TotalBiscuit’s twisted barter economies

Youtuber TotalBiscuit doesn’t know what criticism means. He doesn’t know what it is for, and he doesn’t know what it does. Months ago, he took to video to claim that DMCA notices were preventing him from doing his job “informing consumers”, explicitly saying that the job of critics is to advise people on what they should and should not buy. More recently, he’s been issuing veiled threats to the indie developers who are criticising his misogynistic comments about a female developer, saying that he’s “spent 4+ years helping indies” and that by calling him out, “many have turned on [him]“.

I’m not going to name the developer in question here, because it’s already unfair how far this discussion of misogyny and ethics has been going on in her front yard. I don’t want to continue associating this person’s name with the awful things that have been said. Her abusers want to see her smeared, they want to see her work undermined in favour of a discussion about her moral character. I refuse to play into that, and this article isn’t about her. It’s about TotalBiscuit.

So, TotalBiscuit is both a consumer advocate and a helping hand to developers at the same time? What a saint he is! Juggling all those conflicting responsibilities. No wonder the world owes him so much loyalty. So sad for him that the double standards he feels he is owed are not being applied by this cold and unforgiving universe. People who criticise his work are “turning on” him, betraying him after all his years of loyal service. But when he criticises other people’s work, it’s important journalism and nobody should try to stand in his way. TotalBiscuit is a critic, you see, a consumer advocate and a voluntary PR mouthpiece for indies, and that affords him special treatment.

TotalBiscuit claims that he tries to stay away from “SJW topics”. “Honestly that whole debate is something I try and stay the hell away from because the people involved in it are fucking terrifying.” Evidently, he thinks that accusing a woman of “exploiting” people by sleeping with them isn’t wading into “SJW” territory. Perhaps he thinks it’s a totally “reasonable stance” to say that women use sex to bargain favours out of people.

TotalBiscuit doesn’t know that “fucking terrifying” means. What’s “fucking terrifying” is that in the hypothetical situation of a journalist exchanging sexual favours for game reviews, people like TotalBiscuit argue that it would be the journalist who is being exploited. What’s “fucking terrifying” is that women who are sexually harassed need a vast support network and a wellspring of inner resolve to even dare try and talk about what has happened to them, while hate-filled ex-boyfriends like Eron Gjoni can write ill-conceived screeds and have their word taken as gospel. What’s “fucking terrifying” is that women in games are subjected to abuse and harassment constantly, while TotalBiscuit’s biggest professional worry is DMCA notices.

TotalBiscuit takes at face value the idea that a woman’s sexuality is a threat to journalistic ethics (note: in an earlier version of this post I said he “suggests” this. It has been pointed out that he doesn’t do this directly. However, he does repeat the idea without challenging it). Nobody who says this should have any authority in this industry. It’s absolutely revolting. Sex is not a thing that women give men in exchange for something else. You don’t put kindness coins into women to get sex in return, no matter what video games might have told you. Sex is a thing that two (edit: or more) adults do together without coercion. Anything else is assault. I don’t know what TotalBiscuit has been through that makes him see sex as a barter economy, but he needs to unlearn that mess.

TotalBiscuit thinks that he has nothing to learn about his own misogyny. “Any right-thinking individual knows that hating women is bad, we don’t need libraries worth of articles to tell us that.” This week’s events seem to demonstrate that there is a huge subculture within games composed of men who desperately need to seek help, and instead just reinforce each other’s disordered views on women and relationships. The sick ideas that proliferate in this culture need to be called out: be it TotalBiscuit’s rapey interpretation of journalistic ethics, or Eron Gjoni’s destructive quest for revenge against his ex-girlfriend, or JonTron’s publicising pornographic cartoons that humiliate her. These men need to learn to do some goddamn self-care and stop spreading this toxic shit at women’s expense.

TotalBiscuit doesn’t know what criticism is. He can’t receive criticism on his own work. His criticism of other people’s work is primarily concerned with “value for money”, like a Which? guide but for art. His critical lens — if it can even be called that — is so dehumanising, it turns even relationships between people into a cold economic transaction. No wonder he and the people around him approach their relationships with women with such a sense of entitlement.

About Zoya

Zoya is a freelance writer and historian. Their particular interest is in video games: design, history, and how virtual worlds are inseparable from real-world social and economic networks. Zoya has written a book about the Dreamcast, is Editor of Memory Insufficient games history e-zine, and Deputy Editor at Gamesbrief.
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11 Responses to TotalBiscuit’s twisted barter economies

  1. Doug S. says:

    I think at this point it has become pretty much impossible to say anything at all about the incident without putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. :(

  2. Sir Oliver Martext says:

    Interesting that one of the articles implicated in this ridiculous “incident” was a look at the fiasco of Game Jam, an expensive failure of Polaris which just so happens to be TotalBiscuit’s YouTube network. Makes you think……

  3. Rocketroach says:

    It’s very ironic (though unsurprising) for him to complain about his failure to buy indie loyalty, when much of the original controversy revolves around the perception that a woman was unduly influencing the enthusiast press through personal favours.

