Gamergate is one of the most ineffective movements of the twenty-first century—and not just those for it, but particularly those against it. For a movement that started from a simple bad breakup, who’d have thought it would turn into a debate about censorship of the internet?
It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who knows the patterns of the internet, however. Ever since it became widely used in the 1990s, there have always been a select group of people using their influence to try and control the internet. With the most widely known examples being Government initiatives such as SOPA, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but current attempts at invading our privacy have become more and more intrusive. The common saying, “If you haven’t got anything to hide, it shouldn’t be a problem” is useless now in the modern era of the internet, because despite how moderate your opinion is, someone will always find you offensive. And that’s where censorship of the internet becomes dangerous.
In August 2014, after finding out his girlfriend was cheating on him with five guys, Eron Gjoni wrote an essay detailing the behavior of Zoe Quinn and what led to their breakup. Of course, things that we write in the heat of the moment will always come back to bite us, and this essay Gjoni wrote about his ex-girlfriend is now considered on the same level as revenge porn. Despite all this, a few men and MRA’s from that bastion of internet loners Reddit and 4chan, latched onto Gjoni’s website and used it to send Quinn some harassing messages as well as “proof” all women were evil. However, Quinn wasn’t innocent as most claim, and used this to cement her recently released game Depression Quest, paving her way to fame on the backs of a few internet harassers, and claiming all women in tech were bullied and abused out of the industry. A few other people—namely Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathan McIntosh; Brianna Wu; Arthur Chu; Sarah Nyberg; Katherine Cross; Jessica Valenti; Tauriq Moosa—all latched onto the Quinn/Gjoni breakup saga, christened it “Gamergate”, and an internet movement was formed.
Since all of these “harassed” figures—known as “anti-Gamergaters”—were primarily friends and in contact with the online gaming media, anyone against them was quickly snuffed out and stifled. It’s easy to see from the outside why this happened, but the truth is always more complex. From the outside, you’d look into the stories of the three biggest women of Gamergate—Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu—and think, “Oh, those poor women, all they’re trying to do is make video games/critique the inherently sexist nature of video games” and that’s all there is to it. Of course, the truth is more insidious than that. When these three figures and their many friends claim they are being harassed, there is truth to some of their claims. Through searches of my own, I can see that roughly 10% of their claims of being verbally abused are real. Yes, that’s right. The rest, I’ve discovered, are people being blocked and called “trolls” for having the appalling idea of disagreeing with these women. Yes, saying that Anita Sarkeesian’s YouTube review of butts in video games is biased; that will get you blocked and removed off Twitter/your preferred social media site. Of course some of these “trolls” are actually trolls; but the sheer majority is just people disagreeing with their claims. Is that really such a bad thing?
I didn’t discover the controversy involving Gamergate until its effects were still leaving shockwaves across the internet, and by that point, it was already too late for anyone to stop these people. While I’m not claiming they’re all “con artists” and “fakers”, quite a lot of their claims seemed to pulled out of thin air, from their own sockpuppet (fake) accounts, and by keeping a Twitter hashtag alive that should have fizzled and died back in 2014 well and alive even as we head into 2016. I’m not going to say the pro-Gamergaters are completely innocent; I find myself disgusted by the views of many of them, including the Amazing Atheist; Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative website Breitbart; Christina Hoff Sommers; various anonymous people (anons) from Reddit’s subgroup (or subreddit) Kotaku in Action. Many of the MRA’s, for the most part, are pretty disgusting, and don’t like Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu for the simple fact they are women. This is not their problem. The problem with these three aren’t that they’re women; it’s the fact they’re using gender to do disgusting things on the internet and attempt to silence and halt any civil discussion. For example, on February 12 2016, Anita Sarkeesian’s Twitter Feminist Frequency had this to say about an unbiased article on left-leaning website The Daily Dot:
Is this what has become of the internet? Anyone who dares write an uncritical article—which as a journalism graduate, is one of the core tenets of journalism itself—is labelled as amplifying abuse? This is in fact the reason many newspapers on journalism websites label criminals as “alleged”; without someone being charged of a crime, you cannot call them an abuser, murderer, criminal. In order to support these figureheads of anti-Gamergate, you apparently must be biased to infinity and beyond!? Since when did reporting the truth become utter madness? Even if Eron Gjoni, the abuser that Feminist Frequency mentioned, abused Zoe Quinn to the high seas, it is purely unethical to support biased reporting simply because someone is reporting the facts, something you don’t like. Just because you don’t like the truth, it doesn’t mean it should be censored and banned from public viewing. Is this what we call a democratic society?
