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June 6, 2017 | by  | in Opinion |
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Why I Play

I’m about to do something I’ve deliberately avoided doing ever since I started writing for Salient back in 2015. It was, and is, the gaming controversy to end all gaming controversies; nothing else comes even remotely close in terms of impact on the wider gaming community and on society in general. Mentioning its name is a bit like Beetlejuice: say it enough times in succession and an entire army of angry people appear out of thin air, slinging mud and calling each other the most vicious, insulting names. Here’s hoping I don’t get run out of town for this…


There, it’s done. Although, if you have no idea what I’m going on about, I congratulate you; all you really need to know is that it involved sexism in gaming. Or maybe it was about ethics in the gaming press? Honestly, I still haven’t got a clue what people were really fighting about. Yet, that’s not really what I want to talk about. Instead I want to show you why I, and indeed many others, enjoy the interactive medium so much.

I was just five years old when my parent bought my sister and I a PlayStation. I can distinctly remember walking into a Napier electronics store and being told by my mum that I could pick any game I wanted from the selection behind the counter (if it was age-appropriate, of course). I chose Crash Bash, a party game that would kickstart my love for the Crash Bandicoot franchise and of gaming in general. While it was fine to play alone, I quickly found that I enjoyed playing even more if I was with someone else, even if we had to share a single controller.

While the pure joy of having fun with friends has never really gone away, I began to prefer gaming alone as my social skills deteriorated over the years. It became more of an escape from reality than a social equaliser, where I could unload the stress and anxiety of normal life into something I enjoyed. It didn’t make me violently anti-social, but I was quite defensive of my hobby.

When Gamergate happened, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads, having, in my first year of university, been exposed to feminist and social justice ideas, which I was (and still am) broadly in favour of. Yet, when the kinds of people who share these beliefs with you start saying things like “there are no bad tactics, only bad targets” before ripping into something you hold dear, it gives you food for thought. Simultaneously, when many of those that share your hobby start saying vile things towards women and disparage progressive thought, you can see why I’ve been so hesitant to discuss the controversy for all this time.

I simply did not want to be hated by anyone on either side. If I say the wrong thing, I’m either a sexist neckbeard pig or a libtard feminazi cuck. I cannot possibly be both, so I chose to be neither. I chose to focus on the games, and leave politics out of it for a while.

This “you’re either with us or against us” line of thinking has poisoned not just the gaming community, but every kind of political discourse. It is my firm belief that Gamergate was a direct precursor to the rise of the alt-right, but the use of violence by the left, as evidenced in the recent Berkeley riots, is frankly just as worrying. Sometimes I have to shake my head and ask, can’t we just calm down and play some video games? You know, like we used to?

Maybe that’s just too much to ask at this point.

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