Capitalism, Consumerism, and Bitterness

Todd Wohling / September 14, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Archive, Old

Updated Editor’s Note 11/7/2017 – In an effort to further commit to our editorial vision of quality content about nothing but games or the industry, we are leaving this note here to let you know that this article does not meet the standards of that vision as it exists today. This article may be poorly written, or it may be well-written but with charged political content, which we have stepped away from. It’s not the ideas we have a problem with, as we do not discourage any viewpoint, we are just moving away from this sort of content. This article no longer represents TechRaptor’s editorial vision today and into the future. You can read more about why we are doing this here.

I’m going to say something at the top of this commentary that might confuse a few people: I actually like reading Katherine Cross.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell her that because she has me blocked on Twitter; a consequence, I suspect, of me using the term “vapid” in the same tweet as her handle or challenging her for particularly heinous examples of willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty.  Hopefully she sees this paragraph, because I do appreciate her work. 

Katherine Cross’s work, even when it is insipid sniveling about capitalism and consumerism, at the very least makes one think.  This aspect of Cross’s work alone puts it light years ahead of commentators like Jess Valenti and Mandy Marcotte, who couldn’t find coherent arguments in a dark paper sack given a flashlight, a map, and six months.  So, it’s with a sense of deference that I choose to pick yet another Katherine Cross commentary to critique.

How I Found It

One of the nicer things to come out of the past year’s consumer revolt is the number of informed, creative people who whiz across my Twitter feed.  I’m a bit of a recluse when it comes to social media, so most of what I get comes second hand; however, what piqued my interest was a screen shot from this Katherine Cross commentary telling a willfully ignorant half story about the origins of a character design created for a charity event specifically designed to get women into making videogames.

The first mention of Vivan James comes in the middle of a sniveling monologue about consumerism, where Cross posits:

Victoria, the exciting lingerie-designing vixen; Ashley, the adulteress web maven. One can even include the consumer-generated Vivian James, the 4chan-created mascot of GamerGate, an antifeminist movement in the gaming community known for its harassment of developers and critics — mostly women, people of color, and queer people. Like Victoria and Ashley, her unreality facilitates the ventriloquism that then sings consumerist lullabies.

Each in this trio can be thought of as a market goddess, whose divinity is merely a trapping that presents the illusion of consent that pantomime power can provide. Modern capitalism thrives on its Victorias, Ashleys, and Vivians.

You’d think, by now, the SocJus Ministry of Truth would avoid the subject of The Fine Young Capitalists and the creation of Vivian James like the plague.  To even bring up the subject forces folks like Cross into the most uncomfortable intellectual conundrum: you can’t talk about TFYC without talking about the “misunderstanding” TFYC had with her holiness, The Mightless Quinn.  Quinn is one of the SocJus “holy trinity” in gaming that stands beyond reproach in all cases always, right next to Anita Sarkeesian.

So, Cross has to be either deliberately intellectually dishonest or profoundly willfully ignorant of the fact it was /v/ and /pol/ that powered TFYC’s Indiegogo to success and helped get five women exposure into the gaming industry.  If we’re going to be honest, /v/ and /pol/ have done more to get women into gaming than Quinn, Sarkeesian, Cross, and Leigh Alexander combined.  Of course, /v/ and /pol/ are places of pure meritocracy, and thus, the enemy. To give an anonymous message board any credit for anything would be to simultaneously humanize and legitimize them, thus manifesting the second metaphysical Escher painting when discussing TFYC.  How does a group whose only common element is apparently a desire to get women out of the gaming industry come together to collect a not insignificant amount of money to get women into the gaming industry?

So really, we’re a few paragraphs in, and already hip deep in Orwellian doublethink:

Website reporting 2014 TFYC doubleplusungood refs unpersons unwrite fullwise upsub goodthink.

Translated: Website reporting of TFYC in the summer of 2014 would “cause harm” to someone we’ve colluded to not talk about in spite of public interest; therefore, don’t write anything about TFYC to preserve the narrative.

