Ever since gaming emerged as a subculture into the public consciousness, it has been plagued by attacks from those who have been thrown into a moral panic by the violent nature of some games. Most notably of these was lawyer Jack Thompson’s crusade back in the early 2000’s who launched an attack on the violent nature of video games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Bully and Manhunt blaming these games for increases in violence and mass shootings. While he was eventually disbarred for his actions in 2008, he will always be remembered for quotes like these:
“If some wacked-out adult wants to spend his time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one has to wonder why he doesn’t get a life, but when it comes to kids, it has a demonstrable impact on their behavior and the development of the frontal lobes of their brain,”
Luckily, when gamer culture was attacked, gamers had the gaming press to stand up and defend them and their passion. This is possibly what made it sting all the more when gaming press publications such as Gamasutra, Polygon, Kotaku, Ars Technica and Rock, Paper, Shotgun all decided to attack gamers and gaming culture around the end of August. A lot of horrible names were thrown around to describe gamers. Leigh Alexander of Gamasutra called gamers “obtuse shitslingers … wailing hyper-consumers … childish internet arguers”, Luke Plunkett of Kotaku contrasted gamers with “thoughtful, considerate human beings” and Chris Plante of Polygon labeled critics of Anita Sarkeesian as having “folded its arms, slumped its shoulders while pouting like an obstinate child that has learned they are getting a little brother or sister but wants to remain the singular focus of their parents’ affection.” This time the gaming media was not there to protect gamers, this was the gaming media.
So when the episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit came out called Intimidation Game which depicted a group of gamers who literally lived in their mother’s basement, could not distinguish in game violence from reality, and referred to sexual assault as “leveling up”, gamers from all sides of the spectrum had reactions anywhere from laughing out loud at the sheer absurdity, to horror at the gross depiction of the subculture. And then there was Colin Campbell at Polygon who strengthened the validity of the episode by claiming it was based on events that “actually happened.”
The notion that the representation of the gamer culture in the Law and Order episode was spawned from the attitudes the gaming press has had on their consumers of late has lead developer Mark Kern who has worked on big AAA titles such as Diablo II and StarCraft to create a petition aimed at the two biggest gaming media outlets; Kotaku and Polygon, in order to open up the discussion and heal the rift between the media and their readers. The petition has received over 2000 signatures at the time of writing and has garnered support from other AAA developers such as Ken Levine who has previously worked on Thief: The Dark Project, System Shock 2 and Bioshock Infinite.
The petition focuses on the portrayal of gamers in the media, specifically in Kotaku and Polygon, calling it “yellow journalism”. He wishes for the media to move away from sensationalist pieces surrounding the harassment of certain women in the industry as it turns these issues which are “worthy of public support and discussion” into a joke, much like the hyperbolic Law and Order episode. Without context, Kern fears that many non-gamers will see this and other media as an accurate representation of the subculture.
The responses to the petition haven’t always been positive. Ben Kuchera of Polygon, who the petition was specifically aimed at, tweeted over 20 times on the topic stating that Kern was “entitled” had made a “shitty claim” and that he was demanding “both sides argue in public for [his] benefit.” VG247 argued that the poor portrayal of gamers over the last 7 months was only the fault of gamers themselves for their behavior, and threatened developers stating that they should “think before [they] sign” as it is “very difficult to erase the ink”. This opened up a discussion between Kern and VG247, which Kern described as “polite and constructive” and is hopefully the start of more open discourse.
Kotaku and Polygon are yet to make an official statement on the petition.
What do you think of the petition? Can the rift be healed?