Pushing agenda

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Last week Unwinnable featured an interview with Stephanie Anne, Editor-in-Chief of Goodgamers, more or less as a briefing on what to expect from the brand new outlet. Despite the site’s youth it harbours an already storied history—Goodgamers was born out of the hashtag-cum-social movement known as GamerGate, thereby deliberately inheriting many of its purported values as well as inadvertently its widely notorious reputation.

For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with GamerGate, it was ostensibly a rather large social backlash against games journalism’s ethical failings (its tenuous marketing spiel) while actually being a campaign to oust notable and highly-esteemed women from the field of games writing. If you remember a few years back, the harassment towards Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs Women in Videogames—GamerGate was simply that, rebranded. Like any lynchmob, some optimistic yet naive villagers thought they were chasing out witches, but were, in fact, merely the muscle in someone else’s political and social powergrab.

To interviewer L. Rhode’s credit, he mentions none of this, and thereby avoids marring Goodgamers by the dubious company it has chosen to keep. Instead the interview focuses on Anne’s motivations as site founder and, I suppose, the inspirations she might have taken from its social roots. Her answers to Rhode’s second and third questions particularly struck me:

Unwinnable: So is the goal to serve the GamerGate community specifically?

S.A.: I think really all gamers, as long as they aren’t pushing a socially political message. Because obviously there are people who game who have social messages that they want dispersed around, but we’re not in that business.

Unwinnable: Is it a matter of providing an alternative to readers who aren’t interested in those issues, or do you see social messages as a problem with how gaming journalism is handled elsewhere?

S.A.: I mean, let’s be honest, all the game sites today are basically game blogs. We’re just providing another alternative where they won’t see those social issues on the front page and they have a chance to help the direction of the site.

For instance, we put a poll out about if we should have a rating system for all the reviews, the response was overwhelmingly “no,” but we did add a policy saying a TL;DR should be at the bottom.

Now, “pushing a socially political message” is only a hair’s breadth away from the accusation of forcing a political agenda, so common a refrain in response to feminist and feminist-lite games writing it has its place on the Bingo card. While it differs in wording, the intent and meaning is the same.

So I found it surreal to read that a site created out of the momentum of a political movement is advertising itself as apolitical, as I imagine these people believe themselves to be. How anyone could look at a movement like GamerGate, so suffixed and so marketed towards uprooting scandal, and think of it as politically neutral, I don’t know.

It’s the idea of “pushing an agenda” as a slogan that has sat me down today to write this, however, since there’s a lot going on in those few words that generally goes unsaid. To this end, it is not my intention to dissect Anne’s words, or to elaborate on the well-trodden ground of GamerGate as a thinly veiled harassment campaign, or to analyse the allegiance between Goodgamers and GamerGate beyond what has already been stated. Rather, I would like to consider the sentiment as it often appears in its broader application to the topic of games writing.

The foremost implication in pushing an agenda is of someone else’s insincerity, that the message they convey is little more than a capsule for some mental poison. By this belief, feminists are dedicating copious articles to twisting various industry mishaps into excuses in order to tell other people how they should behave, as if feminists don’t actually believe this or that and really only want to control people, and will use any psychological tool at their disposal to achieve it. When something is written condemning Ground Zeroes for its gratuitous disregard for women, Ground Zeroes is merely a catspaw—it is not actually at fault. When Mr. Videogames suggests with a smirk that women don’t game or are shit at gaming, those opportunistic feminists are only using poor Mr. Videogames as a strawman to have their anger out.

This is the mentality with which feminist leanings are often viewed. For one thing it necessitates a fictional boogieman be created as the target of feminist critiques, detracting from the actual root factors many feminists hold culpable for culturally ingrained misogyny, so that everything criticised prior to this boogieman is collateral. In doing so, the text or the person in question is absolved while the feminist is painted as cruel, manipulative and coldly utilitarian.

