Has Gaming's Moment of Reckoning Finally Come?

The tally is high, and justice has yet to be served.

To say this was a long time coming would be an understatement–In the background of a turbulent moment in American history, many have come forward about all manners of troubling behavior within the gaming space, resurfacing the question of when — if at all — those responsible will be held to account.

Things started out small, but they eventually snowballed into what could only be described as a collective acknowledgement that the current state of things cannot endure. The loathsome misdeeds of some echoed much of what was already scrutinized to a great degree in gaming’s #MeToo moment from August of last year, but this one carries a different weight–it appears that participants in this dialogue have grown more wary of vacuous claims of change, and are pressuring platforms and employers alike to address these issues on an institutional level.

Ex-Twitch streamer Austen Marie felt sweet vindication when many of her stories were being corroborated by fellow colleagues in the industry–she gave up streaming after her many calls for reform kept being disregarded, even as many chose to put up with the abuse and stick with what is for a great number of them their sole source of income. If a job’s condition is to be constantly subjected to emotional or physical abuse, the worker’s relationship with it can only be likened to indentured servitude–with Twitch becoming its own venue for professional work, it has an obligation to guarantee both its creators and viewers a more hospitable environment, but alas, they chose their bottom-line over it.

If the issues present at streaming platforms and other crevices of the gaming industry emanate from society’s own prejudices and biases, it reeks of complicity that those with power and privilege have chosen not to challenge these norms in the interest of all involved–regardless of status or position. Formerly of Business Development at Mixer, Milan K. Lee speaks of a harrowing experience at Mixer — Microsoft’s now-defunct competitor to Twitch — wherein his presence was made explicitly known to be a diversity hire, exacerbated by an executive using racially-inappropriate language with no recourse to action–Lee’s experience is hardly an aberration in the industry, and it’s a direct symptom of what happens when a culture takes whiteness to be the default.

So often, games like to imagine themselves as an escape from what occurs in the tenebrous recesses of an uncertain existence, but what they’re increasingly displaying is an inability to recognize that what ails is them is a direct result of the reality that the medium wishes to distance itself from–with the amount of effort it takes to make these entertainment products, there are bound to be some dirty hands stirring the pot. It is impossible to consume games ethically–the next best thing, is to be wholly aware of the flaws of gaming culture, and work actively to curb them.

What this culture has enabled in the last few years, can range between making game developers and reviewers shit-scared for their lives, and decimating any notion of American democracy–Gamergate as it’s become commonly known, was the logical conclusion of disregarding issues of racism, sexism, misogyny and similarly-reprehensible behavior in the industry for so long. Some still continue to doubt survivors of sexual assault, or those who have been on the receiving end of undue bigotry–but with the web of malfeasance stretching as far and wide, it’s impossible to assert that these mishaps are strictly interpersonal. They’re manifestations of a system that was purpose-built to bury them under the rug, only now there’s so much sludge built up that none can afford to ignore it anymore.

Those facing retribution have invoked the doctrine of forgiveness, but what good is preaching about generosity when no earnest efforts were made to change a culture that took its women and minority participants for granted? When the stories start to bear great resemblance to what the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer have engaged in, it stops being a simple matter of human desire gone adrift–lives have been ruined by this mischievous behavior, and it’s time for accountability to finally set in.

Will this moment result in the change some have been long seeking? It’s incredibly hard to tell. Momentum was already building up behind a similar reckoning around the same time last year, but nothing of great substance came of it. What distinguishes this moment from previous ones though, is demands for change have gotten more sophisticated, and there’s this quasi-proletarian solidarity in which all seem to band regardless of dire straits in the pursuit of justice for those wronged.

In a way, the gaming industry’s rogue subjects are a class of their own, and consciousness of their own perilous material conditions they have built–now, they know better than to demand justice for a single individual on account of a single instance of wrongdoing, and are rightfully asking that their concerns be embedded into a culture that actively worked to disenfranchise them for so long. Whether vectors of influence will it or not, change is inevitable–it’s only a matter of when.