Over the past few weeks, word of two new gaming initiatives suported by the German branch of video game market giant EA has been making its way across various circles across social media. However, English translations of news concerning these developments have provided insight into the social justice theory-based goals of EA’s “Good Gaming – Well Played Democracy” and “No Pixel For Fascists” initiatives.
On April 4th, the initiatives were first brought to widespread public attention by Electronic Arts PR Director GSA Martin Lober, who on that day published a post titled “Gaming culture: projects to strengthen digital civil society” on the official EA Blog for Gaming culture promoting the company’s collaboration with these organizations.
The first project, “Good Gaming – Well Played Democracy,” aims to advance their mission by “providing analysis and background information, further training and advice as well as digital streetwork” to present “a clear positioning against group-related misanthropy.”
“The aim of “Good Gaming – Well Played Democracy is to address different facets of group-related misanthropy together with players from different networks. The vast majority of gamers reject sexist, racist and anti-Semitic attitudes. However, the “Good Gaming” project sees a loud and decisive stance against misanthropy both in video games and in the corresponding communities. That is why campaigns are being developed that, in cooperation with passionate fans of gaming culture, convey a clear message: For a strong digital civil society in gaming!
Digital games are increasingly daring to address socially relevant issues. They often tell stories that stand against racism and stand for diversity and sexual diversity. However, the fact that this is not always the case and that communities often lack a clear stance when other players are sexually or racially insulted is the other side of the coin. By providing analyzes and background information, further training and advice as well as digital streetwork, the project “Good Gaming – Well Played Democracy” conveys that leisure fun and a clear positioning against group-related misanthropy go very well together.”
Directing this project is the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a far-left foundation which claims to fight against right-wing extremism, particularly antisemitism. The chairwoman of the Foundation is Anetta Kahane, current activist and admitted former informant for the Stasi, the East German secret police force which dissolved following the reunification of East and West Germany in 1989.
The second, “No Pixels For Fascists,” describes itself as “an initiative of websites, media professionals, research collectives and development studios from the computer game culture who want to campaign for an inclusive climate in their communities through anti-fascist work” which aims to serve as “a point of contact on the subject of right-wing radicalism in the gaming sector and will provide players, community managers and editors with contact persons, information and solutions.”
“It has long been seen how right-wing groups use and influence computer games as a communication platform. They don’t always appear obvious. The transition from discriminatory comments and hate speech to radicalization in the right-wing scene is fluid.
“No Pixel For Fascists” wants to counterbalance this toxic part of the computer game scene. Together we now address the public with a statement and call for the fight against discrimination where it arises.
This statement is just the beginning of our work. We see ourselves as a collective movement that is self-organized and critically observes events in the computer game industry and its audience. We will respond to current developments and provide information about them.We will be a point of contact on the subject of right-wing radicalism in the gaming sector and will provide players, community managers and editors with contact persons, information and solutions.
As a first step, we will publish a series of articles and interviews that deal with the issue of right-wing radicalism in gaming communities at different levels. With this we want to educate and offer solution strategies on how players, developers and gaming communities can act against radical right-wing capture. We conduct interviews with authors and researchers who dealt with right-wing extremism and other forms of hate, and offer guidelines that can be used to identify right-wing orientations in online profiles, for example.”
At the head of No Pixels for Fascists is German video game outlet GAIN Magazine Chief Editor and game translator Pascal Wagner.
In an op-ed published to the Arbeitskreis Geschichtswissenschaft und Digitale Spiele blog, Wagner claims that “right-wing extremists” are spreading bigoted ideology in video game communities and “are met with open ears where racism, sexism and anti-Semitism are accepted without being contradicted,” noting that the initiative stands for “an anti-racist, LBGTQIA+ friendly and feminist video game culture without anti-Semitism” which does not tolerate discrimination “whether online or offline.”
“Right-wing extremists use online communities to spread their misanthropic ideas. Above all, they are met with open ears where racism, sexism and anti-Semitism are accepted without being contradicted.
Such behavior is still tolerated and downplayed in many gaming communities. That must be the end.
We stand for an anti-racist, LBGTQIA + -friendly and feminist video game culture without anti-Semitism. Discriminatory behavior is not tolerated in our communities – whether online or offline.
Video games can be colorful and diverse places. Places where everyone can feel comfortable and where nobody is excluded. So that they become that, we have to work together for it. We are happy to do without people who do not agree.
Gaming is and remains colorful. Nazis have no place with us. Therefore: no pixel for the fascists!”
In a disturbing elaboration on the goals of the project, Wagner states that scientific research “can never be free of ideology” and that there is a moral responsibility to modify research and its information, as “research is always responsible for thinking about the consequences that its findings could have in the long term,” while simultaneously asserting that “Nazis undermine everything that scientists stand for.”
“One of the fundamental questions of scientific ethics is whether research sees itself as a component, seismograph and influencer of societies in which it exists – or whether researchers can separate themselves from the ethical and ideal requirements of their society and the results of their research in one produce supposedly ideology-free space. This second point of view always contains a naive notion of science that the fruits of their research are neutral in themselves, no matter what negative or critically debatable developments they could lead to in society. In this case, the knowledge which is endowed with the end in itself of progress is ‘misused’ by ideological systems which naive scientists had not previously expected,but should have expected. Last but not least, this naivety has led to today’s majority opinion of science ethics not to assume second, but first position: Research is always responsible for thinking about the consequences that its findings could have in the long term.