None of those finer details are necessitated by the accusation of “pushing an agenda”, as there are about as many perspectives against feminism as there are variations of it. For instance, perhaps the boogieman is correctly identified as the patriarchy or the kyriarchy, as the case may be. Or more likely, perhaps the boogieman is imagined to be the cyborg ghost of Sprocket the dog. The more incredible the feminist’s ‘ulterior motives’, the easier it is to dismiss her criticisms as irrelevant to the topic at hand without even hearing them out. Which is typically the goal.

I don’t quite know what these people genuinely think feminism is targeting, but to be honest it’s beside the point: right now I’m less interested in what they think feminism is about and more in what they think feminists are doing. Whatever the case, the insinuation is that in her quest against the boogieman the writer in question is using every chance she gets to spread her anti-boogieman propaganda, in spite of the fact that it is presently unwarranted. And she very well knows it’s unwarranted, since she plots and plans to insert her propaganda whichever way she can fit it, regardless of suitability.

The “agenda” accusation would have you believe an article pre-existed and then politics were syringed into it, or that writers start off with a topic on today’s schedule and go about contriving some games criticism around it. It fundamentally misunderstands how politics feed into someone’s writing, just like how politics feed into our everyday lives. When somebody writes something that is politically inclined, they don’t reach outside of themselves to dislodge an iota from an ephemeral blob of political ideology, and then incorporate the substance into their message before returning it to its external metaphysical plane.

What they actually do is self-express—they look inside themselves to find out how they feel, and, discovering themselves, go about articulating that sentiment to their readership. Their politics, like everyone’s, live deep inside them as soundless, formless forces that tell them how the world should be or how people should be. As in any case of self-expression miscommunication may occur, but almost never in my experience of feminist critiques is it due to deception, so rarely should I doubt a writer is sincere in her words.

Why it may appear to vocal opponents of feminism that such writing is put upon is because, to a person whose politics align with the dominant cultural expression, they do not perceive their own messages to carry political connotations. For feminism that contrasts with the social status quo, its visibility coincides with a perceived externalization of its ideas and their wellspring. In severing the political realm from the human realm in cases of an opposing ideology, a fellow can avoid the self-reflection that comes with comparing these visible politics with his own invisible politics, and so can carry on oblivious to the political ideology living within his own breast. The product of this is the feminist as a person is perceived as alienated from her politics, so that her expressions of these politics are not self-expressions, and do not rise naturally from her heart and mind with the sincerity with which she insists they do.

GamerGaters and Goodgames claim they want two things: they want to go back to the old ways, and they want politics to no longer be an issue. They do not conceive the old ways to be politically inclined any which way because it is the same air they have always breathed. To them, an alternative politics is like a pollutant to their native atmosphere—learning that the air can carry a scent is a jarring experience; realizing that their air always carried a scent even more so.

Many of them don’t want to hear it. They view any political deviation from the norm as a distortion of their reality, and so they hold that feminists are colonizing games writing for no other reason than to claim the land as theirs. Fundamental to their logic is the suspicion that feminists are politicians and rhetoricians first, and writers and critics never.

An increasingly regular counter-argument to accusations that feminists are “pushing an agenda” is that of course they are! Everyone is pushing an agenda—even you, Mr. Videogames! It’s expressed with the sentiment that politics pervade our lives, but I think in biting back with overt agreement, all that goes unsaid about a feminist’s purported insincerity and self-alienation is implicitly condoned, and the narrative is perpetuated. It suggests feminism is something we always force into the forefront of our minds, as a factual, fully-formed thing that we wrench our thoughts into resembling.

In reality, in my own experience writing and reading feminist criticism, it flows out naturally from analysis in the same way as one’s philosophical perspective, or one’s personal history with the text, or one’s general tastes and preferences. I believe feminism can become ingrained within our minds just as patriarchal values are culturally ingrained at-large, and to deny ourselves the possibility of the former, and the reality of the latter, does us few favours in the long run.

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