It’s time for us to talk about a difficult and complicated series of issues which have affected the gaming community in recent weeks. This is one of those times when we’ve had to take a deep breath and just wait. It’s hard to do that, sometimes. We do like to say our piece. But sometimes you have to wait, because it’s moving too fast and affects far too many people. So we’ve waited. We’ve written something down, and we’ve turned the comments off.
Let us explain why.
Here’s what has happened: The past month has seen an explosion of criticism and harassment of gamers, games journalists, games critics, and game developers. The harassment has been particularly focused on women, and men who have spoken out in support of women. Without exception, harassment and abuse, for any reason, is unacceptable.
There has been criticism, too, which has resulted in gamers claiming that we hate them. We don’t hate gamers. We are gamers. Numerous (often offensive and widely incoherent) attempts to provoke controversy and scandal about the relationship between game developers and the games press have resulted in some people saying that RPS should be destroyed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we disagree with that proposition, and we’ll explain why we disagree in this article.
Sadly, too much of the criticism we’ve seen has been enmeshed with abuse and harassment, and that has included threats, personal information being published online, and even people’s friends and family being personally menaced.
All this makes the related argument difficult to deal with calmly or methodically. The consequence of this abundant irrationality has been that no resolution currently seems possible, with violent deadlock between the various people who are affected by this event.
But all is not lost, as events like this one illustrate.
Crucially, some people have been attacked with such vitriol that it has damaged their personal lives, and caused them intense distress. This is unacceptable, offensive, unwarranted, inexcusable and we condemn it completely. These actions are embarrassing to the community, and profoundly damaging to the lives of people who work with games. This means it is damaging to games, which is the thing we are all supposedly agreed should be regarded as important and meaningful.
A small part of the criticism has been leveled at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and thanks to the wide range of issues and the ferocity with which they are being pursued, some people now have a false picture of RPS as a site. We feel the need to address that, and also to state our position.
In doing so, we want to answer some questions that have been posed to us in the past couple of weeks, questions which will be again be asked of us in the years to come. We’re paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea.
Why have you turned comments off on this post? And what about the other posts with the comments off?
We’ve turned off the comments on this and other posts because the topics they touch on cause a small number of people to post comments that are obscene insults, death threats, mutilation threats, and rape threats. This is extremely unpleasant material, and rather than force our writers and editors to read this stuff in the process of moderation, we have just closed comments entirely. Our team will still get to read a lot of this sort of stuff, of course, because that is the weird and unpleasant place the internet can be. It’s not okay.
But you are censoring people, stifling debate, and deliberately only presenting your side of the argument without right to reply.
This seems obvious, but there is an entire internet out there for anyone to exercise their right to reply to anything we post on RPS, and it’s clear that people have no problem doing so. All we can do is take care of our corner of things, and that’s what we’re trying to do, the best way we know how. We would sincerely love to be able to post an article about something emotive and not anticipate a torrent of abuse. We’d actually like to have gentle, mannered discussions every day. What a lovely thing that would be for everyone.
I don’t believe the harassment is real. People are faking it to get attention.
You are wrong. Sorry. We’re getting some of the abuse. John particularly has been told to kill himself multiple times, with specific, ugly descriptions of how, and been sent repeated wishes that he die of cancer. And those have been the extremes. There has also been a non-stop flow of lies spread about him and RPS, abuse sent to us, including alarming videos designed to discredit both John and RPS. Nothing fake about any of that.
Don’t think that this is a sob story, though. John is fine. It’s business as usual. But this does illustrate how bad even the most minor harassment can be. Much more of it is far more unpleasant, and much more organised.
And let’s be clear: Other people are getting far worse treatment. We know that it is real, too. It might be from a very small number of people, in fact that seems likely. (These folk have openly been using Astroturfing techniques to make their numbers seem greater, and whatever consensus they can muster seem wider.) It doesn’t change how inexcusable it is.
People do not trash their own lives to make a point on Twitter. You can be sure of that, at least.
Your site is corrupt. We know this because of the evidence presented in various videos and diagrams and put together by concerned individuals.
We’ve seen all this material, too. If any of it genuinely exposed corrupt practice, or if any of it could be verified with concrete evidence, we’d surely act on it.
