Salvo 03.22.2024 5 minutes

Why Gamergate 2.0 Matters

Gamer Playing  Driving Game with Game Controller in Neon Game Room

Wokeness is creeping into video games.

There are dark things afoot in the gaming world. Popular video game developers have incorporated woke messaging into their games, ruining popular franchises and provoking backlash from fans. The focal point of this controversy is Sweet Baby Inc. (SBI), a Montreal-based “narrative development and consultation studio.” SBI has encouraged game developers to incorporate DEI themes into popular games like Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, in which a mean, intolerant Batman is shot in the head by an empowered, neurodivergent Harley Quinn.

Making the issue worse is the response of SBI and other developers and video game critics who betray their own obvious bias in their denials. As SBI CEO Kim Belair told the gaming magazine Kotaku,

One of the things that we do offer is cultural consultations or authenticity consultations…if there’s a character in it who is marginalized in certain way, and [the studio] wants us to connect them with a consultant who can bring a little bit of authenticity…. But the perspective is never that we’re coming in and injecting diversity.

As for rubes who fail to appreciate this important commitment to “authenticity,” writers at Wired conclude that they must be fragile “cis white men [who feel that video game culture] is being stolen from them.”

Normally, the free market would make short work of ideologues like these. But this hasn’t happened because of the way video games and most entertainment products are funded. Major investment and equity firms require game creators to meet ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) standards. This means ditching idealized female characters and potentially sexist stereotypes as well as racially diversifying the whole cast of characters, plugging in leftist narratives, and doing a whole host of other things that necessitate the expertise of “consultants” like SBI.

Gamers are forced either to stop playing their favorite games or be subjected to relentless woke preaching. Naturally, many have let off steam (pun intended) on the Steam message boards, and a number of YouTubers have also sounded off. For their part, game makers and their consultants have decided to interpret these criticisms as hate speech and death threats instead of simply listening to their audiences and changing accordingly.

It should go without saying that all this matters to the culture. Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Tetris. The production and market for today’s video games easily dwarfs movies, music, and television. And a growing number of gamers are adults, not children. Time and again, video games are continually pushing the bar of what’s possible by today’s computer processors, featuring lush visuals, sophisticated game mechanics, and multifaceted structures and programming. A good analogy for the video game art form would be the nineteenth century opera in the way it brings together the arts and technical disciplines into a grand project that both entertains and awes.

Because of this, video games are also a powerful cultural force that both reflects and projects a civilization’s values and myths. However, unlike opera, which has a more selective appeal to a largely passive audience, video games have a mass appeal to a very engaged audience. Gamers devote many hours of considerable effort in the games of their choice, making the gaming experience formative for many of them, particularly young men.

Being a former gamer myself, I can attest to this formation and ongoing influence in my own life. In adolescence, I spent countless hours playing strategy games like Civilization, Age of Empires, and SimCity, role-playing games like Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft, fighting games like Tekken and Super Smash Brothers, and shooters like Goldeneye and Left 4 Dead. Rather than being a mindless distraction or an outlet for pent-up aggression, gaming disciplined me in many ways. It taught me logic, time and resource management, perfecting technique, strategy, problem solving, and a host of other concepts and skills.

Even decades later, my gaming experience figures into much of what I do professionally and personally. Depending on the task at hand, I instinctively make sure to identify the pattern or problem, plan accordingly, apply consistent logic, maximize efficiency in each step, remain clear and objective, and be goal-oriented—much as I would do to win a game. If I am wasteful, irrational, and careless in my approach, I might lose the game as well as fail at life. Evidently Elon Musk is same way. In his recent biography of Musk, Walter Isaacson quotes the tech entrepreneur advising one of his associates: “Play life like a game,” and “Optimize every turn.”

On a deeper level—and this is probably what motivates activists the most—gaming has made me more conservative in my political and cultural outlook. Not only do I value things like excellence, beauty, individualism, and hard work, but I also have a richer appreciation for the arts, humanities, and sciences, which all helped to advance and enrich humanity. Relativism is a sham, and talk is cheap; they both are just excuses not to play the game. And trying to improve society while circumventing the effort required is nothing more than cheating.

All of which is why this scandal in the gaming industry deserves more attention. Far more than any teacher or television show, woke video games can influence a whole generation of people in profound ways. They will be exposed to hundreds of hours of indoctrination that tells them to root for the villain, dismiss virtue, despise beauty, and adopt the worldview of deranged activists who extoll abortion, censorship, communism, racism, and Islamic terrorism. It’s a powerful kind of brainwashing that even surpasses the Ludivoco Technique featured in A Clockwork Orange.

It should therefore surprise no one that younger generations, especially Gen Z, are more likely to buy into LGBT ideology, support censorship, embrace victimhood, and find reasons to hope in socialism. In large part, they learn this from their video games, which normalize and systematically reward such thinking.

But, as video game philosopher Raph Koster argues in his book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, woke messaging is fundamentally incompatible with a fun, satisfying video game. For Koster, the best games are ones that challenge and teach the player, all of which implies objectivity, standards, and some kind of virtue. Good games empower players by respecting their intelligence and meeting their expectations. A woke game treats players as idiots who need to be lectured and have their expectations subverted.

Although Gamergate 2.0 might strike non-gamers as something trivial and even a sign of decadence, it is neither (even conservative commentator Matt Walsh took it seriously enough to comment on it on his podcast). The infusion of wokeness into video games carries significant repercussions for the culture at large. Everyone, particularly video game companies, should oppose it. Doing so will not only boost sales—see the recent success of Helldivers 2, a game that mocks neoliberal propaganda and shuns woke agendas—but it will boost the world’s spirits with a fun, well-designed experience and make today’s frustrated gamers better people overall.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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