Over the last couple weeks, a digital riot erupted after an unhappy ex-boyfriend wrote a blog post explaining how his former paramour had cheated on him with a succession of men in the video games industry and the games press. It became a broader riot against the leftward drift in the games press over the last several years.
The best summary is in this video:
This has recently culminated in a number of writers vocally abandoning the audience that has rejected them.
Just about everything that Leigh Alexander writes in that article is not true from a business perspective. My first substantive writing experience was in writing, editing, and forum moderating for an amateur games website. At least a few ‘minor celebrity’ game developers posted on our forums frequently and hung out in our chat rooms.
I’m pretty familiar with the industry, although I’ve not done all that much work within it, because everyone that I know who’s either professionally in games or who has worked in games tends to warn anyone who isn’t to avoid the industry because of its low wages, bad work environment, and unethical management.
Leigh is wrong because the largest businesses that have been built in video games over the decade have catered to the demographic that she has declared toxic. The lauded casual games revolution has resulted in multiple stock bubble-pops.
The two recent casual-games IPOs have been failures. Many of the legacy companies attempting to reach the mass audience have failed due to cost overruns. One of the chief causes of those over-runs are prohibitive marketing costs.
Serving the ‘core gamer’ audience is more profitable, reliable, and easier to market to.
The reason for this is simple: when you try to reach a mass audience, you have to buy advertising space to do it. You have to buy a LOT of advertising. When people are well-organized into niche markets, it’s cheaper to reach them more effectively, because they voluntarily sign up for lists, magazines, and other publications that identify them as predisposed to buy.
In the world of board games, the market tends to be very efficiently organized (as in a literal market and not the economist-abstract concept of market) in that board games get test runs with enthusiasts at a basic level, later go into high quality production with a limited run, and then receive store space and a larger marketing budget after having succeeded in the niche market of self-identified enthusiasts.
Also, when enthusiast customers organize themselves into discussion groups, they sell products that they like to each other, which can further drop your costs if you have a quality product. This is why this audience is not ‘going away’ and will remain profitable to reach.
Advertising in these small, focused publications is cheaper than advertising in mass market publications.
This audience is understandably annoyed that the same people that are supposed to be helping them make better purchasing decisions are more interested in selling leftism than they are in selling software.
Writers like Leigh tend to think that their moral responsibility is to shift the industry leftward, and that the material responsibility to make better products and sell them is tertiary.
Her thesis that ‘traditional gaming is sloughing off’ could not be more incorrect. The only successes in the market have been going after this particular audience. Although Twitch.tv is still unproven, Amazon bought them for almost $1B on the basis of its reach to this specific audience. Jeff Bezos does dumb things sometimes, but even when it’s a mistake, there has to be a sophisticated reasoning process behind it.
This audience has also built one of the fastest-growing and most valuable private companies in the world in Valve.
To make matters worse for Leigh’s argument, many of the top 20 Youtube channels in the world are also targeted to this maligned audience of ‘core gamers.’ Youtube ad spending is on a tear. A lot of that growth is built upon the enthusiasm of this audience (which you could argue is mostly young men hiding away from a collapsing real world).
The numbers just don’t support her business analysis.
This is how Alexander sees her job at a trade publication:
These straw man ‘game journalism ethics’ conversations people have been having are largely the domain of a prior age, when all we did was negotiate ad deals and review scores and scraped to be called ‘reporters’, because we had the same powerlessness complex as our audience had. Now part of a writer’s job in a creative, human medium is to help curate a creative community and an inclusive culture — and a lack of commitment to that just looks out-of-step, like a partial compromise with the howling trolls who’ve latched onto ‘ethics’ as the latest flag in their onslaught against evolution and inclusion.
Actually, her job is pretty simple. It’s to serve the interests of the readers of the trade publication, to help them make better decisions, and to promote the success of the industry.
On the consumer side, the job of a consumer reports publication is to rate products, describe features, and help consumers to make smarter purchasing decisions. More respectable consumer reports publications don’t take advertising (like Consumer Reports magazine) to avoid conflicts of interest and match their incentives to their readership. Critics can educate consumers and cultivate the taste of the readership. That’s their main job.
The culture is supposed to be exclusive, in the same way that Wine Spectator excludes most beer and hard liquor coverage. Else, it’s not useful for the advertisers, because it becomes a mass market publication. The ideal Wine Spectator subscriber buys wine by the case, runs a restaurant, or operates a liquor store.
Bridal publications are entirely geared towards women, but it’s unheard of for anyone to try to reach out to grooms. In fact, the female readership of bridal magazines is so close to totally female that the thought of gearing any of the content in them to men is just about unthinkable.
Getting mad at readers of niche publications for being niche publication readers is stupid.
It’s also stupid and hypocritical to complain about ‘beauty standards’ and then to insult nerds for being fat and ugly.
In this case, we have a riot from the readership of these increasingly left-wing publications complaining about being so poorly treated by the writers and editors who hold them in contempt. There’s also concern about corruption and partiality among people who are supposed to be reviewing products with relative impartiality (at least those are the surface complaints).
What’s interesting about this is that we have a swath of left-wing commentators in nerd culture vocally despairing about their temporary setback.