The accusations for our corruption have focused on a claim that favourable reviews/coverage were written after a writer was alleged to be in a sexual relationship with a developer. Except, no such articles exist, making the claim nonsensical. It has been refuted. Nevertheless, the claim has been stated repeatedly, and with confidence, which seems to be enough to have some people believe it. Despite it not being true. The demands that we address this, and condemnations that we are being “silent” over it, are therefore basically demands to defend ourselves against a crime that hasn’t happened. And that’s it. That is, unfortunately, the basis on which people have called for a boycott of RPS, and urged people to hound our advertisers in order to “destroy” the website.
There are recent examples of corrupt practice being exposed in the games press and the games press responding to it. There are also recent examples of corrupt practice being exposed in the games press and no-one responding to it. But this is not either of those things. No-one has responded to it this time, because there is so little coherent argument to respond to. In fact, most of what is out there seems to point more concretely towards a conspiracy of misogynists to silence progressive writers and their supporters, than it does towards a conspiracy to corrupt or destroy games as a medium.
While there are certainly people who feel alienated from the games press, or who are (for whatever reason) unhappy about how the games press functions, many of the people who have pushed their ideas and opinions during this furore are people whose views are extreme and sexist. There are numerous individuals criticising the games press who are simultaneously harassing and abusing women. Many of these people have a history of attacking women. Their main intention is to attack women, not to improve practice across games. It’s deeply ugly stuff, and has little to do with ethics or games. It has to do with politics and hate.
Still others are simply reveling in the chaos and the cruelty, because they are bullies. It is profoundly damaging to people, and to games. These are just a few people, but they are causing great harm, and causing gamers to get caught in a web of misunderstanding and anger. That’s not helping anyone who believes they have a valid point to make about games and the games press. It should be at the top of our list of priorities to fix that, precisely so that discussion can take place.
Even outside the unpleasant sexist agenda and the extraordinary harassment, where there have been concerted attempts to carefully describe the nature of the games industry, what most of these critics seem to be discovering is that a lot of people in the industry know each other. This is true. But it should not be surprising, or extrapolated into corruption. It is true of all industries. It is being interpreted as a conspiracy, but of course it isn’t. And it is definitely not the end of games.
There are undoubtedly some people out there who are convinced enough by these accusations to attack game sites and individual games writers, and it’s awful that they feel the need to do that. We’d love to fix that. I am sure the wider games press would, too. However, until a cogent description of what the issues are can be reached – without incurring widespread harassment – little action can be taken. That hasn’t happened. Nevertheless there are many threads within chaos and confusion, and we’ll try to address those as fully as possible.
As for the wider question of whether games journalism is corrupt, and what should be done about it, well, we’ll attempt to discuss that in this article. But it’s a difficult task. Videoman Matt Lees wrote a useful summary of points related to this curiously problematic discussion, and why it has proven so difficult for the press to discuss it. You should read his article, because it addresses some of the really vital things being asked, and explains why it doesn’t seem like we’re getting very far.
No, we don’t, and no, we didn’t. This statement is in quotation marks because that’s actually what someone said to us. That we spat on them. We understand that this person was speaking figuratively, but even so it does not reflect the truth. We banned people for being unexcellent on the forums and in comments, we blocked people attacking us on Twitter, and some of our writers expressed their frustration by lampooning what was said on social media. We make jokes when we’re unhappy, and we do tend to get sarcastic when faced with honest insults. It’s difficult.
But the truth is that some of us do also identify as gamers, despite whatever else you might have read. Hell, a good part of Jim’s book (written back in 2006-7) was about the gamer identity and why it was so positive and important to people all over the world. Yes, we’ve circulated some of the criticism that has appeared in response to this issue, including various “Gamers Are Over” type articles. They had some interesting points, some of which we agree with. But not all.
But let us say this: It is possible to criticise games while at the same time enjoying them, even loving them. It is even possible to criticise gaming, while at the same time being a gamer. Gamers can criticise their identity, try to change it, or reject it. People can play games and not think of themselves as a gamer. It’s not straightforward, and people have different responses to different games. That alone makes this issue complicated to deal with. Everyone is arriving with different understandings of what things mean, and how things should be, and very little in the way of communication is getting done.