For a movement that started out of a bad breakup, it’s equally insulting that pro-Gamergate figures claim it is about ethics, and it’s something the internet has largely forgotten. The connection between Quinn and Gjoni’s breakup and the beginning of this whole tirade about “women in gaming” was all about a woman’s game—Quinn’s, in fact. With her co-writer Patrick Lindsey, Quinn released the Twine visual novel Depression Quest, and that would’ve been that, if those MRA’s on Reddit and 4chan hadn’t discovered—or fabricated, depending on who you believe—some of the five men she was sleeping with were online gaming journalists, and some had given Depression Quest positive reviews. This is where the whole debate about “ethics in journalism” began, but it’s now largely ignored except when both sides try to spite each other. The problem is: there is an ethics problem in gaming journalism, one that started long before Gamergate, and will now continue indefinitely. Read any old gaming magazine—as I have with old PlayStation magazines—and you’ll notice a clear pattern of AAA (the top publishers) games getting excellent reviews even if you recalled finding them pretty average. Usually reviews go on a 1-10 or a 1-5 scale. In gaming journalism, it seems to focus on an 8-10 scale for these AAA games, where 8 is average, 9 is great, and 10 is top of the pops. For less popular, or indie, games, having less than an 8 is fine, and widely accepted, but the moment a AAA game gets a review under 8/10, bam, that reviewer no longer has a job. It’s because of “sponsorship” and “money”; if publishers like EA or Activision give your publication enough money, you’ll feel compelled to give their games a good review. It’s a continuous cycle, and thanks to the advent of Gamergate, it’ll keep happening.
In the early 2000s, you may or may not recall Jack Thompson, an ardent anti-video games activist. He, alongside many others, namely mothers and right-wing Donald Trump fans, thought video games made people violent and commit mass murder and destroy society. It didn’t help that most of the media latched onto those claims, supporting any misconstrued study or quote-buster claiming that video games (or, as they all liked calling them, “computer games”) would lead to the downfall of society. Of course, a thousand and one competent studies since then have proved this isn’t true. This isn’t a new thing, however; before video games, it was comics that rotted your brain, or TV which gave you square eyes. It’s the problem with new media; we all like to look through our rose-tinted glasses and critique anything that’s new. Go search any song on YouTube that’s more than two years old, and you’ll come across these nostalgia critics: Only old things are good; modern media is EVIL. Despite many people realizing Jack Thompson was a bit of a fraud, many people listened, enough that in my own country, the R-rating for video games was only legalized a few years ago, because “video games are for children” and R-rated games will destroy their innocence. Never mind that, as long as you follow ratings in games (just like with TV and movies), your kids won’t be exposed to any violence or sexism. If you look at the ratings for games like the Grand Theft Auto series, or Call of Duty or Halo, you’ll notice a clear rating, the same as movies. This doesn’t stop many a parent in Gamestop (or EB Games) buying a clearly adult game for their kids without a bat of the eyelid, and then wondering why their kid is threatening everyone left, right and center on the latest COD game. If you wouldn’t make your kids watch Hostel or SAW or Wolf Creek, why let them play an adult-rated video game? And don’t use the excuse, “Video games are for kids”, because studies show most gamers are in their early thirties, with a roughly 50/50 gender divide. No more excuses.
For the modern gaming audience, “violence in video games” has been replaced with “sexism in video games”. After the popularity of Gamergate, media analysis guru Anita Sarkeesian latched onto this idea, popularizing it. Originally, Sarkeesian’s YouTube channel Feminist Frequency was about pop culture discussions, mainly TV shows and sexist advertising, which was interesting, namely her analysis of sexism in children’s toys. However, Sarkeesian along with her behind-the-scenes guy Jonathan McIntosh latched onto the idea of sexism in video games, funding a Kickstarter and making a few YouTube analyses on the topic over the course of three years. As a new-age Jack Thompson, Sarkeesian relied on emotions, generalizations and censorship to prove that video games were sexist. Even though I’m only a casual gamer myself, I discovered many inconsistencies in her videos, and games she labeled sexist were either optional kill-fests, the game punished you for killing women, or involved an equal representation of female/male violence and sexism. For example:
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, killing prostitutes and women is a commonly held misconception. You can kill any of the NPC’s in GTA, men or women, all with the same response: the police will engage you in a high-chase pursuit if they notice it, and other NPC’s will start screaming. However, a sexist scene I noticed immediately, involving protagonist Niko Bellic knocking Gracie Ancelotti unconscious, was ignored by Sarkeesian until her second video on the topic.
- She mentions scantily-clad women in games while ignoring male counterparts, and not mentioning obvious examples. For example, in Resident Evil 5, there is a butt-cam focused on Jill Valentine, which is never mentioned in her butt video. This is negated by Jill being a very, strong capable character. However, Chris Redfield’s massive biceps are an unreasonable expectation for men to live up to.
