It stands for Aggrieved Young White Dudes*, a group most commonly and aggressively found in the halls of nerddom. At their core, they are people who went through something – adolescence, a relationship, a job, something – and had a bad time of it. They had a bad time of it because they were in a hard situation, but managed to chalk the experience up to some grudge the world had against them. That grudge might be based on their age, their race, their sexual orientation (because gays have it easy these days), anything. And so they retreat into enclaves filled with other AYWDs, and reinforce their feelings of grievance and aggression.
AYWD-dom is expressed in a variety of ways, most of which can be found all day, every day on XBox Live. It is not so much that the AYWD is bigoted out of any firm commitment to bigotry qua bigotry; the AYWD is bigoted because it is a way to project a false veneer of security. The AYWD, you see, is comfortable being offensive because at his core he understands that the corresponding response targeted at his identity can’t really hurt him. Not only is there no true hurtful cachet in saying someone is white or male or straight, but the AYWD has the full (if inexplicable) confidence that his inability to be hurt is a virtue that others should aspire to.
Let’s use an example: the “girlfriend mode” uproar surrounding the upcoming Borderlands 2.
At Buzzfeed, Sarah Pavis gives us a rundown:
In a recent presentation to a room full of journalists, the lead designer for Gearbox Studios’Borderlands 2 described a character track which would emphasize support skills — a lower difficulty setting for the game, basically — as “girlfriend mode.”
During a studio tour of Gearbox’s Dallas offices, the developer showed us a work in progress build of the Mechromancer, planned to launch around 60 days after the game releases in September. Currently, the Mechromancer uses assets lifted from Maya, the Siren, for her arms. But her design and one out of three skill trees is complete.
The skill tree is called Best Friends Forever, what lead designer John Hemingway dubbed the “girlfriend mode.”
“The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.”
The term “girlfriend mode,” which is an internal nickname, is getting most of the press because of how incendiary it is, but the planned external name for the setting is set to be “Best Friends Forever” which, while not as overtly sexist, is still gendered and slighting. In particular, it seems clear that the term “BFF” is deployed with some irony.
It’s “girlfriend mode” because women are hangers-on who would love to play your games but don’t know how to, despite being 47% of gamers. The problem with this is that it’s actually and clearly designed to relegate women to a second-tier status as ignorant hangers-on.
It’s sexist, of course, although in that quintessential AYWD “would you be bothered if I called it boyfriend mode, little lady?” way. And for a quasi-AYWD address of this, I take you (of course) Forbes, and a piece entitled “‘Girlfriend Mode’, Borderlands 2, And Why Being A Dude Rocks”:
One immediate possible response is to make it about whether this one developer is a sexist. But that is a derail – it leads at best to a pointless and bad-tempered argument about the inner content of a person’s soul.
Well, that’s absurd…and also stupid. (To be fair, the rest of the article at least comes close to arguing that there might be a problem with sexism in the video game industry, but stops short of actually admitting it.) Saying and doing sexist things generally makes you sexist even if you don’t spend every waking moment of your life dreaming of ways to hate the wimminz; without being able to call it out, all you do is perpetuate it. If the debate becomes simply about being “a sexist” versus “sexism”, then the entire point is lost and the focus is again back on AYWDs.
Of course, there’s the coup de grace: Colin Moriarty’s piece at IGN, which is basically just a 90s-era rant about feminazis.
Many people are tired of knee-jerk reactions that attempt to take people’s words and spin them into something offensive when they were meant innocuously. And they’re especially sick of being subjected to the vocal whims of a few people that feel like they need to be there to protect someone or something that never requested their help in the first place. (If you pay close enough attention to society at large, this is a common problem.)
I’m sure “many people” are. The real victims, after all, are the people who keep saying stupid shit but don’t actually mean what they say, because it gets them in trouble…er, I mean, would make them an -ist of some sort, which is the worst thing you can say any more.
Let’s look at it this way. My girlfriend isn’t very good at games. She can’t play any game that requires dual analog sticks, and while she’s utterly dominant at games like Super Stacker and Critter Crunch, she’s more focused on finishing her PhD than mastering the art of the DualShock controller. So for me, Hemingway’s verbiage actually resonates, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe this really is something good for my girlfriend.
Oh ho ho! Also, there are black rapists, so our white women are not actually safe. And some women really are bad at math. Glad we solved all of stereotyping, my good friend.
What’s odd about the pushback against non-AWYD consumers responding to videogame companies is that AWYDs themselves, because of what’s owed them by virtue of being AWYDs, whine incessantly about not getting what they want. Case in point: the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy.
The short version is that the ending to ME3 was really bad and weird and unsatisfying. It happens. What happened in response, though, was one of the largest outcries of whining heard outside of a maternity ward the day the Baby Boom started. Bioware, the developer, prepared an entirely new ending just to satisfy fans, who felt as if they’d been betrayed and insulted by an uncaring company. Unlike someone implying that you are inferior because of your identity on a constant and unremitting basis (and ingraining that assumption into everything produced for your consumption), this was serious, people. IT WAS A BAD ENDING.
The problem with video game culture (and nerd-dom generally) is not the suffocating intrusion of political correctness. It’s the territorial and vicious nature of those comfortably enshrined within it, who look at their experience as something uniquely and explicitly theirs. It’s the fact that a prolonged kvetch-fest over what amounts to an unsatisfying purchase is seen as a more pressing and important issue within the culture than the overt and continual alienation of most of the rest of the world.
*AWYDs need not actually be white. There’s a disturbing undercurrent of minority gamers in particularly who pick up on AYWD-dom in order to fit in.