Much of the Gamergate controversy, which continues here and there around the internet but finally seems to be dying down, has been based around one idea. The core video game audience has often reacted angrily to the notion of women and minority gamers questioning why the community didn't feel like a place that particularly welcomed them.
Over in Offworld, Boing Boing's gaming publication that recently relaunched to focus on minority and women writers, writer Gita Jackson places this debate (which she points out has existed for years) in a fascinating frame: colonialism. Gamers, she says, are acting like displaced people, booted from their homeland by interlopers and invaders. She points to a Playstation ad that creates the impression the core community consists mostly of white men.
Within that context, it's easier to see why gamers might see video games as "their territory."
For decades now, companies have been selling the idea that playing video games places you in a special fraternity of people with similar interests, goals and values, even if those values are as small as "enjoys video games." Ads like this are designed to make Sony's customers feel like a chosen, special people, to generate a fiction of belonging that trumps everything else. In his book Imagined Communities, professor and author Benedict Anderson described this kind of broad, horizontal camaraderie as the source of nationalistic fervor, the sort of thing that makes people want to "die for such limited imaginings."
Of course, as Jackson points out, the rise of indie games (which are more welcoming to outsider voices) is not going to destroy bigger titles like Call of Duty. And it's not as if the internet is a finite, physical space, like a colonized land. Gamers who no longer feel welcome at a particular site can go find another site to talk on.
But no matter how little the feeling of being colonized makes objective sense, Jackson is still onto something in terms of how it's provoked such intense emotions. She also points out something important to all art forms — outsider voices are usually necessary for challenging, pushing, and ultimately improving anything.
Journals like the Arcade Review, writers like Austin Walker, game developers like Alpha Six Productions are not asking to displace the games communities that exist, but to converse with them and to keep them from stagnating. If minority voices do not participate in an artform, where, exactly will that artform go? How will it be challenged and provoked if there are no workers to do the challenging and provoking?