GamerGate Post 2: Sympathy for the Devil

Let me tell you a story of my tribe:

At its heart, the word “gamer” doesn’t just mean somebody who plays video games. It’s an identity, a tribe. 

I was a bookish kid with bookish interests growing up in a small rural town in Mississippi in the 1980’s. Like so many others with similar stories, I was bullied in one form or another from kindergarten until I left to go to college. Bullying, harassment, verbal abuse were and are common. You don’t have to be gay to be called a faggot every day.

As far as dating goes, you can almost forget about it. I did date a girl for one semester during my senior year, but that’s a lot better than a lot of my tribe gets. Women do not, as a general rule, want nerdy pariahs who are constantly reminded of their place in the social order.

I was bullied and harassed by people who would never admit to themselves, even today, that they were capable of such sadism and evil. By people who think of themselves as good Christians who were always good Christians. By people who’ve friended me on Facebook (hint: just because I’ve accepted your FB friend request doesn’t mean we were ever friends).

Fortunately, I was and am extremely tall, so I didn’t suffer the physical abuse so many did. But the exclusion and hate stay with you. They change you, hollow you out and leave an acid furnace where your self-confidence should be. The paranoia stays with you for a long time: will this new friend be true, or will they betray you like so many others had?

In these cases, an identity, a group, a “tribe” can be a literal life saver. Those who withdraw into isolation, who either don’t find a tribe or who lose touch with it without establishing other, stronger ties, will often be lost to depression and suicide. A tribe isn’t just a social group you hang out with, but something you put enough effort and time into that it becomes a part of your identity.

And gaming is one such tribe.*

In my day, it was pen and paper games (RPGs and relatively complex boardgames) and the NES. In time, computer games became a bigger part of things, and we even ended up playing Goldeneye on the N64 in the college dorms. We even had conventions like Coast Con where we awkwardly met up with other geeks whose social skills were similarly stunted by the exclusion and abuse they’d suffered. Many of us even wrote our own games, or modified existing games when possible. This was a hobby you could put a lot of creativity into, and it gave us a shelter from the shit storm of high school.

In our day, this had to happen in person. The Internet was too new and too slow to really support online gaming.

Now the “Gamer” tribe has moved more and more online, just like every other aspect of our lives. And I think that has further harmed the social skills of gamers, just like it’s affected everyone. But the key is that “gamer” is still a life-saving identity, a tribe that takes a bullied, excluded outcast and gives him (usually him) a home.

But now another development has happened that threatened that identity. The Nintendo Wii and the growth of mobile computing led to an explosion of female-friendly games, including many that were casual and easy to pick up and play quickly. This changed the face of “gaming.”

It’s an attack, not on video games, but on an identity. The Gamers, the identity gamers, they see their own name, their own tribe being co-opted in the media to mean anybody who plays anything.  Your grandmother is a “gamer” because she plays Farmville on Facebook. The same kids who abused you for being a gamer, well now they’re “gamers” too, because they play Angry Birds or Cut the Rope. The same girls who rejected you as a gaming geek are “gamers” because of Just Dance for Wii.

And then the identity gamer sees the cheerleader playing Angry Birds or Castle Saga on her sparkly-cased iPhone during halftime, while he’s lugging a massive tuba onto to the field, and something in him just breaks.

“No! You can’t have that, too! You have money and cars and respect and dating and popularity. You have everything. You can’t have the ONE THING THAT WE HAVE!”

And that acid furnace that’s been burned into the bullied kid’s heart just explodes. Desperation and fear drives the eruption, but once it’s flowing, rage burns bright. It burns with the righteousness of self-preservation, of revenge, of a starving man fighting a glutton over the last morsel of food.

It feels like life and death. It isn’t, but it feels like it.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m excusing misogynistic domestic terrorism, which is what I think the death and rape threats against Zoe Quinn, Vivian Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian (and the Doxxing of Felicia Day) and others are. These are serious crimes and should be investigated and prosecuted by the authorities and denounced by everyone else.

And I don’t want to imply that the self-righteousness felt by the GamerGaters is actually real righteousness. It  isn’t.

But I do want to shed some light on what might be motivating some of the attackers, and some of the gamers who are standing by and doing nothing.

It feels like a life and death struggle, a struggle for the identity that has preserved their sanity and even lives.

But as an older man than they, I’ve found that while these identities may shelter us and protect us when we’re at our most vulnerable, they also bind us. We can’t grow while we’re encased in metal. We have to move on, to have our own families, our own friends beyond our gaming circle – true friends who have proven themselves loyal, but who don’t share all our interests – our own accomplishments, whether in careers, academics, or service and good works to others.

It’s time for Gamers, and GamerGate especially, to step out from their shelters. But it’s also good, perhaps, for us to understand them.

