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Nov 01

Parody Takes More Work Than a Gotcha at the End

On Halloween afternoon, an article entitled 10 Signs Your Girlfriend is a Fake Gamer was published at ComplexGaming. The author, Justin Amirkhani, has stated that the article is a parody and I believe him, but he is also been very dismissive of criticism:

and that is a problem.

Here’s the thing: whatever else a writer is trying to accomplish, their primary objective is always communication. It doesn’t matter if your ostensible goal is to educate, entertain, or expound; if people are rage-quitting in the middle of what you’ve written, then you’ve failed as a writer because your message is being lost. This is particularly problematic if, as is the case here, you’ve saved the entirety of your social commentary for the last paragraph of your piece.

Unfortunately, good intentions do not negate poor execution and, regardless of his intentions, this article fails as parody. A parody is satire and satire, by definition, leverages irony, sarcasm, and ridicule to make social commentary. But there is nothing overtly ironic or ridiculous in this article and the one sarcastic line: “Hey, wait a second, why does that sound so familiar?” isn’t delivered until the absolute end. What the article does do is devote the vast majority of its word count to regurgitating unhelpful cliches and trying to undo that sentiment with a single paragraph at the end. That isn’t satire. That’s reinforcing stereotype.

The biggest problem is that the images used in the article – every slide has an accompanying Fake Gamer Girl meme – undermine Amirkhani’s intent. In most of the slides the meme image is actually larger than the accompanying text, which means the reader will process the meme first and that message colors the rest of what they read on that page. The result is that even though the text of the article is gender-neutral, the title of the article (10 Signs Your Girlfriend is a Fake Gamer) and the attention-demanding memes accompanying every slide work together to establish social context and provide an implied subject for the judgments being presented: women. Or, more specifically, women “pretending” to be gamers. And while I do believe Amirkhani’s comments were meant to be interpreted as ridiculous, the fact remains that similar accusations have been levied – in complete seriousness – at women as so-called evidence that they are pretending to like games for the attention. The unfortunate result is that Amirkhani’s comments don’t come across as obviously ridiculous; they come across as more of the usual cultural inanity where female gamers are concerned.

Whether or not you subscribe to the idea that women are frequently and unfairly required to justify their right to call themselves gamers is irrelevant. Plenty of people do believe it and plenty more find the Fake Gamer Girl meme offensive. If you are going to give your article a deliberately inflammatory title and leverage a meme you know will offend some percentage of your readers for the sake of parody/satire then it should serve a purpose and reinforce the absurdity of the situation you’re describing. Amirkhani’s article doesn’t do that. It presents the images without comment as a compliment to the sentiment in the text and, with no clear evidence to the contrary, the reader is expected to understand/believe that Amirkhani doesn’t really mean what he’s saying.

Parodies, particularly good ones, sound logical and reasonable on the surface but there is always something glaringly Not Right™ about them. When the supposedly ridiculous things in your article have actually been said and meant sincerely in reference to some portion of your readers, it stops being obviously Not Right™ and starts being Not Right™ only if your readers trust that you don’t actually mean what you are saying. And that’s the main reason this article fails: an article being interpreted as a parody should not depend on the author’s reputation, it should be clearly obvious from the text. Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal doesn’t work as a parody because people trusted that Swift didn’t really mean what he said (a good number of people actually did think he was serious), it works as a parody because the idea that children should be eaten to avoid being a burden on their family is clearly extremist and absurd.

The text of Amirkhani’s article is gender neutral but the context he establishes for the article is not – he seems to go out of his way to create the impression that he’s speaking specifically about women – and that’s the source of his undoing. It’s unfortunate that a well meaning article (and I do believe it was well-intended) should fail so catastrophically because the potential for parody and relevant social commentary is there. Had he omitted the Fake Gamer Girl meme – or at least balanced it with a Fake Gamer Boy meme (even if he had to invent it himself), avoided an inflammatory title that explicitly names women as the subject matter (simply swapping “Significant Other” for “Girlfriend” would be sufficient), and focused on a salient point he makes in the article’s introduction:

There are plenty more reasons why someone would pretend to be more interested in games than they actually are (maybe they just desperately want to share an interest with you)

the article would not have felt like it was jumping on the Gamer Girl Bashing Bandwagon and the underlying message – that judging someone’s worth as a gamer by how much they line up with what you believe a gamer “should” be – might not have been so painfully obscured.