The boy who cried censorship

The boy who cried censorship

Here is a thing that I think the gaming community and also The Internets In General have difficulty understanding: “criticism” and “censorship” are not the same fucking thing.

Actually, hold on; before we go any farther I think I maybe need to say that again.

“Criticism” and “censorship” are not the same thing.

And, just as importantly: “disagreement” and “censorship” are not the same thing. As a corollary, disagreement is also not inherently bullying, harassing, or inflammatory, but that’s a secondary point.

The primary point is that big word “censorship,” which, with its twin the siren call of “free speech!”, is like a red flag to the bull of gamer folk.

There’s this misconception that any criticism of a game (or some other pop culture media thingie) is tantamount to censoring the people who have made that game (or other pop culture thingie) — or, even more specifically, that calling someone out for saying something douchey is censoring them.

Look, here is an extremely simple guideline: within reasonable bounds you are free to say whatever you like. Free speech has nothing to do with it (since “free speech”, the way it’s used in these kinds of discussions is primarily a legal construct of the United States dealing with government silencing tactics in public spaces); you are a person who is capable of saying things, therefore you can in fact say them. You open your mouth or write something down or your wee fingers fly across the keyboard and poof! Just like that, things are said. It’s like magic.

However.

Freedom of speech does not mean, even legally, freedom from consequences. You are totally within your rights to make a shitty game. Someone else is totally within their rights to call that game shitty. That same physical and mental ability that allows you to say something allows someone else to say something, too. Again: like magic.

For an industry that wants so hard to be considered an artful medium, the gaming industry and its proponents seem remarkably unwilling to accept even the kind of high-level academic criticism that is the provenance of art, and I absolutely cannot understand this. Perhaps it’s because I was a Literature student (of course I have a Lit degree, you can’t be surprised), but I find it thrilling that I personally would have no trouble writing papers on the nature of personhood as presented in Mass Effect or the themes of self-punishment and internal purgatory you find in Silent Hill or the reflections of morality in KO/TOR.

And yet.

Even game reviews on the big sites have become ludicrously softballed for fear of retribution from both our corporate overlords and the rioting throngs of lemmingtrolls, so when platforms pop up to talk about serious issues of critical theory — as one would with any other art — it’s like throwing chum in the water. HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT PERHAPS KILLING THE BLACK DUDE FIRST IS PROBLEMATIC or BUT WOMEN DON’T BELONG IN CALL OF DUTY or or or. The implication is that pointing out something that is perhaps not the best of creative ideas is the same as denigrating the entire work and everyone who enjoyed it, and suggesting that some tropes are maybe not the best storytelling devices is akin to censoring writers and developers. Because I guess if you can’t, say, write a faux action girl anymore you can’t ever write anything again?

I write about issues in the gaming community and the games I love because I love them. If I didn’t love Warcraft I wouldn’t have stuck with it for so many years upon years, and I wouldn’t have complained about the lore disappointments if I didn’t love the world. If I didn’t love SWTOR I wouldn’t speak out about how distressing it is that the production team has been all laid off or moved on. If I didn’t want to love being a part of geek culture I wouldn’t want to fix the things that I see are broken.

Criticism — even when meant as just negative speech, and not academic work — happens because someone expected more, expected better. What’s wrong with expecting better? I always strive to be the best me I can be, and I expect the world around me to live up to that. Always expect better. Always.