Death of gamers or death of the internet pecking order?

@dangolding recently posted an interesting view on the recent debacle around mysogyny/feminism in gaming. In it he suggests the reason so much vitriol has been directed at the likes of Anita Sarkeesian is because, underneath it all, gamers are conscious that they’re no longer unique, and this loss of identity cuts deep.

Loss of identity is a powerful force common to emotional disorders like depression and low self esteem, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.

Dan says “They have astutely, and correctly identified what is going on here. Their toys are being taken away, and their treehouses are being boarded up”, but I’m not sure it’s the toys being taken that causes the upset, it’s toys being shared. Shared with people outside their established, familiar, social group.

Where before gamers could freely communicate with each other using a language suitable within their group, now that language has to be neutered, controlled, tailored to a new kind of audience. It’s like when an inexperienced employee at work sends an email to a client full of colloquialisms or inappropriate flippancy. The change in mind-set required to send a professional email can feel like a loss of identity, a cowardly betrayal of the self you’ve grown to love.

And lets be clear, the “gamers” Dan is refers to are traditionally male. Men often bond over mutually appreciated crudeness, “ribbing”, jokes at someone else’s expense, a carefully dropped F or C-bomb to establish dominance etc. This verbal “sizing up” has been present for millenia and is practically heriditary, but it doesn’t stop after the bond is made. It becomes a means of re-establishing connection each time you meet up. It becomes familiar, predictable, enjoyable and is regularly reinforced.

When meeting in person the severity of this combative banter varies enormously, obviously not everyone is actually offensive and crude. However over the internet where dominance is measured on a global scale, you have to up the ante. Your impact has to be immediately and powerful. The joke has to be cruder and the offense greater, all the while tinged with the distrust that comes with anonymity. It’s a volatile, highly charged social dynamic..

The trouble is this dynamic doesn’t work in unfamiliar company. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve experienced a girlfriend/wife rebuke her male partner due to his bonding banter with mates: the joke that goes too far, or is too soon, too crude, or at her expense. It’s this perceived need for self-censorship that I suspect is the backdrop to the hate. The fear that to share toys with unfamiliar people requires you to behave differently too.

It’s not the loss of identity that upsets these gamers, it’s having to change an identity they’ve spent decades positioning in a social pecking order. Outright loss could probably be handled easier.