Professor Rages Against ‘Toxic Meritocracy’ of Competitive Video Games

Seattle University professor Christopher Paul has published a book railing against video games, taking aim at what he refers to as “toxic meritocracy,” which he blames for “deep bred misogyny” and “sexist industry practices.”

Christopher Paul says he wants to make a difference in the world by complaining about meritocratic video games.

The rhetorical studies professor argues that competitive video games that emphasize individual skill and finesse “rather than the collective” creates “really toxic spaces where players are focused on individual glory.”

Paul, who teaches communications, gender studies, and new media at Seattle University, says in his book “The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture is the Worst” that video games emphasize the values of “skill and technique” and “hard work” above all else. He argues that the meritocratic concepts they promote encourage sexism and misogyny, which he argues is “epitomized by GamerGate.”

GamerGate, a movement for ethics in game journalism, has been falsely accused of promoting bigotry by game journalists were taken to task for their ethical shortcomings, and for having personal, undisclosed ties to progressive ideologues in the video game industry.

“Meritocracy is insidious because it seems like the only way to build things, but there are other options,” wrote Paul in a March blog for the University of Minnesota Press. The professor cited Blizzard’s popular competitive team-based shooter, Overwatch, as an example of a game “built on a rotten, meritocratic foundation” over recent complaints in the progressive gaming press that one of its support characters was often at the brunt of criticism for being a poor contributor to team compositions.

Paul also cited Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a historically accurate game set in medieval Bohemia, as a game “built on a conservative ideology,” echoing words by progressive game journalist Nathan Grayson. Writing for Kotaku, Grayson credited the game’s popularity to realism and conservative politics.

It’s worth noting that Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not a competitive game, but rather a single-player game in which players take on the role of a war survivor caught in the midst of the conquest of Bohemia by the Holy Roman Empire.

Speaking to Campus Reform, Paul said he wrote the book after being inspired by discussions within the Arrupe Seminar at Seattle University, which encourages conversation on Jesuit values.

“One of my key takeaways was that I had an obligation to use my work to try to make a difference in the world. I thought this was at least a step down that path,” he said. He argued that his main contention against video games didn’t simply revolve around “misogyny” and “sexism,” but also around the role of meritocracy as a core element of gameplay.

“Games are based on leveling up and getting stronger. We expect the most skilled, hardest working player to win. The typical narrative in a game is a rags to riches story where the player propels the character into a key role and perhaps even attains god-like status,” he said. “All those things shape our expectations and focus players on individuals, rather than the collective, concluding that meritocracies “quickly become really toxic spaces” rather than “positive spaces for interaction” due to their emphasis on “individual glory.”

Video games that emphasize meritocracy are popular simply because humans are meritocratic by nature. Attempts to force humanity into a collective are doomed to fail, as history itself exhibits time and again with every violent attempt remake society with Karl Marx’s failed ideology of communism.


You can reach out to Ian on Twitter at @stillgray, check out his videos on YouTube, and follow his political and gaming livestreams on Twitch.


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