Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Response (Aspirational Labor)

While I began a sketchnote for “Rise of the Videogame Zinesters,” I pivoted to writing a stream-of-consciousness response because I was also studying Gamergate (a mostly anonymous coordinated harassment campaign of female and minority game designers and critics, which first began in August 2014) in another class, and I wanted to think through how this reading acts as a precursor that discusses the massive shifts in the video game industry, even as an event like Gamergate exposes the less savory undercurrents of how “the same small group of people who are creating the same games for themselves” react against their relative loss of power and influence in the video game industry and larger culture (Anthropy 4). Clearly, there are still problems that are more insidious than perhaps was apparent at the time. Even then, for the rest of this response I still want to highlight how the playing field 🙂 still has its glass ceiling when it comes to successfully living off one’s indie games.
When I was young, I used handheld devices like the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS Lite, but many of the games I played were, if not targeted toward children (Nintendogs) or portraying women in a serving, traditionally feminine role (Cooking Mama, Diner Dash), most definitely not traditionally masculine or what seems to historically (and continues to) be the largest market share: first-person shooter games. While I personally find resonance with Anthropy’s words even 10 years later, despite the advent of more accessible game creation platforms that require no code have helped democratize game creation and distribution — several of my favorite games are indie, such as “with those we love alive”! — I am still thinking through how the continued dominance of large publishers — and now, large content distribution platforms — still control what is viable on the market. This is important because I agree with Anthropy that platforms like YouTube have increased the variety of content by lowering the barrier to entry for creators, but Erin Duffy in her paper “Gender and aspirational labor” cogently argues that platforms like YouTube — which pay content creators based on their views for ad revenue — reward highly feminized (and masculinized) content since that drives additional viewers the fastest (since feminized content, including but not limited to makeup tutorials and fashion blogs, apparently has the highest existing market share for women already, so it is a case of homogenous groups making more homogenous content for themselves). I don’t think this takes away from Anthropy’s point on “hobbyists” given that she is focusing on zines that start at the grassroots level and help people on the fringes feel heard and represented in art, but nonetheless one worry (that I do not have a solution for) is that even while these diverse works of art are reaching audiences that truly care about them, they may not break into the mainstream for the people that arguably need them too.
Granted, this could be slow-moving change (a gradual culture shift), a surprise event (an important executive at a large publisher suddenly inspired by an indie game), or an indie breakthrough (such as Stardew Valley). I am just wary of pointing to indie zines as a solution (though perhaps a mechanism for a later solution?) given that this still assumes the “aspirational labor,” or at least the steadfast commitment of the “hobbyists” to help minority groups be represented, and that as she noted, it is still incredibly difficult to break in the industry and larger culture  I think in this regard, Anthropy’s discussion on who decides whether a game is art is a fraught question that links back to the high walls of the academy, and we each have our own personally reasonable metrics (for her, “number of dykes”), and we just have to keep doing what we can, because (within reason) “Whatever you’re doing is right because you’re doing it, and that’s valuable” — even if this means accepting that we will need to keep our day jobs for the time being.

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