Everything Is Consent, Somehow

Cross continues with a couple of paragraphs about consent:

Each in this trio can be thought of as a market goddess, whose divinity is merely a trapping that presents the illusion of consent that pantomime power can provide. Modern capitalism thrives on its Victorias, Ashleys, and Vivians.

Engels once saw men’s dominion over women in the home as compensation for their political powerlessness as laborers, but even this solidity would melt into air, where virtual women would begin, Stepford-like, to take the place of we flesh-and-blood types. The “compensation” now lies in a politicized fantasy, a simulacrum of a woman, who whispers that both consumption and sexism are okay.

Fictional women, specifically created to give men the illusion of female consent to their wishes as consumers, are now a hot commodity. They constitute not only a fantasy in a sexual sense, but absolution. They allow certain male consumers to deny responsibility for their deeds by gesturing to the approval of this fictitious goddess.

Rather than shred this particular concept of consent, I want to propose an alternative history.  What if every male that came of age between 1990 and 2006 was lied to?  Lied to by our parents, our teachers, and marketing people.  Lied to about what the pinnacle of life was: go to school, get a career, buy a house, marry someone who can act as the authority in the house, and get that all done before age 30 because you have to have your house paid for before you retire, so you’d better settle for a spouse that’ll only make you semi-miserable quick.

Maybe a whole generation of men who were sold finding our Jill Taylor ASAFP to settle in to a life of semi-misery and authoritarian routine tried that out and found it lacking.  I know I did, and had I made the mistake of just accepting what I was sold “real life” to be, I’d be an utterly miserable, at least once divorced, public school teacher in Wisconsin.

Compounded with the lie, imagine having all the responsibility for everything bad throughout human history placed collectively on your shoulders.  Then imagine trying to carve out 15 minutes of peace in post climactic, endorphin fueled bliss—the only 15 minutes of actual bliss to be had in who knows how long—only to have that bliss stamped out by a forced discussion about how unfair life is thanks to the patriarchy.

And Cross seriously thinks the invention of Vivian James is about consent to consume?  Paychecks, not mascots, are consent to consume.  Paychecks that are earned through hard work—80 hour weeks of Quantum Mechanics, Advanced Calculus, Electromagnetic Fields, and Abstract Algebra homework followed up after graduation with 40-70 hour weeks building a satellite system that will actually work once the satellites are put in space.  Paychecks received in exchange for accepting the responsibility of actually working with people and building something, vice fabricating evidence and trying to destroy people.  Paychecks that serve as a reminder that, in spite of every post-modern feminist commentators’ insistence otherwise, independent thinking, strong willed, hard working men do have quantifiable value in the real world.

Ashley Madison, Victoria (and her secret), and Vivian James are a refuge.  An oasis from the vapid Tumblrite and Twitter activists who go into anaphylactic shock when presented with hard work or responsibility, yet somehow can destroy a single human being virtually at will.

Just Do Your Job

No revisionist history would be complete without a couple of outright fabrications, and it’s at this point of the commentary Cross tries to slip a couple through the logic garbage chute:

Meanwhile, GamerGate continued to style itself as a “consumer revolt,” most of their “operations” being expressions of aggrieved consumer entitlement. They wanted Nintendo to boycott the gaming website Polygon because it gave Bayonetta 2 the middling score of 7.5/10, partly due to objectification of the protagonist; they wanted to shutter the game developer magazine Gamasutra (disclosure: I currently write for the site) because it published a piece arguing “gamers are over” as a marketing identity; they demand “objective” game reviews that only tell the reader whether or not to buy a game and nothing more. The list goes on.

Missing from this little slice of untruth is the evidence that someone went up to the editors of Polygon, put a gun to their heads, and made them be a gaming website.  The reason Cross doesn’t provide this evidence is because she can’t provide it.  The editors of Polygon decided Polygon was going to be a gaming website, and with that decision came a responsibility—nay, an obligation—to serve the interest of the consumer when it comes to reviews. Similar is true of any publication that chooses to write about gaming, as we do here at TechRaptor.

