When there is no penalty for stupid the stupid multiplies
There is an old, possibly apocryphal helpdesk tale of a hapless helpdesk operator informing a particularly clueless user (after a very long conversation about her non-functional monitor had progressively revealed that there was a power outage and her UPS system had run out of battery as these things do) that her best course of action was to box up her computer, monitor, and peripherals, take them to her employer’s IT staff and tell them she was too stupid to be trusted with a computer.
If this standard was applied to the Internet at large, the Internet would get a whole lot smaller.
For evidence of this, Google “Gamergate”. Now, apart from the bloody irritating memeology that’s decided that every frigging scandal absolutely must have “gate” appended to it (FFS people, Watergate got its name because of the Watergate Hotel. Gate was already part of the name! If there was a scandal involving an actual gate, would it become gate-gate? Er. Sorry… micro-rant over), the gist seems to be that someone claimed a game developer (female) was trading horizontal favors for good reviews and those reputedly receiving said horizontal favors naturally denied any such thing.
Okay. Fine. Humans are corrupt. Many of us have somewhat wobbly moral compasses (not that we’ll admit this, of course. We’re also extremely good at rationalizing what we do so it’s the “right thing”. This is why I say that with very few exceptions people do not get out of bed and say “What evil shall I do today?”) and will do things that could, when viewed in the right (or wrong) light be thought to be rather, well… unethical. For the absolutely best of reasons, of course. Otherwise the saying “the ends justify the means” would never have been said.
Now, whether this purported trading of horizontal favors for good reviews (damn it, nobody ever offered me anything like that… oh wait. They’d be more likely to offer the good reviews for not trading horizontal favors. Nevermind) actually happened, there’s a flurry and flap over the whole thing that’s spread to apparent death threats, questions about endemic sexism in the gaming industry (folks, we’re talking about a haven of nerds and geeks that makes the science fiction and fantasy convention scene look mainstream, with all the associated lack of social ept one might expect. It’s going to look as sexist and everything-else-ist as hell, but it’s also going to be ruthlessly merit-driven. Unless the Glittery Hoo-Haas have come in to reform it, in which case it’s sexist all right, but there’s no misogyny there. Just misandry) and all the froth and bother one might expect from this.
Two things come to mind immediately. First, one of the most influential females in the gaming industry worldwide has had nothing to do with the mess. That’s right. Rhianna Pratchett has stayed out of it (as far as I know – she tends not to make news that much). Of course, she does prefer to be judged on her merits rather than her equipment. Second, the loudest screams seem to be coming from the social gaming scene (I may be wrong on this: it’s a little difficult to pull accurate information from the screams of outrage).
Frankly, you put three people in one place, you have a hierarchy. We here are all well-acquainted with the relative standings of different genres of books. Why is everyone acting so horribly shocked that casual and social gaming is seen in game development (and game playing) circles as easier than other kinds of games. I’m not that much of a gamer myself, and I don’t particularly care if my choice of game is looked down on by someone else, but I can appreciate that there’s a hell of a difference between a game that you play for a bit of mindless amusement and one that immerses you in a complex environment and forces you to make a stream of tactical, strategic, and logistic decisions. The latter is harder to write, harder to design, and harder to play. Complaining that the tactical gamers (who, coincidentally, are mostly male) look down on casual gamers (where there are a lot more females) is like complaining that chess players look down on people playing Tic-Tac-Toe.
So, yes, a lot of really dumb stuff has been said about all of this. A lot of people who should know better have made “you’re too dumb to own a computer”-level comments about the whole mess, mostly by assuming that the people who are – legitimately – concerned about the integrity of game reviews (let’s face it, a smaller company that releases one flagship game per year can be sunk by bad reviews – and hurt by a competitor getting unwarranted good reviews) are evil sexist bastards who want to get them wimmen out of their man-caves.
Honestly, if you put something like this into a book, you’d get panned by people saying “No one would ever be this stupid!” And, well, the average fantasy world does still have the built-in natural penalty for extreme idiocy that our modern life has largely removed. There are times when I wonder if that’s really a good thing.