Once a counter-culture pastime, video games have entered the mainstream with vigor. It’s difficult to remember a time when gamer status was more cult than norm. Gaming is deeply intertwined into the childhoods and adult pastimes of millions across the globe. Count me in that number.
My love of gaming, and admittedly dope skills (no false modesty from this lady), hasn’t halted the heavy degree of disenfranchisement I have experienced as a “girl gamer.” Though women make up half of US gamers, the gaming/geek culture isn’t always accommodating to the double X chromosomed. Over the past thirty years, gender disparity within the tech and gaming industry has grown exponentially. This gap in gender parity has resulted in game developer teams being male dominated and the subsequent marketing of video games being largely directed at men in their 20s. Further, misogyny is rampant in gaming, as are sexist practices and over sexualized imagery.
While discussion around female representation in the tech industry is nothing new, the issue of gender bias within gaming has gained media attention over the past seven months.In late-August of last year, the hashtag#gamergate appeared, orginingateing with actor Adam Baldwin known for his work in the cult-TV show Firefly.
Baldwin’s hashtag was in response to what he perceived as a growing divide between dialog on corruption in gaming media as opposed to misogyny and female image in games. The hashtag went viral, and mobilized a constituency of gamers interested in directing the conversation on gaming towards media bias, and not women’s issues.
While #Gamergate has been continuing since its inception last summer, the movement has returned back to national attention by inspiring the plotline of a new episode of Law & Order: SVU (this show really gives us a cultural temperature read, right!?). Below a breakdown of #Gamergate and why the movement is important to gamers and non-gamers alike.
1. What is #gamergate?
image via wikipedia
The movement existed long before Adam Baldwin tweeted the hashtag #Gamergate on August 27th, 2014, but Baldwin’s tag gave name to a rallying cry against writers and video-game designers attempting to intellectualize the videogame medium - known throughout the movement as "social justice warrior" (or "SJWs"). From the #gamergate perspective, “SJWs” were erroneously leading the discussion away from its original focus on nepotism and bias within gaming journalism, to a critique on misogyny and sexism within gaming culture.
While many within the movement will argue that the cornerstone of #gamergate is a confrontation of journalistic integrity, a huge focus has centered on an attempt to bully the gaming press into no longer covering feminist related issue. The standard reason given: #gamergate is anti-ideology. But let’s be frank - it’s not. Gamergaters are against ideology that opposes their own - and feminism has been targeted because the movement believes that it will harm the games they love. And with so many voices in the movement that are against feminism, the news media is being assaulted for even engaging in a gendered discourse of gaming.
2. Why is #gamergate anti-feminism - and why does it matter?
image source wikipedia | anita sarkseesian
While many gamergaters will decry the notion that the movement is anti-feminist, suggesting that “many women are on our side,” it does not mean these women are feminists. Female and male gamergaters are not in the movement to help feminism in games, or feminism generally.
And I get it - the movement’s origin is not with gender, but the threats against women have been running parallel with the #gamergate movement since the start. The movement involves a complicated, ludic discussion, but ultimately #gamergate has brought out "trolls" looking for an outlet, and using an argument about journalistic ethics as a kind of shield against pushback from those targeted.
Regardless of claims that #gamergate is focused on ethics in video game journalism, it cannot be ignored that this focus has intersected with incidents of harassment and threats mainly directed against women.
Case-in-point is the movement’s go-to-punching bag, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist and host of a web series about games called Feminist Frequency, who started out roughly two years ago. Regardless of your opinion on Sarkeesian (and she is controversial), she is a leader in feminist voices within the gaming community. Sarkeesian announced she was going to create a documentary about sexism within videogames, and soon after began to receive threats from a cyber mob. Sarkeesian was (and is) repeatedly threatened with sexual violence and has had her personal information distributed online (a process known as doxing). A game was also created, “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” where players could beat up Sarkisian's face as it looked increasingly bloodied. Further, Sarkeesian had her Youtube and Kickstarter account reported for fraudulent and hate speech in an effort to silence her voice online. The backlash escalated to the extent that Sarkeesian was threatened with death, and subsequently needed to flee her home.
Similar attacks against game developers Briana Wu and Zoe Quinn have also occurred, with both women experiencing persecution from cybermobs. While the backlash against Wu has been significant, Quinn’s legacy within the Gamergate controversy warrants its own breakdown.
3. Depression Quest and the Zoe Post
image source wikipedia | game developer zoe quinn
Zoe Quinn, an indie game developer, and has experienced attacks since the launch of her game, Depression Quest in 2013. Quinn’s persecution is from a time when the #gamergate movement was through the IRC channel #burgersandfries. She has experienced stalking by a relentless mob of online haters. Quinn has been targeted for Depression Quest, a choose-your-own-adventure-style game about managing life with depression that was released by an independent gaming company. The game was favorably reviewed by numerous outlets as both brave and personal. And it’s true - the game is great at pointing out the difficulties of depression and living with the disease (I say this as someone struggling with MDD since the age of six).
But Quinn’s glowing reception was unpopular among certain gamers, leading to her sustained harassment. The reason for Quinn’s targeting varies depending on who you ask, but the easiest explanation is this: Depression Quest is text-based (with over 40,000) words, and gamers question whether or not the format makes it an actual "game." Gamergaters don’t think Depression Quest should be on the marketplace, or considered by video game reviewers for critique (particularly if it was positive). I personally think this explanation for backlash is bullshit. As far as I can tell, Quinn’s harassment has nothing to do with her game, or even having a legit critique of what Depression Quest meant as a “game.” It is angry lash back against diversification in the gaming industry, and Quinn’s amazingly honest portrait of life with depression became a target for those who thought she would make an easy, vulnerable, target.
