GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
One of the smaller announcements to come out of E3 this year – but perhaps one of the most important – came in the form of this trailer from Microsoft:
The one-minute spot, for those of you who haven’t yet seen it, reveals the new Pixar-like player avatars being rolled out this autumn, which include unparalleled and inclusive new customisation options like prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, piercings, varied body shapes and coloured hair. Frankly, these new avatars look fantastic – a far cry from the dead-eyed, homogenised Nintendo Mii-apeing characters of the past – and must feel like a huge move forward for all of the disabled gamers who have been hitherto been forced to create an insultingly fully-abled version of themselves in order to take part in the Xbox’s online culture. Unfortunately, this is gaming fandom we’re talking about, so naturally, there are those who seem to view giving people who are not like them the same privileges that they themselves have enjoyed for years as if those privileges were a pie, and that by giving some to somebody else they’d be getting less.
“The trailer starts by showing an SJW-friendly Tumblrette turned real,” writes One Angry Gamer’s William Usher, a.k.a. “Billy D”, a
journalist blogger so willing to stand by their “jimmy-rustling” opinions that they* hide their identity behind an image of Watchmen’s Rorschach in public. “She hits every check list except for being a minority. Then again she probably identifies as transracial, so I guess that counts.”
“Anyway,” Usher continues, “She has the shaved head, purple hair dye and she’s disabled with a robot prosthetic. Literally if she was just a bit darker skinned and identified as a pansexual otherkin, they would have knocked it out of the park.”
It’s unclear why Usher - whose Twitter profile reveals, rather unsurprisingly, that they are a Milo Yiannopolous-worshipping GamerGater, who describes the many accounts of that movement’s harassment of women and minorities as “fake news” and who frequently complains about the online hate group getting “persecuted” by the evil SJWs who are trying to ruin gaming – has a problem with these new options, especially as the trailer clearly shows that those customisation options make it possible to create as bland a generic white dudebro as you like. Perhaps they’re visually impaired. Maybe the version of the trailer that they saw cut out after the first five seconds.
“The trailer does showcase some more normalized apparel and getups, such as a dude in a monkey mask with monkey hands and red polyester suit. Next to him is a fake Frozen-esque character who probably has a bright future on a Pixv casting couch.”
Or perhaps they’re literally insane.
Yes, Usher seems to consider a man dressed up as a gorilla – which, by the way, somebody should tell them is an ape – in a bright red polyester suit and the cryokinetic Queen Elsa of Arendelle as more normal to look at than a person using a wheelchair or prosthetic limb. Now, I admit that I was brought up by a middle-class family and therefore may be a little sheltered but I’ve also worked in a lot of offices in various different parts of the UK, and you know something? I’ve never once had a colleague who identified as a tacky gorilla or a tortured snow princess. I’ve worked with trans people – my first trans colleague was way back in 1999, so even that far back there was diversity in the workplace – and people of colour; I’ve worked with wheelchair users and people with prosthetics; I’ve worked with gay people, bi people and asexual people; I’ve worked with neurodiverse people, people with tattoos and people with facial piercings and dyed or shaved hair. No fashion-blind gorillas, though. I mean, I put a shout out to some of my former colleagues on Facebook just to be certain, but there wasn’t a cheesy Silverback to be found. Sorry, Bill. Mind you, this is a person who spends a lot of time complaining about Tumblr users who, according to their first sentence, aren’t real.
And this, right here, is the problem with internet culture and, by extension, gamer culture. There are a disturbing number of people who have absolutely no issue with a bipedal primate in a dodgy tux popping up on their friends list, but give them a trans girl or somebody with a running blade and suddenly everything they enjoy about gaming is destroyed. It’s theirs, you see. It’s their ball, and they’ve decided that you can’t play – but not only can’t you play, you’re only allowed to hang out on the pitch if you cover yourself with a sheet and try not to make too much noise. You are not allowed to exist if you deviate from a rigid template that they have set up inside their head, and woe betide you if you defy that template and want to enjoy things that they also enjoy. It is nothing more than a toddler’s temper tantrum, only these toddlers have a platform and can organise hate crimes over the internet.
It remains unclear, to me at least, why people like William Usher develop this irrational hatred of anything that’s different, and why they think that gaming – which plods along as it always has, churning out endless generic shooters with brown-haired, white male protagonists – is being ruined by some other people making some games with protagonists who are not male, white or brown-haired. These games being made does not stop other games from being made. It’s not a zero-sum industry. It’s not a goddamned pie.
But since these dangerous, violent, whining toddlers – who embody the reason why the Volturi won’t allow the creation of child vampires in the Twilight series** - are not going anywhere, and since they are fond of referring to anybody who disagrees with their limited worldview as “snowflakes” I thought they deserved an epithet of their own. The one I came up with was “sand grains”, because individually they’re microscopic and unimportant, in great numbers they can be hazardous, from a distance they all look exactly the same shade of pale and, more pertinently, they’re coarse, irritating and they get everywhere.
I’m not going to patronise people like Billy D and say that they’re unimportant or that we should ignore them because they have a platform, they have a disenfranchised audience and they lash out and hurt other people in order to get attention. That makes them terrorists, and terrorists should not be ignored; they should be resisted, and their message drowned out by love. So, celebrate Microsoft’s move towards diversity and inclusivity. Celebrate it loudly and buoyantly. Become the wave that washes over the sand grains and sweeps them out to sea.
* It’s fairly obvious from the toddler-level ire on their blog turned gaming site that Usher doesn’t believe in such disturbing “SJW” concepts as non-binary and non-cisgender identification, making it an even bet that they identify as male; I’ve gone with gender-neutral pronouns precisely because I know it will annoy them.
** “However, they could not be taught. They were frozen at whatever level of development they'd achieved before being bitten. Adorable two-year-olds with dimples and lisps that could destroy half a village in one of their tantrums. If they hungered, they fed, and no words of warning could restrain them…”