It is a common assertion that people are afraid of change. Why try something new and potentially uncomfortable, when you can stick with what you know? Unfortunately, this type of mindset impedes progress. Without change or new points of view, our perspectives stagnate, and culture suffers because of it. The video game industry is currently undergoing a similar type of change, albeit in a controversial way. This change is the GamerGate movement.
What is GamerGate?
GamerGate is a movement made to combat unethical video game journalism. The supporters believe that the journalistic side of the game industry is corrupt, relying on inter-personal relationships for praiseworthy reviews. However, an overwhelming majority of detractors state that the movement is built on foundations of misogyny, fighting against a diverse gaming community.
The movement was given its name by actor Adam Baldwin, who, on August 27, created the hashtag #GamerGate when posting links to videos by Internet Aristrocrat.
(Note: After recent attacks on his character and channel, Internet Aristocrat has removed his YouTube channel)
In the early years of gaming, the community was comprised primarily of men, and thus the industry catered to its largest audience: young males. As time went on, however, video games became more accessible and the community became more diverse. The introduction of casual games, like Bejeweled, created a clear dichotomy between “casual gamers” and “hardcore gamers”. The community now consists of gamers of all types, all genders, all peoples, united by a love of interactive entertainment. Nonetheless, the hardcore community began to feel as though their area of interest was being taken over by undeserving people. A superiority complex of sorts began to enter the minds of some of these more extreme gamers, even further creating a separation between themselves and the ever-diversifying community.
Anita Sarkeesian and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games
On May 17, 2012, Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian announced a Kickstarter for Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, a YouTube series which would examine gender tropes in gaming. Asking for $6000 to produce five videos, the project quickly began to accommodate stretch goals as the base-amount needed for the project was funded within 24 hours. As well as praise from the gaming community for exploring an oft-discussed issue, Sarkeesian also received hate mail, death threats, and disparaging comments.
The first video in her series, “Damsel in Distress: Part 1” (shown above), was released on March 7, 2013, after nine months of development. Up until the release of the video, critics were wondering how Sarkeesian was utilizing the money from the campaign, going so far as to say that the entire crowdfund was a hoax in order to receive “free” money. After the videos began to come out, however, the harassment shifted to attempting to remove her videos from YouTube and giving the videos overwhelmingly negative ratings and comments. Sarkeesian was so affected by some of these comments and threats, she disclosed on Twitter:
So far, six videos have been released in the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, the most recent one being released on August 25, 2014.
Critics and supporters of the GamerGate say that the movement essentially starts and ends with one woman: Zoe Quinn. Quinn is an independent video game developer and the creator of Depression Quest, an interactive fiction game. Shortly after Depression Quest was released to primarily positive reviews, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, created the blog The Zoe Post. Gjoni revealed information about his and Quinn’s relationship, including how she had been involved in an affair with a Kotaku journalist and others.
What some got out of The Zoe Post was that Quinn had been trading sexual favors in order to receive positive reviews under-the-table for her game. This belief made people furious, for the corruption inherent in so many other forms of media had, in their minds, come to light in their own industry.Quinn became the target of harassment, including the hacking of her Tumblr page, the posting of personal information online, and numerous death and rape threats.
Controversy around Quinn grew even larger after a game jam developed by The Fine Young Capitalists, a feminist group created to help establish initiatives for under-represented members of the video game industry, was attacked by Quinn on social media. TFYC stated that the jam would consist of pitches submitted only by women, five of which would be voted on and nominated for crowd-funding, and the game with the most money would be developed by a team of professional developers, with a portion going to the woman who pitched the project, a portion to TFYC for funding other projects, and the rest to charity. Quinn, using Twitter as her primary shouting-point, called the jam exploitative and transphobic. TFYC lost much of their support, until an unexpected intervention from 4chan. Members of 4chan helped to produce videos with TFYC about major female figures in the game industry, as well as donating over $5000 to the group’s Indiegogo campaign. As a reward for their donation, 4chan was allowed to create a character to appear in the winning game and, after much discussion, Vivian James, an ordinary female gamer, was created.
Vivian James, an average female gamer, conceptualized by 4chan.
