#GamerGate and how every person who cares about video games became a misogynist

Anita Sarkeesian accepting the Ambassador Award at the Game Developer's Choice ceremony.
Anita Sarkeesian accepting the Ambassador Award at the Game Developer’s Choice ceremony.

First off, I would like to begin this post by stating that I identify as a gamer, a man, and as a feminist.

If you are not versed in the disaster that has become video game news, you probably don’t know that these identities are currently conflicting in the larger media. It is my belief that all debates should first be seen from an unbiased perspective, so I will attempt to summarize the past few months of gaming news in this manner.

In early August, independent game developer Zoe Quinn’s title Depression Quest was officially published on the gaming platform Steam. Shortly after, Eron Gjoni, an ex-boyfriend of Quinn, made an accusatory blog post claiming that while they were dating, Quinn had cheated on him with multiple other men, most notably Nathan Grayson, a writer for Kotaku, a game journalism website. This blog post immediately gained massive attention, and soon claims that Quinn cheated on Gjoni in an attempt to garner positive feedback for her video game began circulating the internet. Quinn denied these accusations, and Kotaku’s editor-in-chief released a statement stating that Grayson never reviewed any of Quinn’s games. Despite this, more hate began to circulate around members of the gamer community, and Quinn began to receive online harassment, as well as threats of rape and death. As a result of doxxing, a form of harassment that involves the divulging of personal address and emails, Quinn began to stay with friends for fear of being attacked.

I feel the need to comment on this specific incident. Whether or not Zoe Quinn cheated on her ex-boyfriend is NOBODY’S business other than the parties involved. It does not matter if you think her actions are morally sound. It is not your relationship, it is hers. Given that all accusations that her affairs were attempts to sell copies of Depression Quest were proven false, any attack against Quinn or any of her supporters are completely unjustified and are invasive. Quinn’s sex life is just that, her sex life. Not yours. Not mine. End of discussion.

Now, while the harassment of Quinn was quite obviously not a good thing, the incident wound up sparking a new debate. Many gamers began questioning the ethical procedures of game journalism, claiming that the ties between journalists and developers were becoming incredibly close. Many gamers feared that game journalism was just another marketing tool for developers to utilize to convince customers to buy their games, and discussion about these policies began circulating.

Then, later in the month, feminist Anita Sarkeesian uploaded a video to her YouTube channel as a part of her “Tropes in Video Games vs. Women” project. This video discusses the use of women as “props” and background decoration in video games, and how the portrayal of violence against women is only used to add a gritty atmosphere to stories and not used to bring up discussion about gender-based violence.

Initially, the video did not receive much coverage until anti-feminist blogger “Thunderf00t” released a video calling out Sarkeesian for what he claimed was a falsification of evidence. One example was her use of footage from the game Hitman: Absolution, and claiming that the game instructed the user to kill and drag around the bodies of two strippers, when in reality this action was not only optional, but also discouraged (User “L0G1C B0MB” has a very good video that sums up my thoughts on his response).

The controversial scene from Anita Sarkeesian's video
The controversial scene from Anita Sarkeesian’s video

This video triggered a huge outrage amongst a certain crowd of gamers, who called Sarkeesian a liar. Similarly to Quinn, Sarkeesian proceeded to get doxxed on many websites, and had many threats of rape, death, and other forms of harassment sent to her. She, too, left her home in fear of harassment. The most recent example of this happened on October 15, when Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a talk at Utah State University when the school received an anonymous letter, stating that if the school did not cancel the event violent acts such as a mass shooting and the detonation of bombs would occur. As a result of this misogynist and violent threat, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel the event.

An anonymous letter addressed to the coordinators of Anita Sarkeesian's planned talk at Utah State University.
An anonymous letter addressed to the coordinators of Anita Sarkeesian’s planned talk at Utah State University.

You might think that this string of events ends there. You would be wrong.

As a result of the numerous attacks against Quinn, Sarkeesian, and many other active feminists in the video game world, many media outlets, most notably game journalists, began speaking out against gamers as a collective, denouncing the group as racist and misogynist. This not only led to a massive outcry from gamers, but it also led to a strengthening of the arguments brought up from the Zoe Quinn scandal: that game journalism had become a corrupt industry.

