Saturday 21 December 2013

Don't Dismiss Slacktivism

From Catherine Buca

I’m not kidding about this, and I’m not being hyperbolic. If I had to name the worst thing about my industry, it would absolutely be this. It’s a cancer within, and it’s worse than all the other problems we have, and it makes me angry and ashamed. I don’t want to look at it anymore. We need to stop pretending that it’s nothing, that it’s just some kids letting of steam, or whatever nice little comforting story we tell ourselves that lets us gloss it over time after time. It needs to stop. It really needs to stop. These assholes aren’t making games, they aren’t contributing anything. They are dependent on us for their fix, and I think we should tell them in no uncertain terms that our respect, friendship, and loyalty is for the customers and fans who make a basic, rudimentary effort to behave themselves like people worthy of those things. That it matters to us. Because you better fucking believe it matters to me.
Not Even Kidding About Any of This - on toxic hate and vicious misogyny in the gaming and geek communities.

You’ll want to read the whole thing, really.
Another couple of quotes I pulled from that piece (which is excellent):
People need to stop turning a blind eye to this sort of behavior. If you’re a guy, and you see another guy do it, you need to drop what you’re doing and get right in their face, and express your disapproval. I’m not saying pick a fight — I’m saying you need to tell them that what they are doing is not cool, and I don’t mean mumble under your breath or make a vaguely disapproving expression, I mean tell them that what they are doing is stupid and hateful, and makes it hard for you to remain their friend. Don’t do it in private, don’t take them aside. Do it right there in full sight of everyone.

Because that’s how you should be reacting to that shit anyway. In the vast majority of the cases, you’re not going to change their mind right there and then. People get put on the spot, they get defensive. That’s fine. They’ll still remember that encounter the next time around, and they’ll think about it. Also, this isn’t just about them. This is about other people, who will be basing their behavior on what they see around them. They see somebody act like a jackass and get approval, they’re gonna remember that the next time they want approval. They see somebody get called on their bullshit in public — how do you think that’s going to stick in their memory? This is typical of how you deal with bigotry — it’s not about convincing the other person they’re wrong (that may not even be possible). It’s about sending a message to everybody else, especially to young people who’re still figuring out how they feel about things.
Also, hey, if you’re not the first person to step up (and you kinda should be, instead of hoping that someone else will), what you need to do is back up the person who does do it. That way it’s not just some random person speaking up, it’s a bunch of people confirming that yes, this is unacceptable behavior. It sends a very different message that way.
Those are really important points, and relate to more than just this particular issue on women and gaming. You hear a lot that it’s utterly pointless to argue about things on the internet, and that being some kind of social justice warrior online is just bullshit and you should be out doing political things instead. Well, you can do both. But nevertheless, that argument completely disregards - or perhaps misunderstands - how culture and social attitudes actually work.

People and opinions are shaped through interactions - interactions with institutions and with other people. We no longer live in an age where there is a sharp dividing line between ‘online’ and ‘the real world’. I don’t know about you, but the opinions I espouse online are the same ones I hold when I’m not sat at my computer; and the experiences I have while online impact me and become a part of ‘things I have done, seen, heard and said’ just as much as the experiences I have sans computer screen glare.

The politicians and game makers and artists and teachers and police officers and fighters and parents and decision-makers of tomorrow are today’s social media junkies. They are the ones reblogging their asses off on tumblr, the ones getting into arguments on games forums, the ones reading about high profile arguments in the media, the ones retweeting comments from celebrities they love, the ones currently struggling to navigate what is right and wrong and what a better world might look like. To underestimate the power that ideas and opinions and discussion and debate online have is to completely miss the point about how we as individuals and communities and societies develop our moral and ethical codes and learn our behaviours.

I used to get angry about and be dismissive of ‘slacktivism’. But then I smacked myself upside the head and realised what I’ve just written above. It’s true that changing your Facebook picture to a cute toy for a week and proudly proclaiming that you have, through that one act, helped bring an end to child abuse across the world is a largely pointless act that does more to absolve yourself of guilt than it does to even attempt to fix anything. It’s true that it can be the get out clause that convinces you that you don’t need to do anything else. But there is a little thing called nuance. There’s a difference between a passive act like that - that I still refer to as slacktivism - and something like the mass popular social media campaigns that have, for example, persuaded retailers to alter their practices. Marks & Spencer, a retailer in the UK, announced in Wednesday that as of next spring all their toys will be gender neutral as a result of ‘feedback’, which was led by social media campaigning exerting pressure on them publicly. One retailer changing the way they market something isn’t going to change the world or bring about gender equality, of course, but I hope by this point you’ve realised that there is more working in the background than just that alone.

One retailer deciding to market toys as gender neutral is the same as one person in a peer group standing up and saying, “hey, that’s not cool, you shouldn’t act like that” as per the quoted parts of the article above. Since we learn behaviours and develop moral and ethical frameworks through daily interactions, being aware of a company doing this makes us realise that hey, something’s up with gendered toy marketing. Hearing lots of people on social media making a fuss about ‘the pink aisle’ makes us realise that hey, something’s up with gendered toy marketing. Each is a little intervention in what makes up our society, in how we interact with it, in how we decide how we want it to look. And each has a small effect on everyone reading about it.

We aren’t static but dynamic, constantly in flux, always learning, always reshaping ourselves to our surroundings, adapting to situations and environments. We have to take responsibility for the things we say and do because they all impact on the way others experience life, they all play a role in shaping not only ourselves but others as well, and as an extension of that they shape society and culture as a whole. Being the one to stand up and say, “no, don’t do that, don’t be an arsehole, be a better person” isn’t just important in misogynist gaming circles, and it isn’t just important in the halls of political power either. It’s important in every interaction, because it’s what makes us today and it’s what makes us tomorrow. Misunderstanding that is dangerous.

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