The GamerGate Controversy: A Mire of Misogyny and Hatred

Video games and journalism have a lot more in common than believed by the general public. Gaming journalists are just as important to their respective industry as any other form of journalism. Journalism for video games has come a long way since the conception of the industry. But a major problem with journalists has been escalating within the gaming industry, one that has come under fire recently: video game studios bribing journalists to write positively about the studio’s products to garner more sales (Kotaku), paid events for journalists to cover big games to either win a prize or to be compensated with money (Eurogamer), or studios placing embargoes on reviewers that write highly about the product (GamesIndustry).

Journalistic integrity for video games is an issue that is raised on occasion to dedicated followers of the industry. However, in light of recent events, there is now one more method of bribery studios can utilize: sexual favors for positive coverage. Within the gaming industry is a workforce and community consisting of a healthy balance of men and women. Gaming is no longer a male dominant industry. Unfortunately, there are individuals within the community that do not desire this change of hands and attempt to preserve the gamer image in the hopes to make video games exclusive to men. As odd as the following may appear, these two subjects—gaming journalism and women—share a common thread between one another; a thread so tainted by misogyny, racism, sexism and threats of murder and rape, these events led to one of the most controversial movements in all of gaming: GamerGate.

What is GamerGate?

GamerGate is a movement that heavily focuses on sexism within video game culture and the industry at large. The origins of the movement date back to March of 2013, when a public feminist speaker named Anita Sarkeesian crowdfunded and uploaded a multi-part documentary series to YouTube, titled Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. The documentary was aimed at examining “the roles and representations of women in video games,” which included separate episodes discussing “tropes, plot devices, and patterns most associated with women in gaming, from a systemic, big picture perspective,” “hyper-sexualized female characters… extremely graphic depictions of violence towards women,” and “pattern[s] in character design in conceptualization” (“Tropes…”).

Upon the release of Sarkeesian’s first video, she was bombarded with a wave of overwhelming negative criticism from gamers, as viewers believed that Sarkeesian was challenging the status quo. In a fit of unmitigated hatred towards the documentaries, users attempted to have her video series taken down. Additionally, users uploaded scathing video responses to YouTube, along with replies on her Twitter page criticizing Sarkeesian’s documentaries, calling her a “slut,” a “whore”, and a “cunt,” along with threats of rape and murder all because of one woman’s desire to speak her mind about the portrayal of women in video games. While Sarkeesian’s documentary series did not start the GamerGate movement, the controversy was enough to keep the subject in the thoughts of all who were involved that ultimately led to the formation of the GamerGate movement.

On February 14, 2013, a month before the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games documentary was uploaded to YouTube, Zoe Quinn, an independent developer, released a video game titled Depression Quest, a fictional browser game that focused on depression. A year after the game was released, Quinn’s previous boyfriend, one Eron Gjoni, wrote a lengthy blog post alleging that Quinn was in a relationship with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson. In addition, Gjoni accused Quinn of having a sexual affair with Grayson in order for her game to be reviewed positively when Depression Quest later launched on Steam (The Washington Post). Initially, the blog post appeared no more than mere Internet drama—a “rambling online essay” as pointed out by Nick Wingfield of The New York Times (The New York Times). That was the case, until Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief for Kotaku, spoke about the allegations in earnest. While Totilo confirmed the relationship, he heavily emphasized that there was no proof that Grayson wrote or covered any game from Quinn prior to the relationship (Kotaku).

Unfortunately, this did not stop gamers from decrying the end of gaming journalism. Shortly after, a number of individuals began to virally harass Quinn and her family with misogynistic and discriminatory language, along with threats of raping and/or murdering Quinn. “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,” an anonymous user on the message board 4chan wrote. “I'd say a brain damage, but we don't want to make it so she ends up too retarded to fear us” (The New Yorker). This barrage of verbal assault was enough for Quinn to leave her home and find shelter with close friends.

In August 2014, Adam Baldwin, a famous actor, coined the term “GamerGate” in a Twitter post, where he criticized the hate movement against Quinn. This post led to the conception of the GamerGate hashtag (Reason). A month after the GamerGate hashtag was created, approximately two million Twitter posts contained the hashtag (Newsweek). This quickly formed a divisive split between the industry, where the movement was divided into two groups: Pro-GamerGaters, and Anti-GamerGaters.

GamerGate movement

The GamerGate movement is a mystery in the eyes of the public, which has led to confusion as to what the movement is about. Those that are for GamerGate claim that the movement is focused on the corruption and biased nature of gaming journalism, while those who are against GamerGate claim that Pro-GamerGaters are fighting against women and are thus fighting back against these assaults. The biggest flaw regarding the movement lies in the movement’s lack of opposition towards a unified cause. The GamerGate movement is without any reasonable and logical opposing arguments, which gives off a distinct withdrawal and separation of "Us vs. Them.” One side is fighting to include ethics in gaming journalism, while the other side fights for the freedom of women in the video game industry. This leads to the overall movement having no central focus as to what each side is attempting to resolve.

