Ideology, Literary Criticism, Academia, and Video Games, Pt. 1 – How US politics influenced a medium

I’m writing this as the first piece of many, not entirely knowing where it is going to go in future. Its probably going to be a straight-from-draft published work like the other two things I have on here, but this is largely just so that I can get my thoughts straight on the matters at hand.

This series (hopefully, but with my publishing schedule I have no idea how likely that is) of articles are going to be about exactly what the title says they will be. I have to keep it that broad and vague because its basically a working concept for how to talk about this kind of stuff. To get more specific; I’m going to be addressing the role of political and otherwise (see things like religion) ideology, branches of literary criticism, and the notion of pseudo-academic assessment and their role on the current state of ‘video game culture’ present on the internet. ‘Video game culture’ will refer to the interactions around video games in online forums, video game journalism from outlets and prominent personalities and pundits, and most importantly the content and environments of video games themselves.

In this first article I want to address some thoughts that I’ve had developing for a while around the bleeding of US politics into ”video game culture’. As an Australian, and as a politics major in an under-grad degree, its somewhat frightening to see the United States’ progression into an ideological dumpster fire over the course of the two Obama administrations bleeding internationally into video game culture. Its no overstatement to say that we live in turbulent times, but that being said it probably hasn’t actually been an overstatement the last few times that’s been said either. In what I see personally as a suppression of ideological difference and the extreme by US state actors from… well being realistic you could say that it started as far back as the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, but with particular focus from Reagan onward, you now see a rise in volatile expressions of ideological and philosophical differences from the American hyper neo-liberal, globalist, capitalist imperialism (in any other name than that) which has had basically two pretenses in the ‘democratic elections’ it presents its citizens with as opposed to any substantial difference. This is not unique, in any developed democracy its kind of to be expected. Its impact on my preferred medium of entertainment, however, was something I wasn’t expecting.

For this article I want to examine the dichotomous cabals of the alt-right (see: fascists) and the new-age (‘idpol’ if you want) liberals and their impact on the ideologies of video game culture. I’m not going to turn this into a 4chan & Reddit v.s. Tumblr & Reddit analysis because, to be fair, I’m not here to insult either your intelligence or my own by writing that and trying to convince you to read it.
I did figure it worth mentioning though because Reddit always comes up on both sides, because everyone hates Reddit.
Funnily enough I’m bringing this up mostly because of how reactionary (whoop there goes all my Marxism all over the ground oh dear) these two groups are, with particular focus on the fascists because of course they’re reactionary its the definition of their ideology. I’m not going to say that either of these are right or wrong to hold in this article either, I want this to be just an expression of how I’ve seen the culture evolve in this area with a critical assessment of expressions I’ve seen from either camp, since they mostly fight each other in some weird, nebulous kind of war with no real aims or goals.

I watched this video essay by Troy Leavitt, a game developer who’s worked on Disney Infinity (2013) and WWF Warzone (1998), called ‘Anita’s Pinhole: A Veteran Game Developer responds to Feminist Frequency (Finally!)‘. I held hope that because it was an industry veteran the analysis would be somewhat more nuanced than the standard criticisms of Sarkeesian’s work, which it wasn’t really, but the amount that Leavitt spoke about Sarkeesian’s ideology influencing her work the more I thought about finally writing this article, which I have been thinking about since February. Criticising Sarkeesian’s works, with Feminist Frequency in particular, for being incredibly selective in its analysis of video games and being an ideological megaphone for that big, bad, and scary thing called Feminism that makes white men’s willies fall off and your childhood sweetheart start seeing a dark skinned man named Tyrone. Which, hyperbolic character assassinations of Sarkeesian’s critics aside, I would say that from the (admittedly limited) evidence I have seen from watching a couple of episodes of her show in past and seeing some of the public statements that she’s made this criticism seems legitimate. When it comes to her ideological focus, though, what critics of her seem to miss largely is that I think that’s the point.

