So, there’s been a bit of an elephant in the room amid our class and online discussions of gender and harassment in video games. And that, of course, is GamerGate. I’m guessing most members of the class are aware of what I am referring to and already have opinions on the subject, but for those who do not, GamerGate is the name a group of people online have taken for the supposed purpose of advocating for “greater ethics in gaming journalism.” I use the quotes because GamerGate was, primarily, a response to an angst-filled blog post by the ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, claiming she had cheated on him with several gaming journalists. Some internet users thought that she must have slept with a journalist to get a good review for her game, Depression Quest. However, none of these gaming journalists mentioned in the blog had even reviewed the game. And even if they did, the backlash that happened in response is entirely unjustified. Zoe Quinn received death and rape threats, as did Anita Sarkesian, Brianna Wu (who is coming to campus April 22nd!), and any other female who spoke out against the harassment being perpetuated by this group. My goal in this post isn’t to outline all the reasons I think GamerGate is problematic, but for those of you interested in my thoughts I wrote a piece on the subject in AC Voice last semester, feel free to check it out and respond to it either in the comments here or on AC Voice.
What I wanted to share with everyone was a recent post on tumblr about GamerGate, sent to me by a friend, that critiqued the group from a perspective I hadn’t considered before, and one that relates closely to what we are aiming to do in this class. In short, the post takes various examples of how GamerGate has detracted from the quite young place of video games as a subject of academic study. One example is a social scientist who focuses on videogames and their real world impact (both positive and negative) who in a post on reddit writes, “It will take years and years to repair the damage [caused by GamerGate], and it is absolutely devastating to the serious study and application of the power of games to real problems. We are going to have trouble getting grants, getting foundations to fund games, and getting people to take us seriously. It is devastating and makes me very sad.” The other example is from a video game archivist detailing on Twitter how her department has dropped funding for work on video games in response to GamerGate, claiming that the group has confirmed many of the stereotypes that videogames are not a medium worth saving or preserving. In one tweet, she writes, “People used to ask me how to archive #videogames. Now they ask me why #videogames are worth saving. That change leaves me heartbroken.” In response to some of these critiques, GamerGate members claimed that this was a good thing, and that games had no place in the realm of academic study. Here are some examples:
As students in a class whose purpose is the study of videogames in an academic context, this should be worrying. I have no knowledge of how the English and FAMS departments at Amherst view the study of videogames in the future, but I’m sure incidents such as GamerGate do nothing to help legitimize their study. There is, of course, so much more to gaming than what GamerGate represents. But when our community is so toxic that something like this can occur, those who are unsure of the merits of gaming as both a hobby, passion, and subject of study (like many of our parents, other professors, and friends), have these doubts confirmed. If we want to argue against the notion that videogames make people violent, we must condone the disgusting onslaught of rape and death threats that have become so commonplace to the point it’s considered a norm. When Anita Sarkesian receives such a constant amount of vitriol, we cannot explicitly or implicitly say that she deserves it, either by adding to that harassment or being passive and claiming “it’s just part of the culture.”
These are people who care about games. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother trying to critique them. Even if you don’t agree with everything Sarkesian, and people like her say, do not support those that would continue to further degrade both this community and medium. If this continues, the very class we are taking may not exist for much longer. Videogames are just beginning to be taken seriously. All the gaming community needs to do is show that it’s ready for the criticism and change that moving from being perceived as entertainment in its most basic form to legitimate art entails. And, yes, being critical of gender and race is a part of that, and an integral part of the study of every artistic medium.
Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on GamerGate, videogames as a subject of academic study, gender-based harassment within gaming and nerd communities, or any other thoughts! I’m sure lots of people in our class have very passionate opinions about this, and it would be great to get them all out on the table.
(Image credits to The Ubyssey)