A fascinating article on the anti-GamerGate focus on narrative and how that anti-game perspective is intrinsically anti-human:
Life doesn’t have innate structure, even if you can awkwardly cram cylindrical tropes through square holes to try and illustrate relationships between things you experience and media you consume. But this gets even worse when examining other media. Films and novels are heavily rooted in narratives, because they must have a plot to carry them forward, excepting some very experimental films. Some songs carry a narrative, but you can’t have music that’s just someone talking. That might qualify as poetry, but even some poetry isn’t narrative, merely descriptive. You can have music without a narrative, and for centuries this was the most popular form of music. Likewise, games are another medium which can exist without any narrative at all. Just as music can be art merely for the composition, a game can be beautiful for its game mechanics.
A classic game that can qualify as art based on nothing but core mechanics.
One of the major problems with game criticism—the “subjective” kind that many detractors say is unacceptable—is that it is rooted in Narratology. Instead of focusing on the mechanics, and commenting on how well they work together, critics focus on the narrative and what the mechanics mean for the story, not what the story means for the mechanics, or even if the developer had the intention of making such a statement.
Personally, I love it when a game merges story and mechanics. In fact, I think the best way to tell a story is through mechanics, and not exposition or traditional narrative delivery. But that concept has been rejected by critics, opting to use Narratological deconstruction and insisting that this is the only way to evaluate media. When games naturally don’t pander to this benchmark, they receive failing marks. There’s a bigger reward for developers catering to this cabal of “journalists” than for catering to the actual audience. When the standards of the reviewer and their audience differ so greatly, the reviewer cannot be said to speak for their audience. Despite this flawed approach, proponents of New Historicism insist that all media must be evaluated this way. It conveniently allows them to cite Post-Structuralist reasoning to defend themselves from criticism of their methodology, since the reviewers subjective opinion and any conjecture they can express are consider to be at least as important as the media being judged, no matter how self-evident it is that the reviewer has missed the point.
Papers, Please tells a compelling, interactive story using its mechanics.
To a degree, it’s inevitable that this outlook supports “experimental” titles that don’t really fall into the bounds of “games.” It’s not a medium they’re capable of properly digesting, so content has to be restricted to something they can process. Funny, you never hear the opposition supporting non-narrative films, but they do support games that are top-heavy with narrative. It’s not actually about something “new” or “better.” It’s about something “different.” Labeling it “experimental” is the only way it can get a pass in the wrong industry. If held to the standards of a medium it actually belonged in–one with Narratological standards–it’d fall apart.
Ultimately what these ideas boil down to is an overarching philosophy called Anti-Humanism. This social theory comes as a reaction to Humanism, and the belief that it was too idealistic. While Humanism is all about free will, placing humanity and human actions at the center of life, and using rationality and reason alone to reach moral decisions, Anti-Humanism detaches humanity from inherent meanings (via Post-Structuralism) to “de-center” subjects and remove their agency. In other words, you yourself lack free will, since you’re a product of the world around you, and working towards an ideal self is futile. Interestingly, Nietzsche (credited as a “founder” of Existentialism, a philosophy that places great emphasis on human agency and the absurdity of life) often criticized humanism for being a form of “secular theism.” Anti-humanism finds itself equally religious in practice, but with a much more oppressive set of goals.
Gaming is the natural enemy of anti-humanism. When you play games, you yourself have personal agency. Only a player truly has free will inside of a game. You are playing by a ruleset, but you have choice within that ruleset, and likely have goals and motivations. These are informed by your situation and by the gameplay systems, but some of the highest-praised games have allowed you to set your own criterion for success, and provided you with a system open enough to facilitate that. Many strategy and 4X games are good examples of that. The belief that all humans are free and equal is a core tenet of Humanism, which Anti-Humanists reject.
The idea that the average individual has agency, of course, is anathema in the world of the Social Justice Warrior. Because then he would be responsible for his actions… and his failures.