The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Gamergate: Is this Bull$#*! still a thing?

Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor

The Internet is a miracle, and our society has turned it into a cesspool.

If you’re having a good day and want to flip that right on over, stroll down to your local YouTube comment section and read a few dozen entries. What video, you ask innocently? It doesn’t matter. You could check out the latest PSY romp, peruse a few cat videos, or even watch a once Internet-famous movie reviewer break character and perform some off-the-cuff video game humor webisodes. In every case, by the tenth or so comment, you’re knee-deep in vitriol and rhetoric that wouldn’t be out of place on a white supremacy website (Hitler is mentioned just about as often).

Some of you may be too young to remember, but there was a time before the internet where you couldn’t anonymously trash someone’s dreams. If you wanted to crush the spirit of an aspiring actor or writer, you had to take out an ad in a local paper, or get a job as a critic, just so you could take a steaming dump all over their future. Nowadays, it takes an email address and a “clever” sexually-themed user name to become a connoisseur of fine internet videos. 

Worse than just becoming critics, some internutters out there are turning into crusaders of intolerance, fighting against phantom “social justice warriors” who would dare to impress new values. What values are those, you wonder? That women should be more than objects in modern storytelling. That–God forbid–a woman could be a leading lady in an action film (or perhaps take over an iconic COMPLETELY FICTIONAL character). These fearless soldiers of a pointless battle march with the likes of Mens’ Rights Activists, who mistakenly see the rise of women in our society as an affront to 10,000 years of male-led civilization. They shout down the voices of elected female leaders (or are running for elected office while tweeting hate speech at respected reporters) and threaten anyone who disagrees with them. To sum it up, they are ruining our society and making every case for a world-ending plague.

I should, at this moment, clarify one thing about this article. I am focusing on the American situation with regard to this change in society. Not to say that other parts of the world haven’t felt similar pains, but my experience (and therefore my knowledge) is based in this particular nation. 

What spawned this article, you ponder? We are approaching the two-year anniversary for one of the industry’s most shameful hours, and I was compelled to revisit it with new eyes. I am, of course, referring to Gamergate.

A recent Forbes article looked at a widely panned film, Sucker Punch, with the hindsight of one who has lived through the garbage fire that was Gamergate. I won’t rehash the well-researched piece, nor bore you with my interpretation of the movie. Instead, I want to focus on the bigger issue: That of misogyny in the gaming industry. I’m not just talking about the hateful rhetoric spewed toward female journalists or developers. I’m talking about the entire gamut of poor behavior that seems endemic to our society as gamers. This is a problem on many levels, from the portrayal of women in popular games to the “booth babes” populating our convention floors. It is seen in the criticism of females as “not real gamers,” and the downright terrifying hate speech that gets written down in comment sections. 

A while back, I did an article reacting to the horror of Gamergate, and a reader responded with this: 

I’m going to share the polite and civil counter-response, the main hatred against Anita [Sarkeesian] is that she is completely false.

She has made many comments about her love of being a gamer and the games that have gotten her through the bad times etc and then done or said something that completely contradicted her previous statement.

Not to mention there is a video from a presentation she was giving during college where she admits 100% she was never a gamer and never had interest in games at all.

She has a wonderful cause and a great platform, but when the person on that platform is a fake personality created specifically for the task at hand it really just hurts her credibility.

User Jinetrix was both right and wrong in bringing up the issue of credibility. Right, because we as an industry still struggle with acceptance from the mainstream; wrong, because Gamergate had nothing to do with the veracity of female gamers or developers. When a new face enters our industry, we tend to view them with healthy skepticism. Despite the fact that the Video Game industry is on track to outpace Music, Movies, and Television in the next few years, we often think of ourselves as an elite group hiding in the shadows from the big bad world. In part, this is due to the outrageous portrayal of gamers in other media (come on, Law and Order, you’re embarrassing yourself). But when we react to criticism of the industry the way many did during Gamergate, we are becoming the monsters we fight so hard against. 

For those of you who don’t read past click bait headlines, let’s do a history lesson. Gamergate, the worst shit sandwich of recent memory, was started by a jilted boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn. In the article, Quinn’s success in the gaming industry was falsely attributed to a quid-pro-quo relationship (the journalist in question, Nathan Grayson, had written his article on Quinn’s game before any relationship began). In actuality, the blog was just the ranting of a prideful man who had been hurt, and he chose the absolute wrong way to deal with his pain. That was a small problem. What made it much worse was when the article was reposted on Reddit and 4Chan and 8Chan. There, it found traction that should never have been given. Other men–and not a small amount of women–began to circulate the rambling article as a treatise on the state of gaming and journalism. It became the rallying cry for a reform in the industry that, frankly, wasn’t needed. 

