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Game Culture & Liberty
by Richard Vaught on 09/18/12 01:31:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


There has been a lot of controversy recently over sexism in the gaming community, both inside the industry and in our fan base. One of the problems with discussing this topic is that it is embedded so deeply into our identities as individuals and as a society that it becomes a topic of emotion and morals rather than an objective discussion. Even worse is that almost all sides of the debate come to the table with the idea that “if you are not in complete agreement with me, then you are my enemy”. No rational discussion can take place under those terms.

I understand that many of you are from other countries and other cultures, but I am an American, and so I will be discussing this topic from the perspective of an American. I am going to do my best to keep the conversation objective and state my case dispassionately, but as liberty and gaming are both subjects that I am rather passionate about, I beg your forgiveness in advance if some of that comes through in my writing. Also, it is impossible to adequately discuss this topic without delving somewhat into the larger political arena. So, while this is an article primarily directed towards game culture, I also beg your indulgence while we examine some of the political ideals that form the basis of our creative freedoms.

On Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

While most U.S. Citizens, and likely even the majority of people from other countries, are familiar with the part of the Declaration of Independence that says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Many are less familiar with the preamble to the Constitution that says:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

A couple of other important tidbits can be found in the Bill of Rights, most notably the 1st, 5th, 8th, 9th, 13th, and 15th amendments.  If you are a U.S. Citizen, and not aware of what they are, shame on you. I highly encourage you to look them up.

What I am going to focus on here is the philosophy of Liberty. The philosophy of liberty is the backbone of the laws in the United States, which unfortunately have become rather spineless in the last century. Under this philosophy, the one which our form of government is based upon, the state has a monopoly on force and is under the obligation to use the force granted to it to protect its constituents from the use of illegal force.

More importantly, though, is the ultimate foundation of the concept of Liberty; the concept of self-ownership. As the video in the link above points out, you own yourself, and you exist in time, so you have ownership of your time. The product of the expenditure of your energy and your time is your property, which is also owned by you. So the use of force to deny your ownership of yourself, time, or property comes in three forms: Murder denies your ownership of your future, Slavery denies your ownership of your present, and theft denies your ownership of your past.  All other laws and crimes are (supposed to be) built off of one of these three principles.  

But how do these concepts apply to the topic at hand? Well, there are a number of ways, and some simple logic will point them out quite clearly.

  • If you own yourself, then you own all things internal to that, such as your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, etc.
  • If you own your time and you own yourself, then you own the product of your time and your ‘self’, such as creative works, intellectual property, and physical creations made from property that you own.
  • If these are your property, then you are free to exchange them for something else of value, such as money, at which point they become the property of someone else.
  • Opportunity costs time and property(i.e. the efforts of the person), so if you deny someone an opportunity or fair compensation for their property unjustly it is a form of theft. (This is the basis for anti-discrimination/anti-harassment laws.)
  • Similarly, if you damage someone else’s work in such a way that they are no longer able to trade it freely for its original worth, you have stolen from them. This also applies to damaging their character, which is a product of their ‘self’. (This is the basis for laws against slander, libel, defamation of character, etc)
  • If you use ‘force’ regardless of the type, to impose your will upon another, it is a form of slavery. (Remember, the government has a monopoly on force, but are only legally allowed to use that force for defensive purposes. Since you cannot give the government a right you do not have, you do not have the right to request that they use force to infringe on another person’s liberty.)

There is also the issue of strict liability crimes, which are a travesty of abuse because they work under the principle of guilty until proven innocent reference to mens rea or culpability. The history of law shows us that this type of system always ends up in abuse.


Harassing Gamers and Political Activists Alike

The key thing to note about both groups here is that they are attempting to use force to either commit theft or slavery. When a player buys a game (property), they have a right to use that game as they see fit, provided that it does not infringe upon the rights of another person or violate the agreed terms of sale. Harassment of one gamer by another gamer is unacceptable because it is a form of theft. (i.e. You are stealing their time and/or the money by devaluing the experience that they traded their property for.) Similarly, if you try to force a person to refrain from pursuing their own happiness with their own property it is a form of slavery.

The same thing applies to attempting to tell another person what they MUST do with their property. That is a form of slavery. It is their property and they have an inalienable right to do with it what they please, even if you disagree with them. If you use the media (force) to slander their product or in any other way damage the value of their goods it is vandalism which is a form of theft. This does not mean that you are not free to critique or venture an opinion, only that you must be clear that what you are offering is an opinion and not a fact. This is something that is all too often abused in today's pop media culture.