—-

* [If you’re asking why Christianity didn’t serve as my “tribe,” despite my longstanding and continuing association with and identification as a Christian, I can speculate two reasons.

1) Where I grew up, everybody at least claimed to be Christian, including the most virulent bullies, so it meant nothing

2) As a church, we honestly didn’t do enough for it to matter. Sure, we went to church on Wednesdays and Sundays, but that was about it. It’s not like we were spending our afternoons and weekends building Habitat for Humanity Homes or feeding the hungry or even doing in-depth Bible studies.

As a family, we did more. For example, Dad and I would read the Bible together every non-church-night, and I cherish and am very grateful for those memories, but that was immediate family, not the church as a whole].

“I’m not a Feminist, I’m an Equalist” (GamerGate, Misogyny, and Me)

(Warning: strong language, but honestly not as strong as I wanted to use.) 

I’m sick of GamerGate, sick that anyone would be treated this way, that Anita Sarkeesian would be driven from her home by death threats over criticism of video games. I’m sick that anyone would be threatened with death, by anyone, but especially by gamers, a tribe I felt I belonged to once.

So let me address one comment that drives me up the muggle-loving wall.

“I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist.”

Equalist? What does that mean? Weren’t they the villians in The Legend of Korra, season 1?

I know some of the people using that phrase are just using it as a smokescreen for their own misogyny. I’m not talking about them. If you really think women and men are equal, you don’t call women who point out sexism “stupid cunts” and tell them you hope they get raped.

For the ones who truly believe it, let me say this. I thought that way once, too. Feminism has gotten a black eye largely because of a handful of loud, outspoken feminists who apparently hated men. They said some things that maybe were taken out of context, or maybe weren’t, but they created quite a lot of controversy..

But they had their day about 30 years ago, and they’ve mostly either mellowed, died, or faded into obscurity. And I don’t think they truly represented the main body of feminism, even at the height of their fame.

And honestly, I think their actual opinions were exaggerated into caricatures because it was easier to dismiss straw feminists than real feminists, easier to dismiss misandrist boogeymen (er, boogey-womyn) than actual human beings.

In the last fifteen years or so I’ve been looking into actual feminism as it actually exists. And what I’ve found is this: if you want men and women to be equal, if you love men and women, you should be a feminist.

That’s what “feminist” means. Why? Because patriarchy hurts men, too.

You think only women are hurt by the powers and principalities of sexism? Let me run some scenarios by you.

Think about the (heterosexual) boy who is called a faggot, excluded, and threatened or even assaulted because he doesn’t like sports or isn’t good at them.

Think about the boy who wants to play flute, but is told (after a good ass-whipping) that he will play drums, or tuba, or trumpet, or maybe football, even if he hates it, because only girls and faggots play flute.

Gamers, think how you and your fellow-gamers were treated by the jocks and bullies at school. It’s because spending all your time gaming online or playing D&D doesn’t measure up. You’re not a man. Men don’t respect you. Women don’t want you.

Think about the kid who’s actually gay. If the straight kids who don’t fit the mold get treated like that, how does he get treated?

Now, let’s flip it around and look at the kid who does fit in, who does what the culture tells him.

Think of the kid who fits the mold perfectly. He plays football in the fall and hunts deer in the winter. He drinks beer, drives a hot rod, and fucks the cheerleaders, just like he’s supposed to.

And when he gets older, he gets a manly job and settles down to raise a family, just like he’s supposed to. He still hunts in the winter. He watches football live every chance he can, and never misses a game on TV. The hot rod is in the garage, and he swears he’ll get it running again someday. He has kids, raises his son to be a man like he is.

He hardly knows how to talk to his daughter, other than to tell her to keep her legs closed, and to make sure she’s in by ten (his son doesn’t get a curfew). She chafes against the double-standard, but Dad’s rule is iron.

And then his son comes out. And he doesn’t know how to deal with it. And he rages, and he threatens, and he pleads, and he punches the wall. And he loses his son forever, maybe to suicide, maybe to estrangement. And his daughter? She blames him. Maybe his wife does, too.

And forty years of doing what he’s supposed to do leaves him with a wife he barely knows and a son who’s dead or may as well be. Forty years of doing what he’s supposed to do leaves him with a beer gut, an empty bed, and a mouth full of ashes.

Patriarchy hurts men, too.

So yes, feminists want to burn down the powers and principalities of sexism, to utterly destroy the privilege systems that try to force men and women into ancient molds of macho subject and sexual object, of tooth-and-nail competitor and prize.

Feminists have been pouring the gas for one hundred and fifty years, and if you actually want men and women to be equal, to be free, you should be bringing the matches.

Hope for Syria?

