Gamer / Industry Conservatism and the N4G Libertarian Majority
Disclaimer: This is not an attack on n4g or its moderators. It is a CRITIQUE of CERTAIN elements within its community not with the intent to have a censor brought upon them, but with the intent to generate positive cultural pressure. To appeal to the mods for censorship is pretty much akin to state intervention which isn’t appropriate here. I find it good that they provide a channel for multiple voices to be heard, but it’s up to the community to enter a dialogue and arrive at exactly what the reality and truth of this debate is.
So the majority of N4G users would seem to identify as libertarian, or at least were you to proffer to them the agreed definition of libertarianism as it’s known today (it’s main proponents being people such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman), they would nod their heads in assent, unable to discern any problem with it. What they don't seem to realise is that the particular brand of libertarianism they support, as an ideology, was popularised for the furtherance of capitalism. It supports the free market and its already voluminously documented perils, laissez-faire economics and aggressively individualistic notions of free speech. However, the moment something encroaches upon this strange abstraction they call “freedom”, they lose the plot. The concept they call freedom you see, seems to mean “I can do and say whatever the heck I want and not be beholden to any consequences that may result from my actions”. Hmm, a problematic notion of freedom if there ever was one. They might then add the qualifier “so long as it doesn’t hurt another person”, but surely such an eventuality is inevitable and even built into such an aggressive ideology? It’s certainly logical that such a terrible thing might even have a function within this ideology if one wished to fascistically assert their individuality. It might take the form of real censorship, coercion, or even physical violence, none of which accord with the very principle they claim to swear by.
However, this should come as no surprise, as present-day libertarianism is not to be likened to liberalism. A vocal majority within the n4g community by and large are not liberals. Yet they see themselves as progressive people, promoting radical freedom of expression. The kind of freedom they advocate is of course averse to being considerate, being responsible to a community, and being sensitive to others' grievances. It is a capitalist ideology that, in capitalist practices, enables the individual to be unfettered in their aggressive materialistic pursuit of wealth and power over others; to enable the conditions for domination which so few people actually achieve and which so many are dominated BY. It is a personal freedom that very often paradoxically impinges on the freedoms of others - exploits them for gain. This is the ideology they unwittingly or otherwise, subscribe to.
What's really interesting is how this ideology manifests itself in their commentary on videogames. They are staunchly conservative when it comes to videogames, and, for example, positively crucified Final Fantasy XIII, expressing virulent rancour against the risks it took, as well as the Final Fantasy traditions it eschewed. Incidentally, low risk titles are exactly how big videogame companies thrive. The triple-A industry, as it is known, rakes in millions on broad, unsophisticated, but graphically flashy experiences, and people lap this up. They are games that are averse to risk because of the money involved. It is a clear case of money being of higher priority than creativity.
Final Fantasy XIII, although technically a triple-A game, constituted a giant risk on the part of Square-Enix, and it was savagely panned by fans of the series. Now, I know people can counter this by arguing that- and rightly- that not all risks are necessarily productive of quality, and that just because a game is risky or because it goes against stagnant, hackneyed ideas doesn't automatically secure it greatness. However, Final Fantasy XIII isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, and I think risk these days should be at the very least respected, even if the game or whatever it happens to be, isn't very good. However, like I said, XIII isn't a bad game. The music, although surely an acquired taste and perhaps requiring a certain level of musical appreciation, is some of the best I've heard all this generation by far. The visuals, although admittedly a little bit "look don't touch", are absolutely sublime; gorgeous. Not to mention the overall art direction and visual design which was, again, some of the best I've seen in a game- so vibrant, so detailed, and so artful. The linearity, which was so lambasted, in itself then actually serves well a narrative function: The characters are running from an unavoidable fate- they have a singular destiny of which they cannot help but draw inexorably closer and closer to. The linearity then maps this narrative drive onto the very landscape- illustrates how there's nowhere to go but forward for these characters- that there aren't multiple choices, paths and destinies, but a singular one that they cannot escape. That approach to exploration gameplay really serves to enhance the narrative then- to intensify it. The battle system is intense and fun, and it only got better and more strategic in XIII-2. Perhaps where the game fell down was fleshing out its world, and also in the character department, but XIII-2 definitely improved on that with the characters of Noel and Caius, as well as the greater freedom, which also made sense in terms of the narrative given that it was preoccupied with time travel and multiplicitous, ever changing and generating realities. It's nothing like previous Final Fantasy games, but it's still quite a piece of work considering the amount of turbulence that accompanied its development. There's real creative risk behind the game, and it's not just obligatory and arbitrary- it really has quite a coherent artistic vision behind it. I won't say it's my favourite Final Fantasy game, but I certainly appreciate the new ideas it brought to the table as well as its overall quality. Not only this, but many gamers complain about the sequelization of Final Fantasy games, when the past few Final Fantasy games although fantastic, might as well have been sequels based on how similar they played to one another. It's beyond the scope of this article to offer more in depth examples, but there are certainly many. The hatred of Indies and their developers springs to mind.
So anyway, by railing against risky titles, they rail against creativity and innovation in games, and they demand more of the same. This is partly why CoD does so well and why the slightest change to a perk or something makes people go nuts. The industry itself is partly to blame for this- inculcating ideas of what games are about in people's heads through aggressive marketing and advertising, systematically dumbing down audiences with stupid games so inordinate effort is not required in their development (just lots of money for shiny graphics and big name actors). At the end of the day then, their attitude plays right into the fiscal plans of these videogame corporations, and games do not grow as a medium. They cultivate a graphically impressive surface, but nothing more.