If you seek to damage their(any person or entities) character (self/property), without proof of an actual crime being committed, that is both theft and attempted slavery because you are stealing the value of their life (through fraud) and trying to use force(through coercion) to make them forfeit or alter their life and property to you or your beliefs.

On Sexism

Sexism, as abhorrent as it might be, is not a crime. Sexism it is a pattern of thought, which is the property of the person thinking it. You do not have a right to that person’s property, so you have no right to attempt to use force to make them change that pattern of thought. If you attempt to criminalize a pattern of thought, it becomes what is known as a ‘thought crime’ and is a form of slavery.  However, if that pattern of thought denies you an opportunity, the ACTION of denying you that opportunity is theft and a form of slavery, and there are laws against it which you can and should take advantage of.

(side note: This article does an excellent job of discussing the premise of thought crime.

“The public justification for such codes has been to fight hate crimes and to punish hate related insults, harassment, assaults, vandalism, etc. The motive for such codes and the practice of their application, however, often seem to amount to simple hostility towards opposing political beliefs. They embody a judicially moralistic ideological animus that is willing to vilify and stigmatize even reasonably argued political opinions, and people, as racist, sexist, homophobic (expanding limitlessly into a circus of political crimes, "classism," "lookism," "sizeism," "speciesism," "orientalism," etc.). In short, they seem to seek the criminalization of mere beliefs and the people who may express them in good will and good faith. In that project terms like "racism" and "sexism" become no more than chanted slogans used for smearing opponents and for eliminating the need for argument or debate, since of course no one need take the views or persons of racists or sexists, etc. seriously. They deserve, like neo-Nazis and Klansmen, to be driven out of honest venues (like colleges, universities, and the media) and prosecuted for the damage their ideas do. The only escape from such condemnations is to become "re-educated" or "sensitized" and affirm the politically correct line without reservations. The political correctness movement, consequently, represents the continuing political and legal threat of judicial moralism to free thought and free speech. Fortunately, even most politicians (even Democrats -- although this may have changed) recognize the totalitarian origins of this movement, although supposedly educated academics often don't.”)


However, there are some very important things to note. If one person is paid less than another person for the same services, it is not theft provided that the employee and the employer have mutually agreed upon the price. If the price is no longer mutually agreeable, you are under no obligation to continue selling your property at an unfavorable price. Does that make it morally right? No, but legal codes should not be based on morals because doing so imposes a form of slavery on anyone that disagrees with that moral code (i.e. thought crime) and denies them their liberty. Remember, what is being judged is the value of one person's product over that of another's, not the person themself. This is an aspect of our current criminal system that I disagree with because there is no objective criteria given, nor can there be, of what justifies the product of one persons effort to be more or less valuable than anothers. For example, my daughter's first picture is worth more than all of the fantastic art in the world to me, despite being poorer quality. Likewise, some artists work are intrensically worth more simply because they were done by that particular artist, regardless of any objective criteria. We can not in good faith make laws that punish subjective crimes because any attempt to do so is the creation of 'thought crime'. This is particularly important in our field where we deal with so many purely subjective criteria, such as whose art or writing are better. But I digress.

If a person finds themselves in an uncomfortable situation, they are not required to remain in that situation and have a personal obligation to protect their property (i.e. their ‘self’) from any harm that may occur from that situation. However, that does not include the right or obligation to use force, or to petition the use of force by others, to make the other people involved change the situation (slavery), provided that all other parties involved are consenting to it. If the person knowingly and voluntarily entered the environment, they are responsible for the consequences of that choice. No one would blame a snake if it bit someone that knowingly put their hand into its nest; after all, the snake was merely defending its property. So why is there a double standard for rational people?

I could continue on at length, but I hope you are beginning to get the point. Note that this same standard is applicable to all people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, race, age, or beliefs.

If You Want Things to Change

In a free society, the only acceptable way to implement change is by showing people that there is a better way. Any attempt to use force to implement change is likely to have unintended and unforeseen negative consequences. So what does that mean for us, as gamers and industry professionals?

When I tell people “If you do not like the way things are done, then do it the way that you would like”, it is not meant to in any way disenfranchise them. Instead, it is because I believe that it is the only acceptable method to implement change because it protects the rights of both the unsatisfied individual and the owners of the object of their concern. If I were to sanction designers and artist changing their works then I would be supporting their enslavement to a malcontent group. If I were to deny the malcontents their right to produce something that they enjoy, I would be supporting their enslavement to the will of others.

