It is the ubiquitous phrase you see used across social media whenever someone posts about something that offended them:
“It ain’t that deep.”
Naturally, it implies that whomever was offended is simply looking way too far past the intent of whatever was posted and is overreacting. The most common place you’ll see this is on Twitter, where a brutal combination of the character count limit, the race to have an opinion on a hot topic before it dies, and the melding of every sub-culture in the world leads to context dying out faster than the dodo. Given all those caveats it might seem almost necessary to err on the side of that phrase usually having some merit to it, but doing so can lead to one ignoring a simple truth staring them dead in the face.
Such was the case a few days ago when the fighting game community section of Twitter had a bit of a dustup over some of the posts by the official account for the game Samurai Shodown:
To make a stupidly long story short, Samurai Shodown was releasing a downloadable character called Iroha, announced via a typically stylish character trailer. Iroha, originally from Samurai Shodown VI, is a character loosely based on an old Japanese folk tale about a grateful crane transforming into a beautiful woman as recompense for its life being saved by a man, and that same subservience is tied into the character. She is dressed (that should probably be in quotes) in a skimpy maid outfit that shows off all her assets, and addresses the player as her “master,” someone she is eager to please however she can. In a genre that is literally overflowing with cheesecake female characters, Iroha takes the cake (ha!) as being the most blatantly shameless. However, shameless or not, the character has proven to be quite popular, appearing in her own spinoff games and cameoing in others, and she was the one of the most requested characters to be DLC content for Samurai Shodown.
As seen in the image above, the game’s official Twitter made no bones about leaning into the blatant sexualization of the character, retweeting a post made to marvel at her pixelated posterior and then declaring that everyone was “horny on main tonight.” It is not uncommon in this awful stage of world history for corporate brands to use their social media to leech off any popular meme or pop culture jargon to sell their product, but this was next-level strange. The problematic aspect of an official corporate Twitter encouraging its followers to froth over a female character’s body, even if that was the intended design goal, was not lost on several women in the FGC, who pointed out the weirdness. Evidently someone with some pull at SNK saw what this account was up to, and within about a day the admin behind the account deleted the tweets and issued this message:
Whether or not Iroha is an offensive character to women or individuals publically thirsting after cheesecake characters like her is exclusionary are questions best left to women to answer, but these should not be the main takeaways from this kerfuffle. What should be obvious, and something that all the “it ain’t that deep” posts miss, is that this controversy has shown once again how much deeply conservative fervor exists at the heart of all gaming communities, a fervor that makes it incredibly difficult for anyone that isn’t a straight white male to exist in those spaces without constantly being told that they don’t belong and/or face extensive harassment just for existing and speaking about their experience.
Looking at the replies to both the Samurai Shodown account’s tweets and those of some of the women in the FGC who posted about it, you’ll see the same folks offering the same general types of harassment, complaining about “puritans,” “SJW’s,” “Cucks,” “NPC’s,” and other phrases said with the intent of shaming those who spoke up. A click or two will usually show you that not only do these accounts seemingly reply to every possible instance of discourse about games and social issues, but their follow list is a who’s who of grifters who have made their brand exclusively catering to conservative reactionary ideology and its alleged persecution in tech/gaming circles:
You could keep doing this for plenty of the zealot-like accounts that show up constantly posting about these kinds of things. The reality is that these aren’t earnest “fans” posting about their disagreements in good faith, it’s a sick cottage industry of people who, for whatever reason, have fallen down the rabbit hole of believing that there’s this genuine conspiracy to make games more progressive, a political agenda that has no place in games. You might ask why these people have a devotion bordering on religious to things like an official company account doing weirdly horny posts or fanservice characters, but you’ve already given much more thought to it than they have.
To them, these things are traditions of a glorious past that are being eroded by people who don’t “actually” play video games and want to change their culture for the worse. If it sounds awfully close to the same bigoted rhetoric that the most repugnant right-wing politicians use, it’s because it’s cut from the same cloth, and quite often is just a stepping stone to that same ideology. Plenty of retrospective articles have been written that trace the growing internet presence of reactionary politics outside of their usual spaces, and large parts of it can be attributed to savvy political actors and grifters weaponizing a string of mild controversies in gaming, forever known as “Gamergate,” into a legitimate mass movement that worked to effectively to harass anyone who dared speak out about any issue the movement saw fit to take up while also lining their pockets. Whether this was across political theater or meaningless culture wars, nothing was left out and no subject was met without full force. To say it hurt people is an understatement: this movement is responsible for destroying lives.
Samurai Shodown, which is a niche title even amongst people that play fighting games, is just another target for the folks involved in this movement, who probably had never played or even heard of the game prior to this recent controversy. The only reason that some of the FGC women have hundreds of replies, largely negative and hate-filled, on their tweets addressing the situation is because their tweets were broadcasted to an audience of these types of reactionary zealots through both posts by large Twitter accounts and videos made by YouTube content creators that exist solely to fuel this culture war garbage. By creating a myth (the whinging of a few women over harmless horny posting makes SNK apologize and fire/demote someone) that posits gamers and by extension “gamer culture” (no clue what this is) as victims of harmful, authoritarian existential forces, these types can continue to stoke the flames of reactionaries who have an endless amount of time and money for content that confirms their biases.
This movement is particularly poisonous to a community like the FGC because it is full of the exact types of people that this movement wants to push out: women, queer people, people of color, etc. To say these two types can’t coexist is an understatement; the reactionaries would claim they are being persecuted for their beliefs, but when your beliefs are exclusionary, they will inevitably clash with a community that wants to be inclusive. While it may sound like all these people care about are big boobs and asses, this misogyny often spins itself off into a host of other hateful behaviors that will make itself very apparent the deeper you dig.
