Like most great tragedies of the internet age, it all started with the abuse of technology, mob mentality and a broken heart.
Zoe Quinn, an indie game developer, became the target of internet death threats after an ex-boyfriend revealed numerous allegations of infidelity on his blog. These allegations sparked concerns when one of the named romantic interests turned out to work for Kotaku, a large video game blogging site. Some suspected that the female developer used her relationship to obtain better coverage for her game, but it was later revealed that the writer had nothing to do with the review or subsequent coverage of the game.
But by then, the damage had already started. Good people were driven out of the industry under personal threats and the term “doxing” – the act of exposing personal data – would be forever emblazoned into our personal lexicon.
The face of the gamer has almost always been white, young, and male. Marketing dollars poured into that idea of the gaming nerd overcoming all obstacles to play the game he loves. Throw the princess in a tower. Put the booth babes on the floor. And for anyone outside that little box, like women, male gamers saw them more as a novelty than an audience or an equal. They were given names like “unicorn” or simply dismissed as being “fake.” Could you image a fake movie girl? It’s odd now to think about the idea we once celebrated also hurt people, dismissed them from their own passions, and turned a culture into the bullies they reviled.
Journalists fired back at the crowd by attacking the idea that there’s a single definition of what makes a gamer. The idea of the white young male player being at the center of the gaming world was over and women, who now made up more than half the audience, deserve a place in the culture and should be respected for it. Instead of cutting to the heart of the problem, the articles only seemed to give the crowd a rallying cry – gamer.
GamerGate didn’t start because someone had one bad relationship. Last year, before Zoe Quinn could even get “Depression Quest” on Steam — an online platform where people can download games — harassers targeted the developer for trying to put up a free game on the server. Before that, Anita Sarkeesian faced harassment and death threats before putting out her first video for “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games.” The tragedy of all this is that even this kind of abuse isn’t new for women working in the industry or even being a part of the audience. We quickly forget the kind of harassment women go through on a daily basis when it’s not on the front page of our favorite blog. It’s a shame that it took something this extreme to make us remember.
Two months later, it continues. Game developer Brianna Wu fled her house after getting doxed and threatened by GamerGate. Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her talk at Utah State because of the threat of a mass shooting. Some distanced themselves from the attack while others revealed in the publicity and fear it brought to those outside the group. Intel Corporation along with other corporations pulled their sponsorship from certain video game blog under duress from the GamerGate community.
One of the stranger aspects of all the events may be how we talk about GamerGate. While popular gaming sites like GiantBomb and Polygon have remained mostly neutral until recent events, it’s been the press outside that has dove into the topic at hand. The threats against Anita Sarkeesian hit the front page of the New York Times. Other publications such as Vice and Forbes dove into the topics and have both come out confused about what exactly should be done to stop this from continue to happen.
I should tell you that I’m very biased about the situation. In any scenario where people are driving out of their homes and harassed, there is only one side to be on. I also have a person stake in the matter. These are my friends, my family, and those I look up to as someone who works in the industry. And when a female developer asks me what they should do, I hesitate now. I want to tell them to “run away,” but I know in truth that’s the wrong answer. I tell them what I tell everyone. I tell them the only thing that I know that’s true in all this madness – “I will support you.”
The industry has turned a corner with GamerGate, and there’s no going back to where we started. If anything, this has shown us the destructive power of social media and how it could work in other fields. Movies, TV, comics; anywhere a status quo is starting to change and reach out to a larger audience, there will be those who look to keep it in check. We’ve seen how easy it is to abuse, threaten, and hurt others online. This needs to stop. Period. For those in the movement looking for change, they will not find in a party that only strengthens the longer it continues to hurt others.
Already, I’ve seen the movement start to reach out to other mediums to keep progressive politics and the corrupting press away with hashtags like #TableTopGate and #ComicGate. To be fair, I don’t see this kind of assault causing any more than a chuckle or raised eyebrow. The people behind GamerGate, however, know how to social media to their advantage, create a narrative, and drive people through that story. For some of them, this is just another game where clicks and likes are points to be gathered and where a solution means an end to the game. It’s a scary idea to think that the harassment, the death threats, or people using fear for more views may never go away.
Felicia Day, actress, producer and advocate for all things nerd in the modern culture, wrote a heart-wrenching piece about her own fears over GamerGate and why she hadn’t come out before to talk about it. Even in her impassioned plea of understanding, her worst fears were realized as her personal addresses and phone numbers appeared in her own comment section, 50 minutes after posting. Some in the GamerGate community condemned the attack. Others in the community only continued. How do you expect to reason with any group when there’s no clear rational other than to spread fear within the gaming community?
There is a way that anyone can make this better – support the people who need your help. We don’t need a hashtag to know that there of those in every industry who are harassed for who they are only a daily basis. I’m talking about those who don’t fit into our definitions of artist, gender, or those who still struggle to find their unique voice among the maelstrom of the status quo.
Sometime this week, learn about who is making the movies you watch, the comics you read, or writing the TV shows you devour all at once. Go out and try to find a voice still looking for an audience. Embrace those who need help and need the confidence to move on. For all the women I know in the video game industry, it will be a dark day if we lose even one of their voices.
The only way you can fight this movement is with hope. To yell in the storm will do nothing, but to lift up one new voice may make all the difference in the world.
Rob Manuel has spent the last decade covering games for G4, Gametrailers, and various other publications. He continues to write about games while helping students find their own place in the industry at the University of Southern California Interactive Media and Games Division.