Regular readers of this blog may be scratching their heads at the title. “But Karen, don’t you hate the world problematic?” Well yes, I do. However, the launch of Offworld— a new gaming site that claims to be “an unequivocal home for women and minorities”— reminds me of Girlamatic.com, a now-defunct site that was meant to be for webcomics “(mostly!) by and (mostly!) for” women. For some reason, the title of an article critical of the site* from vaguely 2001-ish, titled “The Problematic Launch of Girlamatic.com,” has stuck in my mind, some fourteen years later. That was about the last time you could use problematic before it just got silly, I think. In any case, Offworld reminds me of my thoughts at that time, so it just felt like an apt title, out-of-character as it may be.
Looking at Offworld, which just launched on Monday, March 9, it seems like the site seeks to fill a certain niche– well, other than being “an unequivocal home for women and minorities,” that is; I’m sorry, something about that statement just amuses me. Anyway, thus far, the site seems to be calling attention to games from some of the lesser-known sides of gaming: text adventures, political statements communicated through game mechanics, real-life games that seek to educate people about topics that are difficult to broach, etc.
And you know what? That’s great; that’s awesome. People care about these projects, and even though they get some coverage on major game sites, there’s often something at least a little bit dismissive about said coverage. “Heard about this kooky game all about body-shaming? It will only take you five minutes to play, if you dig this sort of thing– um, whatever this sort of thing is, we’re not sure what to call it because we don’t want to piss anyone off. Now, back to Nintendo news!” This kind of off-the-beaten path stuff should be covered by dedicated bloggers who love it, and it looks Leigh Alexander and Laura Hudson- despite my personal misgivings with some of their work— are just the writers to provide it.
So what makes this problema– oh God I give up, I can’t use that word in good conscience. So what bugs me about this? I think the mission of the site is clear: to be a home for these sorts of artsy, generally technically simple-but-by-no-means-simplistic games that are too often overshadowed by graphically intensive behemoths. But that’s not how the site was presented to us: it was presented as “an unequivocal home for women and minorities.” Why?
See, I’m a woman (pauses for dramatic effect, then realizes there is none.) I guess I’m a minority, if you consider being a woman a minority, which I don’t, so err…maybe not? Although I am Jewish and arguably neuroatypical (which is probably arguable for most people, but I digress), so I’m at least minority-ish. I’m part of this site’s target audience. Except, while I respect the material Offworld covers– at least the fact that it has the right to exist, if not necessarily its merit– those games aren’t really my jam; I play JRPGs and dungeon crawlers, with only occasional forays into other genres.
So, even as a woman, Offworld isn’t for me because it doesn’t cater to my interests. That’s fine, one might say; just because it’s an unequivocal home for women and minorities (last time I’ll say it!), doesn’t mean it has to be the home for ALL women and minorities, right? Its creators never made that claim, at the very least.
But the thing is, there are a lot of women like me; women who have been gaming for decades, and enjoy playing tried-and-tested genres that have had generations of innovation to develop playability. Offworld isn’t for me; it’s also not for other women with my tastes, or many other tastes. Of course, there are men– even heterosexual, Caucasian men– that are far more interested in these types of games then I am. But the site explicitly tells them it isn’t for them; it’s not their “home.” Why would you do that? Why would you put a barrier between you and someone who loves the same things you love?
Of course, there’s no penis-sensor that immediately gives you a 404-error while trying to access Offworld while male, and/or otherwise afflicted...that I know of, at least. People of all genders and backgrounds can visit Offworld and read their articles, and there’s nothing stopping them. But still; there are some pretty heavy vibes given off when somewhere is intended to be as a home for someone, and that someone– explicitly, not implicitly– isn’t you. It says “you can visit if you like, but you’re not meant to be comfortable here. This isn’t FOR you.”
“But men don’t need a home online,” one might say; “there are plenty of places for white, straight men to go!” Is that really true in this instance though? Are there sites that specifically highlight these types of games, only they’re clearly meant for white, straight males? If you’re aware of any, please let me know, because I’m drawing a blank here.**
You could make the argument, “but there are plenty of sites that cover games that boys like, like Halo and shit!” So what? Boys who are more attracted to the kind of content that is diametrically opposed to Halo and shit logically aren’t being served by sites that cover Halo and shit, right? That’s why alternate outlets, that cover the stuff often drowned out by the glitz and noise of Halo, are valuable…or would be, if those outlets weren’t specifically telling them that certain races, genders, and sexual orientations are not welcome.
Offworld could have done the same thing, only much better, if it had presented itself as a home for certain types of games instead of a home for certain types of people. By presenting the content it does, the site organically calls for readership from at least some women and minorities, since many of the readers who share the views of intersectional feminists Alexander and Hudson are women and minorities. However, by making that call for a certain type of reader explicit, Alexander and Hudson go from being trailblazers to the very thing they claim to despise; gatekeepers, intent on categorizing people based on skin color and sexual preference rather than hopes, dreams and passions.
The obvious closer here is that I expect Offworld to suffer the same fate as Girlamatic; some early hype, then eventual irrelevance when people realize for the nth time that segregation still isn’t cool. I don’t know if that’s what’s in store; I have no idea how Offworld will fare, honestly. But I’ll tell you what I’d like to see: I’d like for it to succeed spectacularly; beyond all expectations. Leigh Alexander should be able to buy herself a yacht, someday.
Why? Because I want Offworld to become a genuine home for people in the mold of Alexander and Hudson, attracting them away from other sites. I want Offworld to become the official-unofficial home of the intersectional feminist point of view in gaming, so that having that point of view parroted elsewhere becomes redundant. I want everyone who writes pretentious, psuedo-intellectual shit I hate to be attracted to Offworld like moths to a flame, so I can simply not go there and never have to see it again.
It sounds like I want them to be marginalized, doesn’t it? I could try to throw in an Evil Overlord laugh here (I’m partial to the Skeletor version), but the beauty of it is, what I want is irrelevant; they choose to marginalize themselves. They choose to say that their home is only for certain people, and that people who think of home in much broader terms aren’t welcome. My wish for them to succeed is sincere; I want them to succeed because people who are exclusionary should have the right to be exclusionary together. Then, the rest of us can go on associating based on common interests regardless of race, gender or sexual preference, and everybody can be happy.
…well, I guess the one group of people who won’t be happy are people who want a site that covers these types of games extensively, but don’t want it to be restricted based on racial and/or sexual identity. If somebody could make a site that covers these games, only without excluding any particular demographics– well, that would be pretty cool. It wouldn’t render Offworld irrelevant though, since dividing people when you could be uniting them will never go out of fashion, and they’ve got that down to a science.
*Now lost to the internet aether, unfortunately. I’d love to be able to link it; I don’t even remember what site published it. I guess 14 years will do that.
**Though it’s an obtuse connection, I keep thinking about the fact that despite rhetoric about oppression, men are much more likely to be homeless than women….