The term “Gamergate” came from actor Adam Baldwin, best known for his roles in Chuck and Firefly. Mr. Baldwin named the conflict after other scandals he’d witnessed in his life, such as Watergate (or Deflategate). Mr. Baldwin said in an interview that this was a backlash against political correctness, that it opened a discussion about ethics and freedom. Perhaps, when the true disgusting nature of Gamergate supporters was revealed, he felt he was too deep into the mix to get back out. In any event, Mr. Baldwin did nothing to discourage the hate speech and vitriol that followed. 

What started as simple trolling, with commentators spouting the usual acidic misogyny that makes the internet such a paradise, but quickly devolved into something far more sinister. Members of 4chan began to perform doxxing, or revealing of sensitive information about a person–such as home addresses and family phone numbers. Zoe Quinn found herself and her family under an endless verbal assault. This wasn’t just simple cursing and taunting either. People sent very real, very detailed death threats. One such commentator said, regarding Quinn’s planned attendance of a gaming convention: “Next time she shows up at a conference we… give her a crippling injury that’s never going to fully heal… a good solid injury to the knees. I’d say a brain damage, but we don’t want to make it so she ends up too retarded to fear us.”

In what world is that okay to say? If that were uttered in a Quentin Tarantino movie, we would protest that he had finally gone too far. That this was beyond the boundaries of bad taste and into some new taboo we didn’t even know existed. Who are the people who feel it is okay to say such things to another human being?

And that’s when things went from awful to worse.

Anita Sarkeesian received renewed hatred and death threats due to her visibility as a voice of feminism in the video game world, focused mostly around her web-series Tropes VS Women in Video Games. (Side note: Anita was absolutely right to call into question the long standing use of women as objects in gaming. The problem is that, when threatened by an outsider, we have a knee-jerk reaction to any criticism. We use name calling and threats of violence, which is as juvenile as one can get, which does more to HARM our point of view than anything else) Eventually, that criticism fell into the same level of depraved hate that afflicted Zoe Quinn. Anita had her home address and phone number posted all over the internet. She had to move, change her number multiple times, and endure countless death and rape threats. There was even a mobile game developed where the user would assault a virtual avatar of Anita. 

Around this time, actress Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible, The Guild) chimed in her support of these women and rebuked the offenders on the various websites. She then found her home address and number put up on those same sites. Anyone who comes to the defense of these women is labeled a “White Knight” or a “Social Justice Warrior,” which implies that defending someone against an attack makes you less of a human being. Some people were even the victims of a practice known as swatting, in which the Special Weapons and Tactics Division is summoned to your residence under false pretenses. Let it be known that not only is that a despicable thing to do to a person, it is also insanely illegal and has landed several people in jail. 

So what does this have to do with ethics in gaming journalism, or the backlash against political correctness? NOTHING. FUCKING NOTHING! If you read the comments posted with the hashtag Gamergate, none of them talk about any of those ideals in a meaningful way. They may get lip service to justify the heinous behavior of these malcontents, but the actions of the doxxers and swatters completely shatters any support this argument may have had. By throwing up the straw man argument about ethics in gaming journalism, countless trolls were given free reign to badmouth women (and, not surprisingly, minorities and Jews) all in the name of “asking the unanswered questions.” This was tacitly approved hate speech, and we as a community sat on our hands and did NOTHING.

And here’s the worst part: There could have been a real discussion here. Ethics in journalism is something that affects millions of people. We could have talked about the monolothic game developers who put gag orders on their products until release day, hiding flaws from the public. We could have taken a serious look at those websites that always give rave reviews to lackluster titles.

Most importantly, we could have had an open and honest discussion on the role women play in the industry and in popular franchises (because it is honestly disgusting, and we should know better). Why is that the lead in nearly EVERY game of the last few years has been a white male with brown hair? The common argument is that “if we put a woman in the same dire situations as a male protagonist, we would be accused of sexism and misogyny.” That is a fine, condescending argument, and it falls apart immediately upon viewing. Do you know who was the most popular female lead of the last few years? Not Lara Croft. Not Princess Peach.

Commander Shepherd. 

Now, you may be screaming at your laptop/phone, “Damn it, Adam. Shepherd was a man. It’s clearly there on the box art.” Wipe off your screen and let me finish. Gamers around the world trended, over time, toward the FemShep for a variety of reasons. For one, Jennifer Hale NAILED it as the voice actress, delivering a critically better performance than her male counterpart. While the player’s avatar did borrow all animations from the male Shepherd (most egregious when dancing or sitting), the female commander wore appropriate clothing and armor and was never forced into “gender safe” interactions. This was a woman with as much agency and purpose in this future universe as male shep. And you know what? IT DIDN’T BREAK THE GAME FOR ANYONE. In fact, it was the preferred method of getting through the game.

