It's Time to Stop the Hate of Gamergate

11/03/2014 01:31 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2015
People protest on the campus of Utah State, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Logan, Utah. Utah's campus gun laws are in the spotl
People protest on the campus of Utah State, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Logan, Utah. Utah's campus gun laws are in the spotlight after a feminist speaker canceled a speech at Utah State University once she learned the school would allow concealed firearms despite an anonymous threat against her. School officials in Logan were set to go ahead with the event with extra police after consulting with federal and state law enforcement who told them the threat was consistent with ones Anita Sarkeesian receives when she gives speeches elsewhere. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The gaming world is now under a harsh microscope with Anita Sarkeesian and other female media critics being targeted for verbal and physical harassment, even rape and death, for expressing the view that the representation of women in video games is often disrespectful.

This is the latest development in what has become known as "Gamergate," an online and toxic cultural war pitting mostly female critics and their supporters who are seeking more integrity in the way women are portrayed in video games, against traditionalist groups who oppose this and other changes in gaming culture.

As head of a game development studio -- and as a human being -- I am appalled by the venom that is being spewed. There is simply no reason why video games and their culture should not evolve into a safe and stimulating environment for women or, for that matter, people of color, those with disabilities, or those from any other underserved community.

Unfortunately, part of the gaming public -- a predominantly young White male demographic -- seems convinced that wider representation will force them out of gaming, when in fact a greater diversity will expand market opportunities, and their horizons.

Actually, the "Gamergate" controversy should serve as a call to action. This is a crucial moment for game-makers and fans alike to question and reevaluate the regressive established norms in gender and racial representation that we have grown used to in games.

The climate is ripe for companies to create games that are more diversified and inclusive of everyone, regardless of gender, race, and ability level. To me, this makes sense from both a human and business perspective, as increasingly more people are calling for something other than clichéd power fantasies. As a game creator and as a parent, I feel a responsibility to craft experiences that entertain and inspire us to connect with our humanity, with our sense of empathy.

As a predominant medium of the younger generation, video games are not only a form of entertainment but also a language that we can use to promote values such as empathy, respect, and tolerance. Games can help us understand and cope with human tragedy, learn about many cultures, and embrace differences through empathy. Film, literature and music already serve this purpose, so why not video games?

In her 2011 book, "Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World," Jane McGonigal wrote, "Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not."

The key issue in this shift is one that is being raised by Ms. Sarkeesian and other cultural critics: Why can't we, as game-makers, create successful products that are, at once, fun and engaging, while also offering opportunities to explore the human condition and its diversity? Can we create marketable games in which conflict resolution is not achieved by collecting power-ups? I would emphatically say "yes," because in real life, we do not get power-ups.

The industry is already experiencing change, as evidenced by the rise in the market of empathy games, those that deal with issues universal to the human experience. I was privileged to be among the pioneers of this new video game genre with the creation of "Papo & Yo," the story of a boy and his best friend, based on my own life story as the survivor of an abusive father. Other games like "Papers, Please" are also helping reshape gaming culture, and an overwhelmingly supportive demand for more diverse games is making itself heard on social media, namely through the Twitter hashtag #INeedDiverseGames.

Empathy games succeed thanks to human nature -- their draw is the players' desire to understand and relate to the emotions of both the characters and other players. They help us put ourselves in other people's shoes. They take us on a journey that offers us special emotional value. In other words, they transform us.

Equally important, the characters are vulnerable. By creating sensitive, relatable characters instead of extraordinary, seemingly invincible ones, we set a different kind of expectation. That is why players who experience our games write to us about the strong connection they feel with the characters we've created. Empathy leads to understanding; understanding erodes prejudice. So, even if the heroes they control are of a different race or gender, or come from places they might not be familiar with -- like a favela -- players walk away with a new understanding and an appreciation of differences. A new bridge of tolerance has been built.

This bridge will crumble if Ms. Sarkeesian and the other female critics who are being wrongly and horrifically attacked are stymied and silenced. Let's remember that they are not demanding that developers stop creating violent games; those will continue to be published, and the games we grew up with are here to stay. What she and her peers are looking to do is make games more interesting, the storytelling more expansive, and the experience more exciting and engaging for everyone. This can only be greatly beneficial to the industry in the long run.

To be sure, there is plenty of room for new genres, like empathy games, that broaden the scope of what can be explored in electronic entertainment. Video games that treat women, people of color, and those with disabilities with respect have their place, and there is no reason why that place shouldn't be anywhere else but at the core of gaming culture. I can envision a day in the not so distant future when titles starring diverse heroes are as eagerly anticipated as their counterparts.