What Each Side is Fighting For
Supporters of GamerGate believe that video game journalism is corrupt and needs to be reformed. Concerns of journalistic integrity became significantly more apparent after it was discovered that several game journalists were contributing to Zoe Quinn’s Patreon page, as well as Quinn receiving an award for an indie video game competition, judged by someone with whom she was having an affair. The movement’s supporters want fair representation in gaming media, for both men and women. Ultimately, it’s not even about gender or gaming to them; GamerGate is, in supporter’s minds, about how we define a shared culture identity.
Critics of GamerGate claim that the movement is motivated by misogyny and creating a clear divide between male and female gamers. The targets of harassment in the movement have received exceptionally violent messages, to the point where women like Sarkeesian and Quinn do not feel safe in their own homes. Many people, including game developer Phil Fish, who supported Quinn were also the subject of harassment, hacking, and threats. They feel as though many of the claims against Quinn were made falsely and that the supporters have not identified any major ethical issues in gaming media. To them, GamerGate is a new, violent, widespread way of displaying misogyny within the video game industry in a much more broad way.
#GameOverGate and 4chan Censoring
In early September, Quinn had found an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) which, according to her, was evidence that the GamerGate movement was created by 4chan in order to become a new platform for harassing women. She soon created the hashtag #GameOverGate, as a mocking way of saying that the movement was now proven to be false. In response, Alexander Macris, co-founder of gaming website The Escapist, visited the same IRC and, in an article posted on the website, demonstrated how Quinn had taken many images out of context, with many of the comments written by trolls who were shortly thereafter banned.
Not long after the IRC incident, 4chan, a bastion of free-speech on the internet, became a new target of censorship. Posts discussing GamerGate, on any of the forum’s different boards, were removed and their posters’ banned. Website creator Christopher “moot” Poole made a post explaining how posting personal information had been banned on the website since its creation. Members of 4chan were unhappy with Poole, claiming that he never had issues with people’s personal information being posted before and that the reason there was controversy now was due to him becoming friendlier with people like Quinn, allowing Tumblr moderators to become new moderators for 4chan.
In mid-October, Sarkeesian was to give a lecture at Utah State University. Having received a death threat, which claimed that the most violent school shooting in history would occur if she spoke, Sarkeesian discovered that USU was legally not allowed to forbid concealed firearms in the lecture hall. Despite requesting searches or metal detectors, the USU administration stated that in accordance with the law, they could not restrict entrance to someone who was carrying a concealed weapon, as long as the person has a valid permit. Fearing for her life, Sarkeesian cancelled the lecture. Some GamerGate supporters have claimed that Sarkeesian made-up the threat as a false-flag.
Later that month, actress and gamer Felicia Day made a post on her website discussing the GamerGate movement and explaining that due to fear of being lashed out at, has refrained from talking about her concerns for so long. One of the first comments to her post was Day’s home address and other personal information. Actor Wil Wheaton and former NFL player Chris Kluwe, both male gamers, also posted major criticisms against GamerGate, but neither Wheaton nor Kluwe were the subject of any form of harassment, leading many to believe the misogynistic intent behind the movement.
Supporters, on the other hand, have also received harassing emails and threats. Journalist Milo Yiannopoulos received a syringe in the mail, while YouTube personality Steven “boogie2988” Williams found comments on his videos with his home address, as well as threats towards his wife’s life.
On November 21, the Independent Game Developers Association (IGDA) created a Twitter bot which would automatically block anyone who followed specific Twitter accounts related to GamerGate leaders.
Where Does This Leave Us?
GamerGate is, for obvious reasons, a highly controversial subject. Members of each side of the issue have legitimate claims; supporters want fair representation in gaming media, and detractors want an end to harassment and misogyny in the game industry. However, extremists on both sides have led to an explosion of vitriolic hate from both parties. Harassment has been thrown around on both sides, with supporters being called “sexist and discriminatory basement dwellers” and detractors being called “overly-sensitive and fueling false social justice”. The divisions between the two sides are ultimately continuing to fuel the conflict. The core message of the movement is being lost in a gender argument. Until there can be reconciliation, the gap between the groups will only continue to grow. Actor Richard Sommer was quoted saying:
Gaming has been a great way to get to know people. That’s part of what I love about games, that they are social.
The video game industry was founded on the notion of a tight-knit community of impassioned people. Once the community can fully and fairly accept its brethren and sistren, can this community flourish into a shining example of equality and acceptance.