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Opinion: Gamergate evolves into a misogynistic power struggle

Anita Sarkeesian, a culture critic, recently canceled an event at Utah State after the university received threats. Credit: Courtesy of Anita Sarkeesian.

Anita Sarkeesian, a culture critic, recently canceled an event at Utah State after the university received threats.
Credit: Courtesy of Anita Sarkeesian.

Imagine a controversial speaker was coming to Ohio State, and a student threatened one of the worst school shootings in history if the event went on as planned. The event would be canceled, right?

This actually happened at Utah State University. What do you think the talk was about? Religion? Racism?

For the most part, it was about video games. 

Thank Gamergate, a movement that with a threat has turned dissident gamers into terrorists.

It began when a game developer, Zoe Quinn, had a relationship with games journalist Nathan Grayson. Quinn’s most famous game is a text adventure called “Depression Quest.” The community which would become Gamergate had been making fun of “Depression Quest” for a while, saying it was a boring game that critics only praised because it was made by a woman. 

Indeed, games journalists are always looking to give marginalized voices a places to shine, but “Depression Quest” was well received by critics for its merit: it restricts a player’s choices to simulate the debilitating effects of mental illness. There’s no feminist agenda there. A good game is just that. 

Still, under the assumption that Quinn could never have gotten such praise without becoming romantically involved with Grayson, Gamergate began. Quinn’s personal information was leaked online, and she received death threats. Twitter boomed with jaded gamers using the Gamergate hashtag in an attempt to ruin Quinn’s reputation.

But it’s wrong to assume harassment of women in games started with Zoe Quinn.

Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist culture critic, has made a career critiquing video games after a high-profile Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Her YouTube series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” has cast some classic games in a harsh light for their embedded sexism, a consequence of the games industry pandering to a male audience for most of its existence.

Since then, she has also been targeted with death threats and intense scrutiny by the community that would become Gamergate two years later. 

Her enemies had a clearer agenda in the beginning. They hated feminist criticism because they took it personally. Because they were male, they felt they were being told every game they liked was sexist. Sarkeesian represented everything that was changing about video games, and they felt threatened. Like any threatened creatures, they lashed out.

It was Sarkeesian who was bullied away from Utah State by literal terrorists under the banner of Gamergate.

Though Gamergate claims to be a movement to fight bad journalism in all forms, it was founded by those same threatened gamers who simply hate women like Sarkeesian and what they stand for in the industry. It specifically attacks women and their allies.

Brianna Wu, head of game development at Giant Spacekat, is another outspoken woman in gaming who was driven from her home for criticizing Gamergate. She’s not in a relationship with a journalist, and she’s not a culture critic. She’s just a woman trying to make a living in the industry, yet she’s still been receiving constant threats for as long as she’s been in the public eye. She’s spoken for countless other game developers since the movement started.

Even female journalists have left games writing because their audience has become so unwelcoming recently. It is a tremendous issue when there is no representation for marginalized groups among those deciding the conversation. In this regard, Gamergate has created a chilling effect where only the most established female journalists remain to give the conversation perspective in the mainstream. 

All things considered, it’s difficult for me to talk about my own position on Gamergate.

I come from the same world that Gamergaters do. I played the same games as a child. I’m of the same white, male demographic that makes up its staunchest advocates, and despite the perspective I have obtained, I still enjoy games which cater to my demographic at the expense of alienating others.

I frequent the message boards that Gamergaters frequent, but now I have to wade through toxic rhetoric to find a balanced conversation. Sometimes they point out that Sarkeesian isn’t a great game critic. I agree with them, but I also think her work is more than the sum of its parts.

I used to deeply relate to these people, and I still do on many levels. I refuse to associate with Gamergate, but I’m still embedded in the culture that gave birth to it. I’m a refugee who wants nothing more than to return to my country, but every time I visit, it gets worse and worse.

I understand Gamergate, but I don’t sympathize with it. If all its misogyny disappeared, I would begin tweeting with the Gamergate hashtag immediately. But I can’t, and now I’m left among the other 20-something guys who just want to know how they can help to make the world a better place in its wake.

2 comments

  1. Opinion? That is not enough disclaimer for this article.
    – extremely biased.
    – no citation on the events used as examples.
    – makes assumptions about how people feel and why they act the way they do.

  2. Misleading is the kindest word I can find to describe your article, Brandon. Your attempt to characterize the entire #GamerGate movement as consisting of misogynistic white males and even terrorists is ridiculous and reprehensible. Deliberately or not, you have omitted facts crucial to a broader understanding of the situation and attributed anonymous death threats and harassment directly to GG with zero evidence.

    Utah State University Police coordinating with state authorities determined the threats made to Anita Sarkeesian to be non-credible and recommended that the university continue with the event. She backed out. Furthermore, folks in the pro-GG camp have actually traced several independent death threats made toward her as being from the same source: A Brazilian journalist who sent the threats from multiple anonymous Twitter accounts and then wrote click-bait articles about those same threats. Sarkeesian was approached and informed that the FBI would only share information with Brazilian authorities if she reported the threats directly. She responded by ignoring and blocking the pro-GG activists who identified her harassers. Need I say more?

    A conflict as large as #GamerGate has certainly attracted anonymous third-party trolls and baiters. A cursory glance through popular imageboards or even YouTube comments reveals that trolls who claim to hate everyone involved are sending death threats under false pretenses for no other reason than twisted fun. Anyone can claim to be associated with GG, and guilt by association is fallacious. Forums and imageboards dedicated to GG discussion explicitly ban harassment, the posting of personal information, and “raiding.”

    It’s hard to escape the feeling that GG can’t win. First, they are accused of being misogynists attempting to keep women out of the industry. These same supposed misogynists raised over $70,000 for The Fine Young Capitalists, a project promoting women getting involved in game development. These same supposed bullies raised money for anti-bullying campaigns in reaction to incendiary pro-bullying tweets by anti-GG Gawker writer Sam Biddle. And in response? #GamerGate was accused of “weaponizing charity.” This is a direct quote from the most popular anti-GG subreddit.

    Accusations of harassment are a smokescreen from games journalists to distract from the very real issues of nepotism and corruption in their own backyard. The GameJournoPro leaks, Grayson’s relationship, Patricia Hernandez giving positive coverage to a close friend, a Polygon writer giving a glowing review of a game that her friend worked on as a sound designer, the blacklisting of Alistair Pinsof, Anthony Burch using his influence with Destructiod to get Borderlands 2 a better score… I could go on. And to those who say “It’s just video games, what does it matter? Gamers never took gaming journalism seriously anyway,” I retort simply: If the public can’t fight petty corruption here, how are we going to fight it anywhere else?

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