This week saw the advent of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, arguably the most important video games-related conference of every year. Right on cue, a collection of the social-justice Left’s most prolific cultural parasites emerged to attack it.
What caused particular distress was the exceedingly violent trailer for “Doom,” a graphically enhanced reimagining of the original classic 1993 computer game that tells the story of a soldier forced to fight his way off of a moon base overrun by literal legions of Hell, and eventually out of Hell itself. Rather like the original “Doom”—which, aside from introducing the concept of user-generated levels to gaming, also is almost certainly the most controversial game in history—this trailer had self-appointed moral guardians up in arms over its hyper-violent nature. Of particular note were the responses by Jonathan McIntosh and Anita Sarkeesian, co-creators of the infamously poorly researched Tropes vs Women in Video Games series, and the website Feminist Frequency.
Writing from the Feminist Frequency Twitter account, Sarkeesian moaned:
Internet commentator PopeHat quipped in response that disgraced video-game violence crusader Jack Thompson must have stolen Sarkeesian’s Twitter password.
It wasn’t an inapt comparison, because Sarkeesian’s complaint, like Thompson’s, has no merit. Furthermore, many of the more detailed complaints McIntosh put forward—such as the fact that the “Doom” trailer features someone being sawed in half — were almost comical in their ill-informedness. For starters, the “person” referred to is a demon, not a person, and furthermore, the act of using a chainsaw to destroy an enemy is far from unique to “Doom.” The exact same act is depicted in the exceedingly popular XBox franchise “Gears of War,” down to even applying the chainsaw from the same angle as in the “Doom” trailer.
However, even if this particular instance of pearl clutching got deservedly mocked, it’s far from the only case of Sarkeesian and McIntosh bemoaning video-game violence in general, and toward women in particular. Granted, the pair almost always ignore context and narrative importance (a sure sign of a would-be censor masquerading as an art critic), but the recent assault by the far Left (of which Sarkeesian and McIntosh are a representative sample) on gaming raises a serious question: Just what is it about violent video games that gets these people so enraged?
In Which the Left Becomes the Religious Right
It’s not a question with an obvious answer. Previous generations of anti-violence crusaders sprang from the Religious Right, which saw violent video games as a form of commercialized scandal at best, and an actual cause of violence at worst. The latter accusation has since been discredited, and though Sarkeesian makes a laughable attempt to claim that video-game violence against women might drive up domestic violence and sexual assault, you can tell her heart isn’t in it.
With good reason. That Leftists should mimic a group they despise so thoroughly as the Religious Right, even down to appropriating some of their talking points, should cause some headscratching. What, after all, is going on?
Fortunately, being aware of Sarkeesian’s previous corpus, and armed with a close reading of tweets from her and McIntosh, can indicate an explanation. First, a relevant sample of the tweets in question:
We just saw a packed auditorium full of adults cheering at seeing bodies cut in half with a chainsaw. Really think about that for a moment.
— Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes) June 15, 2015
Think about it without getting defensive. No one wants to ban DOOM. But what message does that send to the world about the gaming community?
— Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes) June 15, 2015
An interesting theme emerges from these Tweets, which is that while Sarkeesian and McIntosh are obviously not fans of the violence in the game, that’s not actually what upset them. What upset them was that the violence caused people to cheer. Look at how many references there are to “cheering” in the above, and you’ll see it.
Obviously, humans have a long history of cheering violence (see gladiator matches). Bizarrely, McIntosh seems eager to head off this critique, due to a subsequent tweet where he claims playing a game and watching a movie are “fundamentally different experiences.” Hold off on speculating on what differentiates them for a second, because we’ll come back to that. A little more background, first.
Discomfort with the Dark Side of Human Nature
In Sarkeesian’s videos (which it’s all but certain McIntosh assists in writing), one of her more interesting (albeit less persuasive) arguments is that games that program in the option to commit violence against women implicitly sanction violence against women. As I noted elsewhere:
According to Sarkeesian, the real problem with these scenarios isn’t that the players necessarily have to take part in them. It’s that programmers programmed them in in the first place. […]
Sarkeesian wants to see a world where human nature is artificially truncated so that certain forms of violence are so unacceptable as to be literally impossible and inconceivable; where certain impulses are metaphorically not even part of human beings’ programming. Even if players can go around murdering people and being rewarded for it, according to her theory, they should never be allowed to commit sexualized violence against women or even witness it because the patriarchal system is so overwhelming that they’ll necessarily internalize the idea that this can be okay.
The problem here, as the Architect of “The Matrix” might say, is choice, not violence. This gives us a fascinating little window into what bothers McIntosh, Sarkessian, and their ilk when people cheer for the violence in “Doom.” Their problem isn’t that the violence was depicted, as it might be in a film. Their problem is that people want to perform that violence in a simulated context at all, and even regard such a thing as “fun!” Of course, McIntosh himself is no fan of “fun games,” and has said so, on very revealing grounds:
In gaming lingo “fun" is often code for feeling powerful and feeling powerful is code for doing violence to people and other living things.— Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes) October 27, 2014
Now, we could just say McIntosh and Sarkeesian are probably closet pacifists and leave it there. But in actuality, what’s going on here seems much deeper, especially given that McIntosh openly admits to wanting to spin narratives that grant him and his allies the power to change culture and modify human behavior, facts be damned. Therefore, what seems to actually be the issue actually goes back much further than McIntosh and Sarkeesian, all the way back to an insight by the great traditionalist writer Russell Kirk, who wrote that the first principle of radicals was (emphasis mine):
The perfectibility of man and the illimitable progress of society: meliorism. Radicals believe that education, positive legislation, and alteration of environment can produce men like gods; they deny that humanity has a natural proclivity toward violence and sin.
A natural proclivity toward violence and sin…say, the sort of proclivity that might be shown by cheering depictions of dismemberment, and wanting to act them out with the help of a controller?
Video Games Provide an Outlet for Evil
One of the great canons of left-wing discourse since the French Revolution has been the idea that human beings can be “perfected” or, at minimum, “improved” using coercive force. The idea, in other words, that people are naturally good and only institutions like property and tradition make them evil. Conservatives, meanwhile, in the words of George F. Will, have always made it their mission “to protect you from the liberal faith that they can make something straight from the crooked timber of humanity.”
If the “Doom” trailer is anything, it’s evidence that people don’t mind being crooked timber, and in fact celebrate things that give them a safe outlet for their more crooked tendencies, rather than trying to destroy them. Moreover, that the game explicitly pits the player against demons suggests players prefer to see their crookedness channeled toward heroism, and actually celebrate more ancient heroic virtues as a means of compensating for the urge toward violence. The “Doom” trailer, in short, seeks to make peace with the human proclivity toward violence even as it turns it against sin, rather than try to write both out of existence. For its efforts, it gets cheers. With good reason. Like “Hatred” before it, it’s a humanistic game.
For Leftist ideologues like Sarkeesian and McIntosh, the game is a reminder that their ideology is forever cut off from human nature, and that their utopian vision of a world without urges toward violence will always ultimately be chainsawed by reality before being drowned in a storm of unapologetically humanistic gunfire.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said “Doom” was first released in 1995.