by Ellen Sweeney
I haven’t written any game reviews in a while, and there are a few reasons for that, but chief among them is the giant steaming pile of bullshit that is Gamergate, which has been a profoundly demoralizing and depressing experience for many ladies and feminists involved with games, myself included. Benn asked me to write something about it for the Shank because he hadn’t heard about it. I am diving into this shitshow out of love for him, and also shock that someone so progressive and generally up on geek culture could somehow have missed this debacle.
Let me start by saying that this is going to continue to involve a lot of expletives. Sorry, kids. There is no way for me to talk about this in a calm and rational manner, because psychologically, I just can’t, and won’t. To me, responding with reasoned arguments almost implies that the Gamergaters have some kind of semi-justifiable opinion on which reasonable people can disagree, and that’s just not the case.
I get that for some fucking reason we still need to explain to a shockingly large proportion of Americans why it is wrong to harass women, and why threatening them with sexual violence and murder counts as harassment, which is why I will link to a lot of articles written by people who have much more patience than I do. But from my perspective, I don’t understand how this is happening in 2014 in the United States of America and it makes me want to crawl into a hole and never speak to anyone again.
Many others have recapped the key events and walked through the convoluted mess step-by-step (reddit even provides a bullet point version), and you really should take the time to read through everything I’ve linked here if you want to claim you have an opinion on the matter, but I’ll recap the key events.
Back in August, a vindictive ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, an indie developer best known for Depression Quest, wrote a lengthy slut-shaming diatribe in which he claimed that Zoe had slept with a games journalist from Kotaku in exchange for favorable press on her game. This is patently false – the journalist didn’t even review her game – but a crusade was launched against Zoe, claiming that it was really about fighting corruption in games journalism.
Zoe was already hated among a certain subset of gamers who felt that Depression Quest was not a good game and only received awards and positive press because it was different and weird and about feelings, and that was wrong and not what games should be about, so they were already primed for the idea that maybe it only got good press because she was a dirty slut. Not long after, a bunch of folks on 4chan, the sewer of the internet, organized themselves on chat boards to launch a campaign of sustained harassment against Zoe during which, among other things, her accounts were hacked, she had to flee her home after her address was posted publicly along with death and rape threats, commenters gleefully discussed whether they could manage to drive her to the point of suicide and passed around naked photos of her, and people called her father and ranted at him about how his daughter was such a disgusting slut. Because, you know – ethics in game journalism.
Even if the original allegation was true – which it is not, not that it matters, since it still wouldn’t justify harassment of her and her family – (a) why wasn’t the journalist the one being attacked, if this is about ethics in game journalism, and (b) how can anyone seriously believe that one review on a fairly obscure game which could never in a million years make anyone rich is some kind of scandalous example of “corruption” (especially when compared to the cozy relationship between many major developers and games press?)
Gamergaters immediately claimed that Zoe had fabricated the idea of a campaign to harass her in order to get attention and distract from the “real issue” of ethics in games journalism; We Hunted the Mammoth went through a big chunk of the chat room logs and pulled out some of the gems that prove otherwise. If you want to be disgusted by humanity, read through what they found.
In the wake of these events, several outlets published pieces discussing the concept of the “gamer” identity, commenting that the audience of people who play games had expanded to something much broader than the straight white male nerds we might think of when we think of “gamers” – and that this is a good thing. All of these authors were also harassed in the comments of their articles, their twitter feeds, or anything the Gamergaters could get their hands on. A few even quit the industry, feeling afraid and betrayed and just disgusted with the community they had poured their professional efforts into up until that point. In fact, anyone who spoke out critically of Gamergate in a public forum was attacked. Use the hashtag #gamergate to say something not completely positive? You could expect several hours, if not days, of sustained abusive tweets. (For lolz, Clickhole published a satirical piece on the subject.) Because a great response to concerns over ethics in game journalism is to harass games journalists for publishing their opinions, and people for agreeing with them.
Now this is the point at which things really jump the shark.
Gamergate managed to attract a number of defenders who are convinced that it is not really about attacking women and these incidents just represent a radical minority of Gamergate and aren’t really a big deal, and we should get back to the important issues, which are corruption in games journalism and the secret cabal of “social justice warriors” who are in cahoots with journalists and developers to ruin games forever. Here is about when I crawled into my hole. Because it’s one thing to harass women – it happens all the fucking time – and it’s quite another to look at that harassment head on and try to claim that it isn’t the important issue.