There are a ton of reasons to take points away from a game.  Poor design, poorly implemented mechanics, impossible to follow or poorly written story are reasons to suggest one game is not as good as another through the use of a low score.  In an environment where developer livelihoods depend on the aggregate score their game receives, navigating the minefield of technical challenges required to develop a modern videogame is the thing we should be judging.  The relationship between reviewer and consumer is a relationship based on trust—trust that’s inherently given, for good or ill, when an individual, gamer or otherwise, starts reading or watching a review. No one made Polygon become a game review website.

They decided to abdicate their responsibility to their audience giving the not-games of their friends perfect scores, using their obligation to consumers as cudgel to extort ideological compliance from an entire industry, and colluding behind the back of the consumer on a secret email list about what to cover, what not to cover, and how to not cover it.

The second untruth is about Leigh Alexander’s “gamers are over” article for Gamasutra. They have a different charge than Polygon, Kotaku, Ars Technica, or any of the other perpetrators of the 2 Minutes Hate in August, 2014.  Gamasutra, in theory, is supposed to be talking to games industry insiders, so a commentary with the premise, “The gaming industry is now so big the ‘core gamer’ can no longer support it on their own,” would be perfectly reasonable. Such a commentary would use facts and data, regardless of how mis-defined or poorly acquired, to prove the hypothesis.  At that point, we as readers get to critique the hypothesis, the data used in the proof of the hypothesis, and the corollaries derived from proving the hypothesis.

That’s not what the “gamers are over” commentary was at all, was it?

No, the Alexander commentary is a drunken, bitter, ugly rant directed at the very people who turned gaming into something big enough to warrant having a “culture” in the first place.  For example:

‘Games culture’ is a petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online ‘wars’ about social justice or ‘game journalism ethics,’ straight-faced, and cause genuine human consequences.

I have more commendations from NASA on my wall right now than every perpetrator of the 2 Minutes Hate combined could earn in ten lifetimes, including Casey Johnston, who has an Applied Physics degree from Columbia.  You only get commendations from NASA when you successfully deliver on a project, which requires both human interaction and an understanding of how to be professional.  Ergo, I know enough about human interaction and professional life to be recognized by a government organization for it.  I am also a gamer; thus the ignorance of the quote is proven.

These obtuse sh*tslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had.

Which is, of course, why exactly zero games cracked the Top 10 Apps by All-Time Worldwide Downloads report from App Annie.  It seems, in spite of Alexander’s bitter assertions, there’s still very much a debate to be had about whether my ability to outspend ideologue commentators on the Internet by a factor of at least ten is still needed in the gaming industry.  I’ll let the Michigan State student body tell you which way the data is trending toward.

It’s Sad and Bitter

The thing that struck me the most about the Cross commentary was how sad and bitter it is.  I expected the commentary to be anti-capitalist and anti-consumer; Jacobin calls itself a socialist magazine.  That said, even the writings of Marx offer some hope of the middle conscripting the low to overthrow the high.  This commentary is bereft of any of that kind of hope.  It is simultaneously depressed while tapping into the exact same bitterness Alexander showed when she kicked off the 2 Minutes Hate over a year ago.

I’m not sure how I feel about typing that last sentence.  I want my ideological opponents to have hope and energy, because I want my ideological enemies to bring their A game.  I’m going to win regardless, as my arguments are based on logic, reason, and reality instead of feelings and doublethink; however, winning because the opponent can’t bring their best is a hollow victory.  Maybe Cross is feeling stress over being a documented accessory in Feminist Frequency’s uninvestigated Kickstarter fraud?

Regardless, I hope Katherine Cross rebounds soon and gives us something with fire and passion to mock and deride, because mocking and deriding a sad and bitter commentary is exhausting.

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.