The following was to be the script to this week’s IN BOB WE TRUST, which would’ve been posted a few hours from now once it had been edited together. The subject was to be adding some context to some social media flaming I’ve been enduring for suggesting that, in the wake of Sunday’s ghastly events in Orlando re: the worst mass-shooting in U.S. history; it might be prudent for people presenting at the also-unfolding E3 conference to look at any of their trailers/showcases involving gunplay and ask “Is there anything in here that will make me look like an asshole today, in light of this?”
Since it was hard to think about anything else, I decided to turn elaborating on my feelings about the blowback my Tweet received and what it says about geek/gamer culture’s issue with empathy into an episode… only to discover when it came time to actually record the audio and put it together that there was just no way to make the seriousness of the subject-matter “gel” with my standard video presentation (i.e. jokey graphics, fast-delivery, etc) – and that in actually following through, I’d be (potentially, at least) engaging in the kind of good-intentions/poor-taste business I was questioning in the first place. So I decided not to.
There will be an episode of IN BOB WE TRUST this week, but it will arrive on Wednesday or late Tuesday night. My call, no one else’s, felt it was what was best. But for posterity’s sake (and because I feel it reads better in text format anyway, I’m presenting my thoughts as originally-scripted here. I hope you find something worthwhile in them, and apologize for the delay in episode production.
ORIGINAL “IN BOB WE TRUST” SCRIPT (w/ minor alterations for blog post form)
Okay! So, this episode is going to be about two things I generally DON’T want to regularly fixate on for this series: Current events and video games. I don’t wanna do too much game coverage because there’s another show for that – oh snap I guess I spoiled that’s coming back at some point, too, huh? – and current events because this really isn’t the forum but, hey, y’know, sometimes you gotta get something off your chest.
So, the United States just had itself another godawful mass-shooting, this time targeting a gay nightclub in Florida. It’s completely horrible, there is no upside, it’s a shitty thing made even more shitty by the fact that these things could be mitigated if not prevented outright by fairly simple measures that most other civilized countries have already put in place but we refuse to because enough of our population still somehow believes that the word “Ammendment” means “Sacred Unchanging Writ Seared Into The Immortal Rock By Fucking ZEUS.”
But that’s a different show. Bottom line: Horrible tragedy, an outrage, maybe keep these things in mind when you VOTE in a few months and while thoughts and prayers are lovely what they REALLY need down there is donations in the form of blood or money.
ANYWAY! All of this happened to be occurring right at the same moment that the video gaming press was hunkering down to start watching this year’s info-dump of pre-rendered overpromising cutscene trailers from the E3 show. And since MY MIND always goes to the worst-case scenario, a thought occurred to me: Since a plurality of games likely to be shown off at this show involve looking down the barrel of an automatic weapon to some extent because video games have gone from being a fertile and endlessly creative space to… NOT that… wouldn’t it be just one more layer of horribleness if one of these presentations was to come off inadvertently in “poor taste?”
Nothing “intentional” of course – mainstream triple-A gaming may be STUPID (proudly so, in fact) but it’s generally not suicidal or intentionally cruel. The first thing I honestly thought of was “Boy, I sure hope Rockstar wasn’t planning to pop in and say ‘Hey guys! Big news! GTA6 is going back to VICE CITY!” Which, y’know, could still happen – the show’s not over yet. I mean, obviously wouldn’t be INTENTIONAL, the announcement and accompanying footage would’ve been prepped weeks if not months ago, but still… we can all agree that shit would’ve been awkward as hell, right? Big presentation about how fun it is to pretend to the shoot-up Florida within hours or days of some asshole ACTUALLY shooting-up Florida?
Or if the next CALL OF DUTY trailer revealed one of those “No Russian” type civilian mass-shooting sequences to showcase how bad the bad guys were? That’d would’ve gone over like a lead balloon, and along with just being a tone-deaf way to conduct business it would’ve turned “LOOK HOW GROSS AND INSENSITIVE THE VIDEO GAME WORLD IS!” into a headline news story in the mainstream media – and it’d be really hard to argue with the optics without coming off like the worst possible stereotype of a gamer – as demonstrated when I said THIS…
…and was immediately set upon by people eager to prove themselves as embodying the worst possible stereotype of a gamer: Death threats, accusations of attempting to “censor” the medium, fat jokes, racial slurs, all the tactics you’d expect.
