I watched a shit documentary recently. It was called Video Games: The Movie. The central theme was a kind of chronological look back through the history of the gaming industry, which turned out to be a goldmine of little video clips of games from decades ago. That part was alright. As a plain nostalgia session, it was okay. Alongside that, though, was this weird little parallel story about “gamers”.

The promotional image for Video Games: The Movie, featuring many famous characters from Pac Man to Master Chief.
pew pew pew

In the Video Games: The Movie universe, gamers are an oppressed social class. It has all these talking heads-style interviews with various geek celebrities, who tell the tale of all the things gamers have “survived”, such as “Congress”, “busybody parents”, and “religious-based hysteria”. It got to the point where it began to ruin the whole experience. Every time a segment on the history of games was punctuated by one of these “free the gamers” bits, it totally broke my engagement with the documentary. We were just laughing at it by the end.

This “oppressed gamer” identity is insidious. Maybe it’s a natural group reaction to somebody like Jack Thompson. But it’s problematic because evidently some people think it’s a license to play “culture war” and appropriate the words and actions of genuinely oppressed social groups. There are even people trying to make words like “anti-gamer” and “ludophobia” a thing. It’s bizarre, and they seem oblivious the contradiction that access to this identity is predicated on having enough economic privilege to buy expensive consumer electronics products. It’s a way for those of us who live high atop Privilege Mountain to make believe that we are in fact the plucky underdogs of society. We aren’t, and it’s disgusting to pretend otherwise.

Off to do a speech at the UN Forum on Minority Issues about the unique challenges of being really really good at Mario.

It’d be harmless if not for the group psychology that it triggers. The power of this defensive impulse has been on display throughout the latter half of 2014. There are a bunch of people right now who are really upset about Anita Sarkeesian and her criticism of sexist tropes in video games. There’s another bunch who are equally upset about Zoe Quinn and her free text adventure game Depression Quest. In August, these two groups joined forces under the banner of Gamergate, and they’ve spent the remainder of the year spewing bigotry and harassment like a volcano.

There are a lot of different groups of people involved. Right in the middle of it all are the 8chan-style “Sociopath Libertarian” types who think even indecent images of children should be protected free speech. Around them are the men’s rights activists, the white supremacists, Tea Party supporters, and all kinds of other right-wing dickheads. The biggest bunch of all though is this other group of “general idiots” who are just sort of along for the ride. These are a largely apolitical bunch who simply heard the “geek persecution” alarm bells and came running for a fight. They mostly didn’t have a strong stance on issues like feminism before August 2014, and the only reason they do now is because all the men’s rights types have told them feminists are “anti-gamer”. If you’re pro-Gamergate, you’re probably one of these idiots.

Hyper-sexualised video game advert featuring a woman in revealing clothes stood in the middle of a dusty marketplace.
Those crazy feminist bitches didn't even like this Call Of Duty advert.

Years of pandering, epitomised by Video Games: The Movie, sowed the seeds of illusory oppression in the minds of the gaming industry’s favourite demographic: affluent young white guys. The Zach Braffs and Wil Wheatons of the world have been patting gamers on the head and commiserating with them about what a struggle it is being a white man with an expensive toy. The ongoing temper tantrum about Leigh Alexander’s late August Gamers Are Over piece shows how entitled to that pandering some people now feel.

They targeted gamers. Gamers.

Gamergate is gaming’s persecution complex in its final form: stupid, incoherent, and angry. These people are standing firm alongside white supremacists, transphobes, distributors of obscene pornography, and even Jack Thompson himself. There is a genuine sense within Gamergate that “gamer rights” are important enough to justify allegiances with bigots of all kinds as long as it serves the cause. The only reason so many idiots are giving these regressive monsters the time of day is because of this ongoing conspiracy theory about geek persecution, perpetuated by garbage like Video Games: The Movie.

Earlier this year I accidentally scared some people who saw the designs for a game I was working on. It got a bit of media attention. A few people accused me of making the whole thing up to sell copies of my (free) game, but for the most part people gave me the benefit of the doubt. What I’ve learned from Gamergate in the months since then is that, given a woman in equivalent circumstances, there’s a part of the gaming community that will form a mob to harass her and speculate about who she fucked at Kotaku to get that press hit. And because of the gamer persecution complex, they’ll be able to count on the wholehearted support of lots of people who ought to know better, just by sounding the “gamer oppression” alarm while they do it.

So it turns out that pretending geeks are oppressed isn’t harmless fun after all. It leads to very tangible, negative, immediate consequences in the real world. Real people’s lives are affected. So it’s something we need to work on. Be on the lookout for it, and call it out when you see it. Another example is the phrase ”nerd blackface”. Cut that shit out. It’s not necessarily the death of an identity. It’s more like the recategorisation of Pluto: “gamer” isn’t a marginalised social group, so let’s stop pretending it is.