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Moral Combat

After enduring a vicious harassment campaign designed to chase women out of the video game industry, local female developers are trying to take back the art form from commercialization.



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Anthropy views these publications as cogs in a corporate machine that caters to a specific group of people who relish in their collective ability to control it. Their decisions are informed by their readership, as much as their readers' tastes are informed by them.

In a recent post on her blog Ellaguro, Liz Ryerson, a trans writer who lives in Berkeley and makes music for video games (including for Anthropy's Dys4ia), argued that Gamergate was not entirely about the pure hatred of women. She thinks that underlying all of that hostility, is a deep, collective fear that the gaming industry will soon experience a metaphorical coup, and the campaign to chase women out of games is an attempt to maintain exclusive ownership over the industry. Anthropy expressed the same sentiment, saying that the reason gamers are playing so rough is because they can feel their fortress beginning to crumble around them.

Anthropy argues that the video game industry doesn't have to function this way. Although up to this point games have largely been dominated by a specific demographic, there is endless untapped potential for the medium to appeal to audiences outside of that — people who, because of the conventional understanding that non-iOS or Wii games are mostly oriented toward violence, would never imagine themselves enjoying a video game. At this point, it's financially risky to attempt to appeal to those audiences, but Anthropy believes that a shift is gradually taking place. Publishers and publications are slowly going to recognize that audiences for other types of games exist, and the white male monopoly will eventually dissipate.

Brice agrees that eventually games will become more inclusive, but says that for the time being, the women who have been fighting for that inclusion should not be ashamed to back out and take time for themselves. She is confident that, like in other forms of activism, when passionate people decide their work is done, others inevitably step up to the plate to continue their advocacy.

Meanwhile, the communities of people who are interested in games as art are becoming more active and concentrated as they separate themselves from mainstream video game culture. They are building space online and in the cultural consciousness for the definition of games to be reimagined and the potential of the medium to be creatively reclaimed.

For many people, the initial draw of video games is the community that they offer. Youth who are bullied at school, or have trouble making friends, often turn to online communities for connections that they don't have access to locally, and to online spaces for opportunities to play out their identity in ways that are inhibited by physicality and social norms.

In her 2014 book, ZZT, Anthropy writes about Tim Sweeney's 1991 game ZZT, which also functions as an easy platform for players to build their own worlds and design their own games. Among many other things, she describes how being offered the agency to modify existing games, or create your own, is incredibly empowering because it gives you the ability to personalize, push back, and manifest dreams. It can be understood as a tool for resistance, for recreating what has been handed to you, and for questioning the status quo.

At the end of the book, Anthropy recalls how she spoke with the first transgender person she ever met through the ZZT community, and how she had shared a poem with her called "Children of the Glow." "The glow was the glow of the computer screen, this strange machine that we weirdos, queers, and outcasts huddled around like campfires," Anthropy writes. "The pale bright light of IRC [chat] text was our one connection to these people, who, bodiless, understood us better than anyone who filtered us through our teenage bodies, awkward and cumbersome and wrong."

But for adults wanting to become creatively or professionally involved in video games, anonymity isn't as much of a protective option. That safe community can be compromised by individuals who hide behind the same protective shield in order to harass others. And so the reaction is to also build safe communities in the physical world, and to concentrate on fostering local creative centers and support systems. "The industry can be a place you work and somewhere else can be your community. We can create something else," Brice wrote in an August 30 blogpost called "Moving On." "Create new spaces that don't have industry and business as the main component ... collaborate with people local to you instead of trying to create a large replacement for a global industry."

Brice is the co-founder of the Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon), an annual event held at UC Berkeley, which was organized for the first time last fall. QGCon, like GaymerX, Lost Levels, and an increasing number of other small video game gatherings, is different from a typical convention because it focuses on games that veer from the norm, and aims to create a safe, inclusive space. There, all types of video game appreciators — including some who often feel unwelcome at public events — can come together to celebrate an art form that they love without having to worry about discrimination. A radical feeling of acceptance electrifies the air at these events, lighting up faces that look like they might have been searching for that their entire lives.

Brice was not involved in the organization this year, but her co-founders have worked with other organizers to present it again. The free event will take place on October 25 and 26 at UC Berkeley with the theme "Difference at Play."

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