Underneath my yellow skin

Toxic masculinity and the gaming industry

With the news coming out about sexual harassment in comics, it was inevitable that stories of the same would come out in gaming as well. The two  are similar in terms of culture, and both are very laddy at best and a stew of toxic masculinity at worst. Even in the RKG group, I know there’s a base of laddishness that I have to accept. Inappropriate and quite frankly gross sexual jokes at time, tons of booze talk, and all the pop culture being referred to is masculine-heavy. Again, this is a group I willing belong to and have a good time engaging with other people to a certain extent. The only one. And in a very limited fashion.

When the news broke out that there was a lot of sexual harassment going on at IGN a few years ago, it didn’t surprise me in the least. Then, Chloi Rad posted this thread, and it made my blood boil (Ian alerted me to it):

I was furious, but I wasn’t surprised. It was obvious that Chloi wasn’t taken as seriously as they should have when they were at IGN. I was so happy when I first saw them because they were female-presenting (and in the closet at the time) and Asian. I loved their voice for being deep and husky like mine, and I loved that they knew their shit. I loved watching them play Soulsborne games, and I only wanted to watch them. But then, they started fading from the content, and I had a hunch it was because the powers that be didn’t want a woman (or someone who presented as a woman) as the face of the Souls games.

Side note: I love FromSoft games, obviously. I have written about them countless times. But, there’s something about them that brings out the worst in gaming culture. I think it’s partly the difficulty of the games and the way that gets hyped. I mean, the definitive edition on the PC is called Prepare to Die. This is one of the trailers for Dark Souls III. It’s funny as hell, but it also emphasizes the difficulty (and says ‘a man’ for the player character, when you can be either male or female).

Again, it’s very tongue-in-cheek, but the clear message is how hard the game is. Though, maybe they’re satirizing the reputation of the games. Anyway, I really love the tagline: When you pick a fight with the devil, you better be stronger than hell, but it also underlines the brutality of the games. And, the 2nd DLC of that game was so difficult, it actually brought me to tears. Granted, it was because I had just fought the first boss and escaped battered, then got immediately invaded in the new area–by the way. Shout-out to the asshole who camps out in the new area the day after the DLC releases in order to invade. No, really, go fuck yourself.

It’s hard not to get sucked into the machismo of the games. Even I who believes that there is no one right way to play the games will life my eyebrow if someone doesn’t fight a boss solo at least once. I was watching someone who wanted to get his wife involved in the games, so on her playthrough of DS II, he had her summoning for bosses from the start. I admit that my first thought was, “No, make her fight them alone at least once!” But then I thought, “Why does it matter?” I do think it’s legitimate to say you won’t have the same experience if you never even try to fight a boss solo, but on the other hand, if you’re trying to get someone into the games, then having them summon is a very smart thing to do. I don’t like watching people who summoning all the time, but that’s more an entertainment thing.

In my own Souls life, I’ve struggled with the mentality. I like to solo a boss, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, it also shouldn’t be a bad thing to summon, which it most definitely is. I mean, it’s not a bad thing, but it’s definitely considered a bad thing by hardcore Souls fans. Games journalists who love the games will state that yes, summoning is in the game, but with the attitude that it’s just not cricket–or even explicitly stated. The same with the idea that magic is OP. That one really bothered because I’ve always been a caster. I started as a Pyro, and I will end as a Pyro. But all these people in games journalism were putting down magic users, and it never sat well with me. Then, I found out that most of them had never even tried magic, and I shook my head in frustration. They were repeating a meme and taking it for granted. Also, I found out from doing some research that magic was pretty broken in Demon’s Souls, and they might have just assumed it carried over into Dark Souls.

I kept hearing about the ‘bullshit Homing Crystal Soulmass’ and how it could destroy a boss. Here’s the thing, though. If you want to use the high-end sorceries, you need to pump a lot of point into Intelligence. And upgrade a staff. And buff dex for casting speed if that’s your thing. If you’re doing Pyro, you don’t have to buff your stats, but a fully upgraded Pyro Flame is hundreds of thousands of Souls. I once calculated that it was the same as 52 (I think) levels. That’s a lot of dedication, which non-casters never think of.

They also say, “I like to get in there with melee. Casters can just dance around and never get hit.” Well, considering that magicks run out (except maybe in DS III), that’s not true. Even as a caster, I melee roughly the same amount as I hurl fire except maybe with bosses when I do more of the latter.

Wow. That was one hell of a side note, but it actually addresses part of the problem with gaming. There is such a macho attitude, it’s hard to escape it. I just spent half an hour delving into the IGN debacle, and it started with stories of how Tal Blevins, VP, and Steve Butts, Editor-in-Chief, had a reign of terror when they were at IGN. Sexual harassment of men and hostile environment harassment of, well, everyone. It’s really grim, and it’s indicate of the toxicity of the industry.

I will point out that the stories emerging have women as perps, and men and NB folks as victims. The vast majority of the perps are men, however, and that’s not by accident. Men are usually the ones in the highest positions, and they are usually the ones to set the culture. The stories I read about how the writers at IGN were treated makes me ineffably sad, and it’s clear that they are still dealing with the ramifications, even if they are no longer at IGN. More than that, though, I want the industry to take a hard look at itself and how it allows this shit to happen. Not only allow it, but embrace it to a certain extent. The exploitation of workers and the intense pressure to hype everything, churn out content 24/7, and the frat-boy mentality that seems to run throughout much of the culture.

It’s the same with the protests and the murder of George Floyd pricking the awareness of white America as to the racism that is deeply embedded in our country. Opening the eyes is the first step, but it by far the only one. I am hoping that we can take that next step soon.

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