Content note: this story is drenched in threatened violence against women, including rape.
The video gaming world is currently tangled up in a snarl of misogyny that is in equal parts disturbing and unsurprising. Even if you’re not a gamer, you may be aware of the existence of what’s been called #GamerGate, but you might not realize the extent to which this Internet phenomenon has gone – and depending on just how strong your stomach is, you might not want to know.
Let’s talk hypotheticals. Imagine that you and a group of like-minded people have some concerns about journalistic ethics, or maybe about whether you feel you’re being fairly represented in the media you consume. What would you do? Would you choose to A.) boycott the media that’s bothering you; B.) work to get trusted publications to establish an in-house ombudsman to oversee concerns about nepotism or tit-for-tat schemes; or C.) produce a month-long campaign of profanity-riddled, degrading, hateful attacks on women that include sharing their private personal information and threatening to murder them?
I’ll give you three guesses to put your finger on which one of these actually took place in the name of what some people apparently consider ‘ethics’. You may not be a gamer, but hopefully you’ll agree that something is rotten enough in the state of Xbox for the rest of us to be more than a little concerned.
For those who have been living in blissful ignorance of this disgusting shitstorm, 1.) I’m jealous, and 2.) the Cliffs Notes version of #GamerGate history starts with game developer Zoe Quinn. In early September, her angry ex-boyfriend publicly posted the details of their messy breakup, including the allegation that Quinn had slept with a writer for gaming site Kotaku – a site that had also reviewed Quinn’s recently-released game, Depression Quest. Sure, the review wasn’t written by the writer that Quinn apparently slept with, and, yeah, the game’s positive coverage appeared on Kotaku long before any such relationship took place. But if you think a little thing like ‘facts’ stopped the gamer outrage machine when there was a woman to rake over the coals, you really don’t know much about gaming culture on the Internet:
Fanboys smelled feminist blood in the water and went berserk, because apparently two people being sexually involved in non-overlapping spheres of the same industry is now the worst crime conceivable … aside from creating a video game that doesn’t feature a white, stubbly male protagonist, of course. Braying for ‘journalistic ethics’, male gamers posted Quinn’s address and phone number on the Internet, called her father to tell him his daughter was a whore, shared nude photographs of her, and anonymously sent threats of violence. If anyone shows up on your Facebook newsfeed trying to mansplain that this is really just about games journalism, please ask them why the brunt of the focus from the Internet Asshole Brigade has been locked on Quinn and not the journalist whose ethics are being accused of breaching.
Since the attacks on Quinn, other women working in the gaming industry have come under fire too, and here’s where the already-ragged veneer of ‘ethics’ starts to wear really thin. Game developer Brianna Wu wrote a piece for Polygon to share the experiences of harassment of women in the industry, and as a result wound up having to evacuate her home after a flood of Twitter death threats. And the latest incident stemming from the impotent rage of male gamers who think they have a right to dictate not only the variety of media they have access to, but also what anyone else is allowed to say about it, involved a death threat to feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian. In this case, the individual prevented Sarkeesian from giving a talk at Utah State University, by promising to enact a school shooting the likes of which had never been seen. (Like Wu, Sarkeesian has previously been driven from her home by online threats.) Silencing women with threats of violence … tell me again how this is about protecting the integrity of the sacred art of gaming journalism? Oh, no, I beg your pardon: terrorizing people into silence is totally ethical, if and only if those people might have said something mean about your fave video game. Ethics, y’all!
I’m not really a gamer these days. I don’t have the time or patience for World of Warcraft any more, nor for keeping up with the latest and greatest consoles. But I will always, always have time to stand up for women who are being harassed, threatened, and mistreated. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hardcore gamer, or if you can’t figure out how to beat the first level of Candy Crush on your phone. No matter what your previous involvement in the gaming world, it’s not hard to see what a vicious and unwelcoming environment female gamers and female tech workers face. Everyone needs to take a stand against #GamerGate: especially male gamers who have read this far (not likely, I know) and still feel the urge to interject with, “not ALL male gamers do this!”
Guess what? No one cares if not all male gamers are egregious assholes. Enough of them are that gaming has become a severely uncomfortable environment for a lot of women, and no one should have to take time out of speaking out against actual death threats to assuage your hurt fee-fees about someone using the phrase “male gamers” rather than “male gamers, except Bob, he is a really nice guy and deserves a high-five for just sitting quietly by while his buddies threaten to rape women to death instead of actively participating”. And if you’re honestly concerned with ethics, maybe you should start by cleaning your own house. Distance yourself from the unbelievable scum of #GamerGate, eke out some space outside of the misogyny echo-chamber, and spend some time listening in to the concerns of female gamers and game creators.
Right now, a tiny fraction of video game criticism is oriented toward feminist critique – less than 1%, by one researcher’s calculation – but, as ever, women are perceived as dominating the conversation just by participating in it. What are male gamers afraid is going to happen because a very few people are talking about misogyny in games? I’m not sure, but I would venture a guess that the thing they’re most worried about is that other people are going to start listening in. So please, do exactly what #GamerGate doesn’t want you to do. Pay attention to the threats and violence faced by women in technology. Talk to your gamer kids about the tropes they see in games. And when someone tries to tell you that a woman has brought #GamerGate attention on herself by being out of her element in gaming, by having a sexuality, by opening her mouth in the first place, you tell them to stick their Playstation where the sun don’t shine.