So this happened:
If you’re not in the know, Jonathan McIntosh is Anita Sarkeesian’s partner on Feminist Frequency, a Youtube channel devoted to discussing gender issues in popular media. They became infamous for their Tropes vs Women series, which attempted to analyze videogames to find instances of sexism as tropes – but instead wound up irritating many gamers due to poor research and misrepresentation. In the ongoing events of GamerGate, McIntosh is notorious for posting really stupid stuff on Twitter: the above being his latest effort.
And boy, is this latest one a zinger.
I’ve already written a bit in the past about how similar McIntosh’s and Sarkeesian’s views are to those of Jack Thompson, but I feel like I should expand on it a bit. So we’re going to hop in a magical time machine back to the 90s, when people thought that selling purple ketchup was a good idea, Pokemon was just getting started, and Milli Vanilli was still a thing.
One of the biggest parts of videogame culture in the 90s and early 2000s was the crusade to ban violent videogames. Other industries like film, comic books and music had been attacked in the past for corrupting the youth, with varying degrees of success – the music and film industries came out relatively unscathed, but the comics industry suffered through the Comics Code Authority as a result and is arguably still in the process of recovering from it.
Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman and Henry Kohl were part of hearings in the 90s to discuss the influence of violent games like Mortal Combat and Night Trap on America’s youth. The videogame industry saw the writing on the wall, and the ESRB was formed to prevent videogames from coming under government regulation. Thankfully, the new organization was more MPAA than CCA: rather than restricting the content of videogames, the ESRB would merely rate a game based on its most violent and raunchy content.
However this merely slowed the crusade instead of stopping it. In 1999 the Columbine High School killings would reignite the passion of individuals like Jack Thompson and Senator Leland Yee, who were convinced that violent video games like DOOM had convinced them to kill. It was revealed that one of the killers enjoyed designing levels for Doom and listened to heavy metal – as a result, both videogames and goth/metal culture came under fire. A short time later in 2004, the Hot Coffee mod for GTA: San Andreas would freak everyone out and once again serve as a push for government regulation of videogames.
What does all this have to do with Jonathan McIntosh? Well, let’s take a look at some of the rhetoric used by Thompson and compare it to some of the rhetoric used by McIntosh. Thompson was concerned that violent videogames would cause copycat behavior in kids. McIntosh is concerned that Smash Bros is sending kids a message that conflicts can be solved through violence.
McIntosh says stuff like this:
And let’s not forget this gem, which instead of blaming videogames blames popular culture at large:
All of which closely mirrors what Jack Thompson was saying about videogames back in the day. “Videogames/popular entertainment send dangerous messages to kids, programming them to do bad things” was the crux of his fucking argument. What McIntosh is saying is even dumber: not only do videogames program kids, they also program adults: and the adults apparently don’t even realize it because they’re fucking mindless fools, conditioned to accept the beneficial status quo of the violent, misogynist patriarchy.
What’s more, any criticism of McIntosh’s views is treated as the braying of mindless, programmed sheeple, which makes it impossible to debate him because he inherently believes that if you are not on his side, you are fundamentally blind and incapable of the critical thought necessary to accommodate his views. Rather than rage about how completely counterproductive this is to rational discourse, I will instead attempt to counter McIntosh’s bullshit through an argument: Smash Bros cannot be taken as an endorsement of violence because of the context of prior Nintendo games.
Let us look at the games Nintendo released prior to Smash Bros and how they change the context of Smash Bros: Mario Kart 64 (and the later Diddy Kong Racing), Mario Party, and Mario Golf. Each of these games is similar to Smash Bros: they feature former rivals of various Nintendo properties playing games together in a competitive fashion. Sometimes these competitions involve violence (Mario Kart and arguably Mario Party) but the violence is always in the context of game characters incurring temporary, cartoonishly exaggerated harm. At worst the real-life equivalent could be hitting someone with a dodgeball – it might sting for a few seconds but ultimately the only wound is to the person’s pride. In other games like Mario Golf there isn’t any violence whatsoever.
Viewed in the context of this lineup, how is it possible to see Smash Bros as endorsing a message of “violence solves conflicts”? It is clear that Smash Bros is the cultural equivalent of a sparring match – friends playfully testing their skills against one another. No horrible wounds are caused, no permanent damage inflicted. It is just another small, silly, harmless competition in line with the aforementioned titles.
“Bu-but what about the ‘Settle it in Smash’ tagline!”
The whole idea behind “settling it in smash” is that it’s better to resolve conflicts through playing friendly games than actual fucking violence. If anything, Smash serves as a drastic contrast to real-world violence, where harm is NOT temporary and fights can quickly end friendships. Link and Mario fighting in Smash is a friendly bout, while Billy and Cindy punching each other IRL is a tragic fight. Even a child can grasp that basic concept, which is why Thompson was so derided back in his day: his whole argument revolved around the idea that gamers could not separate reality and fantasy. Now McIntosh is using the same complaint, and wonders why he attracts so much criticism.
I dunno: maybe it’s because the argument is inherently flawed, and gamers are terrified of the thought of self-righteous moral authority figures determining what content is and isn’t socially justifiable, mostly because we almost had that happen two or three times as mentioned above?
You know, just throwing that out there.
Because being a foodie means that food defines you psychologically. “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT” HAS A WHOLE NEW MEANING NOW