The State of Diversity Criticism and “do your fuckin’ research”

Alright folks, strap on in, because we’re going to be hitting a lot of points today. While this topic encompasses many writers and publications, the main focus of my post is a recent piece on 1UP by JP Kellams on gender topics in videogame criticism.

The theory in the middle is mostly okay stuff, but those who regularly engage in the critical circles of videogames will find them all rather familiar. JP starts and ends his piece basically saying that he hasn’t really looked into feminist critique enough, but there isn’t really any critical lens used in the gender debates currently going on. The loudest social justice members, apparently, are histrionic, irrational, and polemic in their efforts to discuss diversity issues within this great art form. JP goes on to posit some ideas for “rational” discussion, like the male gaze, concept of the Final Girl, and that the homogeneous makeup of development teams creating a very narrow range of games for other people to enjoy.

I’m just going to come out and say it: way to go, you are just another dude in the game industry who thinks they are saying something Smart about gender issues for the First Time that social justice proponents have been harping on and on about FOREVER. JP can find solace in that he’s not the only guy regurgitating critical lenses; it’s actually quite an epidemic.

I wanted to know why this kept happening. I figured that if JP was interested enough in calling the current social justice initiative ineffectual, he would at least be following the conversation? Ironically, the only person I saw him following on Twitter (where most of this discourse happens) that had anything to do with the English speaking diversity activism he was addressing was Kate Cox, who did a fucking three part piece on the male gaze as it pertains to videogames. The people writing, curating, and publicly promoting diversity discourse are more than aware of the concepts JP talks about, many trained academically in critical theory and consistently use it. It’s there, and people who aren’t paid and are constantly ignored by bigger publications tirelessly engage developers and publications with problematic material using critical theory. If anyone is skeptical, you can go ahead and gander at my collection of writing, all unpaid and on my own time.

So, if publications like 1UP and Kill Screen (not the only ones, just showing the breadth of sites with this problem) have men reiterating what minority activists have been saying all along, or worse, positing ideas that rely on stereotyped, shallow knowledge of minority issues, what is the cause? Why is it 1UP would commission a piece about gender theory discourse from JP, who admits he’s not the best person to ask in his preamble, and not the many people in the trenches who ARE the experts? Why are the publications that do, like Kill Screen and Kotaku, continue to produce problematic material in opposition to these writers?

For one, there is this assumption that diversity issues are just a bunch of inflammatory/liberal opinions not really based in anything but feelings. Many of these men who are writing on social justice don’t do any research on it, despite being writers and having that as a part of their job. This activism is backed by years of research and critical theory with evidence and solid philosophical groundwork. There is a deserved amount of anger in this movement because despite all of this evidence, people dismiss minorities as self-serving. It’s not until a dude comes along with a stoic and detached demeanor to say something that it’s given any credit.

Risking alienating some of my friends, a lot of this lies in publications being structurally built against culture criticism and the minority writers who would be providing this rich and compelling argument for diversity initiatives and being extremely hesitant to change. Here’s the real talk: it doesn’t matter if behind closed doors you are totally sympathetic with minority issues; if you can’t publicly and systemically promote diversity issues, then you are part of the problem. And, yes, I know all the excuses; people need money, they need to keep the immature audience that reads their material, and bosses find talking about these issues too risky in the face of increased profit.

There is no way the community is going to become familiar with the critical side of social justice if publications continue to devalue this sort of discourse by barring culture critics exposure and pay, qualities decidedly considered being “professional.” The stuff that “actually matters.” Instead, people with the position to enact change exploit social justice circles by only reporting on and discussing extremely emotional and inflammatory topics. They look for the offended, they look for the victims, and ignore those continuing to work to change the discriminatory nature of videogame culture.

So, why is it that articles like JP’s happen? Because they are part of a “Gender, Sexuality, and Videogames” week. That means they are niche and only important for a small amount of time then get tucked away before anyone gets funny ideas. The painful part of this is that 1UP is churning out some really good stuff on this topic. But we don’t want a version of Black History Month, we want positive representation of diverse identities in our development teams, mastheads, and games.

Now.

And how do you do it? I dunno, maybe you can include the people who talk about it every. single. day. into your plans.

PS: Don’t even think of trying to tell me what’s “practical.” Practical is often code for intentionally settling for less because the ideal takes too much effort.

ETA: I am not the only nor first person to say something about the erasure of minorities from critical discourse. Check out this blog post written by Alex Raymond nearly three years ago basically critiquing the same thing. That slowly but surely change is taking its sweet ass time.

ETA2: I spoke with JP on Twitter, which was basically him using Tone argument to devalue my piece, that if I was nice and polite, he would have a conversation. This is after his original article that said the social justice movement is hysterical and irrational.

He also wanted to make clear that he wasn’t “taking sides” and was being even handed between social justice and the skeptics. He said I was turning it into a social justice thing and he never intended that. So he literally had no idea of the discourse and fell into every trap of dude trying to be logical where women cannot. And this isn’t even considering how super problematic a lot of his statements were, especially with Bayonetta. This whole “play it safe” without actual research on what has been done really needs to stop.

Here’s the deal: There ARE very valuable things people in a place of privilege can do and say that would contribute to this discourse. I would say the social justice movement badly needs more cis straight etc men to further grow its philosophy and reach. And there are already really awesome guys who are a part of it and I what I love about them is that they LISTEN FIRST. There’s usually a gut reaction, but after listening to what bothers a person, or what has already been said, they avoid the usual trappings of privilege. They also ASK QUESTIONS about their position and what they can do. I love my straight cis dude friends, and I’m learning more angles and skills because they help diversify the movement.

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