So yes: It is possible to criticise something, while at the same time enjoying it, even loving it. This is not hypocrisy, this is understanding that there is no absolute truth in matters of taste and subjectivity. It is also understanding that personal identity is not a fixed, immovable character class that we select at the start of our life, but a shifting thing that will change with time, age, mood, circumstance.
We do not hate gamers. We object to, and will fight, harassment and abuse. But that has little to do with gamers, and little or nothing to do with the ethics of the games industry. Not everyone who objects to how the games press works are harassing and attacking, but the ones who are are causing enough disruption for this entire thing, whatever it actually is, to be a mess of resentment and recrimination. For any progress to be made, in any direction, it has to stop.
Importantly, to tease out the “RPS position” a little: games are not simply for people who identify as gamers. Games are much bigger than that, now, and that’s a good thing. If you do identify as a gamer, great. Just don’t imagine that games belongs to you, or the people you feel closest to. They are for everybody.
Imagine, too, our disappointment at being cast as a corrupt blight on games. The thing we’ve dedicated our careers to being trashed and described as corrupted and ruinous. It’s awful. The videochap Matt Lees again provided a useful encapsulation of our situation:
“I understand that people remain very angry at what they see as journalists lashing out at the community in general, and whilst I won’t try and justify that (or even entirely accept that this isn’t even true) I’d like to ask you to consider this: When the community you’ve worked so hard to serve choose to stand beside a group of manipulative misogynists rather than entertain the idea that you might not actually be corrupt, how do you think this makes people feel?
So much of this argument boils down to a misunderstanding – the games media aren’t calling you misogynists. They don’t think you hate women. But you’ve decided that your distrust of the media is so strong that you’d rather side with dangerous bigots than believe that the media might not be corrupt, that’s a hell of a statement to be making.”
And it is. We love games. We hate harassment, prejudice, and abuse.
Ultimately, we believe that games are at their most beautifully diverse right now, and so we’d love gamers to mean “everybody”. It can mean everybody, if we let it.
And – bizarrely, perhaps – that means we are being painted as corrupting and corrupted conspirators. Grim.
But corporations, developers and journalists are all part of the same industry, and I’m deeply sceptical of their relationships.
That’s great! Being sceptical of corporations, companies and the press is a good idea. Guess what: we’re sceptical of them too. Be sceptical, but don’t let it stop you enjoying games. Use scepticism wisely: the internet is full of things you should be sceptical about. Just because someone is confirming what you suspected doesn’t mean that they, or you, are necessarily correct.
Most important of all: there is a world of difference between cautious and sensible scepticism towards what is reported by the press, or claimed by corporations, and actively attacking individuals.
Games journalists should disclose conflicts of interest and be as transparent as possible.
Okay. We will do our best to be transparent at all times. We will continue to declare conflicts of interest and try to make sure that writers are not in close relationships with the people they write about. We want to stress, however, that writers and editors do have close working relationships with each other and with developers and PRs. They need to talk about the games. They need to get information for you. That’s their job. Perhaps they get too close sometimes. That’s not going to destroy anything.
Well, you still won’t engage the other side of the debate. Why isn’t that represented on RPS?
Because we are this side. Our own side. The chaotic nature of this debate, and the way it has been pursued, make things very difficult for us, but we’re doing our best to address some of it in this article. We already believe that we behave ethically, and don’t yet see anything that requires changing. If the current line up of issues could be separated from the abuse – as it clearly can and should be – then perhaps there would be something more concrete and useful to go on. Until that time, we can only present our editorial policy, and our philosophy towards writing about games, in response to the questions we have been asked.
We’re against sexism, we support feminist arguments of various kinds. We encourage you to disagree with these arguments, but we are not obliged to disagree with them ourselves, or to publish arguments attacking them at any level of vehemence. We do not have to present anyone else’s argument. RPS is a curated space, privately owned by individuals. It is our own website, which we use to say the things we want to say. That is bias, and we are completely happy to accept that. We are not objective robots, or a corporation trying to be “neutral”, and wouldn’t want to be. Yes, we invite some discussion, but we also get to police that, and decide when enough is enough. We have a huge platform with millions of people reading it. There are many things we just don’t want posted on our site, because this site is not for them to promote themselves. In 2014 people of all kinds have all manner of platforms to work from, they don’t need this one, and we’re certainly not obliged to allow free reign in using it.