Gamers claimed that due to close ties with developers, many game journalism outlets were shaming gamers as a whole to support their close bonds with developers and alienating their audience. This movement began aligning under the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate. Many women and people of color who agreed with this argument also formed #NotYourShield, claiming that media outlets were merely using misogyny and racism as cover-ups for their unethical practices, and were trying to throw gamers under the bus. Meanwhile, threats of harassment did not stop being thrown at Quinn, Sarkeesian, and others.

To add fire to the flames, Quinn, Sarkeesian, and other active members of the gaming community began to denounce the gamer identity as a collective, claiming that the division between games being made for pure entertainment and gaming as a form of cultural expression was becoming too large, and that being a “gamer” was no longer something that could truly be an identity. The idea of “eliminating gamers” enraged many supporters of #GamerGate, who believed that this movement was meant as an attack on games and consumers of games.

As of now the war between #GamerGate supporters and gamer journalists rages on. Sarkeesian, Quinn, and many others are still being harassed, and journalists are still portraying all gamers as misogynist and hateful, some even claiming that all supporters of #GamerGate are members of a hate group.

So now, back to my original statement. If I am a feminist, a gamer, and a man, where do I stand in this debate?

Well for starters, at the risk of sounding like a #NotAllMen supporter, I would like to publicly state that I do not condone harassment of any kind (if I didn’t make that clear enough earlier). What is happening to Quinn, Sarkeesian, and many others like them who have spoken out against misogyny in games is wrong on so many levels. However, that is not me, and that is not all gamers.

In her TEDx talk, feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie feels the need to express that she is a “feminist that does not hate men,” I feel the need to express that I am a gamer who does not hate women.

An advertisement for the video game, Hitman: Blood Money
An advertisement for the video game, Hitman: Blood Money

Now, to say that there isn’t an evident display of the patriarchy in gamer culture would be naive and downright stupid. I challenge any reader of this post to try and endure the voice chat of any First Person Shooter for ten minutes without hearing something along the lines of “I’m going to fuck your mom” or “stop being a faggot.” And while there are many games that do showcase strong women that are not simply placed in the game to provide allure to men or be background decorations, such as Faith from Mirror’s Edge, Chell from Portal, and Zelda/Shiek from The Legend of Zelda, these characters are few in comparison to the vast array of women that are objectified in video games, whether it is intentional or not.

The truth is, there is a very vocal group of gamers that does harass women, people of color, and the LGBT community. However, there is also a group of gamers that sees major corruption in the game journalism industry and wants to put a stop to it. So the question here is how did both of these groups get wrapped up under the same banner that is #GamerGate?

What seems to have happened here is a mix up of arguments. The people who initially began the conversation of corruption in gamer journalism began so because of what happened with Zoe Quinn, which initially began blending people who were attacking her, and people who were passionate about transparent game journalism. As the movement against game journalism, this pressure began building on people who were uncomfortable with the potential ethics breaches in gaming. There suddenly became this idea of needing to be anti-feminism to be anti-corruption. And the merger that is now #GamerGate began.

Now as a gamer, I feel conflicted. I definitely agree that the game journalism industry has become too tied into marketing, and I would love to see some change in the industry. I also love video games, and I see them as a very large part of my identity.

However, I am now presented with a conflict in that if I want to support these ideals I am suddenly lumped into a group of misogynists. So what do I do?

Well, for starters, Quinn has suggested that people like me start using #GamerEthics instead of #GamerGate to discuss these topics, and I think she is right. What has happened, as it does in most cases, is rampant misogyny has poisoned the well. We can no longer identify as gamers because the worst of our community has become the representation of us.

Now, that isn’t to say that misogyny in gaming isn’t a problem. I mean, look at what happened with Zoe Quinn. Even though the #GamerGate movement formed around corrupt journalism, Nathan Grayson has not been threatened with rape, harassment, or death even though he would be equally as responsible for the corruption (that didn’t happen, mind you). Immediately, society blamed the woman, which admittedly, isn’t unique to gaming, but that is another debate entirely.

I think where most of these new anti-feminists are coming from is really a defensive perspective. A lot of the responses to Sarkeesian’s original video were defensive, stating that gaming was not a “bad” industry. I believe that the gamers who are committing these acts of harassment feel as if they are being attacked for playing games, similarly to how most men feel when the topic of the patriarchy comes up, a la #NotAllMen.

I think many gamers feel as if videos like Sarkeesian’s were saying that “video-games are bad, and if you play them you’re a bad person.” The response is, of course, to hate the person who is making false claims, and refute their arguments no matter how accurate they might be. This leads to harassment and anger, because in the minds of these perpetrators they believe that they are “just another victim of the evil feminists trying to destroy fun.”

These people feel like they’re being attacked by an enemy that doesn’t exist. There is an association that equates feminism to an anti-men movement, and this isn’t unique to the gaming industry. But it seems that gamers, who, mind you, are mostly young white men, have a very strong affinity for this belief. Hell, the person who threatened to bomb the Utah State University proves my point entirely.

“We live in a nation of emasculated cowards too afraid to challenge the vile, misandrist harpies who seek to destroy them. Feminism has taken over every facet of our society, and women like Sarkeesian want to punish us for even fantasizing about being men.”

“Feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they’ve wronged.”

Since the beginning of the feminist movement people have believed that there is a link between feminism and a hatred of men. The problem is this is entirely untrue (Granted there are a few bad apples, but the same could be said about #GamerGate. Food for thought.). Feminists have time and time again stated that their goals are to create a better society for all and to end oppression as a whole.

So how do we get rid of this disconnect, especially in the gaming world?

The issue here is that these misinformed people have never been educated as to what feminism actually is. A lot of these people’s only encounters with feminism are the rampantly shared posts from a very vocal anti-men minority. This becomes the “standard” image of what feminists are trying to accomplish: bringing down men and replacing them with a matriarchy of sorts. In reality this is not the goal of feminism, rather feminists want to create a fair society for all people, not just women. I know this, because for a long time this was what I believed. I thought that feminists were vocally against men doing “man” things. I’d seen horrible things said against men, and I’d come to believe that feminism was not a safe space for men and was not in fact trying to achieve equality and justice.

Being apart of Ileana Jiménez’s feminism class has helped to change this. I’ve gotten a very clear perspective on what feminism is really about, and those old misinformed ideas are gone.

The problem is most people didn’t take a feminism class in high school.

In fact, unsurprisingly most people haven’t had any form of feminist teaching at all. The only true exposure people have to the movement is their actions during the initial spawn of the feminist movement as well as the movement’s achievements in the 60’s. So with no accurate image to base opinions off, how can anyone really know that feminists are not in fact trying to crush the very idea of the masculine figure and ruin the lives of men across the country? The issue is education. The feminist movement does not do enough to distinguish itself from the vocal minority that creates a negative stereotype, and there is not a vocal denouncement of the negative stereotypes. People need to be educated early on not to generalize the feminist movement, and the only way to do that is to teach people through any means possible that feminism is not about creating oppression, but rather about destroying it.

This is where the disconnect in the #Gamergate movement came from. The people who are committing acts of harassment against vocal feminists don’t see it as misogyny. They see it as a defense against the evil forces of feminism working to destroy the masculine identity they find in video games.

These people think that video games are simply toys, and feminists are trying to take away toys as one would an action figure from a small child. However, the truth is video games have transcended from being mere forms of amusement. With games such as Depression Quest, Gone Home, and The Novelist, an uprising of games that are true touching stories is occurring. Video games are turning into an art.

Misogyny is present in all forms of cultural expression, and as gaming becomes one of these mediums, it too is going to be called out for misogyny. Nobody is saying that listeners of music, readers of books, and viewers of art are horrible people and that these industries are being destroyed, but what feminists are calling for is mass social change to help end the oppressive materials that can come from these industries.

So to the media I say this: Don’t portray all gamers as anti-feminist because clearly, we’re not, and you’re really only giving the harassers more fuel for their fire. Instead, explain how people like Anita Sarkeesian are in fact trying to bring attention to gender-based violence and the sexualization of women in the media and how these things are pervasive not only in gaming but also in our larger culture.

To gamers like me who disagree with all of the hateful language coming out from a minority of gamers and who are sick and tired of being labelled as sociopaths and misogynists, take a stand against the minority. We need to separate ourselves from the sick people who are threatening women, and we need to say that we are gamers, and we can also support equality and end images that portray gender-based violence and sexualized images of women in the media.

The only way we can end this feud is to educate. As I said at the beginning of this article, we really can only tackle patriarchy and oppression from an unbiased perspective. If you look at the basics of what is going on in this controversy, people are being harassed on one side, and people are being attacked by the media on the other. Both of these things are wrong, and both should be stopped. So why can’t we all unite to try and stop this pointless feud, and get back to playing Minecraft and dismantling the patriarchy, because that’s what I’m going to do.

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