We are always fighting.
The first video game I ever played, Space Invaders, rendered fighting in a sickly green hue, with squid-like aliens descending down the bulbous surface of a beige monitor. As much as I admired their patient and orderly see-saw attack pattern on our planet, it made it easy to blow them away from below. You see, it's not about the violence, but timing and pattern recognition.
My other starting game was some kind of Mad Libs program, which accepted a list of nouns and verbs and then spat out a boring or comical story, depending on how creative your input was. The key to playing this game well, I determined, was baking a well-timed "pie" into the plot. The archer reaches into his quiver and removes ... a pie! Help, the sheriff's been shot in the pie! The crowd sucked the air out of the room as the boxer fell to a critical blow from his opponent ... the PIE. You see, a video game lets players control (and probably ruin) the story.
Later on, I would spend my money in the arcade, fighting a full freak-show of weird haircuts, ninjas and drunken old men across games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter. And as that experience began to grow archaic, with consoles subbing in for coin-munching cabinets, it was a big deal for something to be "arcade-perfect." The fighting was at home now, and I'd try to show my parents why it was fun to master an "arcade-perfect" fighting game. You see, it's not about beating people up, mom and dad. It's about memorizing inputs and reacting to body language.
And then I would make the critical mistake of fighting a dinosaur at the beginning of Final Fantasy 8, when my party of (whiny) adventurers just wasn't mighty enough to handle it yet. We had to fight and fight, to fight more, get stronger, get better equipment, and then come back to beat up a big reptile. You see, it's not about this group of people systematically killing all wildlife in the world (...), it's about efficiently configuring clumps of statistics in order to unlock pretty videos and advance a really weird story.
There is a lot of explaining required for all the fighting that happens in video games. It becomes an instinct to defend them, to translate, because they're still growing in awkward bursts of length, sophistication and gunfire. There is an art to balancing everything that makes a good game: worlds and discovery, excitement and hardship, story and player, learning and fighting. You don't understand that just by looking. You have to play.
The battle of perception left homes and entered headlines, with people on the outside seeing murderous impulses and aberrant social behavior growing in the person staring at a screen, pressing funny little buttons to drive, jump and punch. Lawyers claimed that you were being "trained" into a perfect killing machine, and reporters dangled a controller in a criminal's closet, saying THIS is the big clue that should have warned us.
But the detractors weren't really outside, and we weren't always inside. We kept fighting in our games, and for our games, fighting for their place in a life – anyone's life – as something more mundane than sinister. It is not an anomaly, but a hobby, we said. It's a source of passion, inspiration and challenge, a real heartbeat next to the passive mind-rot it's painted out to be. It's entertainment brought to life with drawings, speech, action, writing, decisions, and if you could take it seriously for just a moment, you'd understand and learn.
We are in that moment right now. Millions of people watch games being played and analyzed as a sport. The game maker is amorphous, swelling to hundreds of people building historic cities, and shrinking to just a few, assembling a heartfelt exploration of just one house. There is now far more to be safely said about video games and their technology, inspiration, creators, improvisation, blunders, players, writing, simplicity, pies, success, complexity, growth, regression and yes, women.
We are always fighting.
About two years ago, I told the other writers of Joystiq that we should be more pro-active in seeking out independent games. We could talk to the developers more easily, we'd awaken new and interesting ideas within ourselves as critics, and our readers would have a more accurate view of the growing diversity in games, even from a site that is largely product- or consumer-oriented. We wouldn't ignore bigger games, but we'd try to find the kind of balance that we had spent all those years fighting for as game fans: it's not just this ONE thing, over and over. In exposing different approaches and visions throughout the medium, we would find the audience we really wanted to cater to – the one always looking for the next great game. The audience that has fought for games to be great.
This fight has been in line with the claimed intent of people who follow the #GamerGate group on Twitter and other venues of discussion, but it has obviously not been the outcome. Had it been the outcome, I might have received one (1) email or tweet about Joystiq's stance on ethics in the industry, which is supposedly the inquiry brandished by this infamous hashtag. And listen, I would be super into discussing this - if I can muster interest in a video game cave, I can probably give you the time to talk about ethics. And since I'm a guy, I'll enjoy the depressing luxury of not being interrogated about my gaming credentials the second I touch my keyboard.
The only story I've seen fished out with the GamerGate hashtag is legitimate harassment. I have seen absolutely vile, irredeemable messages delivered to women who have dared to make games, critique games and, you know, BE ON THE INTERNET in the vicinity of games. And by stating this, I am not inviting you to tell me, now, whether or not you agree with the views of industry critics like Anita Sarkeesian – that's irrelevant.
If you feel defensive or angry right now, it's because you're being mentioned in the same breath as: those who send death threats to developers; those who launch volleys of sexist remarks at women reviewing games; those who threaten school shootings in order to shut down a woman's speech (about video games!) at a university. I don't believe Joystiq readers stand for that, but I also see requests for our team to get "back" to writing about video games whenever we touch on gender disparity or LGBTQ issues. Well, we can't do that while people are getting attacked in the same room. We can't talk about games or ethics or "just games" while this is going on.
This is about fighting for a right to participate and to speak about games, the same way you could about most forms of entertainment. Whether you discuss games on Twitter, Facebook, forums or the comments section of your favorite site, you have to fight for that simple, equal basis. If you believe in a good outcome for games for years to come, you have to realize that it can't happen by subtracting voices and yelling for things to stay exactly the same. That's the ideal route for exclusion, monotony, and the perpetuating desire to keep "drama" out of the industry.
We are always fighting.