- Butt cam! She’s obsessed with this, saying the word “butt” roughly once every thirty seconds. However, many of the female scenes she shows are moveable by the player’s camera, and are not visible if you play the intended way. However, the Tomb Raider game she lauds as being amazing, actually has a visible butt-cam when Lara Croft is swimming. Jill Valentine is a notable example in RE5. Most of the time, you can only view a woman’s bum in a game if you move the camera yourself.
- Barely any strong women in video games, eh? Well there’s Lara Croft, who despite her originally outlandish figure, was always very capable. There’s also Jill Valentine; Claire Redfield; Ada Wong; The Boss; Mallorie in GTA IV; Catalina in GTA III; the female sims in the Sims 1-4 are completely equal to the men, even driving themselves to hospital while pregnant in 3; the women soldiers in XCOM; Dr. Vahlen the super alien torturer; Max Caulfield; Snow in Wolf Among Us, most women in Mass Effect and Dragon Age, Clementine in Walking Dead is pretty efficient for a preteen… the list goes on.
As a woman, I’m expected to agree with the likes of Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu. This is an insult to my intelligence as well the former two waves of feminism. While I agree with some of what they say, I also understand the opinions of those on the other side, much like the centrist-left I am on the political scale in real life. I’ve heard many insults geared towards women with beliefs like mine; women like shoe0nhead, Liana Kerzner and Liz O’Ginger McIrish, are all considered “sockpuppets” of men, or they simply have “internalized misogyny” which is an insult to us as capable, thinking women. When showing their claims of “harassment”, the anti-Gamergaters usually show the men who simply disagree with them, and refuse to acknowledge the women, even though they clearly exist. I am a real person. This is the reason I’m afraid to have an opinion on Twitter and the internet in general—if these women have so much power, I’m basically nothing to them. I’ll be blacklisted and blocked and nobody will care anymore. Australian radical feminist Clementine Ford, who recently seems to have discovered the Gamergate bandwagon, recently posted her Block List (archived here), a website which shows all the differing opinions she has blocked off Twitter and labeled as evil, monstrous trolls. I had a quick gander over this list and discovered a fair percentage were actual fake Twitter accounts which had nothing to do with Gamergate (90% off Viagra Cialis if you click on this link, people with default egg avatars, or inactive accounts), a fair amount of women who were neutral on the issue, women she simply disagreed with, and the remaining roughly 30% were actual men who disagreed with her. This is someone who claims all her harassment is from evil men. However, if I even tried to explain this fact to Ford, I’d be—you got it—labeled a “male sockpuppet”, a woman who clearly doesn’t understand how important feminism is, or a poor chick with internalized misogyny, and then put on her 12,000 strong block list. This is from someone who usually starts with a reasonable stance in her articles on Daily Life, then ends by saying “All men are evil, I have no responsibility”. Please, Clementine Ford, I want to agree with you.
I like to think I’m a feminist, since I agree with the tenets of first- and second-wave feminism, but these women (and “male allies”) of what I like to call Feminism Wave 3.5 or simply “radical feminism” have demolished my enjoyment of the word. At the moment, I don’t have a word for what I am. Probably just “woman”, since my core beliefs needn’t go with a core belief system and a bunch of labels. I’m an individual, not a simple set of words to describe what I am; making labels a key part of my personality like those on Tumblr is useless and demeaning. For the anti-Gamergate aficionados, a majority also identify as feminist, however they’re usually of the radical (or “feminazi”, if you’re an MRA reading this) ilk. While these anti-Gamergate figureheads seem to believe if you’re a woman, there’s a 100% chance you’ll be harassed and thrown out of the industry, there is a different, but still obvious, form of sexism in the gaming industry. Women are in gaming; they always have been there. We can’t just forget about important women like Roberta Williams, Rhianna Pratchett, Jennifer Hale—all of whom have lent their talents to games widely regarded as classics—or even lesser known players in the modern indie scene such as ren’py developer Christine Love or Colossal Order CEO Mariina Hallikainen, because that’s just ignoring the accomplishments of a group of important people.
The problem with sexism in gaming is this: online players, usually those on COD or similar games; the gaming journalism industry ignoring those successful female game developers and instead harping on about Quinn and her kind; the actual trolls on Steam’s comments and in various pages across the internet. There are two types of men who usually undertake these behaviors: dudebros and neckbeards. Dudebros are the guys who play only popular games like COD, Skyrim and the latest GTA game. Neckbeards are the dungeon dwellers who only like games released before 1995 and stick to haunts like 4chan, Reddit and RPG Codex. Both types don’t make up a majority of the industry. Neither of these make up a majority of gamers, but lumping them all in the “Sexist: Please Ignore” category will of course annoy them. If you label all feminists as man-haters, you’ll get a bunch of angry women, because generalizations hurt. You can’t just laugh at someone, and then claim harassment if the same thing happens to you.