  4. Pingback: Sexism is the New Social Justice | Playing at Leadership: Games, Gaming, & Leadership Studies

  5. Jake says:

    Do I think he should be using his “helping of indie devs” and whatnot to put himself above criticism? No.
    However it seems as though his response to this is very levelheaded, at no point does he accuse her of anything, instead giving his thoughts on if it were to be true and if it weren’t. He doesn’t blatantly attack her, accuse her, or anything like that, simply stating his opinion on a situation and it’s potential outcomes, without taking a stance due to lack of evidence doesn’t seem to have malicious intent or anything misogynistic about it.

  6. SlightlyConcerned says:

    As much as I hate to wade into this topic, (Doug above me has a very convincing point), I feel compelled to try and state my view.

    TotalBiscuit has made more than few mistakes during his career, and at times let his temper get the better of him, but I feel your points are off base.

    Specifically, I followed your link about him making misogynistic comments (the second one in the first paragraph, to be clear) and found a rather reserved piece trying to be as careful as possible to avoid the usual “This is why all SJWs are horrible people blah blah misogyny” claptrap that comes tangled with any issue involving controversial women in the gaming community.

    In his post, TotalBiscuit simply says that using copyright take downs to suppress free speech is a bad policy because 1) it will usually backfire, and 2) is an abuse of the copyright system, and that games journalism has a problem with transparency that this might be an example of, if it is even true. (Which is something he expresses reservations about)

    Really, I thought he was cautious almost to the point of fault. In this case I think it’s quite warranted, but it’s more than I would usually expect from him.

    Anyway, suffice it that while there may be many valid points against TotalBiscuit, but your piece here seems to be misrepresenting TB’s statement on the issue, which exactly the kind of thing an issue that’s already murky enough doesn’t need.

    Perhaps there are other examples of misogynistic behavior on TotalBiscuit’s part that I am missing here. I am certainly willing to believe that I am completely missing come crucial point with this post, but after staring at my screen comparing this article with his post I simply couldn’t let this go unaddressed.

    I apologize if it does turn out that I am in the wrong here, but I fear that is not the case. Also, thank you for bearing through this far-too-long post. :)

    tl;dr
    I hate to say it, but I read TB’s post and what it says and what this articles says it says seem very different. Please don’t take my word for it though, read the linked post for yourself.
    Link: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1s4nmr1

  7. Mancheeze says:

    Of course none of these dudebros understand the misogyny that’s flying around, remember, ‘we’re just critiquing her!’ This is why mansplaining is so offensive.

    Look dudes, you’re taking someone’s personal life from an angry jilted ex and blaming her without anything but his word, for the collapse of gaming. You’re acting pathetic.

  8. Courior says:

    I’ve been seeing this whole scandal unfurl over the last few days( just shows how little I read 4chan these days) getting late to the whole thing. It really does feel like a scandal. In that its the type of story that would be written about in the Daily Mail. A whole lot of he said, she said and all of the resulting hurt, pain and damaged careers that come from writing about it.

    With all these Daily Mail like scandals its less about finding the truth i.e. real journalism and more about creating a comforting narrative. In this situation the narrative is misogynistic in nature. It confirms the view point of those reading, sex with women is transactional and all the power is held by women. They must be bought off or bartered with. The men from jilted lover to games journalist are being exploited. It bought consoles the men who read it on their love life “Its not our fault women wont date you, they only date those who will improve their careers these days” and their careers “Its not your fault who have to struggle so much to get what you want. Women are sleeping around to get ahead of you”.

    All in all these scandal are built to enforce the status-quo. They’re a tool of those in power to marginalize issues they perceive as a threat.

  9. Joe Köller says:

    Spectacular article. Well said, well said.

    One small nitpick that I still wanted to get out: I’d say that sex is something two or more adults do without coercion (Actually “consensually” might be the better word from a no means no vs. yes means yes point of view. Whatever)

    I agree with everything else, and the second paragraph in particular.

  10. some hipster says:

    If he wanted to aoid the “SJW” topic, all he had to do was avoid it. instead he set people on her and he did subtly threaten them. I hear he invited JonTron onto his podcast after so he’sclearly looking for publicity from it. I don’t think he’s mysoginistic though, he’s always trying to bait people to his channel one way or another, if someguy had been harrased like this I’m sure he would have been trying to threaten them and claim victim as well. Not that that would ever happen to a man.
    honestly though if it weren’t for him actively going out there, being a asshole and supporting Jontron, that piece of scum, in the way he has then arguably the original piece he wrote is just him missing the probelm. however his shitty attitude afterwards shows otherwise.

  11. Rakaziel says:

    I know I will probably get flak for this, but please do not ban me.

    While I definitely agree that sex is no barter economy (aside from outright prostitution) there are definitely enough men that try to bribe women for sex, and enough women that try to bribe men with sex. And enough men that try to bribe men for sex etc.
    And there is nothing morally wrong with that, so long as the bribee does not use it for extortion i.e. exploitation of potential bribers i.e.”sleep with me or you don’t get the job”.

    In other words, even taking the bribe economy into account, TotalBiscuit is still a piece of [expletive]. With a big helping of hypcrisy on top.

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