My last post about Syria was critical of President Obama, but let me give the man his due. When presented with an unexpected diplomatic option, he went for it. The possibility that the Assad regime might put its chemical weapons under UN control really is a game changer.

I know this won’t end the Syrian civil war. But right now there is nothing that will end that war, short of barbarically slaughtering one or both sides. This could beginning a real diplomatic process that could lay the groundwork for meaningful peace talks.

Even if it does nothing to hasten the war’s end, it still takes chemical weapons off the table. It goes without saying that enforcement will be the hard part, but it’s a good plan with a good chance of accomplishing something.

And if Assad changes his mind and rejects the peaceful option, President Obama’s in a stronger position for having tried diplomatic options. I’m not saying that everyone will suddenly be on board, or even that I will, but his position will be stronger and the skeptics will be at least willing to listen.

And there are other options, even if this fails. New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith proposed a human rights and war crimes tribunal to hold both sides accountable.

He’s worked on the Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda tribunals, and he thinks a Syrian tribunal could be a “non-lethal way of holding people to account.”

There are risks with all these options, and nothing is guaranteed. But the chance to do more than just pile more Syrian bodies onto the pyre is worth taking.

Syria

This seems to be the week America talks about the tragedy in Syria. And today is the day Pope Francis II called for prayer and fasting for the people of Syria.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on some bad news in my own life (news I’m not sure I want to talk about here), so I haven’t written about Syria yet.

Most likely, President Obama is going to “solve” this by bombing the bad guys, just like he’s doing in Yemen and Pakistan. He’s proven he is perfectly happy to send in the drones, missiles and bombers, with or without a declaration of war.

He can do that with or without Congress ‘s approval. What is this gridlocked Congress gonna do if they don’t like it, impeach him? Not going to happen, especially not over a bunch of dead non-white, non-Americans.

It’s not as if there is any uniform sentiment in Congress. There are good arguments for and against intervention, after all. Right now, neither side in this civil war has any capacity to hurt us. Could that change? I don’t know.

What’s going on over there is an atrocity, and I know the rest of the world has to do something. But I’m not at all convinced that dropping bombs on an atrocity will make it less atrocious.

I don’t have a perfect solution. At this point no one does. But maybe this world would be a little better off if America was a little less ready to fight. We’ve been at war since 2001, continuously.

Most elementary school students and a large number of elementary school students have literally never been alive in a time of peace. Most high school students and some college students are too young to remember 9/11, or a time when we weren’t at war.

And back then, most of the Christians I knew were strongly pro-war. And I was, too. But I wonder if that was be right idea. I wonder if we might have served our country and our God more faithfully by being a voice of peace.

Maybe we should be that voice of peace now.  And maybe we should have a clear picture as to how American bombs are going to help the Syrians…before we drop them.

Adam West and the Meaning of Art

When I was younger, I never “got” the old Batman series. All I saw was the low-budget cardboard props and sets, the ham-acting, and the sheer silliness of it all. I thought it was dumb (except Julie Newmar. I always liked her).

But my Mom told me a story from when the show was actually running. 1966-1968, she was in college. Protests, counter-protests, and authoritarian crackdowns filled the news cycle.

The Vietnam War was escalating, and the news reports coming out of the media were little more than propaganda. If that many enemy soldiers were killed, week in and week out, there’d have been nobody left in North Vietnam to wave the white flag.

The shadow of the draft fell over every young man on that campus, and every young woman who loved a young man.

It was a tense time, even for a college student who only wanted to graduate, get married, and begin her teaching career. And there were a lot of students like that, male and female, who were, frankly scared.

But everyone would gather together around the dorm lobby TV (6:30 pm, I believe), to exchange the very real madness of their times for the surreal, campy madness of Adam West and Burt Ward.  Batman meant something.  That goofy, campy, surreal show really meant something.

In other words … Adam West was the hero the sixties needed, if not the one it deserved.

 

Empire of Static and Noise

Earlier today, I realized I’d been feeling washed-out and uncreative. This blog was lying fallow, and my fiction inspiration was as dry as California underbrush.

If I had a cause, a central idea, a unifying point to what I’m doing, then I would be so much better off. I’d have my writing drive back, my thinking drive back, my mojo back. But all I have is noise.

And so it occurred to me: noise. Maybe my main point for now is noise.

I don’t mean noise as in decibel levels, like the neighbor’s barking dog (though that’s certainly a part of it, just ask Schopenhauer or the New York Times. I mean noise as in “signal to noise ratio.” I mean static.

Like it or not, as modern Americans we live in an Empire of Static and Noise. Televisions blare from every corner. The instant gratification of a thousand status updates bubbles up through our phones like swamp gas.

Those same phones hold a variety of video games and grant access to a wider Internet filled beyond any one man’s imagining with articles, blog posts, and endless arguments across a multitude of forums.

