Over the past month a man promised he'd commit one of the worst school massacres America had ever seen if a woman delivered a lecture at Utah State University, a different woman was forced to flee her home after threats online and several others have had their addresses put online to intimidate and threaten them. Was this over the crisis in the Middle East? Maybe it had to do with net neutrality? As it turned out, it was over video games.
Let's go back in time though and see where “GamerGate” began. An independent developer, Zoe Quinn, released an atypical game called Depression Quest , which played more as an interactive art piece rather than a conventional game. The game received praise, but drew criticism from gamers who disliked that it was more interactive story than an actual game. A few weeks ago though, a blog was posted by Quinn's ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. He accused the developer of cheating on him with a games journalist, and implied that the journalist gave Quinn's game a favourable review after his relations with her. The site in question is Kotaku, one of the biggest around in the gaming world. Although Gjoni was quickly shown to be lying about Kotaku's coverage of Depression Quest (the game was never even reviewed on the site), this didn't stop anonymous misogynists using Gjoni's blog as reason to hound Quinn on the premise that she was the latest example of developers' cosy relationship with games journalists. Unfortunately, this potentially noble mission devolved into posting Quinn's personal details online, nude photos of her as well as threatening violence against her.
At the same time, a media critic called Anita Sarkeesian had released the latest video in her Youtube series called Tropes vs Women in Video Games. Sarkeesian was no stranger to attacks by keyboard warriors, but the timing of her video brought the circus down on her as well. On Tuesday, she received emails threatening her life if she delivered the lecture in Utah. A part of one of the emails read:
She is going to die screaming… if you let her come to USU...you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.
Sarkeesian intended on following through with the lecture until she learned that the university could not stop people bringing handguns into the building due to the state's laws. A number of the threats also referenced a 1989 atrocity known as the Montreal Massacre, where 14 women were killed by a man claiming to be fighting against feminism. In the past, Sarkeesian has contended with bomb threats and having to flee her home after harassment from gamers unhappy with her series.
The controversy was brought to Twitter, where it has been picked over day after day since August. Of course, if people are going to argue then they need a grand unifying hashtag. So Adam Baldwin, of all Baldwins, coined the controversy as #GamerGate.
More recently, actress Felicia Day blogged about her fear of sections of the gaming community. Within an hour, her address was posted in the comments underneath the post. Day might not be known to most but she has worked consistently in games and new media, and wrote and starred in a series about her life as a gamer.
It's interesting though that when others have spoken out against Gamergate, they haven't received near as much harassment. Will Wheaton, previously of Star Trek, escaped criticism as did former American footballer Chris Kluwe. The latter employed some inventive terms for those backing the Gamergate movement, such as ''slackjawed pickletits'' and ''slopebrowed weaseldicks''. Incongruously, neither man was hounded after their comments.
And that there is just one of several clues that the Gamergate movement is more about misogyny than anything else. Sarkeesian has received countless threats for her feminist analysis of games, Quinn had her to contend with her sex life becoming a point of fixation, while other female developers have also received threats for speaking out.
Gamergate is all about vilifying women. Its supporters have tried to claim its about exposing corrupt practices in gaming journalism, pointing out the comfortable relationships between companies and journalists. But if this is about dodgy journalism, then the Gamergate supporters should focus on less on indie developers and more on the AAA publishers. If publications or websites wish to preview a game, they usually have to sweet talk their way into being allowed to get hands-on with the upcoming release. It therefore creates an uneasy alliance where the publishers look at the journalists more as marketers, expecting the coverage to be more advertisement than ethical reporting.
Ironically, if those involved with Gamergate did succeed at transforming publishers cosy relationships with journalists then they may be left equally unhappy. It's become a long running criticism that most games these days feature protagonists who could well be cousins of each other. The white, male, lead is the element many major games share.
This has reached its nadir with the release of the trailer for Hatred, which will let players control a man consumed by so much of the titular emotion that he takes to the streets on a killing spree. This type of thing has been made before (Postal comes to mind) but Hatred looks to be approaching the topic with a tone befitting of the name. The young man monologues how his ''whole life is just cold, bitter hatred. [He] always wanted to die violently.'' Combine that with his black leather jacket and it's difficult not to be reminded of the so called “Trenchcoat Mafia”, the teenagers who orchestrated the Columbine killings. However, I'm not going to rule out the chance that Hatred turns out to be a parody rather than a sincere ode to killingsprees. So far though, all signs point to it being a fantasy for the type of person who's frustrated that games are changing and moving away from the previous norms.
It's been claimed before that the reason developers reinforce the usual tropes around, particularly the sexual ones, is that games are played mainly by young men; ergo, put in the kind of content that would please that demographic. This logic has also been used to explain why so many protagonists end up with the same look, that of the white fella with dark hair. The point is usually topped off with being told that it's makes sense business wise. Except now that we know that it's almost an even split between men and women playing games and most gamers are over 30, the idea doesn't hold up. It now makes perfect business sense to bring variety to gaming's leads, reflecting the gamers themselves.
It might seem as if I'm going off point here but, really, what the Gamergate controversy has shown us is that there are a lot of problems within the sub-culture. There's a struggle ongoing with one side trying to modernise the media while the other side wishes to keep things as they are. It must look ridiculous to onlookers but games are still a young medium, and there are going to be more bumps before we reach the conclusion.
As for those who genuinely wish to fix gaming journalism, using Gamergate as a banner is the first step to ruin. It's become toxic for anyone hoping to do good and is best abandoned. All Gamergate has shown itself to be about is misogyny and an unwillingness to self-analyse.