By Leonardo Faierman
My own abilities feel insufficient to the task of properly introducing Katherine Cross and her emphatically written “state of the gaming union” below (not her title, just my off-the-cuff description). The following are the closing statements for GaymerX East 2016, which were gratefully provided to BGN in text form by the esteemed writer herself. Rather than stumble through a series of laborious bouts of frothy praise, I’ll simply share some links where you can find her marvelously exploratory, thoughtful, carefully crafted, indispensable work, and ask that you support her to keep making more for us all.
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/KatherineCross (support so she can make ALL the words!)
Feministing Archive: http://feministing.com/author/katherinecross/ (former location of her weekly column)
Gamasutra Archive (from a search query, I can’t find a better way to link it): http://www.gamasutra.com/search/?search_text=katherine+cross
“You don’t really need me to tell you that this has been a terrifying week; the impossible became true, writ large for all of us to see. So what now for those of us involved in the world of gaming? Is this all just repeatedly pressing X to fiddle while Rome burns?
Regarding another traumatic political moment, and the role of artists therein, Kurt Vonnegut had this to say:
“During the Vietnam War, which lasted longer than any war we’ve ever been in – and which we lost – every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”
Of course, that’s not quite true because we care about the fact that it was Kurt Vonnegut who said that. We care because his work left an impact, because like all good art it confers an immortality upon ideas, the visual or literal language used to convey the otherwise ineffable parts of the human spirit. It lasts, it carries lessons, it teaches us long after the hand that held the pen or the paintbrush has withered away into the stardust whence we all came.
To measure the power of art by whether or not it can topple a tyrant is to, in some ways, miss the point. That is not where art’s power lies. It lies in what has been created here, in this space, this weekend; in the joy on peoples’ faces, the enthusiastic pride in their cosplay, the pins on our lanyards, the dirty geeky jokes we share here in Microsoft’s hallowed halls.
It builds community, it blazes spaces of conceptual possibility, it makes the impossible true in a good way; Christine Love’s Ladykiller in a Bind reflected more of my sexuality than I’ve yet seen in a game, and it sold like hotcakes despite Steam locking it out. Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe’s Pearl is the most ‘me’ character I’ve yet encountered in popular fiction. These things fill the reservoir of strength I draw from when I write essays assailing the alt-right, the Republican Party, the neo-fascists, or GamerGate. A work of art may not destroy a tyrant, but it is part of a chain of community that builds up the collective strength to, hopefully, resist.
Art, including videogames, forms the ramparts of the mind, preventing its colonisation by despair. It should be obvious why we need that now.
It is certainly true that, as my friend and colleague Zoyander Street put it recently, “art cannot save us, but we need to save art.” That is everyone’s job in the days to come, whether by unapologetically making that art, or by supporting the people who make it, enabling them to do what they love so we can all enjoy more of what we love.
What will save us lies at the heart of the protests roiling our nation’s streets; what will save us involves get out the vote campaigns, interceding to help when you see someone being harassed for who they are, and paying very close attention to midterm elections at both the state and federal levels. There was never a time for complacency, not in this age when black Americans cannot breathe and Native blood is being spilled for oil, but if there ever was, it’s most certainly over now.
None of this precludes the ongoing work of videogaming, however. It exists in continuity with it, providing what Janet Mock called “possibility models” for people to follow, to enable them to dream and believe in something that you helped them imagine. Whether it’s dystopias that teach us how to resist, utopias that give us a dream to strive for, or just something silly to help us forget for a few hours, we need that now more than ever. The world where Watch Dogs 2 sits beside Mafia III beside Ladykiller and beside A Purrtato Tail is the world I need to live in right now.
Use what privilege you have to make room for the many people of colour who have been creating or who will need to create, to vent, to inspire, and organise. To live.
This is what will care for the people on the edge of the night. So if making games is what you can do: do it. Don’t feel like it’s pointless now, or that it’s somehow disrespectful or unequal to the terror of our time. Remember that one of the early warning signs of this new fascism lay in the organised online harassment of our gaming community by people who wanted to turn back the clock; our art was both powerful enough to scare them, and to triumph over them. The games they hate are still being made, the stories still being told, and are still drawing crowds. We have a proof of concept for our endurance. We know the story isn’t all roses, we know we’ve lost people, but we are still here. We yet live, we yet create, we yet critique.
To borrow from Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses,’ if you’ll indulge me, we are:
“One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
As he also wrote, “tho much is taken, much abides.”
Now, more than ever, is not the time to turn back.
As Riley McLeod, one of GX’s speakers this weekend would have it, “Playing games is fundamental to the human condition.”
To play is human and we shall need all our humanity in the days to come.”