So what's the connection here? Could it be said that, given their stance on games, i.e. that game developers should be allowed to make the most offensive, irreverent, insensitive, and mindlessly entertaining stuff ever "because freedom of speech and expression", and that games should not take risks because risks do not equal tradition- could all this not be said to reflect back on their actual political beliefs and the nature of them? Their opinions of games are informed strongly by libertarian assumptions, and their opinions of games are also super-heatedly conservative, so could it be said then that their so called "free" libertarian positions are in fact also conservative? I think so. It's no coincidence that the triple-A industry is a giant corporate monolith operating on capitalist principles. Its conservatism, its juvenility, its broadness- all these things are the antithesis of what liberalism (not libertarianism) is about. Perhaps their attitude isn't unabashedly conservative so much as it's hypocritically conservative. They coerce and denounce aggressively all challenges to their rigid and obstinate beliefs, and abuse those who offer more progressive ideas. That is their "free speech" in action, a kind of vicious conservatism disguised as encouraging of freedom and accepting. They deploy the free speech card to say what they want, and what they want to say is "you're wrong, you're an idiot, I'm right." It's a kind of crypto-fascism.
In this conservative-libertarian ideology, people assert these ostensibly noble and sweeping notions of freedom that seem to, on the surface, champion tolerance and equality, but in reality they espouse this position ONLY so that they can be made exempt from their responsibility to others. The freedom they harp on about only serves to perpetuate old imperial attitudes about everything- it is a freedom particularly engineered to preserve the status quo, a freedom that enables the loudest and most violent voices in history to remain loud and to continue to silence those who were silenced across history. It is not the kind of freedom they dress it up to be- the illusion they cultivate. Freedom of speech could probably exist, but the form it takes in this society is only a tool for the conservation of that very same intolerant society, and is therefore toxic.
And it makes perfect sense. After all, libertarianism is crypto-fascist- it's a capitalist ideology, and needless to say, capitalism is very much the status quo. So thus we may say that their hateful and bitter attitudes towards the sexism debate and the representation debate are just as conservative, and are no means progressive or insightful as they'd so like to believe. They merely belong to an old capitalist order ideologically, the very order that is beginning to have a very serious and negative impact on this world and the people in it.
They want to conserve the status quo because they have no clear idea of what could exist beyond it, so indoctrinated are they. Thus another term that comes to define them is "reactionary". They merely react. They don't think. They merely spew ideas ingrained in their head by the society they've been weaned on. Scared by challenges, they get angry and lash out at anyone, intimidating them because they know no other way. It's not entirely their fault though, because like I said, these are the values and attitudes they've been raised on. The problem is that they haven't developed their critical faculties- they haven't gone out of their way to really consider alternative points of view intellectually.
I say all this in response to claims that people decrying sexism, racism, stereotyping, violence, and general juvenility in videogames are somehow "conservative", when they're, as I've demonstrated, quite the opposite. I for one might be labelled a liberal from without, although personally the appellation is not important to me. The signifier or identifier is not important, and yet so many people use it to make surface judgements, for a label is just that- a surface, a mere name. Yet detractors judge you so completely on the word liberal and the bullet point connotations the term carries. They check things off a list in order to satisfy their blanket-prejudices and cosy definitions without engaging in any kind of nuanced debate or dialogue. It is reactionary behaviour. Only the other day did I realise that so many of the reactionary commenters on n4g didn't even know what objectification was! And yet they argue so furiously against these things. Indeed, they are surely the most conservative of all, arguing in a frenzied manner against things they don't even understand, not even engaging with the actual material they're assaulting, just assuming it's dangerous because it's different and railing against it with great ignorance. Hence they angrily argue for the continuation of sexist depictions of women in videogames and everything else, and yet they clearly have no grasp of the counter arguments. They turn a deaf ear to them; also a highly conservative position- given that the state of female representation in videogames has been the way they wish to keep it, pretty much since their inception. Hence another reason I decided to write this was the recent controversy regarding the character named Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V. It may very well be the case that Kojima has been playing us all along, and that the character and his commentary thereof are in fact part of a wider critique of sexism- it is of course a current debate. This remains to be seen, but for now, this article is a response to those who have immediately leapt to his side to defend his “artistic vision”, which may very well be yet another tired instance of the propensity videogames have for objectifying women. I’m not saying it conclusively is this, but I’m arguing against those who defend it and seek to conserve it IF it is.
Again, this conservatism manifests itself in their denial of any gender inequality in society- of any culture of female disempowerment. They seem invariably to think that no such inequality or asymmetry exists, that it is mythic in character. We already know however, how conservative these people are. So is it not conceivable that this supposed "knowledge" they have of the "truth" of gender inequality is in fact yet another manifestation of their conservatism? Could it be that the fortress of truth they occupy is in fact one based on self-deception? Being so rooted in today's society, and unable or unwilling to conceive beyond it, they consider it the best of all possible worlds, and make-believe that it is perfect, that no such social ills exist, thus conserving a rotting patriarchal order.
(I'll continue in the comments section)