I’ve never been one for video games, as I’ve never been anything better than mediocre at playing them. There was, I will admit, a period of roughly eighteen months in high school when I could have been described as a World of Warcraft junkie (that was both embarrassing and relieving to admit). Nevertheless, apart from the occasional social benefits of playing certain games in certain circles, none of the appeal really caught my fancy.
This is not so for a huge percentage of the population, who find gaming and the culture surrounding it to be both exhilarating and comforting. I have maintained a number of close friends who tell me that playing video games affords just the right amount of stimulation and distraction to help them through difficult times; and that the sense of community developed amongst gamers helps them to feel safe, accepted, and a part of something special.
Which is great, until that sense of community becomes marginalizing and spiteful, not entirely unlike the Westboro Baptist Church (a horridly ignorant and bigoted organization which I just discovered has a woeful rating of 1.4 stars on Google). The Aryan Brotherhood, too, incorporates qualities of camaraderie and banding together, only the strength of that bond is made resolute by a loathing for anyone who isn’t white — it turns out fear and prejudice can be very effective social tools. For the record, I’m not directly correlating gamers to homophobes or neo-Nazis, but rather pointing out that sometimes the insulation and homogeny of certain groups can breed dangerous intolerance in the pursuit of exclusivity.
Bringing me to GamerGate, a subject done to death over the course of the last year, but which has again ramped up in online presence with the return of South by Southwest to Austin. The conference itself is not responsible for this “movement” — I will only refer to it as that once, because the self-assigned title is neither accurate nor appropriate — but it did have the effect of validating the hatred promulgated by the aggressors in question after canceling panels last year confronting GamerGate owing to violent threats made in protest of said.
It all started in 2013, when an independent game developer named Zoe Quinn was essentially put on internet trial by an ex-boyfriend who publicly accused her of cheating on him with a number of prominent members in the gaming industry to further her career. These allegations were never confirmed by reliable sources, and also vehemently denied by all parties aforementioned. Either way, a seemingly meaningless lovers’ spat quickly exploded into online outrage — as is the status quo in this, our internet age of immediacy — sparking heated conversation about women in gaming culture, journalism, and industry.
To put it succinctly, things got ugly. Quinn and the bloggers or journalists who came to her defense were effectively crucified by gamers the world over; they received death and rape threats which are too graphic and horrifying for me to quote even partially herein. Websites were created for anonymous GamerGate members to post comments about how women do not belong in the gaming culture or industry, how the journalists do not deserve to write about a world they don’t have any place claiming knowledge for, and so depressingly on.
You do not have to be a gamer, woman or feminist to acknowledge that this kind of behavior is not only wrong but inexcusable; and yet there are an alarming number of people who support the victimizing of these and other women for transgressions of involvement and — I can scarcely believe I’m saying this — existence. It shouldn’t be necessary to establish that threatening to rape or kill someone’s children is not even close to being acceptable via any medium of communication, but evidently there are men who sincerely believe that internet anonymity grants them the right to speak and act with impunity, even when such speech and action would be actionable for litigation in the real world.
Anyone who objects to the injustices of GamerGate is by default labeled a “Social Justice Warrior” (an epithet I wouldn’t personally take offense to), which really just amounts to someone denounced for speech policing and breeching of First Amendment Rights for attempting to point out the glaring immorality in verbal harassment and virtual assault. The really disturbing part is how many female gamers are trying to justify these cyber crimes in an effort to protect the community seeking to ostracize them. Chloe Price, a video game animator, posted last year on Breitbart.com (a conservative opinion website) the following indictment of SJWs and defense of GamerGate members:
“Women are not oppressed in gaming. We don’t need people demanding special treatment for us because of our genitals. We don’t need safe spaces. We don’t need hiring quotas, and those who do simply aren’t talented enough to make it off their own backs. Thank god for GamerGate, because it was honestly sorely needed.”
And that’s pretty fucked up. Not because it’s a conflicting opinion, anyone is welcome to those. But when your willfully ignorant statements condemn not only yourself but your gender to a fate of marginalization and discrimination merely for a desire to participate, it ceases to be productive free speech and starts to become toxic subservience to patriarchal social norms. It’s all well and good wanting to belong in your community while preserving an image of autonomy, but don’t relegate others to a life of oppression just because you don’t want to feel excluded.
There are, of course, innumerable male gamers who believe that not only is there nothing wrong with GamerGate, but that it is a noble and necessary cause that should be internationally furthered and endorsed — which is equally fucked up. The gaming world faces a lot of judgment and derision from those who aren’t traditional members of it (let’s be honest, white males), and obviously that’s going to make for a degree of defensiveness and intolerance with regard to outsiders who dare to comment on it. Nonetheless, quotes like the following from gamer/actor Adam Baldwin come across less as bold and more just scary:
“Despite the atrocious things said about them in the mainstream media, gamers have survived, thrived, and conquered. They detest censorship, language-policing, and the prioritization of politics over good storytelling. Everyone who believes in creative freedom should support them.”
Setting aside the obvious fallacy in portraying gamers as the victims in this ordeal, the fact that he has the audacity to try and pass off threats of violence as “creative freedom” or “good storytelling” is a testament to just how fucking delusional the members of this hate group are. Think of it this way: you can enjoy playing sports without forcing women not to, and especially without threatening to rape or kill them and their families just for writing about commonly shared interests.
Meanwhile, SXSW’s decision to cancel the 2015 panels addressing GamerGate on account of safety — they had no problem providing sufficient security for a keynote speech by the President of the United States this year, by the way — really just indicates weakness and shameless pandering to the gaming community as an effort to bring in numbers for the festival. Suffice it to say that an organization as lucrative and influential as theirs should know better than to cater to terrorizing fear mongers, and moreover, should do far better to make them irrelevant.
Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post writes, “The exchanges paint a picture of incompetence, or at least confusion, at one of America’s largest technology conferences — a conference that has increasingly promised to welcome the voices of women and minorities.” And she couldn’t be more right. Even though the panels were only meant to be discussions on how to foster acceptance and progressive thinking in the world of gaming — which hardly seems sinister, to my mind — the GamerGate zealots managed to exert their anonymous brand of vitriol such that no form of discussion could even begin; and SXSW rewarded them for it.
As I have repeatedly contended in the past, open dialogue regarding these issues is the only way our society is going to make any progress in reconciling them. The longer people feel it’s okay to hide behind the internet for purposes of harassment and hate, the more toxic an environment it will degenerate into — and it’s already pretty ugly, to say the least. Nothing will stop people from wanting to troll, but it behooves anyone truly in support of equal rights for women to stop them from doing so. Free Speech is for making the world a better, safer place, not one in which we must live at the behest of those who are prohibitively discriminatory.
If you’d like to learn more about the GamerGate conflict, here are some links I found informative: