There’s been a lot of talk about the Gamergate scandal lately but the speed at which the controversy has exploded is overwhelming and amidst all the internet chaos it can be difficult to pinpoint the key issues at hand. What exactly is Gamergate and what should we as an online community be doing about it?
The term Gamergate refers primarily to the harassment of women in the gaming community who have spoken out against video game management. The topic is discussed with the hashtag #Gamergate on social media sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, 4chan, and Reddit. Having started in mid-august as a debate on game identity and the ethics of gaming journalism, Gamergate has since then exploded into an online storm that many are calling a “culture war against women.”
The Gamergate scandal first began with indie-game developer Zoe Quinn and her online interactive fiction game Depression Quest which, despite receiving positive feedback from professional critics, many gamers criticized for its text-based format and limited gameplay. Among other complaints, many felt that Depression Quest did not belong in the gaming category because it covered too dark a topic and failed to entertain. Unlike the active gameplay and player control of traditional games, players of Depression Quest choose from a number of text options for the protagonist to complete, such as the choice between attending a party despite his discomfort for crowds and staying home at the risk of disappointing his girlfriend, all the while exploring the psyche of a person who is clinically depressed. Due to its inability to fit in the mold of traditional games, Depression Quest was heavily attacked for its lack of engagement and considered not a real game. Quinn herself received staggering numbers of personal attacks, included but not limited to comments that “women did not understand depression” and “had no right to be depressed.”
The criticism continued to escalate when Eron Gjoni, one of Quinn’s former boyfriends, posted in a series of lengthy blog posts accusing Quinn of having cheated on him with several men in the gaming industry, including Nathan Grayson, a writer for the gaming site Kotaku. Although both Quinn and the men accused have denied the accusations and the allegations proved to have been false, many online took this as a sign that Quinn had garnered positive feedback for Depression Quest and moved her career forward through unethical means. The response from online communities, notably 4chan and Reddit, was brutal. Quinn was “doxxed,” meaning her personal information (nude images, address, phone numbers, online accounts, credit cards, etc.) was hacked and then posted without her consent. Using this information, online users sent Quinn rape and death threats so specific and graphic that Quinn was forced to flee her home for fear of her safety.
Shortly after the doxxing Quinn was another vicious online attack, this time against popular feminist Youtube star Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian posted an episode of her online series Feminist Frequency while the Quinn controversy had not yet cooled down and consequently faced an onslaught of degrading and threatening comments on her video “Women as Background Decoration. [in video games]” As with Quinn, the threats became so detailed Sarkeesian felt threatened enough to leave her home, although she later stated online that she refused to be intimidated and would not stop fighting against harassment of women in video game culture. Gamergate responded with violence.
In October, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel her talk at the University of Utah due to terrorist emails that associated themselves with Gamergate and threatened to murder herself and her audience should she appear for the lecture, citing the Ecole Polytechnique massacre as reference. University police did not think much of this threat as it had been consistent with others she had been receiving, but offered to increase security. Despite this, Sarkeesian chose to cancel the talk because she did not feel she had adequate protection due to Utah’s state law which did not allow universities to prohibit handguns.
What followed in the next month was the systematic shaming and silencing of several notable female figures in the gaming/nerd culture community who chose to openly criticize Gamergate/gaming culture or defend victims such as Quinn or Sarkeesian. Indie game developer Brianna Wu condemned Gamergate on Twitter and soon after her personal details were posted on 8chan, the chat forum made for Gamergate supporters. Freelance game journalist Jenn Frank wrote an article titled “How to attack a woman who works in video gaming” and in turn received so many death, rape, and doxxing threats that she was forced to quit. Freelance writer Leigh Alexander wrote a piece on game site Gamasutra criticizing gaming culture and as a result Intel pulled out of Gamasutra due to the overwhelming backlash from Gamergate. Game designer Mattie Brice tweeted a joke about the abuse of power and was flooded with threats until she quit. Any woman who dared to comment on the horrific attitude of the gaming community was dubbed a “SJW” or “social justice warrior” and threatened with such violence and to such a degree that most if not all feared for their lives.
What really drives home the point that Gamergate is about misogyny, however, is the double standard given to critics of Gamergate. In October, actress and fan-declared “geek queen” Felicia Day, former NFL player Chris Kluwe, and Star Trek actor/online icon Wil Wheaton all made posts in which they spoke out against Gamergate. Despite having written the aggressive of the three criticisms, Felicia Day was the only one of the three who received harassment. Having waited to speak against Gamergate due to the potential backlash, Day’s fears were confirmed as she alone had her personal information posted to the internet in response to her blog post. Kluwe himself even called out the Gamergate supporters multiple times on Twitter for only going after Day. Despite opening challenging Gamergate, Kluwe still managed to escape harassment, confirming Day had been targeted solely because of her gender.
While many would like to claim that Gamergate is really about a breach in gaming journalism ethics and game identity, the reason people are still talking about it months later is the staggering backlash against female critics and the degree of harassment women have received for attempting to speak out. The degree of violence and the invasion of privacy outweigh any arguments people might want to have about video games and shows just much the gaming community hates women. Regardless of what Gamergate might have started off as or what people would like it to be, it has now transformed into a discovery of just how the gaming community considers its own members. As a member of the gaming community myself, I am disgusted to be part of a community with so little regard for women ingrained into its culture. For those not involved in gaming and are wondering why they should care; Gamergate is no longer about games. The snowballing of events since Depression Quest has revealed just how toxic the gaming culture is for women- to the point that even those not in the gaming community should be able to see the treatment of those within it. The gaming community has long had roots of misogyny; Gamergate is just another opportunity to reaffirm what we already know.