After the game castle has burnt down

When gamers are over, where will we escape? A look into the near future, when #GamerGate is over.

There is nothing but fire, and I can't remember what the castle looked like. It used to define me: I was a gamer. I wanted to work and live here, and nowhere else in the world. But the high walls have fallen, the castle is no more. It was grounded in a deep-seated violence. It had to be destroyed to be better rebuilt. The people inside screamed, harassed, kicked, wept, but it is vain and they are doomed. There is nothing left for me here. Hence frightened and disoriented, I venture into reality.

As I roam in fright and anxiety, I wonder, how did we get here? Two months of war, that is more than enough. I've never felt more desperately alone, and I long for something, because yes, something is missing in the outside world. And here I hear a joyful voice call me, and I'm told I should cheer up, because now games will be for everyone. I'm taught that just like books, games can serve a general purpose. That in any bookstore, there is a book for anyone, and that no one is ever barred from entrance. That's why there's no such thing as "real bookers", and that's why in this newly found reality, gamers are over too. I hear that in this world, we'll get "tragicomedy, vignette, musicals, dream worlds, family tales, ethnographies, abstract art", and it does sound exciting. I'm merely asked to share a space where everyone will fit, and I'm willing to do so. As hopeful as one might be, I enter a gamestore where I should find, if they speak truth, games for everyone.

It is truly a gigantic gamestore, and in all its aspects, it is modelled after a bookstore. There are games about everything, for everyone — to learn more about gardening, to discover faraway countries, to confront depression, to feel closer to nature, to change the world. It is a collection as diverse as the universe can be. But something is missing. I happen to be fond of visual novels. Whenever I feel weak, distressed and low, I know I can enter a visual novel, where I will find the comfort of the hearth, a pleasant love story, and will forget all my earthly sorrows. It is the only kind of game I need at the moment, in a world where all is unknown. I soon find the VN aisle, but nothing seems familiar.

Some of the changes are more than welcome. The aisle is more diverse than it has ever been. The tastes of women, queer, non-binary, disabled and non-White people are all represented. In fact, there are no genre barriers anymore. We used to have on one hand, regular VNs, presented as universal even though they were exclusively for men, and on the other hand, otome VNs, a confined subcategory for women. It was rather disrespectful and sad. But now both are there, mixed, to suit absolutely everyone. How could I ever complain? Otome VNs have been growing more and more popular in recent years, and never have they represented a threat for anyone.

Still, something is missing. I pick several VNs at random, and I can't find a single one which pleases me. Some seem to reflect the dull colour of life. I see characters with agency, but I do not find fantasy. Others describe the struggles of our times, against capitalism, racism and oppression, and I exclaim please, no! I wish to escape out of here. But the worst are the ones which purposefully, methodically burn down and deconstruct the kind of VNs I long for. No story to escape out of this world, no story to forget. There is nothing for me here. With teary eyes, I leave the gamestore.

Why had they lied to me? Didn't they say with eagerness that games would be for everyone? That we would only have to share a space, but that nothing would truly go away? I'm glad if people with different life experiences found what they need. But me, where will I escape?

I walk furiously to forget, and here I find myself on the campus of a university, and soon by pure chance I happen to enter the Game Studies department. It is here that scholars study and criticise the meaning of video games. I wonder, what do they think of games, in the reality? There are many lectures given at the same time, and I choose one on the history of games. It is an excellent class. The professor has a profound love of games, an extensive knowledge of their culture and an acute critical mind. She tells a story which seems incredibly familiar. She tells the tale of a struggle, and of its eventual realisation. She speaks of women and minorities in games, who were here from the very beginning, far earlier than I have been. She explains how much they've been systematically erased, excluded and harassed, but how they constantly fought back for their right to play and make games. But mostly, she speaks of the Ancient Games. How they misrepresented reality. How they catered only to men, how they were entirely deficient of empathy. Her young students are enthralled. They haven't known this world, and they look back on these barbaric times with a mixture of amusement and disgust. What curious people were these gamers, they think! What a meaningless identity they shared blindlessly, and what mindless games they designed eagerly! How could they love their chains so much, how could they revel in living in such a childish world?

That is when the professor mentions the decisive, historical battles of 2014. The destruction of the castle. During these fateful months, she declares, the high walls finally fell. It was because they had refined their criticism. They had written article after article to denounce the violence of our culture but also to describe the beauty of our gardens, and all that diverse people could achieve with it. It was a rallying call; they were heard. For the first time, the wider world took an interest in the castle. In the mountains, in the plains, people realised how much games mattered, and what could be done with them. With a single voice, they marched towards the walls. Within a night they had fallen. They burnt down the Ancient Rules. From now on, they would make meaningful games. Games to change the world. Games to find beauty. Games with empathy. And on these words, the professor concludes: "This battle was the foundation of our modern game culture." The amphitheatre rises in applause, while I swiftly leave the room.

As her words echo in my minds, I start to understand. They were indeed lying when they spoke of games for everyone. There is no such thing as a universal medium. Reshaping a culture is necessarily a fight, and nothing can prevent new rulers and values to emerge at some point. It is because they have won that I could find no visual novel to my taste in the gamestore. As they destroyed the castle, critics and scholars invented a new language to talk about games, and with it they expressed new ideas. A new generation of creators collected these ideas, and they designed different games with them. It was a mistake to listen to these critics. Of course people should be free to express themselves and to explore the unknown paths they wish to. And after all they did it anyway. Gamers tried to censor them, but they kept writing, even in the midst of the war. But gamers cannot be blamed for sensing their incoming death. Criticism is a weapon: it doesn't belong to the realm of ideas, but to our sad reality.