What Sarkeesian does is literary criticism, but for video games. To make her criticisms she uses a feminist lens. This is something I was taught in high school about how one analyses fiction and poetry, and now in university I use a similar set of tools to analyse policy. EVERYTHING is informed by ideology, even if you think it isn’t, and, since the author is now well and truly dead, we have free reign to use our own ideologies as interpretative lenses to inform what we take away from both fiction and reality. Trying to use Marx to analyse the current state of Australia’s awful welfare over-payment debt collection system, for instance, is just as valid as using Webber. The lens doesn’t matter, its all just interpretation. The criticism of Sarkeesian which isn’t just rape threats (such a lovely community) seems to ignore this idea, or fact of criticism, which is astounding since its taught in high school. I assume the veteran game designer Leavitt would know this, since he presumably would have had to work on it in his B.A in English from the University of Utah (LinkedIn is a gold mine). He even acknowledges that his own ideology weighs heavily on his response to Sarkeesian’s, which brings into further question why he’s treating her arguments as if she is presenting scientific fact as opposed to criticism of media. Leavitt’s constant labeling of Sarkeesian’s work as “propaganda” further displays his absolute ignorance to Sarkeesian’s work and media criticism in general. By his own substantially lacking accusations he basically finalises his video by categorising his own work as propaganda without meaning to. If one were to criticise Sarkeesian for being a bad critic because her arguments are so painfully selective they make her interpretation limited and leave it lacking substantial nuance, I wouldn’t have anything to write about, but time and again criticism of her seems to be based on her wanting to use that ideological lens in the first place, not her lack of substance in using it.

So if Sarkeesian is our new-age liberal stand-in for this loose-form analysis, then the alt-right is who need to be discussed next. Its on forums that I find, personally, most of the criticism against Sarkeesian’s ideological perspective, and this is where it starts to get politically complicated. The alt-right would not exist if they didn’t have anything else they can view as extreme to push back against. Without getting too in-depth into the politics of this, what seems to have happened in the US over the past 4 decades or so is a progressive rise of social protectionism. Theirs is a weird culture, I’ll never understand the idea of changing university content to be less confronting because in a lot of specialist professions your job is confronting, but there is definitely an anti-empiricism bent to their national identity. If you want proof; creationism in schools. So when you have a nation steeped so heavily in ideology its understandable that its ideologies become more extreme, and that they would begin to become dichotomous. Hence we have a nice parasitic ying yang going on between the new-age liberals and the alt-right because they have come to shape their identities from resistance to the other’s ideas. This is more so the case for the alt-right because they’re fascists and fascism defines itself through ethnicity-based class systems and an inherent resistance to anything that makes ethnic lines less defined.

Instances such as ‘Gamergate’ and JonTron being a racist fool (because I’m trying not to swear as much in my articles as of late <3) on a podcast can tell you that the alt-right and reactionaries are very vocal and prominent in video game culture. So the question then becomes “why?”, and I think the answer is a misunderstanding and perhaps, even though I haven’t addressed it in this article, misrepresentation of the works of people like Sarkeesian. Their prominence in the culture is a push-back against interpretation and critique that they see as being wrong in an objective sense, it seems. I think that this might be the same reason you have people DDOSing websites that give games lower than the average review score from other critics. There seems to be this inability within the culture by a worryingly active community to view criticism as criticism and not as a scientific review. Then that seems to get layered with this weird American bent on the irrelevance of science itself, a position that is culturally entrenched where something is correct, no matter what others may say, if I believe it. The alt-right seems to exist in gaming to basically serve as the world’s largest confirmation bias you’ll ever see; feeding off anything that conflicts with their ideology, calling it incorrect based on values which are presented as fact, and then using to further fuel some pseudo-revolutionary fire so that the cycle continues….
Or at least that’s what I can make of it.

The truth is the more I look at this, which is nearly on a daily basis because I enjoy video games (and if you commit the sin of wanting to dare engage with other people about that and having a differing political alignment may god have mercy on your soul), the more I am confused. There seems to be so many factors influencing this, unsurprisingly, but I felt like I needed to write something about this whole criticism thing even in as round-about of a format as this because I really needed to express my irritation somehow.

I hope this was somewhat enjoyable to read, and I’ll try to write more of these soon so any feedback to improve is more than welcome as well as discussion about my writing topics.

Link to referenced video:
(As an aside, I just wanted to note something else that really irritated me about this video: the music used. Why Leavitt chose to put Flight of the Valkyries and In the Hall of the Mountain King in this goddamn train wreck of a video I will never know. I also sincerely hope he has a new microphone now.)


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