What’s in a game?

What makes a game a game? That question was one of the focal points in class this week, and as we discussed independent Twine game developers, the GamerGate controversy, and the disparity in the male to female ratio of traditional, mainstream game developers, it was apparent that there is really only one group dictating the conversation– heterosexual, cisgender males. This is, of course, not to say that there are no heteronormative males who support games such as Depression Quest and howling dogs or females against it, but that even though “nearly 50 percent of people now playing games are female, according to the Entertainment Software Association” (Hudson) it is alarming how skewed the debate surrounding gaming is.

When I first heard about GamerGate in my Women’s Studies (WMST250) class last semester, I was shocked. It seemed so backwards, so misogynistic in a community I thought was young, hip, and progressive. Why were people attacking developers such as Zoe Quinn for creating a game with social impact that addressed issues relevant to so many people just because someone who may have been in a relationship with her gave her a positive review? Why were people doxing and sending death threats to women like Anita Sarkeesian for speaking out against patriarchal tropes in video games? GamerGate was just another example highlighting the inequalities of patriarchy and how they are still present in our society today. But just because it involves video games does not mean that it should be trivialized; rather, it just goes to show how pervasive these inequalities are, as well as how much of a cultural and social impact entertainment, such as gaming, has. That impact is definitely tangible and has real consequences, as shown through the bomb threats Sarkeesian received for hosting a talk at a college campus.

I think it is beyond important that developers such as Porpentine have a platform to express their thoughts in a community that only supports “a single story,” as Adichie would say. Do I think that everything can be categorized as a game? Not necessarily. However, I find it odd that role playing games such as The Sims are very readily accepted as games while subversive ones such as Depression Quest are not. When we fail to acknowledge stories in the gaming community other than ones that are mainstream and typically centered around systems of violence (Cara Ellison) under the argument that games should only be for “entertainment,” we lose the diversity and artistic freedom that gaming as a medium can and should afford.

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