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A Guy's Defense of Guy-Bashing Game Criticism.

I don't read game blogs as much as I should, which is why I was not fully aware of the backlash Heather Chaplin got for her GDC rant this year. It seems that several prominent bloggers gave her some real shit about what she said, and I want to pipe up and defend her a bit. I understand how one could be upset by her fiery rhetoric and judgmental attitude, but I really feel like a lot of her critics missed her point.

I took Heather's point to be that game developers have no one to blame but themselves for the preponderance of male power fantasy-oriented game culture, and that hiding behind the popular excuse that the medium somehow "isn't there yet", either technically or artistically, is both cowardly and disingenuous. This was all summed up in her opening statement: the medium isn't immature; you are.

I didn't find this offensive in the slightest, mostly because it jibes pretty easily with my experience of working at a commercial game company. I didn't feel Heather was talking about me personally. I felt like she was talking about a certain kind of person who works in games, the sort who likes to disguise the bankruptcy of his own imagination with lame excuses, the sort who would say "Hey, I had no choice but to make a bloody game with floppy tits! The medium's not art yet! It's not my problem!"

People with this attitude I feel deserve all the smackdown Heather can dish out. Not because they enjoy male power fantasies, but because they don't take any responsibility for enjoying them. I didn't take her to be saying that all men who enjoy such fantasies are hopelessly childish, but that it is childish to enjoy such fantasies and pretend like they are not childish. The male-dominated games industry needs to own up to the sort of culture it is perpetuating and not try to weasel out of any debate that would hold them responsible for facilitating and maintaining these cultural norms. They need to call a spade and spade and understand that this is a choice they are making in design meetings, in marketing meetings, etc. It isn't some mystical phenomenon they have no control over. They have complete control over it. At the end of the day our current game culture is what they've created. It's didn't create itself.

Simply admitting that, owning that, acknowledging that responsibility--that's what I felt Heather was really calling for in her angry rant. That's maturity. That's what "real men" would do. It's not that creating or indulging in male power fantasies is somehow inherently wrong, but nurturing a culture based around them as the dominant form of gamer culture and then turning around and saying "Hey, it's not our fault!" is cowardly. It's a patronizing slap in the face to anyone who feels under-represented by the current culture. Mature adults (male or otherwise) should have more integrity than that. And when you're dealing with people of integrity - who enjoy blowing shit up but realize that's not what everybody wants - you have the possibility for real dialogue and real change.

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