Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Free Speech is More Valuable Than Safe Spaces

Joshua Vanderwall | 10 Jun 2016 17:00
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When I took over as Editor-in-Chief at The Escapist last year, I declared up front, in no uncertain terms, that I was taking the site away from the endless politicking that has usurped so much of the media coverage we see for gaming these days. It was a good idea at the time, but it was predicated on the assumption that the prevalence of soapboxing disguised as "games journalism" would fade. It has not. In fact, it seems to be getting worse by the day, and it's come to the point where we simply can't ignore it any longer, as far too many games-focused outlets seem intent on demonizing the entire gaming community to not only their audiences, but to the mainstream media. Mainstream media is still fairly traditional, and often lacks the necessary gaming knowledge to create its own story, so it picks up the narrative we've collectively grown sick of that purports all gamers to be misogynists and racists intent on keeping non-white, non-male characters out of video games forever.

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We at The Escapist not only ardently disagree with that sentiment, we also resent the fact that this is how we gamers are collectively being portrayed to the non-gaming public by, of all people, those claiming to be fellow gamers. So, as you may have noticed recently, we're doing away with the "no politics" policy. We're taking a new approach of vocal advocacy in the face of egregious efforts at censorship and morality-based legislation by the neo-Puritan factions of gaming and games media. No, we're not so deluded that we expect this to change the world, or even really convince people to help us support basic rational thought. Honestly, we're just really, really tired of seeing our hobby and passion used as a weapon to restrict creative expression, using the same fearmongering tactics the left has long vilified the religious right for employing.

I'm not going to pretend that I have any idea how we can get back to just enjoying games, but it seems clear at this point that centrist ideas and moderate opinions have virtually zero representation in the digital media era of catchy headlines and permanent outrage. If The Escapist is one of the few sites willing to take a rational stance on the perceived controversies of gaming, I suppose we'll have to do just that.

The current environment of games press parallels the current university crisis surprisingly well. If you need to be convinced that these are extremist viewpoints being passed off as popular opinions, consider the fact that in 2015, President Obama said this:

I've heard some college campuses where they don't want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don't want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you I don't agree with that either. I don't agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.

Now, put that alongside the more recent debacle where students at Emory decided that sidewalk chalk is a hate crime, if you use it to spell "Trump," and you start to get the full picture.

If you abolish a KKK member's right to peaceful demonstration, then you're abolishing that right for the NAACP as well.

Obama and Trump have historically agreed on approximately zero things, as far as I've been able to discern. This may be the first time they share an opinion on anything, and it's the opinion that the people willing to shut down free exchange of thought on university campuses - historically the last bastion of free thought in the intellectual world - are, for lack of a better term, whiny little assholes.

I'll readily admit that my stance here is a uniquely American position, and is founded primarily on the notion of free speech being an essential human liberty. As with virtually anything, you have to take the good with the bad, but we have never been a nation where you could be arrested for a tasteless joke on Twitter, and I desperately hope we don't see this legacy change anytime soon. The Atlantic's analysis of counter-productive activism shows exactly why this is a problem. If you ban chalk so nobody can write "Trump" on the sidewalk, it also means that nobody can write "Bernie" or "Peace" or ":)". If you abolish a KKK member's right to peaceful demonstration, then you're abolishing that right for the NAACP as well. If you ban the College Republicans from organizing a pro-Trump rally, then you're also banning the LGBT student organization from putting on a Pride Parade. When you give the government the power to restrict speech, you have to remember that administrations change, but these powers go with them. You can never know how long your authority will hold, nor how far your opponents will go when they have that authority.

Video games and the gaming community are a microcosm of society. Gamers are not carbon copies of each other, and we all have opinions about things. It's not important that we agree on any given topic, rather it's important that we acknowledge and engage each others' opinions, rather than silencing any conversation with accusations of bigotry. That's not to say those opinions are not bigoted, of course. But if "you're a bigot" is the best counter-argument you can offer to a racist, then you're a shit debater, and you should really find a new hobby.

We live in what might appear to be an increasingly consequence-free world, but the reality is that we're often just too short sighted to see what ramifications our actions have until it's too late. Restricting a racist's right to free speech might seem like a reasonable idea, but make no mistake: When the balance of power changes, the tools of authority go with it, and you're forging a very deadly weapon.

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