A two month long Internet war made front pages this week when feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled an appearance at a college in Utah after receiving extremely explicit and violent death threats.
To Sarkeesian, who is known for her “Feminist Frequency” videos that assess the role of women in video games, these threats are not new. Sarkeesian and a handful of other women have been the target of an unceasing wave of internet vitriol since #GamerGate began.
In August, programmer Eron Gjoni posted a series of lengthy tell-all blog posts calling out his former girlfriend, indie video game designer Zoe Quinn. In his manifesto, Gjoni accuses Quinn of sleeping with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson in return for positive game reviews.
While many have labeled the post a character assassination, Gjoni insists that it is simply an attempt to shed light on the growing corruption and blurred lines of video game journalism. Some call it a hate speech movement, others argue that the true intention of Gamer Gate is about improving video game journalism. Whatever the truth is, the origin is pretty clear: a guy got dumped, and was pissed off.
So how does a bad breakup result in death and rape threats against random women?
Quinn, who made a (small) splash with her game Depression Quest, represents a growing niche in the video game market. Unlike the popular first person shooters or complicated mission games, Quinn’s game simulates having depression, and employs a create-your-own-adventure-ish setup. There is very little actual game play available, and it more closely resembles art than a video game.
However small the deviation, she stands as an example of women “infringing” upon the video game world. Women programmers and indie game makers are not new to the video game world, but they are growing in popularity. But while some surveys state that women make up as much as 48% of the video game market, it is still very much a male dominated past time. And some men want to keep it that way.
As a result, women like Quinn, Sarkeesian and others are facing brutal attacks from the internet community, most notably from sites like 4Chan. Intricate stories of Quinn’s sexual history were posted multiple places online, accompanied by nude photos of her. Many expressed hope that the pressure would cause her to commit suicide. Quinn, along with fellow game developer Brianna Wu, have both been forced out of their homes due to the explicit nature of their threats. Interestingly enough, Nathan Grayson, the one with a supposed lack of ethics, is still doing fine and pumping out articles at work.
It is important to note that not all those who support the Gamer Gate movement support the violence and hate speech against women. Many, like Gjoni, state that the key aspect is to put pressure on video game journalists to ensure non-biased reviews, and shed light on corruption.
“I don’t like, have a passion for games or anything,” Gjoni told Buzzfeed News. Instead of a gamer, he prefers to think of himself as a social justice advocate, whose current project is media ethics.
That is why the beginning catalyst of Quinn and Grayson’s supposed love affair created such a stir. But the stories don’t entirely match up. Kotaku, the media outlet Grayson works for (and a member of Gawker Media), did an investigation into the allegations and found that nothing unethical took place. Grayson, and Kotaku in general, didn’t even review Quinn’s game, aside from a passing comment in an article months prior. The supposed “blurred lines” that Gamer Gate activists are rallying against seem unclear.
However, it is difficult to believe that this is all about media ethics. Almost none of the hate is directed towards actual game reviewers or larger video game companies. Instead, the brunt of the backlash has been almost exclusively applied to smaller, independent video game developers and women.
While women battle to remove the damsel in distress or big bosomed warrior tropes from video games, it’s only fair to admit that the woman-hating, greasy white boy gamer trope is almost as played out. But Gamer Gate appears to be bringing these stereotypes out of the wood work, shifting the entire discussion away from journalism reform and onto the role of women in the gaming world. The alarming amount of violence that the “movement” has created is enough to send any one backpedaling away from gaming.
Video games and media ethics are now second to what the movement has truly become: a culture war.