We like our lives like we like our hash browns: scattered, chunked, smothered, covered, and served with coffee at three a.m. And even if we don’t like them, that’s how we live them.

  • How much of what we experience serves not to carry meaning, but to obscure it?
  • How much of what we experience serves not to inspire or provoke new thought, but to scatter our attention so that we can barely think?
  • How much of what we experience serves not to challenge us to new levels of compassion and humanity, but to distract us from the hard questions?

A very wise man once said, “Don’t watch the hand with the wand. The trick is in the other hand.” How much of our lives is just a wand waving on a stage?

I can’t answer that for you. But the answer for me is, “Too much. Way too much.”

So that leads us to the question, “What do I do about it?”

The first thing, the absolute first thing I have to do is start self-enforcing an earlier bedtime. I’m not getting enough sleep, and so many studies have proven that’s bad for you that I don’t even feel the need to cite them here (the Earth is also round, and it orbits the sun, by the way).

Basically, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, and I’ve been neglecting my eight hours since at least when my daughter was born.

Beyond that, I’m going to have to take a fast from certain technology. I will have to use Facebook only to check important messages, and encourage people to call, text, or email me instead.

I will have to stop reading Slate and all online forums. I will have to stop following all those interesting links in the articles that I do still choose to read.

Will this be permanent? I doubt it, but it will have to be for a while, at least. Addicts don’t moderately use, and I’m pretty much addicted to new information and short, nonfiction articles.

I’m going to limit not only my “active” television watching, but my “passive” watching. If Katherine is watching TV and I’m just passing through, I’m going to have to force myself to keep passing through, not stop and “just watch this scene” … and be there half an hour.

I’m going to have to uninstall the games from my Kindle Fire. It’s great for media, and it has potential for productivity, but I won’t get anything done if I’m feeding Om Nom candy.

I’m going to have to clear out some space and time in my life for thought, for reflection, for praying and writing and daydreaming.

I think I’ll be smarter and happier. I think. Heh. At least I’ll be thinking again.

Argument Is War

St. Nicholas punching Arius as the Council of Nicea, 325 AD

St. Nicholas punching Arius as the Council of Nicea, 325 AD

I’ve been talking about Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (you can read my first post here). It’s been an eye-opener, seeing how (largely unconscious) cultural metaphors can shape the very way we think about topics.

The very first conceptual metaphor they discuss is: “ARGUMENT IS WAR.”

They back this up with the following phrases: (pg 4)
“Your claims are indefensible.”
“He attacked every weak point in my argument.”
“His criticisms were right on target.”
“I’ve never won an argument with him.”

This is how we speak of arguments. We don’t think we’re talking metaphorically, the way we would if we said something colorful like, “Man, I lost that debate big-time. I was Bambi, and he was Godzilla.”

But our unconscious metaphors are powerful, and they put limits on how we think about certain concepts. If we think argument is war (or similar to war), even subconsciously, then we think in terms of winners and losers. We think in terms of weapons and tactics. We think in terms of winning at all costs.

We certainly don’t think in terms of vulnerability, humility, and opening oneself up to the possibility of learning something new.

That’s why a person can be very educated, have witnessed or been a part of many debates and arguments, and still have a narrow, unchangeable set of views. I’m not just talking to conservatives, here. I’ve seen it from friends from both sides of the aisle.

Even before I started reading Metaphors We Live By, I’d been wondering if there was anything worthwhile in ‘winning the argument’ or ‘defeating our opponents.’ Especially in the sense of Christian apologetics (or worse, doctrinal debates between Christians).

I’d been wondering if all this verbal conquest and victory and domination wasn’t just as much a tool of Empire as physical conquest and domination were.

I’d been wondering whether it ever changed people’s hearts, or whether it just engendered enmity.

What if we could look at argument through different eyes?

What if we could see an argument, not as a war, but as a dance? (pg 4)

What if we could be grateful to the person we’re arguing with for taking the time to talk to us?

What if we could view an argument as a journey?
Could an argument be a path to travel from our current disagreement and separation to a place where we understand each other, even if we don’t agree?
Could an argument take us to a place where we understand each other’s positions much better than we did before?

That would require humility.
That would require that we lay down our need to be seen as the smartest person in the room.
That would require that we lay down our false certainty, and admit that we may not understand everything … even in areas of faith, which are deeply personal.

That journey requires patience, on the part of both parties.

It won’t work if somebody’s trying to “win.”
It won’t work unless both parties are listening, not thinking of their next riposte.

That journey requires that we re-humanize our opponents.

Argument isn’t war. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

But we who were raised to glorify warfare, to think in terms of conquest, have made the very exchange of wisdom a form of violence. The opportunity to learn has become an opportunity for ego-gratification and domination.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.