Thoughts on GamerGate

I wrote about GamerGate for JWA, just some thoughts about why the backlash against women has been so intense. But I also felt it was important to offer some constructive suggestions for how both games and gamers might be more inclusive without losing autonomy or self-regulation.

The Gaming Community:
I think Extra Credits had the right idea–if players are regularly muted or red-flagged by other players for outbursts, threats, or other inappropriate behavior, they could be set on mute as a default, or flagged as problematic (and players could unmute them or play with them at their own risk). Or they could be suspended for some period of time. As long as there is some consequence for behavior, players will regulate themselves as they would in real world situations.

The Games Themselves:
I want to see more female PCs. I want those PCs to have level caps equivalent to male PCs–you shouldn’t be denied the ability to equip certain armor or weapons because the female characters aren’t strong enough. It would be nice if there’s parity: if you have multiple character options, there should be more than one female character. For equipped armor and default clothes, there should be at least some clothes and armor that actually cover you. You can even have equal opportunity clothing: some options that cover you and make you look tough, regardless of gender, and some that are essentially bikinis or codpieces with shoulder pads that either a guy or girl can wear. (Hey, some guys may WANT to show off their characters’ pecs and abs!) And it would be nice if not every seedy joint in a game is a brothel or strip bar. I’m also hugely appreciative of games where the NPCs don’t always default to assuming the PC is a straight man, with the women flirting and the men treating you as a friend or a threat; it’s great when there’s a possibility of male NPCs flirting and female NPCs just treating you as a person.

On the Road

My dad and I have been reading Huck Finn together, and that got us talking about road trip narratives. He argued that the Odyssey is the original road trip story, and that got me thinking about what else would count: Three Men in a Boat? Definitely. Travels with Charley? No question. Canterbury Tales? Yeah, I could see that. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed? No, that doesn’t feel right. Neither does Lord of the Rings. So why not? What distinguishes a road trip from a story that happens on the road?

I’d argue that there are three elements that make up a good road trip narrative. First, and most critical, it really is about the journey, not the destination. There may or may not be a goal to the journey, and it’s unimportant whether the hero accomplishes that goal–in several of the stories I mentioned, the heroes never get where they’re going, but that doesn’t make the stories any less satisfying. LOTR and Committed don’t count because there’s a critical story question that has to be answered: It’s all about stopping Sauron, or deciding whether or not to get remarried, and every event in both books either furthers or hinders those goals. None of the stopovers in the Odyssey give Odysseus a single tool he needs to reclaim his wife and home.

Second, the people and the land are one: we learn about the place through the people we meet, rather than through the natural beauty of the scenery. And in most cases, we meet people from all walks of life to get a fuller picture of the world.

And third, the hero has companions, either human or animal. If the hero were alone, the story might become man vs. nature, like a Jack London tale, man vs. himself, because it’s really about his inner journey, or man vs. society because wherever he goes, he’s an outsider. But by bringing company along, the journey becomes a shared experience–the hero may go through important internal changes, but what’s happening externally is just as important, and the reader is invited to be a part of it.

If anyone wants to argue that I got something totally wrong, or that I missed something crucial, I’d love to hear! Also, bookmarking this article on our need for more road trip narratives about women, because I think it’s hugely important.