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I have a vexed relationship with gaming. I definitely started out as a gamer. I played games obsessively from the age of 6, when I wheedled my parents into buying me an NES, and, well, the first time I played The Legend of Zelda, the first time I put that shiny gold cartridge in my new front-loading NES, that was it. I knew, deep in my bones, that I would be spending as much of my time as humanly possible playing as many video games as I possibly could. When my friends got together, we played games. When we weren’t playing games, we talked about games. When we weren’t talking about games, we were reading Nintendo Power and fantasizing about all the new games we could play. “Gamer” was my core identity, such a deep part of my way of life that I almost didn’t think about it. I played games. Occasionally, I went to school. That’s who I was.
As you probably know, gaming got kind of stupid in the mid to late 90s. And, well, I have to confess that I liked some stupid games. The first Duke Nukem 3D? I thought it was super fun. It had a freeze gun. It had a shrink gun. You could set tripwire traps. So cool! I distinctly remember having precisely no clue about how it might be a little wrong that the only female characters in the game were strippers on a continual mindless dance loop, who Duke could throw money at until he got bored and blew them to bits for no good reason.
When I went to college, I got at least a little bit woke on a couple of different axes. I started – clumsily, badly – interrogating the misogyny that I had soaked up from my life on the boy-zone ’90s web. I started glaring eye-daggers at people who used “gay” to mean stupid or bad or wrong. And though I always kept a few games around on my computer –Sim City 4, Nethack, Angband – I never really played online multiplayer games because, well, I couldn’t avoid gross nonsense there, so I didn’t do it. I certainly didn’t identify as a gamer. Those people were awful, they were feral boys just waiting for women and queer people and people of color to hate on, and I didn’t want any part of that. I had outgrown that. I didn’t want anyone else to mistake me for one of them. In fact, I found myself backing away from nerd culture altogether – it was something wrong and childish that I just knew I had to put away to become a decent adult. I wanted to keep it off of me. I wanted to stay pure.
So I put myself in the game closet.
GaymerX 4 is the first gaming convention I’ve been to, even though I lived for years right next to the conference center where PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) is held. I figured this one would be safe – no one would mistake me for a GamerGater at the inclusive, LQBTQ, dickwolf-free gaming con.
So I’m attending my first GaymerX panel, listening to Renee Nejo, developer of EverJane, a badass Austen-themed MMO, talk about her experience as a queer Native woman in the gaming industry. And I found myself feeling some deep, intense shame. Because she was someone who had the nastiness pointed at her, and she took it up and eventually learned how to fight back. Not at first – at first she thought she should try to be the “cool girl” who hangs out with the guys and pretends that what they’re saying isn’t hurtful and plays along. And then, eventually, when she couldn’t do that anymore: she just sat quietly, not participating, not objecting.
But then she got mad. And then she started changing things.
And here I am, having cut off parts of myself, not because the nastiness of gamer culture was pointed at me, but just because I was afraid of being mistaken for a participant in it. By doing what I thought I had to do to become a grownup, hiding myself, I had betrayed myself. What’s worse, I had done less than nothing for the people actually excluded by exclusionary gaming culture.
And now there’s a world of indie gaming – a fragile, beautiful world – that’s inclusive and progressive and kind and good and smart in all of the ways that GamerGate is stupid and regressive and cruel, and I don’t know a damn thing about it.
I suppose this is just a long way of saying: please don’t be me. If you are in a space that has gross norms, and if you’re not the target of the grossness, and if you nope out of the space just because you don’t want to be taken for one of the gross people, you are letting yourself down and you’re letting the people actually targeted by the grossness down. Don’t leave. Leaving is the opposite of helping. And you need to help. You need to stay in and fight back.
(featured image via Junkie Bot)