Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
On the PC Master Race and the Language Police

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 20 Jan 2015 16:00
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Gosh, isn't it great to be a PC gamer. I love a challenging game, as you know, and they become so much more challenging when you don't know if you're going to get as far as the next boss before the fucking thing crashes again because there's a problem with your video card and it fouls up whenever the little pixie in the sky rolls a 1 but otherwise is as smilingly cooperative as a faithful hound whenever you run hardware diagnostics or are trying to recreate the error for a technician. All of that, I love it. I consider myself to be far superior to all those silly console kids with their stable machines who play games on their Bones and their Pisspoors and don't even feel ashamed of themselves. You could almost say that I consider myself part of... the PC Ubermensch Club.

So. Last Thursday I woke up to a lot of tweets tagging me and PC Gamer saying things like OOH YOU'VE DONE IT NOW YAHTZEE'S GONNA PISS IN YOUR EYES, and was linked to an article on PC Gamer by Tyler Wilde, requesting that the PC Master Race stop referring to themselves as the 'PC Master Race', and prominently featuring an image of the ZP character that represented such. Without permission, apparently.

I get a sense that my correspondents were attempting to work this into the ongoing, multi-tentacled feud in the world today between moralizing political correctness and total unregulated free speech. And let me be frank: while this is a very important conversation to have, it seems to be futile to attempt to have it on the internet, where it will inevitably turn into a dual siege between two heavily-entrenched echo chambers of vocal minorities, separated by a vast landscape of howler monkeys flinging shit. I've survived this long as a public figure online by not letting myself get dragged into this stupid call-out culture that online discussion so often descends into. Let the busybodies scream that neutrality is a tacit endorsement of the enemy; as long as both sides are saying that then I couldn't give a toss.

If you want to know the truth, there have been many occasions when I started writing something about the GG-word, and then stopped myself a few sentences in when I realized what I was doing. I was falling into the same trap that arguably started the whole mess in the first place: I was letting games journalism become about games journalism, and about things like moral imperatives and other bullshit, when it should be about games. About why they're good and fun and their place in the world of art. I've never been interested in hype or the drama behind game development, only in the finished products, and so far I've seen nothing to indicate that games are being negatively affected by either misogyny or hysterical misplaced moralizing.

Basically, I resolved that there was nothing new I could say about the debate and that the best way to bring my point across would be to continue only writing about individual games and why they're good. I pledged to not do the very thing I am now spending most of this column doing. Oh well.

The Thought Police

But getting back to the PC Gamer article, I don't know why people thought I would take offense, or that I was somehow being called out by it. It only mentions me briefly as the progenitor of the term and correctly states that I meant it in the spirit of ironic mockery, and the objection seems to be to PC gamers adopting it unironically as a rallying cry. And on that, I think we're in agreement: I think it's a little bit weird to base your identity around your preferred method of entertainment. Me, I'm pragmatic, I go back and forth between consoles and PC as is more convenient, my rig's been playing silly buggers lately trying to run the very cutting edge stuff, so I sometimes cave and play the console version just for the sake of expedience.

Which is not to say that I don't fundamentally disagree with a lot of the article's point. Firstly, any call asking for widely-used words and phrases to change is automatically futile. Language is far too vast and nebulous a thing to be influenced by the complaints of individual voices. It's like trying to turn the tide back with a bucket and spade. Only large, immeasurable, unpredictable trends will decide what will and will not enter common parlance, very rarely can it be done as a conscious decision on the part of individual linguists.

And yes, I suppose I'm iffy about the call to change the term because it's a Nazi Germany reference and 'someone might be offended'. That old altar, upon which the language police would sacrifice so much. Obviously this I do have strong opinions on because I'm a comedy writer, and comedy is arguably dependent on breaking taboos. I've always read 'inoffensive' as a synonym for 'mediocre'. If you asked me whether I'd prefer to tell a joke that two people found mildly amusing, or a joke that one found hilarious and the other found offensive, then I'd say the latter. Someone has to be pushing at the boundaries because otherwise the boundaries will shrink, and the area that's considered 'acceptable' will get smaller and smaller. Language control is thought control. Orwell knew that.

I think the article misses the point that words and phrases that carry tension only gain more tension and more power when their usage is policed; it's only when they are used casually and mockingly that that power is taken away. We mock to show that we are unafraid, gallows humor and all that, it's a very human thing. Slurs are routinely reclaimed by the people targeted by the slurs, just as PC gamers reclaimed my ironic insult.

But I suppose that argument only applies if the term 'PC Master Race' were exclusively being used ironically in a mocking context, and it is true that some PC gamers seem to take it worryingly seriously. Wilde makes the point that they may not be fully appreciating the context behind the term. But even that, in it's own way, could be a positive thing. Because the Nazis were dicks, and they don't deserve to have power over our language anymore. If some millennial can honestly use the term 'PC Master Race' for years without even knowing that it's a Nazi reference, then I'd chalk that up as a win. That's how badly you lost, Mr. Hitler - your armies were destroyed, your nasty ideals have been condemned, and now we've taken all your favorite words away. Suck it, Dolfy.

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