Outrage culture – The culture that sells

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Wonder Woman has been celebrated for so many reasons. For one, it was a relief that DC didn’t crap the bed with a new film. More importantly, it was a female directed film that did incredibly well financially and is set to become the highest grossing live-action film of all time from a female director. (Source) If that wasn’t enough, it featured a strong female superhero lead who did incredibly well, the much talked about Gal Gadot.

There were a lot of problematic narratives that reared their heads following Wonder Woman’s success. Many people, mainly men, tried to downplay the significance of the film’s success in the context of women, but not even naysayers could detract from the shine of the film.

In the latest narrative spin of the film, it was highlighted by author Jaya Saxena, from Elle, that Gal Gadot was earning $300K whilst Superman’s Henry Cavill was earning $14M. (Source)

Lauren Duca, an award winning journalist in the US, highlighted the article and with her formidable presence on Twitter, the story spread like wildfire. The outrage was fast and impassioned. Arguments around the gender wage gap were reignited and despite overwhelming evidence to illustrate the very real issue, due to Lauren’s choice of evidence, it became a debatable topic again.

Lauren’s tweet and the story she linked was disputed, with many claiming Gadot’s male counterparts earned similar amounts. The figure of $14M was also shown large amounts of scepticism. Soon after, Lauren admitted that the $14M stated in the article was “sloppily sourced” but continued to complain about Gadot’s salary, irrespective of the now failed comparisons.

And just like that, another illustration of outrage culture occurred.

Outrage culture – Deadly and widespread

Outrage culture is a term that many are misinformed about. It’s a phrase that is bandied about, largely to silence important discussions or deflect from the real issues at hand. Other times however, its instances can also harm those same, vital discussions. Lauren’s misinformed tweets and resulting outrage culture moment harmed the discussion around the gender wage gap, a very real problem.

In the gaming community, it is a phrase that has become twisted and abused to fit a certain narrative. For many in the scene, it is used to silence those who call out problematic behaviour. It is used to deflect from real issues and prevent serious and uncomfortable introspection.

The Urban Dictionary definition of outrage culture is most likely how many of those deflectors would define it (Source):

When people play the victim card and bend over backwards to be as offended as possible when they really aren’t. Using hissy fits, political correctness, character assassination, and a false sense of moral authority, the outrager hopes to gain power and public recognition for their brave act of justice as well as a sense of control over their meaningless existence. Often accompanied by demands for financial compensation for their “pain and suffering”.

This misinformed view of outrage culture is exactly why it has become so prolific in both the gaming scene as well as society at large. It has arguably also been given life due to how polarised the world has become on a swathe of issues. Rhetoric from either side of an issue has become so aggressive, with a zero-tolerance attitude, that there is no longer an acceptable middle ground on the battlefield.

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The gaming scene has become a war-torn region for some time now. Gamers have always been a passionate group, with strong feelings across a myriad of topics, but it feels more divided now than ever before.

Every gaming news story feels like a reason for war and for sides to be declared. From Tracer, a female character in Overwatch, being revealed as being in a relationship with another woman to Far Cry 5’s portrayal of white, extremist Christians to an Arabic City being added into Overwatch’s map pool, everything seems like a reason to fight.

In the gaming scene, and largely the rest of society as well, outrage culture is seen as something that “SJWs” bring to every facet of the culture, where they are seen as overreacting. The reality, however, is that the scene has become so polarised, strong reactions are encouraged by everyone on every side and outrage culture becomes prevalent no matter what side of an argument you take.

Media’s abuse of outrage culture

Outrage culture has become so widespread and so ingrained in society at large, it has become a social currency upon which many media publications are staking a living. Take a fairly straightforward story and spin it to fit your narrative and create outrage. Exploiting this newfound culture for financial gain is an accusation that has been justly, and unjustly, levied against some of the biggest media publications in the world. From NY Times to Washington Post, Kotaku to Polygon, Breitbart to Fox News, CNN to Huffington Post and then everyone in between, all have been accused of feeding outrage culture.

In the past, it used to be that sex sold, but in this day and age, it’s outrage. Media has a huge part to play in fanning the flames that have led to the dominance of the culture in everyday life. People are becoming conditioned to become upset about almost anything without any thought for scepticism and analysis.

Critical thinking and fact checking have fallen to the wayside in favour of a more emotional and reactionary approach. It is exactly this flaw that Lauren Duca exposed with her series of tweets about Gal Gadot’s salary. It is this flaw that some men, incensed about women-only screenings of Wonder Woman, also revealed.

Bringing it back to gaming, the outrage created from Overwatch for its various actions along with Far Cry 5, show that gaming, too, is susceptible to this reactionary and emotional approach. Despite what many anti-SJWs would have you believe, outrage culture has no side. It is a phenomenon that is sweeping the world, regardless of which side of the political aisle you lean on or your viewpoint on controversial issues.

The baton to beat down social activism

As with anything in life, there are always those that hijack a phenomenon to further personal agendas – Outrage culture is no exception to this. The term has, for a considerable time now, been used to silence any meaningful discussions across a host of issues, especially those in gaming.

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From studios to game devs to the gaming community itself, whenever problematic behaviour is called out, many resort to blaming outrage culture. To be very clear, outrage culture is not the act of getting upset about problematic behaviour. Calling out people that perpetuate issues is hugely important and a vital step in taking the gaming culture forward and making it more progressive and inclusive.

Outrage culture is also not a blanket statement that can be used to sweep issues under the rug. It is also not illustrated by being upset all the time – there is a lot wrong in the gaming world and still some way to go to fixing it. The Urban Dictionary definition of outrage culture that so many in the gaming scene subscribe to is not outrage culture.

Outrage culture is about people becoming polarised and letting their emotions override critical thinking and fact checking. It’s about media abusing genuine pain and issues to increase views and push an agenda. It involves turning a non-issue into a divisive battleground for the sake of a narrative. Outrage culture is making the world more of an arena and less of a place for discussion and real engagement.

Outrage culture will never be about standing up for what you believe in. Fighting against sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination big or small, will never warrant the tag of outrage culture. Despite Duca’s blunder, she remains an important and inspiring journalist that does her part to fight against sexism and a host of other important issues.

Outrunning the culture

The amount of momentum that outrage culture has, it is a difficult beast to escape from. However, things cannot continue going the way they are right now. The status quo is unsustainable and does not bode well for society as a whole. In the gaming scene specifically, we need to find a way forward to move on from outrage culture.

The first step to fighting it is to understand its true definition. This idea that outrage culture is limited to “SJWs” is absurd and woefully ignorant. The community needs to stop trying to silence social activism by beating it down with a bat.

The next step is highlighting and valuing the importance of critical thinking. If people took the time to read, take in and critically think about what they consumed information-wise, there would be less emotional, reactionary outbursts. Not everything that challenges your beliefs needs to be met with anger and contempt. Before reacting as such, take a moment to dwell on what is being said.

Perhaps it is too late and outrage culture will leave an indefinite mark on the gaming scene and how everything works, much like the lasting damage Gamergate left. It’s possible that navigating through daily outrage culture will become as necessary a skill as traversing the constant stream of fake news. After all, outrage sells.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: June 23, 2017

Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design. May or may not report you to the relevant authorities. I'm also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

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