In our opinion, research can never be free of ideology, however much science would like to see itself presented as a neutral presentation of facts. The pre-selection of the examination conditions and the type of evaluation of the results is always carried out under certain assumptions and within value systems. They are part of personal, social and cultural ideas, in which science ethics also plays a role. Sciences, especially the humanities, depend on open, diverse and, as far as possible, egalitarian ideals of societies so that they can function at all. Contemporary sciences build on a pluralistic, diverse foundation. Nazis undermine everything that scientists stand for.”
As with most claims of battling ‘Nazis’ or ‘Fascism’ in recent years, Wagner uses these terms in a wanton fashion detached from their actual meanings and offers no concrete examples of the explicit promotion and acceptance of bigotry in video games nor does he define exactly what ‘fascism’ looks like in the medium.
Bizarrely, Wagner claims that “the medium of digital gaming is misused by anti-democratic currents because it is too often tried by ideological and opportunistic groups to position it as apolitical, but at the same time it is highly politicized” and furthers the tired and unfounded claim that GamerGate was directly responsible for the election of President Donald Trump:
“Games are the central medium for representations of history, in which people can lend a hand and influence processes. However, the medium of digital gaming is misused by anti-democratic currents because it is too often tried by ideological and opportunistic groups to position it as apolitical, but at the same time it is highly politicized. These anti-democratic currents were able to gain a foothold among the general public with the help of digital games and gain in relevance. GamerGate, the hate movement against women in developer and journalist positions, which strengthened in 2015, is one example. The campaign found an alleged distinction between core gamers and casual gamers on the long-nourished ground. Cultures are appallingly popular. The movement was used, among other things, by US President Donald Trump’s later chief strategist Steve Bannon during his leadership of the far-right website Breitbart to test the methods and arguments of White Nationalism and to prepare them for the election campaign.”
Concluding his promotional piece, Wagner positions himself, the foundation, and mainstream video game journalists as video game culture’s moral superiors, who “are called upon to work up and make public with their respective means, where games and game communities act problematically, where they should and must act better and where they already stimulate exemplary trends”:
“Even without consciously collecting under the guise of GamerGate or openly representing extreme right-wing positions, the culture of discussion in video game communities often stands out as misogynous. The negatively connoted term ” gamer girl” or games negatively associated with femininity such as “The Sims” or “Animal Crossing” are still used for cyberbullying and exclusion . In spite of praiseworthy tendencies, the over- sexualized depiction of female characters and the negative depiction or killing of homosexual characters in games is still the rule rather than the exception in games aimed at a large public. In short:
The external impact of digital games as a medium is far from being anti-fascist and equal. Political actors and anti-freedom groups are keen to largely consolidate the problem of digital gaming as a killing simulator or as the domain of white men. Development studios, publishers and reporting often contribute to this unwillingly by refusing to take a position in order not to scare off a customer base. Game studies as a discipline of scientific reflection on digital games can and must be improved here. Based on their research results, they must exercise political criticism where appropriate and make it clear why they consider this criticism appropriate.Like the digital game-dealing cultural journalism, the game studies are called upon to work up and make public with their respective means, where games and game communities act problematically, where they should and must act better and where they already stimulate exemplary trends. This is also the challenge of inclusive, understandable science communication.”
The end game of these two initiatives is painfully obvious: control the narrative, facts, and information in order to hold undefined authoritative powers over a wide community under the disingenuous guise of inclusivity and safety.
Troublingly, these projects appear to be symptomatic of an ongoing ‘war’ against video game and culture by German media, akin to the events which led to the infamous ‘GamerGate’ campaign, the infamous protest campaign against corruption and insulting rhetoric towards video game fans by industry journalists.
No Pixels for Fascists Co-Founder Aurelia Brandenburg published an outright attack on the gamer “identity” in an April 23rd essay for Language at Play, an online platform focusing on “the topics of linguistics and cultural studies in and around video games,” titled “Victim myth and sexism: “gamers” and gatekeeping a hobby identity”.
In her scathing op-ed, Brandenburg declares ““gamers” is a term that, if it were up to me, can and should go under,” dismissing the concept of “having a group name for people who like to play digital games” as “a banal process” because it only provides “an imagined community.”
“Nowadays we’re basically all players. Most of us have a smartphone in our pocket, a computer at home and have played some digital game. If what we like to subsume under “gaming” or “game culture” was ever the niche for white, young men in particular, as they still like to be traded – in 2020 it will definitely not be anymore. And not just since yesterday. Nevertheless, every celebration of a new diversity of “gamers” is premature and under this name also illusory. Because “gamers” is a term that, if it were up to me, can and should go under.
