This past Wednesday the popular show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit made a fictional storyline about the GamerGate controversy. The morning before the episode premiered, game developer and target of GamerGate Brianna Wu wrote an emotional piece for Bustle describing the violent threats she receives every day online for being a woman in the gaming industry. She wrote:
This weekend, a man wearing a skull mask posted a video on YouTube outlining his plans to murder me. I know his real name. I documented it and sent it to law enforcement, praying something is finally done. I have received these death threats and 43 others in the last five months.
I posted a link to the article on my twitter and was surprised to receive responses from actual GamerGate supporters. I had originally thought that all GamerGate supporters were anti-women and were using violent threats to discourage women from participating in gaming culture. However, the original cause had nothing to do with that.
According to an article published in October on Gawker, “#GamerGate is an online movement concerned with ethics in game journalism and with protecting the ‘gamer’ identity.”
Game developer Zoe Quinn was the first woman to be attacked by GamerGate. In February 2013 she released the text-based game “Depression Quest” and although it received positive reviews from game critics, it received a lot of negative attention from gamers. Shortly after the Steam software release of “Depression Quest” in August 2014, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni published a blog post on The New York Times, claiming that Quinn had an affair with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson, which Gjoni believed led to the site’s favorable review of the game. The article went viral and a misogynistic online harassment campaign began against Quinn. The threats got so bad that Quinn had to change her phone number.
Anita Sarkeesian was the next woman to be attacked by the GamerGate movement. Since the release of her web series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” which critiques representations of women in video games, Sarkeesian has received thousands of online rape and death threats from anonymous Twitter users. On her Tumblr page, she published screenshots of the many grammatically incorrect, disrespectful tweets she received in one week.
But not all GamerGate supporters harass women, nor do they have anything against women in gaming. These nonviolent GamerGate supporters simply don’t like the way that gaming journalists critique games and gaming culture as a whole. As actor Adam Baldwin – who is credited as coining the #GamerGate hashtag – tweeted, GamerGate supporters do not believe it is the media’s job “to enforce arbitrary ‘social justice’ rules upon gamers & the culture by stifling varying viewpoints.”
Adi Robertson, who writes for the tech website The Verge said in an interview with PRI Media that “many gamers hate that real-world considerations of politics and sexism are intruding into their fantasy world.”
I had a very interesting Twitter conversation with a couple of nonviolent GamerGate supporters:
@corinne_fal of course we don’t think that! We raised 70k dollars to help get more women into gaming. You’ve been mislead lol
— Fox Philosophy (@FoxSanjuro) February 12, 2015
You can read the entire conversation here. So what’s my takeaway from this Twitter convo? The anonymous trolls give GamerGate a bad rap. Although I believe that the work Anita Sarkeesian and other gaming critics are doing is important, not all the people who disagree want her dead.
Sarkeesian doesn’t just critique misogyny in video games. She also analyzes violence in games. A common topic in the media is whether or not these violent video games lead to violent behavior. This type of commentary is what many GamerGate supporters do not like. They don’t like all being grouped together as misogynistic single men who live in their mothers’ basements and want to kill all women who game.
Although there has been no sufficient evidence to show an association between violent video games and violent behavior, we can’t deny that the media has a profound impact on our lives.
So even though I disagree with the GamerGate cause, I’m glad to know that not all of its supporters enjoy harassing women. I’ve learned that it’s important to look at all sides of an issue and be open to new ideas.
Speaking of Law and Order: SVU, did you know that Taylor Swift’s cat is named after the show’s kick-ass female detective, Olivia Benson?