Now look, I’m no stranger to being harassed by idiots – check out the comments under this episode if you don’t believe me. But it really struck me that SO MANY people got SO OUTRAGED about such a minor sentiment. I hadn’t asked for any games to be “banned,” I hadn’t scolded any developer for which games they’d showed (I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to, since it hadn’t happened yet) I hadn’t Saif any games should be “banned” or “censores” because that would be wrong and stupid. I didn’t even say “don’t show any gun games!” because A.) I don’t think that’d be a good idea and B.) even if I did, this is gaming in 2016 – what the fuck else are they gonna show, Ubisofts skiing thing?
The SUM TOTAL of what I said was “Hey, people about to make a public presentation about stuff involving guns? Maybe take one more pass on your preparations and see if anything in there that was fine YESTERDAY might make you look like an asshole. You know, what P.R. people are *supposed to do.* Or what no less than GEORGE CARLIN did when he revised his standup set for a special recorded in the immediate aftermath of 911 out if sensitivity to the victims because he was a fellow New Yorker and also just a DECENT GODDAMN HUMAN BEING.
Not that I’m confused about WHY there was blowback. What we call “gaming culture” NOW evolved from gamers first coming together in the 90s and early-2000s to oppose the very REAL censorship threats from the likes of right-wing political agitators like Jack Thompson, and the idea of never giving an inch or admitting that ANYTHING involving games might be in bad taste for fear of awakening The Demon is deeply ingrained in gaming’s psychological DNA – even though the last “game censorship” controversy anyone who matters gave a shit about was a Japanese dev pretending to be afraid of censors as an excuse not to hire a localization team.
So yeah, not a surprise. Like I said, until spaces like Twitter, Facebook etc get some proper regulations in place; dealing with idiots is the price of doing business online. But the disproportionate response this time really shocked me. And I come to realize that what’s so depressing isn’t the anger… it’s the lack of EMPATHY. All I or anyone else suggested was that people about to have a HUGE platform think about the feelings of others, and THAT somehow triggered an ignorance-fueled backlash about “censorship.”
The thing is, we don’t talk about this enough, but geek culture in general has a real problem with the concept of empathy. You can see it in the micro where forum cultures like reddit and 4chan or social-media harassment movements like You-Know-Who attack the very idea of earnest feeling or sincere emotional investment in ANYTHING other than snark-for-snarks sake “lulz” as a sign of intellectual weakness; but you can also see it as an almost pathological inability to even consider that anything beyond our own fandoms, our own fixations our own immediate enjoyments can “matter.”
After all, why else is the go-too bogeyman always “censorship?” It’s certainly not out of concern for artists rights – internet culture stopped pretending to care about artists rights the minute NAPSTER was invented. No, it’s because “censorship” is the most obvious thing that could impact OUR enjoyment. A valid concern, absolutely – but should it really be the beginning and the end? I’m not exempting myself here, either: Best of intentions or not, it maybe speaks to MY subconscious priorities that “Hoo-boy, I wouldn’t want to have to show off a shooter at E3 right now” is (one of) the first places my mind went, right?
Nerd-cultures problem with empathy also extends to how unwilling we often are to even hear out concerns about representation from those outside the “traditional” audience base for the things we enjoy, or why so maNY of us tense up and start blubbering out memorized nonsense about “narrative” and “agenda” at the mere menation of comics, games, movies etc engaging with social or political issues – all in the name of preserving supposed “escapism.”
And escapism IS a great thing, and the idea of geek culture BEING a place to escape to is a key component of it. But it can go too far, and too often an attitide of “don’t ask me to think about things in THIS game conic or whatever” turns into “don’t make me think about things in ANY games comics etc” and then into “don’t make me think about things during this whole fandom convention” and then into “don’t make me think period ever.” Where’s the line?
Folks… its one thing to “escape” into a place, it’s another to STAY there, build a fort around it and try to shut the world out permanently – that’s not escaping anymore, that’s HIDING. And it’s also denying that same escape to people who might need it as much or more than you did. Playing a game, watching a movie… whatever, yes, that can an “escape” from the often trying experience of sharing the world with other people. But a culture around them really can’t be – not in the same way. Because a culture (even the so-called “geek culture”) is MADE of people – so it’s part of the grand human experience.
And if we can’t at least THINK about having empathy for our fellow human beings… what’s even the point? I’d like to believe we’re better than that.