The recent death threats made against Anita Sarkeesian, the latest victim in the #GamerGate scandal, did not occur because of her known status in the gaming industry. This situation could have happened to any of us who openly question the misogyny behind the male dominated site.
Picture this: You decide to play a few rounds of Halo to blow off some steam and kill time. In between matches, everyone in the chatroom is making commentary. You stand out amongst the crowd with your feminine voice. You quickly hear: “What do you even know bitch?” Baffled, you try to speak up to defend yourself and your credibility; but before you can get a chance to get anything across you get ambushed with several verbal threats. Retreating becomes the only sensible option you have as your inbox and mic are now full of sexist harassment in the form of anonymous players.
For those who speak up, the attacks are the same, but the level of intensity increases, and now comes with the risk of physical harm. This is how #GamerGate, a simple debate on journalism within gaming culture, turned into a dangerous fiasco and a war against women who speak up against the industry.
Initially, #GamerGate started off as a debate that questioned the ethics and morality of the video game press. Various theories of corruption and bribery had started to speculate. Though it is unclear whether any of the theories are indeed factual, as they have yet to be proven. The result however has led to readers to distrust gaming press, mainly female readers. Within a few days and just a few posts, #GamerGate grew from a debate between gamers and journalists to a political conflict now including feminists. There have been many moments in history where women have always been excluded from stem fields such as video games.
Susan Mody, Chairmen and Associate Professor of the Gender & Women’s Studies department at Plattsburgh State stated that she isn’t surprised by this exclusion. She sees #GamerGate as example of keeping women out of so called male territory. “That’s what I hear some of these gamers say: This is our territory. We don’t want these social justice warriors. We don’t want these feminists. We don’t want people who are going to criticize because this is our space.”
24-year-old Elizabeth Opperman, a rapid RPG gamer, calls for this harassment to cease and desist. “It’s gone far beyond what it was originally meant to be and has grown into some sort of ultra-violent, hateful creed against women in the industry,” Opperman says. “I’d like to see an end to it. I know we all would.”
What was believed to be the start of this battle between anti-feminist gamers and feminists was Milo Yiannopoulos’s article Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart. In his article, Yiannopulo states that “the more you learn about the latest scandal in the games industry, the more you start to sympathize with the frustrated male stereotype.”
He goes on to write, “Because an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers, are terrorizing the entire community – lying, bullying and manipulating their way around the internet for profit and attention.”
Like adding gasoline to a fire, anti-feminist and anti-female gamers took the hashtag and made it their own, using it as a shield to attack any woman who spoke up or criticized #GamerGate in various forms such as death and rape threats, leaving female gamers no choice but to retreat to safety.
It is with this logic and understanding that is causing those who don’t know the true purpose of #GamerGate debate to be lead astray in finding a proper solution. Yiannopulo’s strawman argument has absolutely nothing to do with the ethics gaming journalism, but instead creates the illusion that feminists are trying to censor and control the gaming industry through bullying tactics. The fear that he describes in this situation is a fear that females face every day of their lives and though there has been progress, there is still much to be done to stop it. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, in hopes to sweep the blame onto the opposing party, what is needed is collaboration in order to correct such wrong doings within the gaming community.
Despite this, the gaming community has gradually grown stronger and even more diverse in many ways. As of August 2014, the Entertainment Software Association reported that 48 percent of gamers were reported to be women, while the average age of a game player was 31 years old. “I think it’s great that more females are getting into gaming, the more the merrier,” says gamer Michaela Courson. “I rarely come across other female gamers while playing. Either way it’s just surprising that while there are a good amount who’ll admit to playing videogames.”
Female gamers, contrary to popular belief, have always been around. The amount of women playing video games hasn’t been reported on, although the amount of female gamers has been at a stable rate since the 80’s. One of the reasons behind this is that could be that the women who plays these games aren’t identifying their gender.
With the harassments that most women endure, it’s understandable why these women would hide behind their avatars and gamer tags. The women who are in this community are still going to be seen as natural targets to the men because of the fear of wanting to protect their masculinity.
Since #GamerGate is just another mark in our history, many wonder where we go from here. It is evident that there are those who have taken what was originally a debate and transformed it into an anti-female developer and anti-female gamer movement. It may take a while but there are several directions to take in order to make the gaming industry a safer and more accommodating place for females.
So where do we start? Something must be done about these threats that are made against these women and any other persons that were targeted. These allegations need to be looked into and the ones responsible should not only be banned from any websites debating #GamerGate, but should also be dealt with through the legality of threatening women online. If #GamerGate is supposed to be an issue in order to bring awareness about the faults in gaming journalism, then why not restrict the rules for those who openly threaten women?
If we are to truly get back to debating this matter, the fighting of antifeminist versus feminist, male versus female, has to stop. Your gender shouldn’t make any difference to what you play or what you say about the industry. Instead of seeing the things that divide us, we should focus on the creativity that embraces the gaming industry.