Getting together with your friends and playing Super Mario on your beloved Nintendo 64 gaming console used to be nothing more than an innocent childhood activity, and although it may have been considered “geeky” or “nerdy,” it was fun and harmless nonetheless. However, this all changed when a recent controversy swept through the gaming community, a controversy that has altered the way society views gamers permanently. Instead of just being geeky, gamers are now considered sexist. Instead of just being introverted, gamers are now considered violent. And instead of just being able to enjoy an afternoon defeating King Bowser and rescuing Princess Peach, gamers are now misogynistic males that relish the sexualized and demeaning image of their “damsel in distress.” Of course, not all gamers are like this, contrary to public opinion, and many others are female as well, but due to what happened on the Internet in August of 2014, the world’s image of the innocent boy or girl playing videogames is forever lost. This controversy is now known as #GamerGate.
The scandal started when the ex-boyfriend of indie game developer, Zoe Quinn, publicly accused her of having an intimate relationship with a video game journalist from the news site Kotaku in order to receive positive reviews on a game she had just recently developed (Young, “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames”). This then led to a significant outburst of public harassment, hate, and sexism towards Quinn and her supporters, which eventually intensified into death threats and doxxing in a viral, internet conflict on Twitter dubbed #GamerGate, an allusion to the political Watergate scandal of the 1970’s (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”).
However, apart from the unacceptable treatment Quinn was subjected to, the #GamerGate controversy, more importantly, brought to light many of the gender issues portrayed in videogames themselves, such as the recurring “damsel in distress” tropes, the highly sexualized imagery and depiction of women, and other more offensive female roles meant to meet male fantasies (Young, “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames”). In fact, an active feminist, Anita Sarkeesian, who has frequently spoken out about these issues in her YouTube video series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” also received many of the same threats that have been used to harass Quinn and her supporters.
At this point, the gaming community was in flames. Between the individual gamers who were participating in Quinn and Sarkeesian’s harassment and the innocent ones who were receiving as much blame and criticism as their guilty counterparts, gamers everywhere were unsure of how to feel about the unnecessary backlash they were now receiving. (Young, “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames”). Today, the #GamerGate controversy has essentially blown over, but the implications of what this scandal represents is still very much relevant and important to what is left of the gaming community, especially as society picks up the remaining pieces of “geek culture” and decides how to move forward into the future.
Some of the biggest problems that #GamerGate has brought to the public’s attention are the media ethics issues in gaming journalism (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”). Setting aside the triviality often associated with all things gaming, the legal issues in this area are highly concerning. According to Erik Kain of Forbes magazine, “the press should be covering the industry to protect the consumer,” yet it seems as if the gaming journalists are increasingly and excessively close to the developers they should be objectively reporting on; this leads to ethical questions on the validity of gaming journalism and the poor business practices this industry has utilized in the past (Kain, “GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games”). On the other hand, the most important issue to be addressed in #GamerGate’s wake are the unsettling social perspectives of those in the gaming community. As of August 2014, gamers are characterized by rampant misogyny and ignorance: people just don’t realize how demeaning some of their actions – and even viewpoints – are. If a female game developer is accused of scandal, she is forced to endure intense public harassment, even if she never committed the crime. If a female gamer asks for less sexualized videogame content, she becomes a threat to male geek culture, even if she would just prefer more clothing on her online avatar. And if a feminist speaks out about these issues, she apparently deserves to die, even if she was merely giving her opinion on a particularly inflammatory topic. These alarming sentiments are perfectly represented in Stephen Colbert’s report on #GamerGate below, his biting sarcasm a welcome reminder to how ridiculous this dispute has become (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”).
On the contrary, the underlying concerns are not about the ethics surrounding gaming or even gaming journalism, but rather about the misogyny harbored by many men, gamers or not. Indeed, as Anita Sarkeesian describes to Colbert in the following video, #GamerGate is just a “way to reframe the fact that this is actually attacks on women… not about ethics in game journalism” but a method of “terrorizing women for being involved in this industry” (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”). In other words, it isn’t just gamers who practice and support these sexist ideals, but rather all men in general who are attempting to use this controversy as an excuse to exercise their self-imposed, male-dominated space. Unfortunately, the question of whether this is an issue that can be solved relatively soon is still up in the air.
Due to the nature of the matter and the fact that #GamerGate developed into an internet conflict as a result of public misogyny and harassment from the gaming community, solutions to such a controversy are extremely complex. No one action or change can occur to prevent so many people from acting the same way in the future, especially as the sexism observed during #GamerGate seems to be intensely ingrained within the perspectives of a significant portion of not only the gamer population but the general male population as well. With that said, greater awareness and better education on these issues should be provided to the public to combat the ignorance and misogyny of the individuals who participated in harassing Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and their supporters. However, merely “teaching” these so-called “misogynerds” about gender equality will only scratch the surface of issues seen from #GamerGate (Kain, “GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games”). Instead, the large gaming industries like Valve, EA, Rockstar and more should play a greater role in supporting female participation in game development and journalism. Rather than allowing these types of conflicts to get out of hand, the very companies that created this generation of gamers should take a greater responsibility to reprimand and prevent the continued endorsement of misogynistic perspectives. Thus, by forcing the geeks to see geek culture as gender equal, as shown to them by the very entities that provide them geek culture, small steps will be taken to ensure that Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian will be among the last of female gamers who will need to pass through the ridiculously sexist #GamerGate to merely have their voice heard.
“[Image – 823968] | GamerGate.” Know Your Meme. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.
Kain, Erik. “GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games.” Forbes. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Sarkeesian, Anita. “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” Kickstarter. N.p., 17 May 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.
Seitz, Dan. “Stephen Colbert Took On #GamerGate In Glorious Fashion.” UPROXX. N.p., 30 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Seitz, Dan. “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There.” UPROXX. N.p., 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Young, Cathy. “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames | RealClearPolitics.” N.p., 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.