The Zoe Quinn scandal has sparked an active debate that shows no signs of abating. United under the hashtag #GamerGate, advocates of gaming journalism reform are making their views heard – and many critics are arguing that the issue has little to do with journalism at all.
#GamerGate raises a lot of questions and has spurred plenty of debate, with plenty of voices stepping in to add to the discussion. At the core of the debate is a question of identity: How is “gamer” defined, and who is or is not included under that umbrella? As games become increasingly mainstream, the once niche audience for gaming publications feels it’s no longer being served by those same voices. Worse, as gaming news outlets continue to focus on the story, frequently pointing out the negativity of the proponents of #GamerGate, those same proponents find their fears being validated. “See?” They cry, pointing to the newest headlines. “The media has stopped serving our interests!”
Setting aside for a moment the complex social issues that seem to go hand-in-hand with #GamerGate, it’s worth asking honestly whether the games that get positive press are really the games worth playing. It’s also worth asking if game developers themselves are still trying their best to create great games, or if they’re busy pandering to a new audience.
It’s no surprise that gaming has gone mainstream, thanks in large part to the accessibility of games on user-friendly devices like smartphones and tablets. It’s also no surprise that these games, with their shallow learning curves and low barriers of entry, are being scorned as unworthy by those hardcore gamers who value both challenge and commitment.
What is particularly interesting, though, is that the elitism goes hand-in-hand with a conservative mindset not found in other types of media. In film, for example, the movies viewed as “quality” also tend to be the ones saluted for breaking norms and pushing the envelope. These are the same qualities critics are eager to celebrate in games – innovation, fresh ideas and storylines that appeal to wide audiences.
In that light, the issue of #GamerGate ultimately boils down to a simple question: Do we as gamers really want that kind of innovation and inclusivity? Or do we want to stick with more familiar ground, focusing on delivering exactly the gameplay experience the core audience prefers? And is there no way to reconcile the two?