Quinn’s harassment was further elevated in August 2014 when Eron Gjoni, a programmer and freelancer for the online blog Kotaku, posted a LONG account of the end of his relationship with Quinn. The bizarre and inflammatory post (known as “the Zoe Post") gave the cyber mob the evidence it was looking for: that Quinn was using her gender and sexuality to garner favorable reviews from the media. It should be noted, that Gjoni never wrote an actual review of Quinn’s game. But reality be damned, when you are looking for evidence, people will see what they want to see.
A screen capture from Depression Quest
The accusations against Quinn resulted in the posting of her sexual history (including nude photos) and struggles with mental illness. Her personal information was spread across 4chan and IRC. The logs of these convos include unimaginably toxic posts involving rape, violence, and death wishes against Quinn.
Despite the devastating consequences of Quinn’s harassment, which she describes as “being hit by a meteor,” she has used the experience to develop a specialized knowledge and skill for dealing with online harassment - an issue that is poorly understood. Quinn has stepped into a support role for people being targeted online, and offers advice - occasionally even preemptively assisting targets when she saw anonymous users planning attacks against people.
In recent months, alongside game designer Alex Lifschitz, Quinn has launched Crash Override, an anti-online hate mob task force. The network’s priority is to provide emotional support and help those affected by online harassment interact with law enforcement, the media, and other institutions that often fail to understand the intricacies of online abuse.
4. Who are the leaders of the #Gamergate Movement?
image by offical leweb photos via flickr
While the nebulous cybermobs that mobilize on online forums and networks are difficult to track, there are some notable individuals that have helped to consolidate the voice of the #gamergate movement. While I fully understand that the objective of Gamergates focus was never to concentrate on women in games, the fact of the matter is, the violent objection to critical dialogue about gender only solidifies the need for its inclusion in the conversation.
It may be glib to point out, but its a critical point - gamergate is a movement that has purposefully and determinedly become anti-feminist. Take for example Breitbart "journalist" Milo Yiannopoulos, who has bashed Emma Watson’s #HerforShe campaign and has published numerous unfavorable articles on Sarkeesian and women’s voice within the gaming movement generally.
#GamerGaters have gathered around neo-con faux feminist Christina Hoff Summers as well as lawyer/PUA blogger Mike Cernovich, who has joined the #GamerGate crusade in full force. What Summers, Cernovich, and Yiannopoulos all have in common is that they gleefully express a profound distaste for women.
These leaders’ misogynistic rhetoric has helped to galvanize trolls on forum sites like 4chan and 8chan. The thousands of constituents involved in these forums are the individuals who are targeting women like Sarkeesian and Quinn.
5. Why are women being closed out of the #gamergate conversation?
image source ponehannan.deviantart.com
What I find to be the greatest irritation of #gamerGate is that the movement is deciding to close themselves to any nuanced discussion about sexism and the online harassment of women, and dismiss (or worse) individuals trying to engage in conversation about gender in the gaming community. My feeling on the underlying cause of the anger and general vitriol towards feminism within the movement is twofold: First, feminism, plain and simple isn’t well understood, and gets a lot of negative backlash from individuals who miscomprehend the term. Particularly from people who aren’t familiar with feminism, engaging in discussion around the issue of the discrimination women experience is uncomfortable and subsequently ignored. Second, #gamergates origins start with the gaming community calling attention to bias within gaming journalism, but the movement has snowballed into a malevolent attack against women speaking out against sexism in gaming and tech. #Gamergate has decided not to explore a respectful dialog with, and of, women in the gaming community – instead inciting hatred and targeting women to be doxed and threatened.
6. Why we need to care
image by Chris Moore via Flickr | twitter network using #gamergate
It’s curious the amount of pushback against women speaking up about sexism in gaming, because, despite assumptions, female’s make up half of US gamers. But women that have spoken out on sexism within the gaming community have essentially been forced off of their computers due to harassment. This is sad for many reasons, but it belies an important point - people are unable to function without the Internet, and that’s what makes the targeting of women on the web so extreme. Online is where we socialize and do business, so the fact that some are experiencing extreme attacks, and subsequently having difficulties existing safely on the web, is a real issue.
Unfortunately, law enforcement isn’t trained to deal with online attacks against individuals. This is entirely new territory, and laws within the United States don’t grapple with Internet harassment and stalking-let alone in other nations where the rule of law or the internet is less developed. If there is a silver lining in #gamergate, it’s is this: the movement has fueled a discussion that the FBI and local police forces need to understand how to protect civilians from online harassment. This is not a matter of free-speech, but rather directed attacks targeting women, people of color, and the LGBT community, that impose a form of terrorism on communities.
#Gamergate provides a template to rethink how we in the gaming community engage with gender and harassment. People connected to the movement have thought of lots of good ideas to increase inclusion in gaming, be it critiquing games, to supporting women and minorities to join the industry. But the simplest and most effective way to stop cybermobs is this - stand up for community members when they are being attacked (a la Crash Overload).
While #gamergate continues to offer a platform for individuals to galvanize around anti-feminist rhetoric, it’s clear that the world is paying attention. Hopefully, with the increased understanding of cyberbullying and doxing, public officials will be better able to aid individual who are experiencing attacks.
What #Gamergate makes clear though is that women’s voices need to be accepted and included in the conversation at large. Regardless of the origins of #gamergate movement, the fact that there has been such violent pushback against feminist voices is indicative of American culture at large. It’s critical that we can accept that women are equally represented or respected by and large, and that discussion around gender should not devolve into vile personal targeting.
Regardless if you are a gamer or not, #gamergate is an important cultural phenomena. What are your thoughts about inclusiveness within gaming culture, #gamergate, and feminism generally? And do you see similar patterns in the non-digital world? Share your ideas in the discussion section.