Joystick: Gamergate an excuse to target women

It takes a rare combination of stupid mistakes and bizarre antics for a video game issue to enter the public consciousness. In the same way that we talk far more about the negative news out of the NFL than we do about the games themselves, the video game industry is airing its dirty laundry in the public sphere.

This week, more people are paying attention to an online campaign called Gamergate, where a large number of video game fans have made death threats to female gaming professionals.

A large amount of anonymous gaming enthusiasts decided in August to actively harass Zoe Quinn, an indie game developer, after her ex-boyfriend posted an open letter accusing her of cheating on him with several industry people, including a games journalist, to advance her career. None of the accusations were proven true, though many people online claim to have “evidence” in the same way crazed conspiracy theorists try to convince you aliens are really trying to abduct them.

From there, many video game aficionados renewed their attacks on feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, an oft-discussed figure within the video game industry. She became famous and reviled when she secured funding for a massive video series critiquing the role of women in video games and the industry at large.

The ensuing movement against these women and other female video game professionals was coined “Gamergate” by Adam Baldwin, who joined the fray when he took shots at Quinn as well for her allegedly shady industry practices.

Since then, the Gamergate movement has grown into a supposed call for reform in games journalism practices, an argument about the community identity of gamers and a pushback against those who would “force” diversity issues into the industry. Like so many of these movements, it’s nothing more than a misogynistic, xenophobic reaction to a growing medium.

This Gamergate movement is a house of cards. It’s the kind of high school drama that we all should have grown out of. But this has real-world consequences for Gamergate targets. Quinn left her home after she received so many rape and death threats that she felt unsafe in the one place she owned. She has reportedly stayed with friends ever since.

Sarkeesian has abandoned her home several times in the face of death and rape threats as well over the past few weeks. She was scheduled to give a talk at Utah State University but canceled the engagement last week after she once again received death threats. Though she has spoken at colleges and functions under death threats before, Utah law enforcement couldn’t prevent people with legally concealed weapons from attending her speech under state law.

Other female developers and critics are facing similar issues. Developer Brianna Wu’s family fled her home after she made Twitter comments criticizing Gamergate and subsequently received death threats. Intel pulled advertising from games business site Gamasutra after writer Leigh Alexander criticized the movement and Gamergate enthusiasts convinced Intel to pull its marketing. Intel has subsequently admitted it made a mistake, but hasn’t restarted ads there.

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs, but it’s expected. I’ve written time and again how gaming is transcending its niche as something junior does in his spare time. A majority of U.S. citizens play video games in some form, from solitaire and minesweeper on the computer to “Final Fantasy” and “Call of Duty” on a console.

Gaming is a medium of art and expression, and as such it’s taking on more of a voice than the male-centric voices of the past. That’s a positive thing.

This Gamergate business is a black mark on that growth and progression. It’s a tired excuse to keep toys away from the girls and/or anyone who a certain segment of the Internet population doesn’t like. It’s childish and it will eventually fizzle out. For now, however, it’s a dangerous state of affairs for women who enjoy video games.

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