Gaming needs to outgrow the trolls

Liam Bradbury takes a look at the culture surrounding video games, and finds that it's riddled with misogynistic losers. Time for a change?

Mass Effect 3 Screenshot

The Mass Effect 3 ending didn't go down well with some diehard fans

Another E3 has ended. While some unfortunate Mexican undertakes the mammoth task of purging the gargantuan halls of the LA Convention Centre of the smell of sweat and commercial despair, the gaming world has taken stock, shrugged and breathed a collective sigh of “meh.”

Only a few impressive looking new IPs were announced and the discussion of hardware was limited to Nintendo’s half-arsed attempt at convincing the world it’s doing something worthwhile and not, you know, totally pointless or kind of confusing or anything.

But hey, there are plenty of exciting titles on the horizon – the pre- and post- Christmas season this year will be rich with big budget sequels and blockbuster fun, sure to be enjoyed by all.

Well… maybe not all. A certain number of people out there will play one of these sequels and find something they don’t like – be it in plot or some sort of marketing tool involving day one DLC, a new patch or a pre-order offer – and they will become angry. Very, very angry.  Enraged, even. They will break out in sweaty hives of frustration, hiss into their monitors while writing caustic, loathsome messages on forums before waddling over to the phone to call the ASA and have a good old grumble at being so betrayed.

These types belong to the group of core gamers that provide the foundations of consumerism in the industry. They form the communities that populate a huge number of servers, forums and Gillian McKeith’s nightmares. They can be fiercely loyal and are always – often to their deficit – willing to spend a lot of money. They also love to jump on bandwagons, are clearly brutally insecure about everything in their lives and have a tendency to be some of the most misogynist, racist, and hate-filled monsters of the interwebs. Never before has there been an art form supported and cherished by such whiny and entitled benefactors.

Now, that’s a lot of charges. It should be pointed out that the majority of people buy their consoles and games in order to just have fun on their own or with friends. They enjoy a medium that is maturing rapidly and improving in quality every year due to the hard work of many and the willing investment by people such as themselves.  This more casual crowd might weigh in on argument or two if they feel strongly about a franchise, but on the whole they have enough of a life that gaming is consigned to an extra-curricular activity.

Which is fine. Acting like a two year old fat kid itching for a fix of cake at a birthday party is not.

Let’s look at the most contemporary example, Diablo III. For those unaware of the recently released thrill-ride, Diablo III has been a long time coming.  About a decade actually, which you would think is long enough for some of its fans to grow a sense of perspective and start contributing to society in a way that doesn’t involve a trip to MacDonalds every day and the resulting much-needed heart surgery.

Diablo III Screenshot

Even the Barbarian couldn't bellow as loudly as some of Diablo III's outraged users

Anyway, somewhere along the line the game’s creators at Blizzard (the company responsible for other compulsive obsession-fests such as World of Warcraft) decided to make Diablo III playable only if you are online, due to a much-maligned DRM policy. At first glance you might think this is a bit unfair, given that only about 33% of the world have the internet, but actually it’s ok because the other 67% either couldn’t care less about spending at least four hours a day chasing imaginary monsters in an imaginary dungeon, or are having their homes steadily destroyed by the armed forces of the nations that do care.

So, release day came. Pre-orders of the game were in the tens of thousands and those without gaming-induced rickets queued round the block for midnight launches around the world. Excitedly, they slipped the disc into its new home (or just downloaded it), licked their salty lips and found a notice informing them of Error 37.

The servers couldn’t handle the deluge of people wanting to play all at once and millions received the error message of doom. Try as they might, many had to wait as long as 12 hours to get online. That’s right, 12 hours. Intolerable.

Death threats were sent to Blizzard, forums combusted with the combined rage of millions of angry gamers and if it had gone on much longer, some sort of slower-paced and more purposeful version of the London riots may have taken place. It was a hell of a night to be looking at the gaming world on Twitter.  This guy makes these videos for parody, but he helpfully represents the tone.

That day, in France a new president was sworn in after elections that narrowly avoided a National Front victory, dozens were killed and injured in sectarian clashes in Lebanon and the EU imposed its fifteenth round of sanctions on Syria, where earlier on a group of UN monitors were fired upon for trying to find out how many died in the last massacre. And the Diablo III servers messed up on launch.

The rage of Diablo III only lasted so long, of course. After a time, the problem was fixed and the fat kids got their cake. The affair wasn’t nearly as expensive and time-consuming as the Mass Effect 3 debacle.

Mass Effect is a trilogy of near operatic space-based fun and huge depth, in which the player can greatly affect the story and its outcome through conversational choice making and which alien they decide to have sex with. These decisions also carried on to the sequels, so if you had sex with an alien in the first and didn’t get it killed, you could have sex with it again later on. The original game came out in 2007 and due to its complexity, fans gained a stalkerish devotion to the trilogy, akin to Harry Potter fans that felt they have lived their own fantastic and oddly predictable little story while growing up.