There are, now more than ever, many people from all walks of life that are interested in making games. I am more than certain that, especially given all of the controversy on the topic, that there is a significant enough population of like minded people out there that the talent and funding necessary to produce a quality title that reflects that groups world view could be created. Even more to the point, with the current access to fast low budget development platforms (many which are free) it is possible for a small group of even relatively untalented and unskilled individuals to produce a title.  I highly encourage anyone that disagrees with the current state of affairs in gaming, for whatever reason, to look into this option and show us how to do it better.

Rights and Responsibilities

We generally accept that an owner is responsible for their property. In fact, we agree with this so much that we have a multitude of laws that govern the rights and responsibilities of property owners.  For example, if you own a dog and it bites someone, you are responsible for the damages unless you can prove that it was done in good faith (i.e. someone was abusing your dog and the dog retaliated).

Yet, for some reason, we fail to realize that with ownership of your ‘self’, the foundation of liberty and freedom, comes responsibility for your ‘self’ as well. For every responsibility that we abdicate we sink further and further into slavery. Some recent examples of this are cases of Ky at the PAX Minecraft after party and Anita Sarkeesian. Now let me be clear before I go any further that I am NOT condoning what happened to either of these two people. These are purely case studies because they are still relatively fresh in the media.

In the case of Ky, there were layers of responsibility on both sides of the case, all of which were completely ignored. Both parties were responsible for becoming too intoxicated to properly control their property (self). In the man’s case, it was because he failed to control his actions and forcefully trespassed on someone else’s property, and stole from them (i.e. he touched her person without consent and took her freedom of choice by grabbing her hand and putting it on his crotch). On Ky’s part, it was ignorance and willful neglect. She failed to keep herself from being in a position that was not conduscive to her safety, failed pay attention to the situation as it deteriorated, failed to accept help when it was offered, failed to remove herself from a bad situation despite repeated warning signs, and failed to report the incident in a timely manner.  I firmly condemn the use of force on any other person, so the man’s actions were absolutely wrong; however, I also hold people responsible for themselves and find her action wrong as well because she failed in her due diligence to protect her own liberty.

In the case of Anita Sarkeesian, I see the situation as much worse. First, to address the worst offenders, the behavior of the gamers was completely intolerable. That was a vagrant abuse of freedom and an intolerable attempt to disenfranchise another person, which to me is equivalent to assault, attempted theft, and attempted slavery.  I believe that every person that participated in that verbal assault deserves to be punished. (Note that statement does not apply to those people who merely declared their disagreement, but to those that used slanderous and degrading as a means of force to prevent her from pursuing her legal rights.) As for Anita herself, I cannot fault her for her poor choice of wording (tropes are neutral, not ‘against’ anyone) and I cannot fault her for her political ideals which she is absolutely entitled to. What I DO fault her for, however, if for not only failing to take legal action (to the extent possible) against all of her assailants, but also for her hypocrisy and her attempt to use media as a means of force to disenfranchise others of their right to produce what media that they see fit.  Public discourse is a welcome thing, and in that I absolutely agree to her right to speak her mind about the state of game and sexism in gaming.

 Where I disagree and hold her accountable is that she is degrading and diminishing the work of others by implying intentions in their work that she cannot prove and assigning motives to their work that are baseless. In short, she is stealing from these creative people by diminishing the value of their product on opinion alone, and a heavily biased opinion at that. Not only that, she is stealing from the creators of these works by diminishing the character of the creators themselves in the same way that she diminishes their creations.  And lastly, I hold her accountable for attempting to use force to infringe on the liberty of the developers and creative minds in the game industry by trying to use the media to force them to alter their work. That is a form of slavery and I am whole-heartedly against it.  As I said earlier, the proper way to implement change is to show how something can be done better, not by tearing down the works of others.

The Challenge

This is the challenge that I am making to the gaming community. Celebrate your liberty and the liberty of others. Do so by embracing what that liberty means both in terms of rights and responsibilities. Celebrate your creative freedom for what it is, the purest expression of your individual freedom possible. Think about your actions in terms of another’s liberty BEFORE you make them. Enter conversations about topics like gender differences with liberty in the forefront of your mind. Treat each other with respect. Work hard to build each other up, and steadfastly defend each other from any who would attempt to divide or suppress you or anyone else. And lastly, quit bitching and navel gazing and get out there to make some damn good games.

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