My husband and I are gamers. It’s how we met. We have also both worked in the gaming industry here in China. So we have been following GamerGate pretty much since the beginning. If you don’t know what GamerGate is, lucky you, but keep reading to find out all about it. I wrote about it for the Shenzhen Daily last week. Long and short of it, a small group of misogynist gamers have been threatening to rape and murder any woman who critiques, develops, or even mentions video games. They even released the personal information of Felica Day, the Darling of the Internet, after she wrote a blog post about how much she is afraid of GamerGate.
So why am I writing about this on my blog and in a Chinese newspaper? There might not be a specific link between GamerGate and China, but a toxic, sexist gaming culture is endemic in the industry worldwide.
At my husband’s company, just last week, one of the company’s freelance employees had to call the police when a gamer threatened to kill her and her family and burn her house down. He only lived an hour away from her.
One of the company’s female employees regularly tells me about the sexist remarks made by coworkers she is subjected to on a daily basis.
The company and its partners regularly put out ads like this:
ads that are borderline pornographic and specifically tell females gamers that they are not welcome. It is important that developers in China know what is going on because they are just as much a part of the problem and need to make changes.
Even though many women have been involved in fighting GamerGate, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Leigh Alexander, to name a few, Anita Sarkeesian is someone I have been following for a long time. I really enjoy her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. She is one of the reasons I started identifying publicly and proudly as a feminist and chose to focus on her in my article.
Finally, many game companies, magazines, websites, and celebrities are speaking out against GamerGate and misogyny and sexism in video games. Hopefully change is on the way.
Check out my article in full below.
TWO weeks ago, most people probably had not heard of Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian’s name has been popular in gaming and feminist circles for over two years thanks to her highly acclaimed video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” Last month, though, the Internet exploded over GamerGate, a group of young men who lashed out at women game developers and critics after an ex-boyfriend accused female developer Zoe Quinn of exchanging sex for favorable reviews of her game. The accusations against Quinn were baseless, but the damage had been done. GamerGaters decided that women were out to destroy the games they loved and had to be stopped. It was only a matter of time before Sarkeesian was in GamerGate’s line of fire.
Last week, Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at Utah State University after a GamerGater threatened a mass shooting. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sarkeesian said, “GamerGate is really a sexist temper tantrum … They’re going after and targeting women who are trying to make changes in the [game] industry. They’re attacking anyone who supports women.” But Sarkeesian, Quinn, Brianna Wu, Leigh Alexander, and the countless other women who have been singled out for destruction by GamerGate aren’t backing down. Sarkeesian also told Rolling Stone, “We have a problem, and we are going to fix this.”
In 2012, Sarkeesian first started making headlines when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance her Web series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” The video series was designed to “explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games. The series [would] highlight the larger recurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders…[The series would] look at the way women are portrayed in mass media and the impact they have on our culture and society.”
Her goal was to raise just US$6,000 to fund the series. She raised over US$150,000 and gained almost 7,000 backers. As a woman, raising so much money and attention talking about misogyny in video games immediately made her a target for abuse by men who thought she was out to destroy the thing they owned and loved. Before her Kickstarter campaign even ended, she was receiving death and rape threats.
Over the next two years, Sarkeesian was a constant target for abuse by gamers who believed she was out to ruin games. She received videos of herself being raped by video game characters. Attempts were made to hack her social media accounts. Her website was constantly subjected to DoS (denial of service) attacks and her Wikipedia page was repeatedly edited to show doctored pornographic images of her. Threats of rape and murder were a daily occurrence. One person even created a video game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian,” where users could punch Sarkeesian’s image in the face until she was a bloody pulp. People who spoke out in favor or support of Sarkeesian were also targeted and abused.
But all of these attacks only supported Sarkeesian’s argument — the gaming industry has a problem with women. Sarkeesian has not backed down and has continued making her videos and speaking out publically for change.
In August 2014, an ex-boyfriend accused Indy game developer Zoe Quinn of sleeping with journalists for favorable game reviews. Men who believed that Quinn was the representative of corruption in game journalism (even though she isn’t a journalist or critic) began joining forces under the hashtag #GamerGate in a blitz of rape and death threats against her. Even though it was later revealed that Quinn had not exchanged sex for reviews, the GamerGate crowd was already in full force, attacking and abusing any woman in the gaming industry they could get their hands on.
Game critic Leigh Alexander wrote an article entitled “’Gamers’ are Over,” in which she talked about how the game industry has grown so huge that it is now mainstream. The image of the “lonely gamer” in his mother’s basement no longer exists, and games are now experiencing an economic and cultural boom. GamerGaters took offense to the idea that they are no longer a niche group and declared Alexander their enemy, subjecting her to sexist attacks.
Game studio owner Brianna Wu retweeted a series of images poking fun at GamerGaters. Within hours, her home address was posted online and she received rape and death threats so specific that she had to flee her home.
On Aug. 27, Sarkeesian released her latest video, “Woman as Decoration (Part 2).” That night, the harassment and threats reached such a frenzy that Sarkeesian also had to flee her home.
That GamerGate threats are so severe against women that women have had to leave their homes has revealed the true intentions of GamerGate. GamerGaters have repeatedly stated that they aren’t misogynists and that they aren’t against women in video games. They claim that GamerGate is about journalistic ethics in the online gaming press, particularly conflicts of interest between video game journalists and developers. But the fact that women game developers and critics have been targeted at a significantly higher rate than men — and that only women have had to flee their homes — demonstrates that GamerGate is, at its core, about preserving the status quo in video games, a status quo built on the exclusion and exploitation of women.
Even though GamerGate has been around since August, and Sarkeesian has been living under constant terror threats for two years, it didn’t make international mainstream news until last week, when Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at Utah State University after receiving threats of a mass shooting from someone claiming to be a member of GamerGate.
Sarkeesian had never canceled a speech before, even though she had received bomb threats for speaking engagement before. This time it was different because of Utah’s extreme gun rights laws. In Utah, anyone with a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon can carry that weapon anywhere they want, even into schools. In the past, when Sarkeesian received death threats for attending events, the police would inspect guests for weapons and anyone with a weapon would not be allowed in. But in Utah, the police are not allowed to stop people from carrying a legal firearm, even if there is a legitimate threat against someone’s life.
In Utah, the right to carry a gun is more important than the right to not be murdered by one.
Even though she had to cancel one engagement, she isn’t backing down. Sarkeesian has called for all lecturers to boycott Utah campuses until Utah’s gun laws change.
While it might seem that this is the worst time of Sarkeesian’s life, it could also be the best. Sarkeesian has now been featured in Time magazine, Rolling Stone magazine and on the front page of the New York Times. After working for change in the gaming industry for two years, game companies and other game critics are speaking out against GamerGate and in support of more diversity in games.
Sarkeesian said in her interview with Rolling Stone that after living in terror for two years, she still can’t give up. She said, “I feel like the work I’m doing is really important. The amount of support that I get for doing it, the actual change that I am starting to see, the really sweet messages that I get from people … How do you stop doing this work after that?”