Take “SJW” Politics Out of Gaming

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Social Justice Warrior. A pejorative label applied to bloggers, activists and commentators who are prone to engage in lengthy and hostile debates against others on a range of issues concerning social injustice, identity politics and political correctness.

I first came across the term whilst perusing a Reddit post discussing the fake social activism that many came across on Tumblr. It was used to label stereotypically young, white, rich girls on Tumblr who championed causes they knew nothing about nor made any real, tangible contribution to.

Since then, I have seen the term used liberally in mainstream media to the point that even your everyday person knows and understands the term. It has seen widespread use in gaming particularly since the rise of GamerGate and the saga that followed that.

Due to how prolific its use is, the term has lost its meaning and is now applied to just about everything. That needs to end.

SJW Politics In Gaming

When it comes to gaming, SJW Politics is used to describe content that discusses gender, race and mostly anything that isn’t purely gameplay. I’ve seen on many game reviews, mine included, comments questioning the author for discussing anything outside of pure game mechanics, graphics and performance.

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Even locally, you see the South African audience resist being pulled into discussions that move beyond the realm of ‘pure’ gaming, for lack of a better term. That is not exclusive to game reviews, this same sentiment is found in articles that discuss social issues in the gaming scene.

In the last article I wrote, where I discussed the white boys club that is so often the norm in gaming, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement. Some of the comments were well thought out and encouraging to see the depth of discussion it stimulated. But there were equally misguided comments and the large narrative of that side was that we need to take SJW Politics out of gaming.

And I couldn’t agree more.

The term has completely lost its meaning. Nowadays, it’s used by many across a swathe of topics that, whilst worthwhile to discuss and have an important place in gaming, are reduced to mere “rants”. The term is used to deflect from the issues raised. It serves as a shield that critics can use to brush off important conversations, much like the term “feminazi” is used to reduce feminist discussions to verbal rubble.

SJW Politics as a term doesn’t belong in gaming.  What does belong are social issues. Gaming is growing up. It’s time we did too.

Pushing the Limits of Gaming

I’ve never really understood why people are so resistant to the concept of social issues in gaming. This backlash to tackling social issues in games prevents the industry from growing and moving forward. It stifles the future of where gaming is headed.

Gaming is no longer just a hobby to pass time. It isn’t just art. It has become a powerful medium for discussion, views and progress. It’s a multi-million dollar sporting industry. As a famous uncle once said, with great power comes great responsibility.

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For so long, we as a global gaming community, have fought to change the mainstream perception of gamers. That we weren’t all overweight, socially inadequate teenagers sitting in our parents’ basement. That gaming wasn’t just this waste of time that detracted from people’s lives instead of adding to it.

Now, once we’re finally at that point where gaming is noticed and people are clawing to get in, it feels like many want to pump on the brakes and stop the evolution. People want to go back to the “golden days” where games were just about games. But isn’t that just so boring? Are we not curious to see how far this passion, and love of ours, can go? Social issues belong in gaming and it’s a staggeringly beautiful medium with which to tackle them.

A Powerful Medium – Social Issues in Gaming 

For many, gaming is an escape from the real world and I completely understand that. Having struggled with depression in the past, gaming was the constant that allowed me to take a break from reality and immerse myself in another world. There are certainly games that have that role of fantasy and fun. This isn’t an argument that games should all be serious and thought provoking.

This is about acknowledging that the real world and gaming are not mutually exclusive. There is absolutely space for games to give back to the world. Gaming has the mechanics, the people, the passion, the overall ingredients to really help shape and tackle narratives on important social issues, both locally and abroad.

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That approach can lead to more compelling stories and plots. Why do we not want more layered approaches to storytelling in games? Look at the fury that Destiny faced initially when it lacked any real narrative. We all want depth in our games. Tackling social issues gives us that very thing we all crave.

It would create a more inclusive space in gaming as people find stories and issues they can relate and contribute to. I’ve already spoken at length about the perception of gaming being a white boys’ club. Creating a space for people to add their voices and their stories, that would result in a hugely diverse community.

In my previous article, a commenter suggested that maybe people of colour aren’t interested in games due to cultural differences. I can’t speak for everyone but I really don’t think that’s the case. When people are interested, they show up.

Cultural differences don’t stop people from watching films or reading books. These are mediums that have both fun, light hearted content as well as influential pieces that challenge the world and tackle important issues. Gaming need not be different. Create the spaces for inclusive dialogue and people will come.

Having your beliefs and world view challenged is hugely beneficial to personal growth and development. Socially conscious games can create socially conscious gamers who have an enlightened view of the world and a better grasp of it. That leads to better equipped adults and a better society overall. It also leads to a better community, an issue that many gamers relate to.

Gaming Is Growing Up – Embrace It 

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I still remember the global outrage and shock that came about when Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare 2 was released and the now infamous airport scene was shared throughout the world. Back then, critics argued it didn’t belong in games but I remember how poignant that scene was for me.

It genuinely opened up my eyes to the horror of terrorism in a way I hadn’t experienced before. We’ve come a long way since then as the world has gotten used to the idea that games are not just light hearted time wasters. Gaming can change the world and really contribute to the growth of society. That concept is not just limited to books and films.

The possibilities for gaming and where we can go have never been more limitless. Social issues are here to stay, so I suggest you uncross your arms, unfurrow your brow and get involved.

Leave “SJW Politics” and similar terms at the door. This is about social issues in gaming. This is about changing the world.

Last Updated: October 17, 2016

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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