Anita Sarkeesian repeatedly and famously stated that games do not exist in a vacuum. I couldn't agree more. But neither does game criticism. If games are inherently political and reflect our culture, so does game criticism. It isn't possible to envision a world in which we accept criticism of art without this criticism having any consequences on the very act of creation. Critics don't write articles to hide them in a library where no one will read them. They aren't in search of truth, they aren't philosophers. They are fighters, and they write to change the world. Engaging with criticism necessarily means changing. It was an outright lie to claim that games would be for everyone, as if in a diverse world, the margins would endlessly be included without the slightest reconfiguration of the whole. It isn't merely about gamers not being the core anymore, neither is it about sharing a little space. It is about becoming entirely irrelevant. In this world where gamers are over, their fantasies are over too. They are curiosities from the past. In the new game language, they rime with barbarism. In the history written by the winners, they serve to illustrate how far we have progressed. Nobody could ever make, or even enjoy such games anymore. The culture from which they come is dead.

I am not only anxious, when I leave the university. I am angry. I am angry because there is a tale that they won't teach in these classrooms. They will never speak of why we sought an escape from the world. They will never understand our sorrow. They will think of gamers as I thought of medieval people: mindless, alienated people. This is the new narrative, and it has been in gestation ever since Leigh Alexander said gamers were over. The tragedy is that she is entirely right. But she shattered the only remnant of identity I had. I could only watch as I stood powerless by the side, and this is the source of the gamer rage.

Now I hear people laughing. I look around, and it seems I have walked in a fancy party, somewhere at the top of a skyscraper. There are many artists from many different worlds. Movie directors, writers, musicians, comics artists… and game people. Nothing is putting the latter apart anymore. All these artists belong to the same class. They have different skills and backgrounds, but their ideas circulate freely between their crafts. Some of the game creators seem to discuss a few works. I tend my ear. It is no surprise that they do not even mention the kind I value the most, games to escape. Instead, they speak of beauty, of radicality, of change and of hope. I do not mind. I myself do seek beauty at times, and even if I don't share all their interests, who am I to complain about a pleasant, friendly discussion? But then one of them hands out a newspaper, a very respectable one, which has analysed world politics for centuries. As in all the issues, there is a section on arts, and nowadays, one can find there as many articles on games as on movies, books and exhibitions. It satisfies them to see their works in this great newspaper. Yes, they all seem rather glad, because they have earned the last medium they didn't have. Their tastes in art have always been reflected in all the media. They were the painters, the writers, the directors, and people talked about their ideas on the radio, on TV, in the newspapers. But they lacked one medium: games. Now, at last, it is part of their realm too. You see, they love to think, and they needed games to make them think. They love to express themselves, and they needed to express themselves in games. Games are at last a proper cultural form, one which displays their power and their way of life. Games are for them. Not for everyone.

Oh, what a tragic turn of events! This is what they destroyed the castle for! When they said games for everyone, they meant games for those who powerful enough to define art. Was it all worth it? Did we really have to prove that games are art, for our petty pride? We could have done with our insularity. We should have remained safe in the castle, where what they thought of us didn't matter. I have never been anything else than an incredibly fearful and insecure young man. Yes, corporations loved my passion, they manufactured an identity for me, and I paid them. I was violent, and misogynistic, and entitled and alienated. But I had only one wish, to escape out of here, by all means. And this is why they've taken games away! So art people can have fun with them too! I needed them to cope with existence! And now I roam around the desert of reality, absolutely alone, absolutely desperate.

This is ultimately what #GamerGate is all about. A movement to guard the only private realm of escapism for disempowered, disillusioned young men. I cannot endorse such a violent movement, because I know how much our entitlement is wrong, and how much harm it has already done to many courageous women who love games as much as we do. But I cannot either, as it is asked from me, stop to empathise with these people who share the same sorrow. They hate women more than I hate myself, that is the only difference between us. Even though they disgust me, I will not view them as a multitude of demons without a face. I will not mock these "men-children" or "crybabies". The real world already tells me I am so on a daily basis. It tells me I am no real man, because I am awkward, fearful, and Black, and I hate myself for all of that. But in games, and only in games, I could forget. I do not blame those who have been harassed for responding as they can; no one ever deserves harassment of any kind. But the others! It is a cruel act to mock insecure people on their insecurities. There is a violence in telling people without anything else that their only identity is no more.

The sad truth is that in the end, the most misogynistic gamers reassert their masculinity precisely because they lack it. Some critics have already remarked the right-wing extremist ties of the #GamerGate movement. They are entirely right. In real life too, those who fall for the extremes are rarely the most privileged ones. Right-wing extremists are the White men who were promised a job only because they are White men, but who didn't find any because capitalism is broken. They are the men who aren't rich enough to hide in a White suburb, and must live in a lower-class, mixed neighourhood. They are Lovecraft, who should have been a great journalist, but was confronted with a world he could not comprehend, and hence talked of madness in his weird racist tales. The White men at the top? They are just as racist as them, they just haven't had the chance to realise it. And yet it is Lovecraft that we point at for his racism, not Roosevelt.

Likewise, we point at gamers for being misogynistic, which is true, but ultimately, we blame the losers of an unfair game for not conforming to the inherently toxic ideal of masculinity. If they react with such violence, it is because this identity is indeed all they have. It is fake, it isn't a race, and it is exclusive, yes it is all that, but what else do they have? I wish, oh I do wish gamers could understand the violence they exert, and I wish the ones on the other side would realise where they come from as well. But I have no hope.

Therefore I will roam alone and weep in the reality, and if I can, maybe, I will build a tiny castle all to myself, where I will escape out of here, but alone, without doing any harm to anyone. People will seek escape as long as there is sorrow in the world. But we need to be silent and harmless, and stop harming minorities. Our time is already over in any case. Games as we know them, games to escape out of this world are gone for good.


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