UPDATE: Jennifer Mendoza has indeed been confirmed as a “Poe”/satire account. Nevertheless I won’t delete this post due to its criticism of the idea that gamer culture has historically been hypermasculine and that androgyny or gender-atypicality somehow represents a threat to this culture’s values.
Jennifer Mendoza alleged, at Medium (https://email@example.com/gamergate-killed-david-bowie-a9532d0495ff#.39ghslszr or https://archive.is/4RWsO) that GamerGate killed David Bowie. Now, this is a facially ridiculous claim considering that at no time in GamerGate’s history was David Bowie alleged to have any connections with gaming journalists acting inethically. But let us look at the claim being made.
David Bowie was described by Mendoza as a “paragon of androgynous masculinity.”
The assumption Mendoza is relying upon is the idea that androgyny is some sort of challenge to GamerGate or to gamer culture more broadly.
Is this fair?
First, Mendoza mentions the game Omikron: The Nomad Soul – a game Bowie contributed to the soundtrack for (alongside guitarist Reeves Gabrels). Unfortunately, in the sighed version of this article, Mendoza names the game “Omnikron” in a disaster of autocomplete. This only raises the suspicion Mendoza’s never actually played Omikron. The second time this article was sighted, Mendoza had fixed the error.
Omikron is one of the first games I played to completion. It was a complex adventure game by Quantic Dream, incorporating FPS, Fighter and RPG mechanics alongside a 3d adventure game. Mendoza notes it only received 74.81% percent on GameRankings – and then stated that this rating was granted from “the then predominantly white male gaming audience of 1999.”
The implication is simple – this game only got that rating due to an overall white-cis-het-male audience. And somehow Omikron fell afoul of this audience due to the presence of David Bowie (himself a white cis male, although bisexual rather than het).
At some points in the game, your character could attend concerts by David Bowie’s virtual self and band. Mendoza’s article seems to imply that this factor is why the game didn’t get 90%+ at gamerankinings. Mendoza brings up nothing at all to do with the core mechanics of the video game, or even the diversity of the cast of characters. She doesn’t even mention the game’s fourth-wall-breaking storyline, where the player is cast in the role of their own soul which has been lured into a parallel dimension using a video game.
The overall argument is obvious – the “androgynous masculinity” of David Bowie conflicts with “gamer culture.” The assumption being that the author’s hypermasculine idea of gamer culture is in fact true.
But is this actually correct? How hypermasculine is “gamer culture” and how hypermasculine are most “hardcore” games?
Gamergate’s critics continually keep gamer culture in a quantum superstate regarding masculinity. To them, gamers are somehow simultaneously embodiments of hegemonic normative toxic masculinity and pathetic whiny pissbaby manchild virgin nerds living in mommy’s basement who hate women because of a lack of romantic success. Simultaneously, gaming is both GAAAR MACHO JOCKS PLAYING COD WITH THEIR BROS and a bunch of emasculated losers who deserve to be mocked, humiliated and bullied. The SJWs simply cannot make up their minds.
The mockery of nerds shows that gaming, particularly in 1999, was not a mainstream pasttime nor was it gender-normative (I was enduring extensive high school bullying at the time due to my preference for gaming over sports). “Blockbuster Gaming” or “the dudebro games” (i.e. the “masculine-acceptable” form of gaming) didn’t even exist; the Playstation 2 (the platform which first made 3d gaming accessible to the mainstream) wasn’t released until 2000. Medal Of Honor was only on its first game, both Call Of Duty and Halo didn’t even exist as franchises, and there was no Xbox Live for potty-mouthed trolls to make sammich jokes over.
If we are to look at protagonists from gaming at the time, we should start by noting that protagonists were not nearly as focused on back then as they were now; the “blank slate” protagonist was more common than the “macho-yet-generic-hero-with-tragic-past” archetype that focus-testing and attempts to reach the mainstream delivered us. Probably the most famous video game protagonists at the time were Gordon Freeman (a theoretical physicist rather than a jacked dudebro, but a blank slate in terms of in-game presentation) and Lara Croft (a woman who defies gender roles by being both aesthetically feminine and incredibly agential). Some of the most critically acclaimed games of the time, such as Half-Life, Thief: The Dark Project, Silent Hill and System Shock 2, were hardly stereotypical “male power fantasies” but rather frightening games that weakened the player character and forced them to rely on scrounging, wits and sometimes even avoiding combat outright. And RPGs commonly let you play either a character of your own creation or gave you a selection of diverse characters to play (even Diablo gave you a choice of three characters and only one of them was a white male).
In other words, gaming back then was more stigmatized and socially emasculated than it is now. Critically-acclaimed games were less likely to be “male power fantasies” of the CoD style. Protagonists were not crafted as masculinizing alter-egos but rather were blank slates intended to be windows into another world; alternatively the protagonists were either badass women (like Lara Croft) or player-created characters (like in many RPGs).
Yes, there are clearly instances where some gamers have complained about the protagonist they play not being manly enough (Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 and Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2 being examples), but for the most part it makes zero sense to claim that gaming culture was (back in 1999) an hypermacho space that only gave Omikron 74.8% on average because David Bowie was involved with the game. It is an even more ridiculous stretch to claim that Gamergate – a movement which began in 2014 – is somehow related to the metascore of a game that predates it by fifteen years and also the death of a celebrity who contributed to the game’s soundtrack.
As for the issue of metascores, back in 1999 games were substantially less likely to be reviewed on a “four point scale” (i.e. the modern situation where games are generally given ratings from six to nine out of ten, partially driven by Metacritic-related pressure and game studios becoming less likely to hand out review copies to publications that give low ratings). In addition, it is far more plausible to assume that the rating Omikron received may have been due to the fact that the game’s shooter mechanics and fighting mechanics were hardly perfect. It is extraordinarily unlikely that the game was docked points for having David Bowie as part of the soundtrack and voice acting (indeed the game probably received higher marks for this).
Bowie’s corpse has barely cooled and his death is being used to push an agenda. This is sick.
To perform some dilligence, Mendoza’s article has been suggested as a possible “poe” or satire. The evidence for this is that the author picture is a generic photo from google images, and the article makes mistakes like alleging it was Bowie himself who released Omikron (in reality it was Quantic Dream and Eidos Interactive who did this). The article also refers to GiantBomb as a “progressive safe space” and whilst this may be factually true, SJWs rarely confess that any particular game journalism outlet has an undue bias in their favor (just as people on the left often deny that MSNBC has a leftwing bias). But, as per Poe’s Law, sometimes satire is indistinguishable from the real thing. SJWs have consistently framed Gamergate as a bastion of hegemonic masculinity trying to protect itself from women or the presence of anything feminine (Anita Sarkeesian has made this exact argument repeatedly). David Bowie’s genderblending stage personas from the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane eras surely represent something which transgresses hegemonic masculinity.
But then again, so does Bayonetta, and it has a metacritic score of 90% (on the Xbox 360), and whilst the gaming press generally lavish accolades on every latest iteration of Call Of Duty (CoD: Ghosts being an exception to the rule), actual hardcore gamers frequently criticize this hypermacho “dudebro” “male power fantasy” series for being repetitive, derivative and excessively monetized.
Omikron’s metascore had nothing to do with 1999’s gaming culture being hypermasculine-and-therefore-terrified-of-David-Bowie. This argument is not merely historically inaccurate and culturally ignorant, but an insult to David Bowie’s legacy. GamerGate did not kill David Bowie; cancer did.