Everyone can agree that 2016 has been a turbulent year. One of its most notable legacies will certainly be the divided world that it leaves behind. From Brexiters and anti-Brexiters, to the ANC versus the people of South Africa, to Trump against the world.
The year of 2016 has left people angry, frustrated and tired. Gaming is not exempt from this either. In terms of games themselves, it’s arguably been a good year. From Overwatch to Last Guardian to Watch Dogs 2, the year has been kind to gamers.
But once you look a little deeper, you see simmering beneath the great games, the same frustrations that the rest of the world is facing. The same divide that has left people disillusioned and disheartened.
The Great Divide
When you look past the games and at the actual conversations happening in gaming, it’s not hard to see the widening gap in the community. You sense an undercurrent of anger, resentment and misunderstanding. This widening gap leads to extreme rhetoric on both sides of an issue that serves to only widen the gap further, leading to a vicious cycle. Conversations become more polarised and it becomes a “them” versus “us” issue.
It’s reached a point where no one is really listening to one another anymore. This issue is by no means exclusive to gaming. You only need to look online, to comment threads on a friend’s Facebook post or on the latest trending hashtag on Twitter and see how little people listen to each other.
With technology and the internet, we have access to an almost unlimited forms of communication and yet it feels like we listen less today than we ever have. How did we get to this point, specifically in gaming.
How We Got Here
Well first, a lack of trust in media has played a large role. This goes all the way back to the birth of the Gamergate movement but it has persisted. While at times, this mistrust has been deserved, often times it hasn’t.
It’s okay not to agree with a writer. It’s not okay to drag them through the dirt for it. The battle that waged between media & GG was a brutal one that left everyone on the losing side. Writers were attacked over opinions, beliefs and perceived threats.
Unfortunately, some decided to fight back with vitriol thinly veiled as opinion pieces and that create a divide between media and its audience. Readers were ridiculed, insulted and smeared. It served to reinforce this culture that has always been present in gaming; That it’s okay to drag people over their words.
This led to another reason that explains why things are the way they are. An unwillingness to listen. People are too precious with their viewpoints, too stubborn with their beliefs, that they don’t take the time to truly listen. Everyone seems to wait until an opponent is done talking before digging into them and explaining why they’re wrong, without taking a second to take in what was said. In a culture where “on-demand” is everything, we seem to have lost the art of patience.
Being right has become more important than being understood. The force with which any side of an argument tries bring home their point leads to messages being lost in translation. People walk away with this sense of achievement because “we sure showed them” and they feel that they’ve done their job.
I find gaming media are particularly guilty of this point. You create content that brings across a message and you are patted on the back for it. You’re dismissive of the backlash because those commenters just didn’t get it. And you move on to the next piece.
If you have a message and you truly believe in it, surely you can’t be okay with people not getting it? Surely you should try harder next time to make people understand? Most of the time, negative comments comes from a misplaced sense of outrage but why is being right more important than being understood?
The growth of gaming has also exacerbated the situation. With more growth means more voices, more opinions and more cultures. This is not at all a bad thing, but growth comes with growing pains. Growth also brings with it change and for some, change is scary. That leads to resistance.
Resistance to change has played a large role in the great divide. It is a common theme when gender issues and racial issues are brought into gaming discussions. It always seems to cause a stir and create conflict.
Sentiments that games should be about games and that social issues have no place here are evidence that many are resistant to anychange. People want the “good ol’ days” but forget that the demographic of the community is changing. Change is necessary and perfectly natural – and how the medium willmove forward.
Another major factor that has led to the great divide is fatigue. People are tired of saying the same things over and over again. It leads to frustration and lashing out. It leads to heavy-handed comments. It leads to anger and resentment and people doubling down on their viewpoints.
People, are tired of explaining why diversity is an important issue in gaming. People are tired of explaining why depiction of women in gaming is a serious issue. People are tired of fighting for their right to be heard. And many people are tired of hearing it. It’s led to many walking away from the scene because it’s all just too much. Fighting to exist is exhausting.
Bridging The Gap
2017 has to be a better year. Despite everyone hoping that surviving 2016 will magically make 2017 a better year, that’s just not the case. It’s going to take work and it’s going to take learning from our past mistakes. We need more compassion in our conversations. We all need to listen more, whether you agree with what someone is saying or not. Just listen. The world is a loud enough place as is, it doesn’t need more shouting.
We also need to accept the hard truths. Sexism is real in gaming and men have to play a large role in changing that. Racism is still rife in the scene and white people are key in helping fix that. Extreme rhetoric is a problem in media and we’ve played a role in that. Media have often chosen being right over being understood and that can’t continue.
Gaming has come a long way. So much has changed and largely for the better. But we still have a long way to go. 2016 has been a trash year, but let’s learn from it and do better. Let’s make 2017 a year of understanding, growth and just maybe the year I finally hit Diamond in Overwatch.
Last Updated: January 4, 2017