Mass Effect 3 screenshot

Captain Shepard can, indeed, get it on with some blue alien ladies. The pants stay on though; he's a gentleman

The problem is, the fans weren’t living their own story – as much as they felt their decisions made it their own, with the marketing telling them this too, ultimately to play these games is to play something scripted by someone else, envisioned by someone else, entirely created by a huge bunch of other people. Talented people at that, with a greater artistic proficiency than all of the Mountain Dew-ingesting ingrates they create for, who are likely capable of emitting no more creativity than a damp flannel.

So when the ending of the trilogy didn’t meet the high expectations of Francis and his friends, they were apoplectic with rage. The mention of calling the ASA earlier wasn’t a joke, it really happened. So tempestuous was the furore that BioWare, Mass Effect’s creators, went ahead and said that they would release more content and effectively change the ending.

That’s a bit like JK Rowling releasing another book because a certain percentage of her fans were upset at the fact that Harry didn’t accidentally unleash a flesh-eating virus on the entire wizarding world and render all of that teenage angst utterly pointless (I mean, I felt that way. I can’t be the only one).

These outraged and entitled fans are the same ones that endlessly pore over every detail of the lore of dozens of different games, without noticing that games is what they are. Games. Not life, not death, not family, not friends, not important, just games. Whether you want to class games as art or entertainment, it won’t be a game that’s holding your hand when you wake up after having the fat squeezed from your arteries again.  Just like it won’t be the girl from The Hunger Games, or the sparkly vampire guy, or the gay werewolf.

Perhaps they know this, however, as this particular breed of gamer is also prone to take out their rage in other ways, possibly due to the frustration the sensation of living almost entirely in another world brings; mainly due to that old problem of the anonymity of the internet.

There can be little doubt that the core gaming world is one dominated by males. Statistics show that a huge number of females do play games, but they reside comfortably in the casual sector. This makes the intrusion of a real live girl daring to express an opinion particularly difficult to swallow and the reaction often ends up going one of two ways; commenting on how hot the girls is and she should get back in the bedroom, or commenting about how ugly the girl is and she should get back in the kitchen. Real classy stuff.

Dickwolves tee

For a short time, Penny Arcade even sold a Dickwolves t-shirt in their store

The instances are many. The best example, perfect for its longevity, is Penny Arcade’s own Dickwolves saga. A cartoon strip on the site provoked a backlash from readers which, if apologised for and handled correctly, would have gone away. Instead, the Penny Arcade fans were allowed to get involved and all hell broke loose, with a number of death and rape threats fired across bows on Twitter, t-shirts deliberately printed to poke fun at specific rape victims and other behaviour only possible from the kind of malevolent fungus mentioned here.  All this without much hindrance from the website owners, perhaps not realising that they could control their fans in the way of a general in charge of an army of misogynist, semi-literate foetuses.

Supposedly, gaming has bred within people a ridiculous notion of gender stereotypes, male and female, that many feel is hampering the progress of being taken seriously as an industry and helps promote this general vehemence towards women so horrifically prevalent in forums, comment sections and when playing online.

Yet the problem doesn’t arise from mildly offensive cartoons, or ridiculously proportioned virtual women, or even the antics seen in strangely off-kilter Hitman trailers. They exist every entertainment platform – switch on a TV and you’re almost guaranteed to see one of those things within minutes (even the strangely off-kilter Hitman trailer, probably).

Hitman Absolution Trailer

The Hitman: Absolution trailer featured more latex-clad assassin nuns than you'd imagine

Similarly, no amount of sputtering and furiously writing opinion pieces and shouting on Twitter (not really possible, but you know what I mean) will help it. Jumping on the white unicorn of justice, riding up to the palace of gender harmony and shrieking from the rooftops that EVERYTHING NEEDS TO CHANGE will simply aggravate the socially lobotomized blobs.

The problem comes not from gender issues, crowded servers or lazy plot writing.  It comes from the fact that these people are bastards.  They are the products of having everything available at the click of a button, a culture of greed, suing people, celebrities, Facebook, right-wing media, left-wing media, not having any sex while seeing it everywhere around them, reality television deliberately giving a platform to the verucas on the toes of society, corrupt politicians, corrupt media.

The list goes on. Basically they’re a product of their generation.

Yet the games industry may well outgrow these fanatics  - it seems they are beginning to concentrate on roping in a potential market that’s rapidly moving to play games only on their phones, now more than ever needing to get families, the middle-aged and – apparently – Sex and the City characters to play their games. Nintendo is announcing hardware as vague as a Murdoch at a press enquiry in a bid to interest the uninitiated with touch pad controllers and social media. That audience is a huge, untapped pile of cash and they definitely don’t whine in the same pathetically outraged way as the core “community”.

Perhaps in a few years time at E3, once the new round of social and movement-based toys have been announced for the next generation and you’re able to stream AAA titles from your console to your retina, people will have so much to complain about (and in turn jump on the bandwagon to defend), that they’ll just shut down, give up and start playing video games to amuse themselves rather than be dicks about.

We can hope, anyway.