The hashtag #GamerGate has become well recognized by now, and for all the wrong reasons. The loaded term has grown to have many meanings, focusing primarily on the integrity of gaming journalism, or rather the lack thereof. However, its origins go back to the issues of female representation and equality within the industry – a historically big social problem which is only now being talked about in gaming. Sadly, the talking often involves copious amounts of anger and vitriol, often targeted against women. Today, sexism in gaming has affected developer Brianna Wu, who refuses to give in to these threats and speaks out for all victims.
Video games have been a predominantly male pastime. Made by men for men, as the mantra goes. However, in recent years, the market grew rapidly with the advent of social, casual and mobile titles to which even one’s own mother could get easily addicted. It has opened its doors to people of all beliefs and genders, which sparked a discussion about equality, sexism and the representation of women. Many female designers have also entered the business, and faced, at times, a staggering backlash.
The story of #GamerGate begins with Zoe Quinn, who made Depression Quest, a text-based adventure game depicting her struggles with the deadly condition. Upon putting the game on Steam, the biggest digital game distributor in the industry, she was hit with massive amounts of criticism. However, a good chunk of it was not aimed at her game and its potential flaws, but Quinn herself. Simply being a female designer was enough to unleash a flood of insults, sexism and even threats. Then, rumors emerged about Quinn’s purported promiscuity, stating she had allegedly slept with several game journalists. The scandal spiraled into the discussion about ethics in game journalism and spawned the infamous hashtag.
However, beneath the debate of ethics and transparency in reporting, the issue of misogyny and sexism still prevails. Anita Sarkeesian has been another target for the hate. After successfully completing her Kickstarter campaign to document the representation of women in video games, much like Quinn, she faced a lot of criticism, insults and threats. Upon publishing several of the videos, she stated she was forced out of her house due to personal attacks on her life. While the validity of her videos and arguments might be questionable, it is hardly a reason for such malicious slander and implied violence aimed at her as a person.
The issue of sexism in games continues with the latest victim, Wu, who speaks out about facing several threats after tweeting criticism of the supporters of the #GamerGame movement. She received enough disconcerting messages to call the police and temporarily move out of her place. She recently appeared on MSNBC, talking about inequality in game development, where only about 20 percent of workers are female, and the constant discrimination and sexism they face. She, and many of her colleagues, questioned if it is even worth staying in the industry. In the end, Wu decided she will not “get bullied out” and continues her work as the head of Giant Spacekat, a Boston-based studio.
The big irony is that the whole issue turned to a self-fulfilling prophecy. When both Sarkeesian and Wu spoke out about the sexism in games, they ended up falling victim to the very discrimination and hatred about which they complained. Many gamers and YouTubers have appropriately analyzed and criticized their work, but some turned straight to insults and attacks on their personas. Whether Quinn’s, Sarkeesian’s or Wu’s work and arguments are really valid is irrelevant; the reaction should have been a level-headed debate, not personal death threats. By responding in such a violent and malicious manner, the disgruntled gamers are inadvertently proving the very argument these women are trying to convey.
Commentary by Jakub Kasztalski
Photo by Mustafa Sayed – License