Also, it’s not fair to say that we haven’t attempted to engage with the wider argument. Some of our writers have repeatedly attempted to discuss these issues on social media, and come away frustrated by the lack of actual evidence or reasoning. They’re not alone. Lots of people have attempted to steer their way through this quagmire, and watching them fail because no true dialogue can be established has been deeply frustrating. Not all of them have failed. This link which we pointed to earlier in the article, is an illustration of what patience and communication can do. It’s heartening to see that process in action, despite so many contentious issues in play.
We must stress one more time: many people pushing accusations of corruption within the games industry are doing so for reasons which seem to have nothing to do with ethics, or anything else related to games. When questioned about their beliefs, they are unable to explain or verify. This, then, is why we can’t engage with those people. But it doesn’t mean all is lost, or that it’s time for a war.
Again: it is possible to criticise games, while at the same time enjoying them, even loving. (And we do.)
It is possible to talk, but that does not mean you can say whatever you like, wherever you like.
But what about the specific issue of Rab Florence’s article? And doesn’t that deal with a developer’s personal life? If you publish that, then you are hypocritical if you ignore the personal lives of other industry people.
You are welcome to disagree with us posting the article, and to disagree with Rab’s assessments, but it has no relevance on the other topics being cited. Rab was specifically and personally replying to a public statement made by Temkin on being accused of a criminal act. This document was deliberately made public, which gives replies to a validity which harassment-driven examination of people’s private lives does not have. Regardless of that, all articles on RPS are at our editorial discretion. What is written here is published because of the decisions writers and editors made about it. Feel free to disagree with their decisions, but these decisions are not hypocrisy. If we examine a topic and conclude that it is not worth an article, then that is our decision to make.
We also note that claims that the Temkin article should never have been published are not a convincing approach to arguing that we therefore should have written about another developer’s sex life.
RPS posts that contain controversy about sexism are just clickbait. You do not actually believe this stuff, and you are just doing it for hits.
Nope, we actually believe it. If you believe that we actually don’t, well, it’s going to be hard to change your mind. But there would be easier ways to generate traffic, with less abuse directed at us, if what was really on our minds was traffic. Why wouldn’t we just do that?
You are doing it for sexual favours.
But you ARE operating a business which relies on internet traffic. You must be posting clickbait, because that’s just how it works.
This seems like a misunderstanding, or perhaps a miscommunication. We’ve seen articles (not of this site) along the lines of “ten hottest girls in games” called clickbait, and we’ve seen serious discussions of sexism being called clickbait. There’s a contradiction there that seems to reveal a deeper confusion.
One theory behind “clickbait” goes: a site writes an article purely to cynically generate hype, being deliberately controversial or contentious such that it will infuriate people into clicking, and thus boost their hits and income. But there are some flaws with this logic.
First of all, no one has ever described an article they agreed with as “clickbait”. It’s a pejorative term used to dismiss something people are against having been written. We’ve never been accused of “clickbait” for posting news about GTA or Minecraft, for instance, which is far more likely to bait us clicks than an exploration of misogyny in 1980s arcade machines. The term is instead used to undermine an argument someone doesn’t want to see being made.
Secondly, most high revenue advertising on most gaming sites simply doesn’t work in a way that would make sense of the argument. It’s priced in advance, based on fixed fees for the site, which in turn are priced based on the overall popularity of a website. If one article has a huge spike in readers, it doesn’t earn the site any more money. For it to make a difference, a site needs to have a consistent rise in reader numbers over a long time. i.e. A site would need to “clickbait” all the time for this to be effective. And that’s where you get your Buzzfeeds and the like. RPS might post a couple of times a month on controversial issues. It doesn’t add up.
