or something similar to help promote great projects from people outside the mainstream to help them become part of the mainstream.

Heck, even just starting to post positive comments on blogs could help, especially controversial ones.

Maybe we can help women who speak out about feminism, or people of colour about racial issues, or anything else from gaming's diverse voices talking about the social issues that affect their lives, to help them feel better that they have support even among the unfortunately - inevitable anonymous hate. And even supporting their writing about topics besides just their race, gender, or sexuality, because people should be defined by more than just their labels.

I ultimately believe that if the people in the current power structures use their power and their megaphones to be kind and to show that diversity in gaming can do some great things – and hopefully make some great games too.

I want to help. Here's my email. My Twitter is @wondroushippo. I want to help. Tell me what you need.

However, what I ultimately believe is that if the goals of diversity, fairness, and equality are to happen, it's time for progressive gaming culture, one I largely support but find myself a bit ashamed of at times, to not just tear down that which they oppose, but to use its powers to build up the causes they support as well.