GamerGate: No, It Isn’t About Ethics in Gaming Journalism

If you’ve taken a visit to the internet lately, a term you’ve likely heard is GamerGate. For those of you who haven’t heard of this movement before, it is essentially a group of misogynists using the framework of fighting for “ethics in gaming journalism” to harass female game developers, reviewers, and pretty much the whole idea that anyone who isn’t a white male should partake in any aspect of the gaming community. Many ‘casual’ GamerGate supporters might contest this, and claim that this harassment is only being perpetuated by a minority.

The movement began with the accusation that a female game developer named Zoe Quinn had been having sex with reviewers for the purposes of getting positive publicity, supported by a lengthy and angst-filled blog post by her ex-boyfriend. This sparked a movement that claimed the integrity of video game journalism was in peril. The hashtag first came into being when Firefly actor Adam Baldwin used it on Twitter. But who exactly is threatening the integrity of gaming journalism? By large corporations, one might ask? No, it seems that most members of GamerGate aren’t too concerned with such lack of integrity when it comes to companies demanding positive reviews, such as was the case with YouTube reviews of the new game Shadow of Mordor, but far more concerned when women cheat on their boyfriends with gaming journalists! Except… not the journalists who reviewed her game. But it’s still unethical! As a fantastic segment in the Colbert Report shows quite clearly, the whole “it’s about ethics in gaming journalism!” argument is pretty much bullshit.

What comes after the conception of the movement is truly horrifying. Quinn received rape and death threats, and was forced to move out of her home since her address was made public. Many other prominent female developers and journalists have been targeted, including Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the YouTube channel Feminist Frequency. She was scheduled to speak at Utah State University, but decided not to attend after an email threat claiming that if she did, “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it.” The school also would have been forced by state law to allow guns to be brought to the event. Sarkeesian has been subject to death and rape threats continuously because of her videos discussing gender issues in video games, but this was the first time she declined from attending an event because of it. So, what we’re looking at is a movement that claims it is fighting for journalistic ethics, but was born out of an accusatory blog post by an ex-boyfriend, leading to a series of threats to rape and murder women and commit a school shooting. Which, because of our lovely second amendment, the campus police could have done nothing to stop. These are very real and serious threats of violence, which cannot be treated lightly.

One would think that this would be a movement universally condemned, but those that speak out against the movement receive backlash of their own. Jenn Frank, a female game developer, published an article in The Guardian about this harassment and soon became victim to it herself, leaving her to decide to leave the game development industry. Felicia Day wrote a blog post about her fear of speaking out about GamerGate, and her refusal to remain silence. Her home address was almost immediately posted online. Some males have spoken out about the issue as well, such as NFL player Chris Kluwe, who even went as far to say to GamerGater’s that he wants “to pick you all up collectively and shake you until your rectum leaks out what little brains you possess because YOU’RE SO FUCKING DUMB.” Despite his zealous and creative word choices, he has not received violent death or rape threats. Because he has a penis. Once again, GamerGate proves that it specifically targets women, flocking down like vultures when any female speaks out against the movement, but remaining passive when such criticism comes from men.

Despite all this violence, GamerGate still has followers. There are people who claim that all GamerGate really wants is ethical journalism in gaming. This is not up for debate. GamerGate is ugly. It is misogynistic. It has absolutely nothing to do with ethical journalism. And if it did, I would hope that the lives of woman and their families would be of more importance than the trustworthiness of our video game reviews. As video games and nerd culture continues to enter the mainstream, we cannot let the demographic from which those cultures were born keep it trapped as it begins to diversify more than ever before. The identity of the stereotypical “gamer” is dying. Women are a huge player base now, and growing as a part of the community of game creators. Attacks like those in GamerGate must end if that growth is to continue.

But these sentiments aren’t only prevalent in the gaming community. Most aspects of nerd culture and, by extension, much of the internet, is dismissive of women and the struggles they face. The toxic environments created online creep into the offline world, too. Feminism is arguably a more taboo word now than it has been for a long time. GamerGate and the harassment it perpetuates is a symptom of the internet culture, and by extension, aspects of the mainstream culture, we have created. It stems from a culture where “Tumblr feminists” and “social justice warriors” are crazy, psychotic women terrorizing and infringing upon the rights of the white males of Reddit and 4chan. It stems from a culture where feminism is a joke, and any attempt to recognize the struggles that women face in our modern world is somehow considered an attack on men. This isn’t anything new. Females in nerd culture, and in particular gaming, have faced harassment time and time again. GamerGate must be condemned, but we must go further than that. We must stop alienating and discrediting those that are trying to push for equality. We must stop complaining about the “social justice warriors” that are supposedly taking over the internet and not use feminism as if it is some dirty word, both online and offline. These narratives, created in Reddit posts and off-hand comments to friends alike, are what allow and justify the harassment perpetuated by GamerGate.

The internet is a community without rules. Of course, the various forces that control our larger societies have great impact on the internet, but perhaps more than any other space, the culture of the internet is determined by its user base. When something like GamerGate occurs, it is up to us, users of the internet, to decide whether we deem it acceptable or not. There are many terrible people on the internet who do a very good job of trying to ensure their voices are heard. They use this online freedom as a platform from which they can be heard, as they likely will not be listened to elsewhere. But that same freedom allows for us to directly affect our online culture. All it takes is enough people to care and communicate that video games and the internet at large are no longer communities and spaces that are only safe for men, but for people of all genders, sexualities, and races. And if enough people actively support those beliefs, enough to overpower the voices of those who do not, then perhaps one day we will never see the likes of GamerGate again.

(Photo is courtesy of Vice Media. The design was created by Elizabeth Simins for a t-shirt, which can be purchased here)