September 22, 2013 by Devin
Warning: the following post contains extreme language and poor examples of humanity.* Your sense of decency and any hope for the human race might be challenged. You have been warned.
Gaming community, you have been bad.
We need to talk about your reactions to reviews, specifically the Grand Theft Auto V review from Gamespot.
To give some background on this, GTA V, the latest in one of the biggest gaming franchises ever, recently came out. Gamespot, like all the other major gaming outlets, ran a review that came out before the game, and the reviewer, Carolyn Petit, gave it a mostly enormously positive review. She said, “Grand Theft Auto V is an outrageous, exhilarating, sometimes troubling crime epic that pushes open-world game design forward in amazing ways,” and then gave it a 9/10.
Now, honestly, if you are at all familiar with video game reviews, you should know what comes next. If you are not, you might come to the sensible conclusion that people who were looking forward to GTA V would be happy that it got such a high score and that a reviewer sang its praises so emphatically.
That, of course, is not what happened at all.
No, gamers got pissed. They got pissed because it didn’t get a 10. They got pissed because someone dared talk about the women in a GTA game in a negative way. They got pissed because someone dared talk about how a game made them feel.
In her review, Carolyn Petit spent a little bit of time talking about the female characters in the game and how they were not very good. She even dared use the word “misogynistic”. I want to emphasize here how little this time was. In 8 minute video review, she spends maybe half a minute or so talking about the female characters, and the rest of the time she spent talking about how amazing the game was. Even though this discrepancy did not ruin the game for her and she still enjoyed the game incredibly, people responded like entitled little children who could not fathom why this would be a problem.
Gaming community, I have words to say.
First off, game reviews are not objective
Do you want an objective review of GTA V? Here it is:
Grand Theft Auto V is a game. In the game, the player can play as three characters. They drive cars. There are graphics. There are sounds. Pressing the right trigger sometimes shoots a gun.
Things that are “objective” are facts that cannot be disputed and exist independently of human experience. Objective facts tell you that art exists, but only through subjective analysis can someone say why that art exists or what benefit it has.
And for the most part, gamers are actually quite fine with subjective analysis. They are fine with someone saying that graphics are beautiful (even though that is subjective). They are fine with saying the mechanics were rewarding (even though that is subjective). They are fine with saying that the storyline was engaging (even though that is subjective).
So what happened here? It is simple. Gamers want reviewers to talk about graphics, mechanics, and story in a game because they care about those things. If a review did not talk about those things, many gamers would feel like the review missed an important part of the game.
But gamers, at least the ones commenting here, do not want to hear about women in games because they do not care about women in games.
The whole objectivity point is a mask to hide the fact that gamers simply do not care about how women are portrayed. Whether or not the bloom effects look pretty is vital but whether or not the game thinks women are less beings is “subjective” and doesn’t belong in a review.
Which brings me to my next point:
Sexism absolutely matters
A lot of people will play GTA V without giving two thoughts to the women characters. They will shoot and kill and steal without ever thinking about the wider implications of the portrayal of the women. So when they look at a review like this, they will think, “Oh, I will not get worked up as much over this issue. Therefore I should not worry about it.”
And that is fine to an extent. If you do not care to analyze the characters at all and are just buying GTA V to blow stuff up, all the power to you.
But sexism does affect people, and it does bother people, and it would be dishonest for the reviewer, who was bothered by it, to just let it slide. Because some of the people playing the game (gasp) might be women or men who care about women, that might be a factor in their decision making process. And leaving that out would be an oversight.
The problem is that many people do not view sexism as a problem. I want to reiterate that a bit. These commenters cannot comprehend why a person would care that a game treats women badly. They do not understand why it would be an issue. In fact, they seem insulted that anyone would bring that up.
I am going to have to spell this out as clearly as possible.
Treating half of the human race as people only defined by how annoying they are or only as people in service to others is not good and is furthermore a damaging view of women.**
Now, I want to be clear on something; I am not saying that GTA V is sexist. I have not played the game, much like many of the commenters.
However, through all my comment searching, I never saw anyone actually say, “I do not think GTA V is sexist because the women are portrayed well.” Instead, the outrage was at even thinking that sexism would be a problem. And I am honestly baffled that anyone would use that defense.
Of course it is a problem. If a game treated all black people as unintelligent beasts who are only supposed to help white people, this would be a definite problem. Even if it was under the guise of satire, it would have to be handled incredibly delicately, and I think that most gamers would understand why someone would be offended at that. They might even understand why someone would give a game a lower score because of it.
Then again, maybe not.
Sex(uality) shouldn’t matter
In case you hadn’t already gathered from the comments, Carolyn Petit is not only a woman, but a transexual one at that. She’s also been working for Gamespot for the last 5 years and is currently serving as an Editor. Guess which of those descriptions mattered more to gamers.
Seriously, this is the lowest of the lows that the community could stoop to, and I’m appalled that it went this far and is this prevalent. The comments on her and her sexuality were frequent and brutal, and the fact that people old enough to play GTA V were saying them is absolutely disgusting.
I do not know if there is anything I can say to convince these people to stop their hate. If I could sit them down and get them to listen, I would implore them to realize that there is a person who receives those comments, someone who probably has been through a lot to actually come out as transgender.
She probably receives hate on a regular basis for simply being the way she is. I do not have any doubt that this decision was a difficult one for her, and she probably had trouble finding herself and figuring out her place in society. And I doubt that many of the white middle-class kids who play GTA V can relate to that at all.
And if that doesn’t work…
(Mom, Dad, Grandma, old church friends, you might want to skip the next section)
Then fuck you. I have no tolerance, no sympathy, for people who spread this kind of hate. Take your small-minded intolerance away from where people can actually hear it. You don’t help anyone. The only people who benefit from your words are neanderthal bigots like yourself that want support for their hate-filled tirades. You are making the gaming community a worse place with your presence, and I would love it if you never ever commented on anything ever again. I don’t care if you are 50 or 12, hardcore or casual, PC or console; your place in the gaming community is full of vitriol and poison. And I would love it if you kindly escorted yourself the fuck out.
Why I am writing this
I did not have much enthusiasm for this blog post. I like to write about what I am excited about or what intrigues me more than what angers me. I also believe that the gaming community can be a beautiful community that is accepting people of all types. And so I started and stopped this post several times and procrastinated it as long as I could.
But I cannot let something like this go by without comment.
I cannot let people spew hate without calling them out on it. I have not seen a group of people act this collectively childish, judgmental, and generally dickish in a long time, and when I see this happen in a medium I love, I have to make my stand against it.
It’s not a big stand. This isn’t a well-syndicated blog. I’m not a famous developer or critic.
But I hope that by making this small stand, I am helping spread the word that this is not okay.
And maybe that might make the gaming community a little bit more open, a little bit more accepting, and a little bit better.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to some Lily Allen.
Update: I would just like to point out that Gamespot gave an excellent view about the backlash in their series, Feedbackula.
*Some of the comments are from Gamespot’s review page and the others are from the YouTube video review. Gamespot has stricter moderation policies than YouTube and may have deleted some of the examples. I do understand that YouTube’s comments are, as a general rule, awful. These were still exceptionally terrible and worthy of discussion.
**I am not going to say that gaming causes violence against women or any of those straw man arguments that might be thrown at me. I will say that I believe society already has a poor view of women, and I don’t think games should add to that poor view already fostered by movies, music, and even books.