And therein lies the thesis of this rant.

From the male perspective, we view women as fragile because we were told to. Maybe your parents were progressive and supportive, but society and the media were not. Women in movies and TV shows and comic books have long been used as mere props for male counterparts. It’s why we don’t flinch when Talon’s wife is murdered at the beginning of Shadow of Mordor. It’s just a storytelling device, right? But that small scene tells us everything we need to know about women in this universe. They don’t matter unless as a device for a revenge story. You can see the same thing in every single James Bond movie. Women, with the exception of the epic Dame Judi Dench, are just objects for our amusement. James Bond straight up assaults a sex-trafficking victim, and we applaud him because Bond can’t save the day if he’s got baby batter on the brain.

In video games, this casual indifference to the other sex leads to scenes where the God of War pauses his eternally journey of vengeance in order to sleep with a poor demigod’s wife, or stops the narrative of an epic spy thriller COLD so that our hero can play in the rain with a naked mute girl. On the same subject, it’s why a once respected game developer was able to get away with a practically naked female character under the guise of “she breathes through her skin.” 

I’m sorry, but to paraphrase the great Dr. Rick Sanchez, you’re just a little creep.

The point I’m trying to make, and what I hope you all take away, is that empowering women in narrative is not just important for storytelling, it is important for society. Art reflects life, and the reverse is true as well. Women are treated as objects on magazine covers, in advertisements, in movies, and therefore we see them that way in real life, which leads to more examples of them in movies and games as mere objects. It is a self-fulfilling process. If we break that chain, though, and put women in lead roles that don’t involve “losing a guy in ten days,” or “being the crazy girlfriend,” we will start to see them rise into those positions in reality. 

We have women presidential candidates, people (and I’m not advocating for or against any of them here, I’m just making a point). Women can, and most importantly ARE, doing every job that we men do. They are Rangers in the Army, elite warriors. They are CEOs and powerhouse Directors and critically acclaimed writers. We don’t need to feel threatened by this. We need to embrace it. After all, we are a part of the same species. By putting women in lead roles in games, we are only reflecting the same wonderful changes in our own society. 

So Rey can be the new lead in Star Wars without taking ANYTHING away from the glory of Luke Skywalker. Fem Shep can save the SAME UNIVERSE as anyone else. Women in the next GTA can be more than just hookers or shrews, because THEY ARE SO MUCH MORE IN REAL LIFE. All of this equals scary change, but I know we can get through it. Gamer society has held together through much worse (remember the Jaguar?)

We have to speak out against the loud voices from Gamergate, because they DO NOT represent our future. They don’t even represent our past. They are the embodiment of fear and anxiety taken to a vicious extreme. I know the normal argument here is “treat every woman you meet as though they were your sister, your mother, your daughter.” That doesn’t seem to work on this group. In fact, appealing to their sense of humanity seems like a lost cause as well, because what kind of human thinks it is okay to threaten rape? This was such a disgusting chapter in the video game industry that it is almost beyond reason. It hurts to think about, mostly because we ought to be better. 

Gamers have long fought against the shameful representation in general media. On TV, we are filthy loners and socially inept losers, incapable of moving out of our parent’s home. In movies, we speak in some foreign uber language of the nerds, and ejaculate if we’re within a mile of the opposite sex. It has taken painful years to make video games mainstream. We are emerging from the shadows as the new titan of media. That new found status comes with new responsibilities, though. Our games are under review in new ways. You can’t just waive your hand and say, “it’s just a game,” to explain why a character is a sexist stereotype. We have to own up to the culture we’ve created. More than that, we need to recognize when we are wrong and admit it to the world. 

Women in video games are living in the past, treated like objects and prizes, and are not reflective of our modern society. That is wrong. We need to fix that. We need to DEMAND it of game developers. Female gamers exist, are HALF the population of gamers, and deserve as much respect as you would give to any other human being. And the practices of doxxing, swatting, and threats need to stop. If your life is so fragile that the idea of dissent sends you into a violent rage, you need to take a minute to look inward. There is trouble inside, and you need help. 

Let’s move beyond Gamergate, but let us never forget. We need to be West Germany here and accept the demonic behavior of our predecessors. We need to own that shame and let it guide us from now on. We need to be better human beings, and remember that everyone has a right to an opinion. You may disagree, but that in no way affects their right to believe it.

Treat each other better. In fact, I’m going to say we need to adopt THE GOLDEN RULE for gaming. Treat everyone the way that you wish to be treated. No, that’s not enough. Treat everyone the way Link treats Zelda; the way Mario treats Peach; the way Solid Snake treats Otacon.

Be good to each other. We’re all shaved monkeys flying through space on a water-logged marble. The least we can do is stop flinging poop all the time.


As always, we welcome your commentary below. Let’s start the discussion right this time.