What is most frightening about this machine is just how much a community can unwittingly play into it. Reactionaries usually poison discourse by ramming their narrative and buzzwords right to the forefront, which shreds any sense of nuance about a situation. Chris G posted this the other day in response to the controversy and it’s a perfect example of how this generalizing, toxic language seeps into a community:
“NPC” may have started as a useful abbreviation for non-player characters in games and tabletop RPG’s, but one of its mutatations in the modern age has been as yet another “anti-PC” term used by fervent reactionary posters across 4chan, Reddit, Twitter, and a host of other spaces. Does Chris know that? The answer is that it doesn’t matter whether he does or doesn’t, because he’s still using it in the context that these types established. For them, an “NPC” is someone who can only spout scripted lines about someone being a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, etc. without acknowledging a supposed grey area or nuance. The people that knowingly use this term don’t have anything to offer that is nuanced other than the opposing argument, but again, the whole idea is to mask one’s true views. The Twitter replies to the announcement from the Samurai Shodown Twitter are full of this kind of language. “Cuck” and “SJW” come up a lot too, which have similar origins. Whether or not someone knows they are using language cooked up in tar pits like 4chan and Reddit to harass people, that language is like a Bat Signal to all the very worst types of culture vultures who will swoop in and feast on the carrion of a nothing controversy and spin it into yet another battle against people who don’t even know they are at war.
Because conservative reactionary ideology demands a return to a better time, one of the most consistent battlefields for its followers is the idea that women’s bodies are meant to be admired, and the idea that society never moved past seeing women as objects of fantasy is concocted by “liberals” (again, a meaningless term) in order to push an agenda that seeks to “erase feminine beauty.” To the diseased mind this is the true progressivism: after all, if the idea of female empowerment is real, then shouldn’t it be okay for them to show off their bodies and just have everyone deal with it? The answer, naturally, is complicated and not in favor of a return to the status-quo of old, but this ideology has no room for that because it doesn’t hold up against any sort of questioning. That’s why these buzzword insults have to exist, because it’s much easier to say that and hope others pile on and shout over the apostate than defend a guttural stance founded on nothing but their own messed up feelings.
Iroha is just another talking point in a never-ending debate that comes up around any fighter that has “sexy” characters. MK11 actually had it really bad because their devs are public figures who faced (and continue to face) never-ending harassment for the painfully mild decisions of women having more complex outfits or one having a different personality than she did before. What’s really disturbing is that fighting games become part of the conversation because there is a large amount of people who would consider themselves part of the community that have no problem tagging in the larger figures who can conscript the propaganda that this is yet another affront by a corporation “going woke,” which is yet another signal phrase that is supposed to mean “anti-gamer,” when it really means anti-progressivism.
If speaking up about something as basic as wanting somebody running a corporate account to not be a creep will invite this level of harassment, is it a wonder that people choose to be silent? To these reactionaries there is only room for scorched earth in this war while some don’t even want to fight to begin with, they just want to be safe. And every time a loud instance of misogyny goes largely unnoticed or uncared for while the language and rhetoric continues to spread throughout community discourse, the more that illusion of safety erodes. Is it a blanket thing that every person is going to feel equally? Absolutely not. But even one person feeling the community is too toxic and unsafe to participate in means there is work to be done. There is a pretty common adage that because the FGC is diverse in its makeup that this also means it’s inclusive, but there’s no evidence that either of those things leads to the other. Inclusivity is a state that must be constantly worked on, especially when the elements of exclusivity are burrowed so deep in the culture.
But what do you do? This type of rot runs in literally almost every facet of our society, if you look closely enough. There is no one-size-fits-all method to trying to combat it, but the one thing that doesn’t help is to simply say “it ain’t that deep.” The easy excuse is always to say that the massive harassment “isn’t the FGC,” that you can go to offline tournaments and it would be fine, etc. But those are just platitudes, a staunch denial of the way people live their lives today, especially in this particular moment; our digital lives are no less real than what we experience outside, especially when many have their real faces and named attached to their online profile. And many people don’t have the luxury of ignoring the coded ways that people talk, because they’ve been doing it all their life as a means of being safe in spaces that might be hostile. At least meet them halfway.
The best thing any one person can do is probably just to educate themselves. Look into the history of some of these online hate mobs, find out how they got started and what methods they used to infect their chosen spaces. Learn to spot figures and content creators getting snitch tagged in threads on Twitter and realize that means there is a good chance someone is about to get brigaded. Don’t just believe that everyone is out to get “the gamers;” look into situations and watch for the telltale signs of reactionary language and rhetoric.
From there, it becomes a vigilant effort try to snuff out this talk in the spaces you inhabit before it can fester. See someone in a private discord throwing around “cuck” and “sjw” constantly? Probably a bad sign. Someone is a little too eager to always have an opinion about women getting censored in games? Worth keeping an eye on. Nuance is meant to be erased by this ideology, so be the exact thing it tries to kill by informing others who may not know that the things they’re saying comes from a place of hate and exclusion.
Individual actions are weak, but by pointing it out, small victories can be achieved that are worth it, like the Samurai Shodown account making that apology. It is impossible to keep the same energy for every nobody and Twitter egg that says awful things, but it is possible to notice when influential figures are inviting the worst types of people to participate in the community. It’s impossible to police everyone’s followers so they act accordingly, but life is all about mitigating risk, and as this week showed, there is a lot of nasty harassment that you’re risking by signaling to that kind of reactionary audience.