However, the Pro-GamerGaters bring up a valid concern about the state of gaming journalism. Journalists always have a colored perception among the gaming community, as these conveyors of news in the gaming industry are viewed not as individuals seeking to protect consumers from a sub-par product, but rather as a method for unscrupulous companies to undercut reviewers and journalists to positively cover their products and ensure maximum profit. The controversy surrounding Quinn and Grayson would be far worse if the developer in question worked for a larger, more publicly recognized studio, i.e. Blizzard (World of Warcraft), 343 Industries (Halo), Activision (Call of Duty), or Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed).

On the flip side, the opposition—the Anti-GamerGaters—bring to light a valid argument. Female gamers are subjected to a variety of harassment and abuse. Feminine gamers are frequently bombarded by men asking to be in a relationship, sexually harassed and assaulted, and threatened with murder and/or rape. Women want to be gamers just like their counterparts, but women often prefer not to be involved, as gaming culture is viewed as a mire of negativity, sexism, racism, and misogyny. However, despite this negativity, the margin between male and female gamers is slowly drawing into neutral ground, since female gamers account for 48 percent of the video game industry (Entertainment Software Association).

Although Pro- and Anti-GamerGate followers state that their motive is to fight for ethics in gaming journalism and to protect women in the industry, respectively, a number of critics and commentators are skeptical about these claims—that the movement has nothing to do with the journalistic well-being within the gaming industry or protecting women from harassment. “Every single question of journalistic ethics [GamerGate] has brought up has either been debunked or dealt with,” Todd VanDerWerff of Vox wrote, “At this point, [GamerGate] seems to keep raging simply to do two things: harass women and endlessly perpetuate itself so it can keep harassing women. There is absolutely no center to it—save for the harassment of women” (Vox).

The reason the GamerGate movement has accumulated this much controversy does not come from the sides of the movement or what the movement represents; the controversy stems from the methods both sides employ to get their respective messages across, as well as the harassment and assault on, primarily, women within the industry—one that highlights a wider and larger problem within the cultures of the Internet. Both sides of the movement regularly threaten acts of rape and murder to each other, as well as women who speak out about the movement. Additionally, these groups engage in hacking and breaching of personal information on a regular basis. One method both sides utilize is a form of hacking known as doxing (The Daily Dot). Doxing is the act of hacking into an individual’s personal information and publishing said information on websites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and 4chan.

This information includes first and last name, address, ZIP code, occupations, diplomas, a credit card number, bank account number, social security number, phone number, along with other pieces information pertaining to an individual. Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Brianna Wu, an independent developer who criticized the GamerGate movement, were among those targeted by doxing (Boston Globe). Additionally, individuals engaged in deploying Distribution Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks on websites in a concerted effort to have specific services taken down (Forbes). DDoS attacks occur when compromised computers send a certain amount of useless packets of information to a server, thus overloading the server until the service is temporarily taken down. Worse, anyone critical to GamerGate are subjected to SWATing—a sinister form of pranking wherein a hoaxed emergency call is sent in an attempt to provoke the deployment of SWAT teams to the victim’s home (The Guardian).

The GamerGate controversy has grown to such heights that the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence held a congressional hearing about the movement and what can be done to stop it. The executive director of The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one Ruth Glenn, described the GamerGate movement as “an online hate group… which was started by an ex-boyfriend to ruin [Quinn’s] life.” Among those present at the panel was Quinn; she discusses her life during the aftermath of GamerGate—how her life has changed following the events of the movement.

“The girl I used to be used to sit down and check her email where she'd get the occasional fan letter, business correspondence and spam email. These days they're joined by death threats and graphic fantasies about raping me, often accompanied by my home address and proof that the sender has everything they would need to carry through on them… When thousands of faceless strangers have set their sights on you, every single aspect of your life is bombarded and probed until who you were before is gone and your life becomes almost unrecognizable” (Polygon).

Conclusion

What has transpired—and what attacks and discussions are to come—is toxic and destructive to not only those who are actively engaged in the movement, but also to those who are swept into the cobweb of misogyny and hatred. GamerGate, while tragic and atrocious, has led to the industry’s first major discussion about diversity, inclusiveness, and the protection of women on the Internet. This discussion will continue to pose questions as to how the industry can evolve past the origins of this growing business. But the real question that must be asked is not which side of the movement is right or wrong. The question is whether the methods of intimidation, as well as the treatment of women online is justifiable. Is threatening a woman with murder and/or rape on the Internet reasonable? Is sending SWAT to an opponent’s home as a result of an ongoing argument justifiable? Is the publishing of personal information reasonable and justifiable? For the industry’s best interest, this movement must end as soon as possible.

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