So how do you talk about Gamer Gate without getting incandescently angry and spewing the resultant bile all over the internet? Well, in a way that’s the biggest problem with this controversial issue; it makes people on both sides of the aisle absolutely furious and as such has quickly become one of the most upsetting things to have ever happened to gaming culture: an attempt by gamers to build a wall around the hobby and make it an exclusive club where only the anointed few are actually welcome.
Though this dark, misogynistic aspect of gaming has probably been there forever, it boiled up to the surface in a very public way as recently as August. The seeming spark for it all was when developer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend decided to make his dissatisfaction about his love life known on a public forum (real gallant there) including the idea that Quinn had a relationship with a game reviewer which many on the internet took as a sign that Quinn had traded sexual favours for positive coverage (these accusations have since proved false). This led to an outpouring of harassment, threats of sexual violence and death-threats against Quinn, her friends, those that support her and seemingly every living organism she’s ever met. The attacks boiled over to other famous figures in the gaming world including Anita Sarkeesian who has a video blog which discusses the representation of women in gaming (as you can imagine something certain people have had a problem with for a long time) and Brianna Wu a game developer who publicly spoke out against #GamerGate. All three received such a huge volume of threats against their person that they felt compelled to flee their homes, cancel speaking engagements and suspend their work. On top of this Quinn and co. as well as their supporters have all been doxxed a practice by which personal details such as home addresses and credit card numbers are posted on public forums.
The sad thing is, from what I’ve read (and I’ve had a good old scour) the issue doesn’t get much more complex than this. There are a those that claim that this is a legitimate campaign trying to uncover the underlying bias of games journalism and I’m sure there are those that are trying to make the #GamerGate tag represent just that, but it’s pretty obvious to most that the hashtag is just a platform for those that get some sort of weird pleasure out of threatening women and it will continue to try and stamp down on any woman whose profile gets to big and whose opinion gets too widely disseminated. Obviously this is the suckiest aspect of #GamerGate; the fact that gaming, which has always had a reputation for being a boy’s own club, goes right ahead and proves that point by creating an organised and systematic harassment campaign against high profile women. This misogyny is absolutely unacceptable, any aspect of it should be called out as wrong by those that see it and hopefully the perpetrators will eventually inbreed themselves out of the collective gene pool once and for all.
A more subtle and pernicious aspect of the whole #GamerGate phenomenon is the fact that people are actually afraid to talk about the issue for fear of becoming a target themselves. Indeed, I was worried about writing about it on my tiny blog just in case I did become a victim of online harassment. I find it unbelievable that this is the situation we’ve found ourselves in, where internet trolls have not only created this vile campaign but actually made people who would usually speak out against such things afraid of doing so. I’m not just talking about misogynists vs Zoe Quinn in this case, because people on both sides of the disagreement have been doxxing and slinging around threats…no this is ‘those that think it’s acceptable to threaten people and invade their privacy vs everyone else’.
You know, there’s this romantic idea of the internet which some people (including myself) still hold onto: that the anonymity that the internet provides can be a positive force and allow the existence of social organs and public discussions without the real world barriers of wealth and class getting in the way. I mean how can you entirely trust something like a newspaper when it’s owned by someone who just by being a person has some sort of agenda. Well the internet isn’t owned by anyone, but instead of these class divides we have a sort of intellectual terrorism where those with technical knowledge are wielding their skills against those that don’t properly know how to defend themselves against such things. And thus #GamerGate sucks the life out of everything!!
I’m not sure anyone really knows why #GamerGate is happening, though there’s this idea that gaming is such a precious activity to a handful of lifelong gamers that they see the growing influx of participants and the diversification of the medium as a threat to their hobby. In someway the trolls that attack public figures see themselves as the gatekeepers of gaming and believe people like Anita Sarkeesian who question the very foundation of the art-form are major threat and must be stopped from participating. They see things like the proliferation of flighty, mobile phone games as taking developers away from more in depth console or PC experiences which would only appeal to the invested gamer. I think this is a pretty flawed point of view and that the growth of gaming can only be a good thing. Last generation Nintendo bucked the trend by creating a console which targeted people who were not traditional gamers. The Wii not only appealed to hardcore Nintendo fans but was also pitched to women and for this reason we got a slew of exciting new ventures in gaming which we might not have seen otherwise. While Sony and Microsoft continued to aim their work at more traditional customers, the number and types of gamers grew thanks to Nintendo’s efforts and I got to dominate all challengers at Wii 100 pin bowling. More gamers means more money in gaming, which means more and varied types of games which, in an era where the cost of blockbuster gaming is so huge that we’re starting to get carbon copy experiences churned out on an annual basis, can only be a good thing.
So what can we do about #GamerGate? I think the sad truth of the matter is that we just have to wait for it to lose steam and blow over which I’m sure eventually it will and the trolls on both sides of the discussion can move on to other things. Until then, I think that as a community us gamers have to throw a little less passion behind our discussions because it’s making us look like an incredibly unfriendly bunch to the world at large. Just a quick scan down the comments section of IGN shows how extreme the language is when a gamer disagrees with a review. I’m not saying that you should enforce your point with any less impetus but doing so with much less aggressive language, slanderous accusations or in the worst cases actual threats would go a long with to cooling the atmosphere around gaming. Another example of this is when I looked online to find a walkthrough video for a particularly tricky sequence in a video game which I was stuck on. The tutorial I found was very helpful but was littered with so many swear words it should have had a mature rating all on its own. The funny thing about it was that there was no need to use this level of ‘colourful’ language when all the video was trying to do was be helpful. This is very much only my opinion but I think that the fact that such aggressive language permeates the entire culture of video games is a factor when things like #GamerGate get so totally out of hand.
In the end if you disagree with someone like Anita Sarkeesian or you think there’s problem with Zoe Quinn and the relationship between developers and journalists which makes you spend money on substandard experiences, you are perfectly entitled to make your opinion known but you HAVE to do so in a reasoned manner without recourse to aggressive language or threats. You might think that Sarkeesian is wrong in what she says and that she’s pushing an agenda, frankly I don’t know because I haven’t consumed any of her work, but I do know that she’s entitled to have an opinion about video games without being threatened. Disagree with her by all means if you feel she’s wrong, but there’s a way to do that properly. In 99% of cases it’s just language with no intention of threats being enacted upon but tone and intention are lost through the medium of tweets and comments.
#GamerGate really REALLY sucks and here’s hoping it goes away soon. If you’ve been put off trying to get more involved in gaming because of it, please don’t…most of us are really friendly and would happily welcome more people to game with – add me on PSN and I’ll happily school all of you at COD (by the way bravo Advanced Warfare). To those who are perpetrating #GamerGate, please do think about stopping very soon, you’re not achieving anything positive and you can be sure in the knowledge that I say this without any intention to hack your personal details or threaten you at all.
Now…i’m off to play Little Big Planet to remind myself how happy gaming can be.
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