Thirdly, even if the first two points weren’t true, and they are, the idea of writing a gaming site is to get people to read it. We’re not a public service broadcaster, duty-bound by the Queen to provide “objective” gaming news to the masses. We’re a business, and our business is eyes on pages. We, at RPS, are *terrible* at this, because we dedicate a vast proportion of our site to providing detailed coverage of niche indie games that will only be of interest to at most a few thousand people. RPS is a colossally stupid failure at clickbait, sacrificing such lucrative “You Won’t Believe What Call Of Duty Did To This Child’s Face!” headlines for “Here Is A Game About A Happy Lion, Gosh It’s Obscure”. To accuse us of a systematic cynical click harvesting because we very, very occasionally write from our hearts about a subject that matters to us a great deal is plainly wrong. It is, as we said, instead an effort to undermine an argument the accuser wishes could be silenced.
But why would a site about videogames have views on social stuff? Surely that reveals you are being influenced by outsiders?
We are rational, independent people, who have been playing videogames for many years. We also take an interest in wider social and political issues, and we can see how they provide a context for discussion of videogames. We’re able to make up our minds about these issues without being manipulated by anyone. We do not even all agree with each other, because hey, people. It is really important to accept that we are able to hold views you might not agree with, without being corrupted or influenced in any way. It’s possible for us to enjoy a game you hate, and it’s possible for us to hold that sexism is problematic for videogames. That’s just the way people work.
I haven’t posted any abuse, I am not a misogynist, but I still think this entire article is a pack of lies, and that you are corrupt.
Yes, some people will feel this way. It’s disappointing. We’re sorry you feel like that. We think they’re wrong to think that, but since so little has actually been provided for us to refute, there’s little we can do. We can point to our long-standing record of attacking bad practices across the industry and fighting for consumer rights, if that helps. Or we can point to our daily news and features on all kinds of games, written by all kinds of authors, with all kinds of opinions and ideas contained therein.
Also, we care less about whether you read RPS than we do about whether you condemn misogyny and harassment. Don’t let others do these things in your name.
But games are changing. You can’t deny that. It’s is absolutely possible to point to a trend within games that reflects the agenda of people like you, and those you support.
Here’s what is happening: games are proliferating. There are more of them, and some of the new ones are different to what went before. There’s an important difference between changing as a whole, and new things appearing. The same old games come out every year, without the slightest change to their momentum. If anything, they are more entrenched and reliable than ever. Old games are returning with increasing frequency, too. However, more people have access to the tools to build and distribute games. Many of those people have political agendas of one kind of another. They are making games that say things about all kinds of issues. We regard that as a good thing. It’s part of the reason why RPS exists at all: we are omnivorous. We want to represent this new wave. It’s beautiful.
Are videogames dying?
No. Back when we started this site, it was widely argued that PC games were dead/dying. How ridiculous that now seems! But yes, it was very much the case that people believed it. People questioned the wisdom of sinking energy into a website about a dying format, and now look at it. Look at Steam. Look at LoL and Dota 2. Hardcore as fuck. Popular as free pies.
And so what happened to being dead? Well, the point is that people will always tell you something is dead, when actually things are simply diversifying, or splitting apart, or hybridising or mutating. We’re always being told that x is dead because y. But my mobile phone hasn’t actually killed your PC/TV/bookshelf/console, it has just become another thing alongside them all.
That’s what is happening here: new, different games are appearing. And the old ones are continuing, just as they were. Hell, if you actually look at what’s happening with Kickstarter and so on, old games are actually coming back! And yes, there will still be games that contain women with breast-sides exposed, and there will still be unspeakable and exciting violence throughout. That’s okay, too! But there will be other things, and they will be different. Some of them will be designed to not make particular people uncomfortable. That’s what is happening. It’s okay.
Nevertheless, I believe changing games will ruin them. They’re supposed to be about escapism.
Escapism is great! We love it. We all need to escape. Even the people analysing and criticising want to escape for a while. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. It’s not all that games can do, though, is it? Games can be about real world situations. The same systems that run games are used to train pilots and soldiers. Game developers are using them to talk about social situations, personal issues, and to explore the real world from an interactive perspective, just as books explore it from a literary perspective. There are games about politics and social lives, economies and history. Games are a big old toolbox, and using them as escapism is just one application. Let’s not limit them.
No, change doesn’t ruin games. It makes them better. And that’s all anyone wants here, even critics you might find objectionable. They want better games. Their judgement about what might be better might differ, but they still want improvement. You might disagree with them over what that improvement means, but actually you still both share a love of games. You love escaping. You both do it. And you want more and better. Sometimes you’ll agree on what better is, sometimes not. But disagreement does not equate to corruption, destruction, or anything else particularly bad.
