February 25th, 2012


Gamers can be morons.

There have been many, many occasions in the past when I read about the gaming audience's latest temper tantrum and could do nothing but shake my head in disbelief, then promptly smack my forehead with my palm when I realize that, yes, gamers really are behaving that childishly. It's at such moment when I think that Fox News's portrayal of gamers as anti-social basement dwellers might have some actual merit, then I take a shower in order to wash away the shame.

I'm just saying, it's really hard to stick up for gaming when the gaming community itself provides, through its own behavior, the best evidence to support its opponents' arguments.

This latest moment of "what the fuck is wrong with these people?" comes from a manufactured controversy based on something a Bioware writer said five years ago. Long story short, she voiced the opinion that it would be handy if games had a feature that allowed players to skip combat scenes, much like present-day games allow for the skipping of cutscenes and conversations. She also said that's she's not much of a gamer herself.

Now any rational person who disagreed with this view may have written a well-reasoned rebuttal, or perhaps sent her an e-mail explaining why they believe that her idea is not very feasible. The less rational response would be to go on a forum somewhere and bitch about it, as gamers so often do. I have no problem with going that route; I understand that irritated people feel the need to let off steam, and it is ultimately harmless.

But no! Gamers have opted to skip the rational and less rational (yet understandable) response and go straight for this.

Cue the flooding of her twitter accounts with sexist, vulgar, hate-filled bile. Lovely comments such as "fat bitch" and "ugly cunt" were thrown around, sprinkled with a few requests for her immediate suicide. As if that wasn't enough, her e-mail and home phone number received similar treatment.

Now, I can understand being irritated by an opinion, or even offended. Goddess knows I've had my share of outrages on some issues, but this level of vitriol is just plain uncalled for. Shall we now add video games, along with religion and politics, to the list of things that shouldn't be discussed in mixed company? Are games really such an important, hot-button subject that one person's opinion should warrant that kind of abuse? The woman gave an opinion on game design; it's not as if she raped and tortured a newbown baby and forced everyone to watch!

TVTropes has a name for this behavior. It's called disproportionate retribution. This is the equivalent of beating someone unconscious for drinking the last soda in the fridge ... FIVE YEARS AGO!

This is why I called this a manufactured controversy, because the sense of urgency behind it is completely artificial! Five years is quite a chunk of time. A lot can change in five years. Maybe she doesn't hold that opinion anymore. Maybe she's played games more regularly in the intervening time. If not, then so what? Judging by the things people have written, there is this sense that they think that the entirety of gaming is under attack; that Hepler, and, by extension, Bioware, are on some massive campaign to remove gameplay from video games. Never mind that there is more to video games than combat, and having an OPTION to skip certain parts of the game if you CHOOSE has absolutely ZERO effect on how you play the game. Ignoring that bit of logic, Hepler made that statement five years ago! If there were some conspiracy to destroy gaming by removing combat, don't you think it would have happened by now?

This controversy is entirely made up. People are going apeshit over baseless fears and assumptions. But I get the feeling that it's not even that. I think there is something even more insidious at work here, which leads me to the second of Hepler's so-called crimes.

She stated that she doesn't enjoy games. To the people calling her every swear word under the sun and labeling her as a "cancer," that statement is nothing short of heresy. They attack her with the same kind of mob mentality that convinced people that murdering women under suspicion of "witchcraft" was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. "Anyone who makes games must be a GAMER!" they cry. "You must understand your medium!" they scream. Statement which, when given any amount of thought, are obvious bullshit.

What gamers forget is that video games are a business. As with all businesses, not everyone who works there is going to have a burning passion for the product being produced. I once worked in the shoe section of a department store, despite the fact that I have no fucks to give about either retail or shoes.

Hepler is FAR from the first writer to write for a paycheck rather than passion. Just look at the Twilight knock-offs that started flooding the shelves after that horrible book got big. I find it highly unlikely that every one of those faux-Twilight authors were writing their dream book. Hell, even that comparison doesn't apply. She could positively love writing her characters and seeing the words she's written turned into a piece of interactive fiction. I don't watch many movies; I barely watch any television compared to everyone else, but I'd LOVE to see one of my stories made into a movie or a TV series. Hepler has been working in the gaming industry for years; she understands more about the medium than the majority of the idiots shouting that she doesn't understand the medium.

If every writer, every artist, every voice actor, and so on, had to be a hardcore gamer in order to make video games, it would not be that big of a stretch to say that the gaming industry would find itself on life support very quickly.

This attitude of "games for GAMERS!" hints at another form of stupidity that has been an emerging problem in gaming culture for quite some time now. That problem is gamers' desire for gaming to be exclusive; accessible only to those they deem "worthy" of the privilege (meaning, hardcore gamers like themselves and no one else). It is an insularity that borders on downright xenophobia. The Game Overthinker touched on this problem in one of his videos, and I couldn't put it better myself.

Hepler's real crime isn't simply stating an opinion that they disagreed with; if it were just that, the response wouldn't have been as over-the-top and downright vicious as it has been. No, her real crime was not being a hardcore gamer, and advocating inclusiveness in games so that you don't have to be hardcore in order to enjoy them. Gamers used Hepler as a representation of the mainstream audience, and their response was basically them telling the mainstream to go fuck themselves. This also leads to one of gaming's biggest hypocrisies, which was spelled out in the video I linked to above. In case you don't feel like viewing it, I'll quote one particularly good statement from it.

"Because, you see, we didn't really want everyone else to become gamers or to find games they enjoyed. We wanted them to enjoy OUR games and increase OUR standing. We wanted all the benefits of gaming becoming mainstream without any of the inherent change that mainstreaming brings. We wanted THEM to bolster OUR ranks and lend us legitimacy, but not to have any input or needs of their own, and that's bullshit, gang!"

Gamers have demanded that games be taken seriously, to be considered an art form, to be considered just as legitimate as television and film. Yet, at the same time, they want gaming to remain exclusive, an insular industry where games are made only by gamers and only for gamers. So when a person like Hepler, who works in the industry, admits to not being a hardcore gamer, they brand her a heretical cancer and call for her head on a pike.

So they want gaming to have all the benefits of being mainstream without having to let the actual mainstream crowd in, at least not without them being converted into hardcore gamers who share their taste for Call of Duty and Halo beforehand. And that is, indeed, bullshit.

You can't have it both ways. Like it or not, gamers are getting exactly what they claimed they wanted. Gaming is growing into a more widely accepted industry, and with that comes the inclusion of people whose idea of fun might not be blowing each other up in an online First-Person shooter deathmatch (I'M one of those people, and I was practically RAISED as a gamer). There will be those who might not be interested in combat heavy games and might like to skip over those bits so they can enjoy the story instead. Hell, I've experienced both sides of that. There have been times when I wanted everyone to shut the hell up so I can get back to the killing, and times when I wasn't at all interested in the combat areas and wanted to learn more about the characters instead.

You can skip a boring part of a book. You can skip chapters on DVDs. You can fast-forward your DVR-recorded television shows. Being able to skip over the bits of games that don't interest you will no more destroy gaming than the fast-forward button destroyed movies. The mere existence of the option does not harm you in any way; you're not being forced to skip over combat levels if you don't want to. If the very idea that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying their games in a different way than you, offends you so much, then I can only offer one piece of advice.

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