The idea of having a group name for people who like to play digital games is of course a banal process. Even less surprising is that the term self-designation theoretically also serves to construct a community whose members share games in the broader sense as a common interest. They form a community with their own sub-groups, dynamics and meanwhile also their own story in the sense of a common memory as such a social group. People playing video games will never know each other, but they still construct a vague community, an imagined community, around the assumption of commonality of a shared hobby, which is then further divided into individual sub-groups. A community arises from a hobby and an identity from a community.”
Brandenburg goes on to infuriatingly claim that ‘gamers’ should be portrayed as “the toxic and violent minority they have long been” and blame these “reactionary nerds” for unfounded and bizarre social occurrences, such as visual novels not being taken seriously because “they tell a romantic story” (which, as regular players of visual novels know, has never been the case, as romantic stories are essentially the life blood of the genre), and for assumptions from an unnamed individual that she was purchasing a game for her “boyfriend.”
“So the solution cannot be to refer to a term and an identity that is borne by decidedly sexist, racist and anti-queer tendencies, and then to persuade yourself not to feed these tendencies. If these trends are so proud of this identity and self-designation, they should have it. However, everyone else should then linguistically portray them as the toxic and violent minority they have long been.
Because the screaming “real gamer” fraction of reactionary nerds may be an extreme, but their gatekeeping is everywhere . It is there when visual novels are not really taken seriously because they tell a romantic story, and it is there when I want to buy a retail game in a dress in summer and the dubious complimentget what a great friend I have to be to buy something like that for my boyfriend. It is there when I decide not to play games with men anymore, or only deliberately, because I don’t feel like having a nice evening ruined by supposedly funny, but basically only sexist jokes. And it’s just as there was when I exchanged block lists for gaming circles on Twitter with friends, so that after the next more critical text, I would still be safe from abusive gamers.”
In an interview published to the No Pixels for Fascists blog, the foundation spoke with blogger and Language at Play member Michelle Janßen, in which she asserts that “to support right-wing ideology, YouTubers don’t have to be right-wing,” reasoning that “statements and jokes with right-wing rhetoric don’t make you a Nazi, but they support the normalcy of these things.”
“Online culture plays a large role in the way youth (and adults as well) are socialized. In the realm of gaming, as well as in other communities, the familiar faces take on the positions of role models. Their speaking habits and personalities influence viewers and normalize possibly problematic content.
It’s especially people like Erik Range (Gronkh) who hide behind statements like, “I’m just a guy from the Internet” and don’t want to acknowledge their influence in order to, however harsh this might sound, avoid responsibility. Jokes against minorities, tweets railing against critics and the like reach a potential audience of millions. To support right-wing ideology, YouTubers don’t have to be right-wing. It’s enough to use right-wing rhetoric (jokes about feminism, casual racism, etc.) or to allow members of their own community to do so.
YouTubers must become aware of the fact that they have just as much (if not more) influence than television, radio and other popular (online) media. They’re no longer individual persons cracking a problematic joke in a small group, but, instead, they’re propagating the idea to millions of adolescents and young adults that not only are such things not right-wing, but that they’re acceptable and normal.
Statements and jokes with right-wing rhetoric don’t make you a Nazi, but they support the normalcy of these things, which are being pushed ever further into our society, particularly by the right. Especially in gaming circles. As a result, they help right-wing organizations and groups to be classified as normal and harmless. At the same time, more and more viewers are sliding to the right and aren’t reminded by their idols of the fact that these viewpoints aren’t normal.”
Janßen also employs a purity test to dismiss the “left-wing” positions” of “big, well known Gaming Youtubers” on the grounds that they are not engaging in an appropriate level of “direct confrontation” with the alleged problematic content.
“Ideally, one would have to take action against systematic antifeminism, racism and heterosexism and remove them from our society. However, that’s more of a goal than a direct measure.
The ones who can change this are the YouTubers themselves, but also their audiences. In the English-speaking world, there’re already many YouTubers who openly and directly speak out against right-wing rhetoric and ideology and sensitize their community. This already exists here as well, but on a much smaller scale. The big, well-known Gaming YouTubers (unfortunately almost only cis men) don’t. Some of them take “left-wing” positions every now and again, but a “Get out, Nazis” tweet is not the same as a direct confrontation with problematic speech patterns and behaviors that are influenced by right-wing ideology or support them.
Viewers also have an influence on this. They can criticize the behavior of YouTubers and other community members, stop supporting YouTubers who don’t want to do without right-wing rhetoric (by that I don’t even mean that you should stop watching them, but rather not give them any more financial and emotional support), and further educate and sensitize themselves.”
In a move telling of the motives behind these campaigns, member of the right-wing party Alternative for Germany and the German Parliament Fabian Jacobi discovered that he had been preemptively blocked by the official No Pixels for Fascists account, despite having never interacted and possessing no knowledge of the campaign’s existence:
A German Member of Parliament just delivered a nuclear level burn to EA because of their questionable endorsement of “Keinen Pixel den Faschisten” (“No Pixels For Fascists”) in 121 characters. 🤣 pic.twitter.com/SJGyAhFm4z
— Lunar Archivist (@LunarArchivist) May 4, 2020
As of writing, it is currently unknown what influence these initiatives have had on the current video game development culture.