Gaming Will Always Be a Gendered Interest
Video games are usually some form of simulated hunting behavior or an abstract competition. Across the animal kingdom, males spar with each other. It’s not even just a mammalian or primate thing. Humans tend to develop elaborate sparring rituals that men throughout history have taken an avid interest in. Part of left wing behavior has been to try to open up these sparring rituals to women, and to mandate that women should spar like men do.
Any man who says that boys don’t have an inherent drive to spar doesn’t remember being a boy, or suffers from some sort of weird mental defect. It’s repetitively observable across cultures and time periods.
Almost every video game ever released is an abstract sparring ritual, sometimes with a morality play tacked onto it.
Gaming in particular is an abstracted form of sports that bureaucratic boys and men can easily participate in. There are no Cabela’s in big Yankee cities, and many rougher sports aren’t even played all that much. The lack of walk-able neighborhoods in suburbs also encourages boys and men to turn to virtual substitutes to get their ritual violence fix.
Soft urban parents are frightened that their little ones might become injured, and the war-preparation purpose of games is moot owing to the expectation that their children will never experience war.
Female sparring does not usually attract all that much interest, relatively, because it doesn’t scratch a biological itch for them. It’s just a sort of curiosity, an abstraction built upon an abstraction, instead of an abstraction of a deeply felt biological drive. When women do play games, they usually focus on the community aspect much more than they do the competitive aspect. This is why there are no female eSports champions despite enormous prize pools, a limited physical component to competition, and attempts to open up tournaments to women.
Men either must out-compete other men or find themselves at the bottom of the masculine hierarchy. This is why arbitrary competitions seem so intrinsically important to men in a way that defies the explanation of surface rationality.
Women just need to be part of the herd, and they compete with one another through in-grouping and out-grouping. It is less of a top-and-bottom competition and more of a center-and-periphery competition.
In Leigh’s article, you see her doing this: she attempts to consign her male readership to the periphery, while redefining her own cultural clique as central. The reality is that her views are peripheral to the market her job description tells her to serve, and that the center of the market has passed her by.
As long as women have been attempting to integrate gaming, they have been trying to turn what is an abstract sparring ritual into a storytelling or togetherness ritual. Men will also sometimes participate in storytelling or togetherness rituals, just as women will occasionally fight each other, but not in the same way.
People who believe that gender is not biological will tend to be willfully obtuse about the differences between male and female lived experiences. They tend to be shockingly ignorant about the history of western culture, of fiction, of our plays, of our myths, and our religious traditions, because that was the goal of the cultural revolution in the 20th century, and it has been achieved.
Is This A Cultural Inflection Point?
Yes and no.
There is no such thing as a right wing mob. No one who understands rightist politics ought to be glad for mob action, nor should support mob tactics, nor should inflame mob passions.
I don’t think that the popular conflict is about what it’s supposedly about on the surface, in the same way that the colored mobs of charioteer enthusiasts of old Byzantium really cared all that much about the races themselves.
What you have is a political faction that has tried and failed to implement an impossible program that could never have worked in theory and has failed in practice. Some people are opportunistically taking advantage of the loss in credibility by various marginal consumer-focused web publications. It’s a relatively minor event in the context of a much larger impending cultural breakup.
For the press, it’s a more significant event, because their own witch-hunt tactics are being used against them. Tellingly, no one has lost their job, not even journalists implicated in unethical behavior as defined by the Society for Professional Journalists.
Leigh’s own article actually contradicts the SPJ ethics code, at least in spirit, and certainly all the reporters involved in the Zoe Quinn scandal violated the letter of the code, although it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that none of them are SPJ members.
The same progressives that are always complaining about unethical behavior by capitalists routinely violate their own professional standards established by nonprofits to maintain the aura of holiness around the Western press. The ethical standards of professionalization also exist to ensure that the press maintains a moral high ground over its critics. These standards are supposed to extend to cover the trade press as well. Although the trade press is less broadly influential, it can still exert a lot of influence over the industries that each outlet covers.
This general breach of previously established standards of ethics causes problems for journalists in other areas. It is one of the reasons why Putin has been able to purge Russia of Western journalists with minimal consequences: because the US and other Western governments have routinely ignored the legal and ethical standards that journalists proclaim to uphold, mixing reporting with opinion-molding and espionage.
Ceding that moral high ground is not terribly intelligent of them, but these are millenials that we’re talking about, so perhaps we ought to be grading on a curve.
Part of the reason as to why we have all these mobs roiling the public is because of the conscious breakdown of our culture, pursued over hundreds of years by our intellectuals.
The West, like many of the other world cultures, has a disaffected young man problem. Disaffected young men usually take to destruction out of a lack of productive alternatives. The left manufactures disaffected young men and takes great efforts to increase their disaffection and alienation from a positive Western identity.
The correct response is not to fan those flames, but to help guide our young men towards a more positive identity.
Success for a rightist does not look like a mob that agrees with you tearing your opponents limb from limb. The opposing mob loves it when this happens, because it’s occasion for more destruction. The proper goal isn’t more destruction, but to establish and maintain order.
We’re not going to solve this problem by fixating on criticizing a few marginal feminists. Neither will it work to make shallow and misguided calls for equality. A positive program is needed, and that program must have a cultural component.