“Male allies” have contributed to this problem. While most MRA’s on that bastion of internet lonerdom will claim the anti-Gamergate figures are all women, that’s a lie. For an issue to gain traction and turn into a major political debate, you need both genders to make it an issue. In the past, it was usually the women who did the talking, and men who did the action. For example, it was Queen Elizabeth I who controlled Elizabethan England, and the men who went to war and fought for her values. In Gamergate, it’s really quite similar. Much like war, history never changes. While women like Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu are all the face of this movement, there are men working with them to keep the movement alive and well. Most notably, you have Jonathan McIntosh, who writes and directs Feminist Frequency videos, and has a very strong opinion on anyone who disagrees. For someone who has a strong role, you’d be surprised to know he makes no appearance on FemFreq’s 2015 Annual Report, and lurks a lot in the background, seemingly telling Sarkeesian and other women what to say or do. Seems a lot like that fabled Patriarchy, right? Then you have Wu, who through a series of legally obtained documents, was revealed to be born a rich white man. That’s not a problem. But then you have Wu telling other women what to do with their lives, and criticizing other women for disagreeing with her. Then you have her husband, four-time Hugo award winner, Frank also joining in the fun, supporting Wu from the sidelines, also telling women what is right and what is wrong.
Quinn is a notorious example of this: using her influence with gaming journalists such as Nathan Grayson to write favorable reviews in the gaming media and having her current boyfriend help with “anti-online hate mob task force” Crash Override Network behind the scenes. It’s all very scary. For a movement that claims to be supporting women, there are a lot of men behind the scenes telling these women what to do, how to live their lives—basically, acting like the Patriarchy they claim to be against. To me, it seems like a lot of men telling women what to do, negating the efforts of first- and second-wave feminists, and that’s really pretty awful.
You want a solution to these problems? Instead of just sticking to Twitter, Tumblr and your friends’ online gaming sites, stick to real solutions. Going to the United Nations (like Sarkeesian and Quinn) to claim online harassment and try to censor the internet—how’s that gonna prove you’re better? It won’t. By saying that roughly three in every thousand people who harass and maybe give a death threat is claims for controlling the internet; we’d have become a communist dictatorship a long time ago. When people are anonymous, the majority will be perfectly fine, but some will troll you. By continuing to develop good video games and be a strong influence for women in STEM without harping on about it 2,000 times a day, you will win. If Quinn had ignored people mocking her and calling her evil, and continued making more games about mental illness and other important issues, her claim to fame wouldn’t be the fact she’s slept with five guys to make her famous; she would be famous for her game.
If Brianna Wu spent more time actually working on Revolution 60 instead of claiming Gamergate killed her dogs, the sequel Revolution 62 would’ve been out a year ago, and she wouldn’t have had to allegedly fire or excuse every other woman at Giant Spacekat except her co-founder, because they’d enjoy being part of a successful team. If Sarkeesian showed examples of sexism, as well as how to stop it (which she currently doesn’t do), and didn’t head off to the UN to censor debate under the guise of violence against women (and left the UN to focus on more important issues, like the women kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram and Islamic State, as well as protecting actual abused women and men who are usually too afraid to come forward), then her videos would be highly enjoyable.
Trolls and harassers will always exist on the internet; it’s not a purely female issue, it’s a human issue. We just need to know active ways of showing we’re better, without bashing the other side into silence.
Gamergate is a non-issue. If we were a perfect society, it would have led to debates on how ethics is important to gaming journalism, and everyone would have learned from that. Too bad—the world is not perfect. Sexism and violence and murder existed far before video games were first popularized; in fact, the earth is a hell of a lot better than it was in the past. The problem is, too many people latched onto an issue to gain fame and notoriety, and now this issue is a shell of its former self. Feminist Frequency no longer cares about its Kickstarter goal of critically analyzing video games; its goal has changed primarily to “help women on the internet”; i.e. to censor debate so we can all stay in bubbles of safety and never hear differing opinions. Fellow anti-Gamergater Randi Harper adds more to the biz, with her massive blocking software GG Auto Blocker, which has the explicit purpose of mass blocking anyone with a differing opinion. Differing opinions are a necessity for a healthily functioning society, but we won’t have that if the media is too scared to report neutrally on issues, without fear of being ostracized and supportive of alleged abusers. Most media sources are biased, after all they’re written by humans with very human opinions, but they should at least try to have both sides of the story, even if it’s clear one side is more correct than the other. With the current reporting of Gamergate both in online and other media, you’d think it’s about women being treated badly for the mere idea of having opinions and initiative. The truth is: a simple break-up was turned into a political issue by two groups of people with very different belief systems and motivations. How do we fix this? By listening to both sides of the story. Never trust one side more than the other. Rely on facts and emotion to gain an impartial view of the problem. Without compassion, isn’t that how we’ve ruined the world in the past? It’s time for a change.