Remember that this is the same treatment movies get, it’s the critical process that books and plays are subjected to: those things have not been destroyed.
No, before you ask, these objectionable critics are not faking their interest in games. People don’t get involved with games to be cool. That’s why they get involved with music. (Joke. OR IS IT. It is. Maybe.)
This is horrible, why can’t we keep the politics out of games? Why can’t we just talk about the games?
This is one of those deeply tricky philosophy type things: not talking about politics is actually taking a political stance on them. It doesn’t keep the politics out. Tricky, right? It seems like a trick. But it’s really not: just talking about the games, without questioning anything, is you taking a political stance on games because it amounts saying that you completely accept the games at face value. Your stance on their politics is: this is fine. You can’t just talk about the games, because they can’t be pulled apart from the ideas and circumstances that brought them into being. You can ignore problems, or just not see them, and that’s okay. But if you talk about games, you talk about politics.
When we discuss how a woman is presented in a game we are talking about the game. She’s part of that game. If she’s a prostitute who gets killed by a pirate, then that happens in the game. That imaginary murder is part of the game content. Furthermore, games are not a disconnected dimension, even while they are being amazing escapist outlets for fantasy. They have a context. They reflect the world, and they are expressions of what the people made the game were trying to achieve. Some people want to examine that. They want to look at why a prostitute being murdered by a pirate is what happens in that game. They want to examine what it means. You don’t have to – it’s totally fine for you to enjoy whatever you like, and completely ignore any possible criticism, or even any possible meaning – but please don’t attack others for wanting to do so.
So basically this policy of “just talking about the games” isn’t really anything of the sort, and it can lead to saying that people who do analyse them politically, and point out how they might be problematic for themselves or others (if not for you) should shut up. It is silencing criticism, which is the thing that everyone wants to avoid. Let’s not do that, no matter what.
I’m not going to read RPS any more, and I will encourage others not do so.
Okay. That’s up to you.
A SORT OF CONCLUSION
Videogames can be for everybody. We think that’s a situation worth aiming for, if it isn’t already true, it should be. (RPS can be for everybody, too. But that’s another point.)
So yes. Deep breath.
It goes without saying that technology has changed things since we started playing games (which was a time before the internet). And it has changed things pretty drastically just in the time we’ve been working on RPS. That doesn’t just mean in terms of how many graphics-per-second the Unreal engine can do, or in the multiple ways that electronic media of all kinds can bend our ability to say what a “game” is, but mainly in terms of how it reaches us, how we respond to it, and how we create it. The internet has, in many ways (clearly not all) democratised how we are able to create and consume. Combine this with the myriad of tools that have been made available to build games and gamelikes, and we have a medium in which bird dating games and headshot simulators sit side by side on a digital shelf which is in easy reach of a billion people.
That means there’s going to be some conflict, of course. People do conflict. There are going to be issues. Working that out without violence or pain is the route we want to take.
This, then, is what we want to articulate here: we’re now in a place where our pursuit can be made by anyone, can be about anything, and can be enjoyed almost anywhere. If games were diversifying when we started the site in 2007, now they actually have diversified. Games can be for everyone. Games are by everyone. Games are about everything. That is their great power. That is their utterly vital quality. It is why they matter so, so much.
Games can be for everybody. Games should be for everybody. They should be for you.
All of you.
All of us.
Yes, even you, Steve.
And so it’s the philosophy of RPS to reflect that ubiquity and diversity. We find games interesting. You find games interesting. We can all be interested in them together.
We put weird oddities made by penniless experimentalists next to games that are produced on the whim of marketeers and executives with pockets a hundred million dollars deep. As connoisseurs of decades of digital violence we enjoy games about guns at the same time as spinning a camera around a stupid mountain. We publish things you might not agree with. We delete terrible attacks on people, and we try to make this as pleasant a place to be as we know how. All this, but no evil. No destruction of videogames. No conspiracy.
Just people. Gamers. Not-so-gamers. People.
It is possible to criticise games and gamers, while at the same time being a gamer, loving games, loving gamers. And that is precisely what we will continue to do.