In fact, Gamergaters made a concerted effort to make it appear as though they were repudiating those tactics as a way to give their misogynist campaign more legitimacy. Read the chat logs. They planned to harass these women, AND to have other posters publicly denounce those tactics, so that they could claim they weren’t really about harassing and marginalizing women and thus gain more supporters. They even created sock puppet accounts claiming to be women (or other minorities) in which they manufactured an idea that Gamergate was actually a diverse movement and demanded that the “social justice warriors” stop using these alleged females as a “shield” to shove their feminist agenda down everyone’s throats. They talk about “sleeper cells.” Sleeper cells! And the insane thing is they managed to actually convince a lot of people, and companies, that they had a legitimate concern – and many sided with them, or at least subscribed to the notion that both sides should be heard, as if this is some kind of rational debate about which reasonable people might disagree.
Gamergaters pressured Intel to pull its ads from Gamasutra after they published an opinion piece they didn’t like – and Intel actually did it. Because the best way to fight corruption in games journalism is… to get companies to financially pressure the gaming press to pull opinion pieces that they don’t agree with? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
So here is my comment to those people who think this is “really” about ethics in game journalism, or anything other than a misogynist campaign against women:
IT IS COMPLETELY FUCKING RIDICULOUS THAT ANYONE SHOULD DEFEND ANYTHING THAT IS IN ANY WAY ASSOCIATED WITH THREATENING SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND DEATH. NO ONE’S FREEDOM OF SPEECH INCLUDES A SUSTAINED CAMPAIGN OF HARASSMENT INTENDED TO TERRIFY NOT JUST INDIVIDUALS AND THEIR LOVED ONES, OR ANYONE WHO WORKS WITH THEM OR TALKS ABOUT THEM, BUT ALL WOMEN.
If you choose to associate yourself with their name, and try to claim that misogyny isn’t the most important issue at hand, then you are deluded. You have missed the point. You can’t say that the KKK is really just an old boys’ club and that the racist violence is just a few radical outliers and not what defines the organization. You can’t say that ISIS makes some good points about American imperialism, even if their tactics are sometimes extreme. No. Just, no.
When something goes so far over the line, when it involves concerted efforts to ruin actual people’s lives and terrorize women or another other marginalized group, then you don’t get to say that isn’t the main issue. It becomes the main issue. And if you choose to continue to associate with them – if you don’t immediately abandon ship and organize under a different name – then you are just as guilty of perpetuating that culture of terror.
Chris Kluwe, aka every progressive gamer’s favorite football player, wrote a scathing piece describing his feelings about Gamergaters in which he describes them as, among other things, “slope-browed weaseldicks.” Gamergaters pretty much left him alone. Felicia Day, a geek icon and prominent lady gamer who one would expect has some feelings about the matter, said nothing on the topic for a couple of months out of fear for her own safety and sanity, but finally authored a blog post in which explores her fears (specifically, her fear of being doxxed given her history of stalkers) and implores Gamergaters to think about whether their actions are really changing games for the better; within minutes, her address was posted publicly. Chris Kluwe immediately responded with tweets pointing out how insane it was that he was NOT harassed for such an abrasive post when Felicia Day was targeted just for talking about her feelings. Anyone who thinks this is anything other than a misogynist campaign is, in fact, a slope-browed weaseldick.
Kirk Hamilton from the gaming site Kotaku sums up the situation eloquently from the perspective of someone whose job is to comment on games and game culture, saying that for anyone who is critical of Gamergate, “swift, terrifying reprisal has become an inevitability” and “we now exist under a perpetual fog of paranoia and fear.” If you talk about Gamergate, you will be harassed. If you are a woman, it will be a thousand times worse. “She [Felicia Day] said she wished things weren't the way they are, that she was afraid and didn't want to be. The attack that followed said it plain as day: You should be afraid. This is what happens now. This is what happens when you speak up. And it is. It really, really is.”
But here’s the thing: games are changing, and Gamergate isn’t going to stop that. Games are becoming something much broader and more inclusive than they used to be, and most people agree this is a good thing, even if the industry is scrambling a bit to figure out successful business models for this changing landscape and shifting demographics. Laura Hudson from Wired put it perfectly in the headline of her recent piece on the debacle: “Gamergate goons can scream all they want, but they can’t stop progress.”
And though some have been scared off, many more are not backing down. Anita Sarkeesian continues to speak on feminism in games publicly, with appropriate safety precautions. Game developer Brianna Wu was also forced to flee her home under circumstances similar to Zoe and Anita, and responded by posting the incredibly obscene and terrifying threats that were tweeted at her along with her home address, and says, basically, you all are fucking with the wrong bitch, and she isn’t going to stop making games that include strong female characters
Progress isn’t going to stop. But in the meantime, it really fucking sucks.