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Gamergate—and What It Says About Misogyny in This Society

November 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Austin, Texas annually hosts a major film festival known as South-by-Southwest (SXSW). Besides being a film festival, it is also a forum for numerous panels and discussions regarding media-related issues. The festival organizers recently announced a pair of panels on either side of the Gamergate controversy. One panel featured three women who had been the subject of online harassment from Gamergate, and the other featured a group known as “The Open Gaming Society” to promote a pro-Gamergate viewpoint. Within a week of the announcement, they cancelled both panels due to “numerous threats.” In order to understand the context of these cancellations an examination needs to be made of the history of Gamergate and the role of patriarchal societal structures on video gaming culture.

In 2013 Anita Sarkeesian released the first installment of a three-part video analysis of the "Damsel in Distress" trope in video games. Her coherent and thought-provoking discussion of how this trope represents a patriarchal view toward female characters as objects lacking agency who exist only to further the character and plot development of the male protagonist, a view which reflects those of society as a whole in which women exist to serve the whims of men and any display of prowess or capability is either dismissed or, as in the case of Sarkeesian, attacked. In response to Sarkeesian’s critique of sexism in video games, male gamers responded with rape threats and death threats to the point where she felt compelled to disable commenting on her videos.

Also in 2013 a female video game developer named Zoë Quinn released a video game known as Depression Quest. The video game was initially met with positive reviews, but received backlash from people who felt that the game didn’t live up to the hype. Quinn soon began receiving hate mail of a similar tone to that received by Sarkeesian. When, in August 2014, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend published private conversations he had with her, intended to humiliate and degrade her as a person, many male gamers responded harshly, not toward the violation of her privacy, but rather toward Quinn herself. The harassment against her intensified and the hashtag “quinnspiracy” was initially coined, but was quickly replaced by the hashtag “gamergate”.

The misogynists used the gamergate hashtag as a medium to bring an unprecedented level of persecution toward Quinn and Sarkeesian. Accounts were hacked and personal information released forcing Quinn to change her phone number. Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University under threat of a mass shooting. When people began to speak out against Gamergate they suffered similar harassment. Brianna Wu, another female video game developer, was forced to move out of her home due to the harassment and threats she received after mocking Gamergate supporters. The process of “swatting,” or sending SWAT teams to someone’s house under false pretenses of hostage or terrorist threats, began to be employed by the Gamergaters against not only the women who spoke out against them, but against their families as well.

The fact that this process was occurring at the same time as the stories of police murder victims like Mike Brown and Eric Garner were coming to national attention is unlikely to be a coincidence. The police had become a weapon to be used to instill terror in those who dare speak out against patriarchy. The FBI opened a file purportedly to “investigate” Gamergate, but make no mistake, the system has no interest in quelling terror against women. The FBI has not made any arrests in connection to Gamergate, and this summer the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that online harassment should not be considered true threats and are not subject to prosecution.

Prior to the announcement of the two Gamergate panels at SXSW, numerous female presenters had raised concerns about harassment and requested security measures be put in place at the festival. These concerns went largely unheeded until SXSW received similar threats toward the pro-Gamergate session. Instead of offering the requested security measures, they cancelled both sessions without even consulting the presenters.

Supporters of Gamergate have argued that it is really about ethics in gaming journalism and not allowing political agendas to influence game reviews and gaming culture. The “Open Gaming Society,” the group that was to present the cancelled pro-Gamergate panel at SXSW, indicates in their manifesto, “We look forward and see a future that is being shaped by hands other than our own and express our unease to the powers that be, but to no avail. We’ve been painted as the great evil of our time; given names like misogynist, scum, patriarchs, rapist, and the list goes on. We’ve seen our hobby invaded by those who seek only to destroy it and to dismantle our culture.”

The truth is that this is a matter of ethics in gaming journalism, but not in the way that the Gamergaters would suggest. Gaming culture needs to be dismantled and women placed on an equal footing. Women have become much more prominent in gaming in recent years, but as the Gamergate controversy reveals, increasing involvement is not enough. And it will never be enough as long as we continue to live in a society that allows misogynists to have a platform to terrorize women.



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