But Alexander makes it clear the new venture is about more than politics, it aims to help chip away at old stereotypes of the gaming world. “I just want everyone to have access to imaginary universes,” she said. “Boing boing has always had an indie games label that they let lapse for a few years. Offworld is still a game site for people who enjoy making and playing and creating. We think it’s important to show that not being political is political, and these are our politics right now.”
The veteran gaming journalist said the site’s goal is to make the gaming world accessible to everyone and amplify voices that might otherwise be muted — women and people of color.
“There have been many websites run by women or marginalized voices in the past that try to talk about these issues. What I have with Offworld is a new opportunity to not only give a platform to women and other marginalized people, for the first time, we also have the option to make things accessible to people outside of the historically insular gaming culture,” Alexander said of the site that is co-piloted by Wired contributor Laura Hudson.
The stereotype of the typical gamer — a basement-dwelling, pale-faced teenage boy playing Call of Duty — may turn people off and make them eschew gaming altogether. Gamergate, the online movement that has been associated with gender harassment, helped illustrate that, she said, showing how “explicit and inward facing” commercial video game culture is.
“We aren’t doing this because of Gamergate. This has been a long time coming in any case,” Alexander emphasized, though she’s previously criticized the negative aspects of the movement. “There has been a progressive movement brewing in games for quite a long time now. We saw this cultural tension developing between traditional fans of video games, those who want the high-end technology product to escape from the stressors of their lives, and an increasing base of creators and players that think, like any other expressive medium, games have something to say about the human experience.”
Gamergate was only a symptom of that clash, but the shifts in the industry have more to do with factions of gamers coexisting on their own terms.
“What we want to do with Offworld is show that no matter who you are, you can have access to world of interactive entertainment play. Because that’s all games are is playing. And play belongs to everybody,” Alexander said. “Smart, curious tech-literate people worry about being associated with that aspect of gaming culture,” Alexander said. “Or the intimidation from the male dominated marketing, they feel it’s not for them.”
People of all types have flocked to games in recent years, shattering those molds of who gamers should be. About half of gamers, 48 percent, are women, according to a recent industry demographics report last year from the Entertainment Software Association, which represents game companies. Women also buy video games just as often as men, making up 50 percent of sales, ESA found. Women over age 18 make up 36 percent of the gaming community, compared to 17 percent of boys under 18. The number of older women gamers over 50 also increased 32 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, which looked at over 2,000 households.
The ideological landscape is shifting, Alexander said, and the old tropes of gaming culture are eviscerating thanks to the internet. “There are new audiences. We’re beginning to understand more about the gaming demographic. Game marketers decided on the testosterone-fueled games. It trends along what we generally see in tech, ‘Oh we’ve decided what demographic in America it is that spends the most money, so we’re going to angle our product to be about and for those people.”
Offworld, she said, will give people that chance by focusing on and “prioritizing people who don’t normally get asked,” but it won’t tackle the online harassment and abuse issues that haunt the gaming and tech industries at large.
“We’ve been asked to talk about that. I think we’re all tired of being called upon to talk about what we’ve been through, how we’ve been victimized,” Alexander said. Those conversations are still important, she said, but that’s not Offworld is for. “Our approach is to just do the work.”
Discussions about identity and harassment are important, she said but there’s more to Offworld than that. “There are some women and people of color who have made their way in games criticism. But usually a traditional website will invite them to write about what it’s like to be a woman or minority,” in the gaming world. “When a lot of people got into the field because they’re passionate about games, they want to be asked to write about games. And you can’t write from any other view than your own,” Alexander said.
“A lot of people in tech don’t understand that when we’re talking about diversity, when we’re talking about how the tech industry treats women and people of color, people often believe [it’s politics]. In fact, what everyone wants is to be heard on the topic at hand. Because then we get a more holistic series of viewpoints,” Alexander said. “I bet that people think Offworld is just going to be a feminist site with political agenda all the time. But the fact is by inviting diverse voices to speak and create, you simply just end up with different work…I hope that people see that paying to diversity simply creates fresher and more interesting content.”