Book review: Game Changers

Game Changers.Game Changers by Dan Golding and Leena van Deventer.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

This is a neat read from two writer-academics who’ve built careers in the gaming sphere. They’re passionate about what the form can be, and have both had buckets of shit tipped on them for daring to disagree with Gamergaters or – in van Deventer’s case – for daring to be a woman online.

It’s a tag-team affair, with both authors taking a shot at a selection of topics revolving around representation in gaming, and the entrenched mindset of producers and consumers alike. It’s written from a position of deep love for games, and a respect for gamers as something other than the basement-dwelling – and fallacious – stereotype. And it’s most importantly a work that realises that games are something that can bring us closer together while allowing voices other than those of cisgender white men to have a say.

In discussing identity and access to games and game creation, as well as critique, the book investigates the Gamergate movement (such as it is) but doesn’t become too bogged down in the weeds of the thing. Both Anita Sarkeesian and Zoë Quinn are interviewed at length, and have some excellent contributions on the events, but their words are more aimed at the way games could be examined and made better for everyone. Nobody’s trying to take anyone’s toys away here – it’s about allowing other people to make calls about what we play as well, and about trying to ensure gamers exercise a bit of critical thinking about the hobby or career they’ve chosen. After all, there’s no shortage of games, and you don’t have to play them all. But allowing divergent viewpoints gives agency and the opportunity to be seen in media to groups and individuals that currently aren’t as well represented – even though sci-tech used to be a fiercely women-driven area.

The surest way to undo institutionalised power and prejudice is to empower those outside of privilege into action. So, if you’re feeling brave, why not try making your own videogame? It might seem like an incredibly daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be, even for a technophobe.

I’m a fat white dude, and the work to address my privilege is ongoing. I’ve been pretty interested in the sort of things the book addresses as I’ve been a lifelong gamer. But I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to people who don’t consider themselves gamers, or who are mystified by gaming, because it’s a good explainer of the way access to creative tools have allowed anyone to make a game, to offer a window into their experience. And it engages with the often horrific pushback that such inroads invoke amongst certain types of gamer. But rather than pushing division, the authors call for understanding, even when they’ve been on the receiving end of online (and otherwise) abuse. It’s pretty amazing to read something that questions the logic behind a troll’s continued plan of attack from a place of care – what is it that causes this behaviour on a personal level? – rather than a place of shields-up defence.

(This in no way underplays the seriousness of attacks, mind: the legal consequences of such fuckery – in Australia at least – are considered, as is the futility of “just don’t read the comments” in effecting change.)

Though it’s a couple of years old now, Game Changers is worth your time, if only because it prompts the reader to imagine how much better things can be. And that’s something it’s important to remember, no matter how deep the troll-shit stacks.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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