A new DOOM game came out this week. DOOM fans dig it, as our review attests. It does what DOOM fans expect a DOOM to do, and it apparently does it well. And with DOOM being a big name in videogame history, the new one’s been all over the videogame news, with reviews and interviews and play-through videos and everything else you expect from a modern-day videogame media concern.
Vox’s Polygon is no exception. Their coverage included a video of one of their employees playing a half-hour of DOOM. It’s pretty standard fare (we posted a video of our own), and on the surface there shouldn’t have been any controversy. The person playing DOOM in Polygon’s video appears to struggle with the game at certain points, though, and so now a bunch of videogame fans on the internet are using it to mock Polygon and its writers and editors. (New York Magazine has an overview.) These critics argue that the person playing DOOM in that video isn’t “good” at games and thus their opinions shouldn’t be respected, and since they work for Polygon it undermines the entire site’s credibility. (Polygon has long been a target of “GamerGaters” and others who don’t like the games media, and many of the people most upset about this video already believe Polygon has no credibility, so some biases are being reinforced, and some people are using this as new fuel for an old feud.)
Set aside the fact that an outlet like Polygon isn’t only writing for the most serious and dedicated videogame players. Their audience includes anybody interested in games, from the most hardcore who spend hours a day on the hobby, to the less passionate fans who only play a handful of games a year. Their writers shouldn’t be expected to reflect the tastes or share the abilities of players who devote most of their leisure time to gaming. The site maybe should’ve uploaded a less tortured DOOM video, but that half-hour clip does nothing to damage Polygon’s credibility or undermine any of the writing they’ve published. There’s nothing interesting or noteworthy about one random, unnamed employee of a videogame site being bad at one specific game. Even if Polygon was solely courting the most dedicated of self-described “gamers,” there’d be no reason to make any special notice of this particular video.
What is worth mentioning is the reaction to that video, and how it reinforces negative impressions about so-called “gamers.” People might sound like they’re trying out for the Blue Collar Comedy Tour when they say that somebody needs to “Git Gud” at a game, but what they’re really doing is trying to exclude players who don’t devote as much time to games as they do. Equal parts taunt and heckle, “Git Gud” is a joke directed at players doing poorly in online games, but a joke with a pointed edge: if you don’t get better at games, they’re saying, we’ll stop playing with you. That you don’t belong here. Those people who are mad about the DOOM video are saying that anybody who hasn’t put in the hours necessary to become as great at shooters as they are should be ignored. That their opinions are meaningless and that their presence hurts the game for the “serious” players. That “Git Gud” mentality is one part of a larger effort by “gamers” to keep games as their own private sanctuary from the wider world, open only to those who are as passionate about games as they are, and only if they’re passionate about the same games as they are.
To these critics it doesn’t matter if the person playing DOOM in that Polygon video is having a good time, or will be able to make smart observations about how the game or its maps and mechanics are designed. (In this situation, many, if not most, of them don’t even really care about the video or the player in it being “bad” at games—they’re just happy to have another reason to attack an outlet that doesn’t share their tastes or belief system.) They’re angry that Polygon’s player doesn’t meet some invisible and unknown standard of play that would signify them as a “true gamer.” If you don’t have a skill level arbitrarily defined by the most fanatic players, you might as well not even be playing.
This kind of hostility towards “outsiders” is why so many think poorly of games and the people who play them. It’s the same attitude that inspired the so-called “GamerGate” controversy. All the stereotypes and clichés that anger and diminish “gamers” are reinforced by incidents like this. By reflexively acting out against those who they believe are encroaching on their private turf, these game fans make themselves look petty and mean-spirited and encourage the dismissive attitudes the general public tend to hold towards them and their hobby.
This kind of attitude limits the growth and potential of videogames. Instead of viewing games as an emerging medium that can be entertaining, informative and emotionally fulfilling, the larger world too often dismisses videogames as a childish pursuit for kids or immature adults with too much free time on their hands. Mainstream audiences see the kind of games that get the most media attention, see the kinds of people who play them and how they treat anybody who doesn’t fit into their clique, and become convinced that the kind of games you need consoles or a gaming PC to play have nothing to offer them. The market for videogames stays stagnant, with designers making the same kinds of games for the same homogeneous audience, afraid to take risks because the people who might embrace them are driven away by this arbitrary “gamer” litmus test. By trying to keep out people who don’t agree with them or share their same skill or enthusiasm level, “gamers” keep the medium trapped in an insular, incestuous bubble.
If the people complaining about Polygon’s DOOM video actually cared about games as an art form or an entertainment medium, and not just their own little imaginary clubhouse, they’d want to see the videogame outgrow its current confines and become more accepted by the wider world. Instead they continually go off on tantrums like this “Git Gud” business, reinforcing why games aren’t as respected within pop culture as movies or television. Whoever was playing DOOM in that Polygon video doesn’t need to “Git Gud”; the people complaining about it need to get smart if they actually care about games.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections.