Even if you’re not a gamer, chances are you’ve heard a lot about #GamerGate. Like lots of online movements (à la #YesAllWomen and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen), the hashtag grew, morphed and twisted. And despite where it started, #GamerGate is now emblematic of how gamer culture mistreats women.
What is #GamerGate?
Gamers started using the hashtag #GamerGate to call for a stronger divide between game developers and gamer journalists. It has since spun into a misogynistic free for fall in which some gamers have been threatening women.
How did #GamerGate start?
1. The harassment of Zoe Quinn, indie game developer. In August 2014, Quinn was viciously harassed online after her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, posted claims that she cheated on him. Gjoni also alleged that the only reason Quinn’s game, Depression Quest, was well-reviewed was because of an alleged affair with Nathan Grayson, a journalist at the website Kotaku. (These allegations were false). Gjoni released personal information about Quinn, prompting some gamers to make sexualized threats towards her, her friends and her family.
2. The harassment of Anita Sarkeesian, feminist media critic. Sarkeesian founded Feminist Frequency, a web-series that explores representations of women in pop culture, in 2009. Her videos examine everything from The Bechdel Test to gender in Legos. Her latest series, “Tropes. vs. Women in Video Games,” deconstructed depictions of women in video games and was funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The funding itself led to backlash from gamers who didn’t want her to address how women are portrayed in games (surprise!). Opponents even created a game in which players could assault Sarkeesian. The New York Times said of the attacks on Sarkeesian that “Bomb threats for her public talks are now routine.” Threats reached a new level in August 2014 when part 2 of “Tropes vs. Women” debuted. Death threats got so intense that Sarkeesian went into hiding.
On October 15th, 2014, Sarkeesian cancelled a public appearance at Utah State University after the administration received an email warning that a mass shooting would take place at the event. After corresponding with the university about security measures, she was told that state law permitted audience members to bring concealed weapons into her talk. Sarkeesian consequently cancelled.
So what is #GamerGate really about?
Two core issues are at play:
1. The treatment of women. Videos games have traditionally treated women as damsels in distress or highly sexualized — that is when they’re included at all. Since the 1990s, the percentage of female characters in video games has remained at a stagnant 15 percent (even though women now account for more gamers than men.) Prominent women in the gaming community have been threatened with violence and rape for vocalizing these depictions.
2. Unbiased journalism. The alleged affair between Quinn and Grayson spurred a call for journalistic integrity within the gaming community and the end of close relationships between developers and reporters. Meanwhile, gamers who believe there is no problem with how female gamers are treated think the “liberal media” is fabricating the issue. (These same men are also very fond of the C word.)
Why you should care about #GamerGate.
- Like a lot of the tech world, gamers have traditionally been young, white and male. But as more women (as well as people of color and LGBTQ individuals) enter the tech world, this is changing (albeit not fast enough).
- This antagonistic response to women entering a traditional male industry underscores the reason women stay away in the first place: the abysmal treatment of women.
- Vitriolic threats against women are alarmingly commonplace. While 40 percent of Americans report experiencing online harassment, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center, women aged 18 to 24 were “disproportionately” the victims.
- Consider the attacks against feminist writer Jessica Valenti, who gets death threats so often she has recognized attackers. Amanda Hess, another journalist who tackles sexism, detailed her harrowing experience with online stalking in her notable 2014 piece entitled “Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.”
- This tactic of scaring away women who have opinions is not isolated to the tech and gaming industry, and sets a very scary precedent for maintaining visible women who speak to sexist conditions.
In short, #GamerGate is another instance in which the real threat, underneath the insults and attacks, is female progress. Pay attention.