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.