GamerGate and the Future of Videogames in Academia

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 . Now they ask me why 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)

0 thoughts on “GamerGate and the Future of Videogames in Academia

  1. Frank, you know I love to ramble about this stuff but unfortunately I have a midterm so I’ll keep it brief. *shakes fist angrily at your cunning foresight* haha

    I saw this on tumblr too and it upset me, but I don’t agree with how it’s being portrayed right now. It reminds me a great deal of when reporter Kim Crawley tried to blame #Gamergate supporters for her own firing. In reality, she was fishing for Patreon supporters, and was fired for multiple abuses of interview sources and slander and her #Gamegate article was just one of the many. Unfortunately, we don’t know the whole story for this. One single professor in one department of a college is not representative of the games industry- the library of congress is still archiving games and they are the bigwigs after all. It’s still one college out of many in the US.

    Even if her story is true, which I really hope it is not, it’s worth considering that #gamergate itself is probably not the one to blame. The problem is that the media went so far out of the way to attack #Gamergate, innocent gamers and just the term gamer, that the public was given a very incorrect view of modern gaming. #Gamergate is not representative of all gamers, but the way that major outlets handled it made the two almost synonymous. They basically brought all gamers down with them. Even if you disagree what #Gamergate is focused on, you can agree that it was reportedly pretty unfairly by most sources as a generalization of everyone who plays games.

    I can say, as someone who supports the ideas of #Gamergate, that I donot agree with chasing games out of academia (as I’m sure many in the movement do). They are our allies and most are making games a more acceptable thing.

    Thank you for bring this topic up. I know I’ve been waiting for it, and really appreciate being able to discuss it!

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