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Gaming While Female: the High Cost of #GamerGate

I spectacularly lost my patience for the mainstream media, feminists and comic culture treating #GamerGate like something weird happening in a bubble over in gaming-land. I’m done. The victimization of female games needs to stop NOW.

Women in gaming don’t have to work to get rape threats. Just showing up is enough.

Like other technology sector positions, jobs in the gaming industry and with the media covering it are overwhelmingly male, and often hostile to women seeking to enter. I’m sure I was not the only person to be told by a gaming exec that I was not hirable ‘because you are a woman’. Unlike many other technology fields, there is also a tremendous community of fans interacting and playing the products being produced, one which was increasingly defined by overt, borderline violent hostility to women.

Of course, that was all before #GamerGate; nowadays you don’t have to engage the gaming community to get rape and death threats. Having breasts and making a game, or being a feminist critic of other topics and mentioning you might discuss games in the future is adequate to be targeted. Or retweeting an article from the NY times tangentially associated with #GamerGate; that one got me a few months back. Nowadays, in other words, you shouldn’t go near any aspect of the industry as a woman or a known woman sympathizer unless you want the rest of you life to be defined by the threats you receive. Just showing up is enough.

Now before they all start yelling, yes, #GamerGate is hypothetically a two sided debate about standardizing ethics practices or something. Yes, people who describe themselves as pro-GG have experienced death threats and harassment too, and yes, it is possible that the stress that ‘side’ places on not being ‘weepy’ and ‘whiny’ causes those incidents to be underreported. Yes, that harassment is bad too. ALL HARASSMENT IS BAD. I don’t care what side of some other argument you put yourself on. And for that matter, I don’t believe for one second you do either; there is no world in which people who actually wanted to get past this shit and talk standardized ethical procedures wouldn’t leave the rapists & murderers  to play with #GamerGate and go pick a better hashtag to argue about this stuff in. Here, I’ll pick one. #EthicsGate. You’re welcome. Now go away please, I’m trying to talk harassment.

Sadly, women in the industry getting driven from their homes and stopped from doing their jobs by people with their personal data telling you they are outside your house to rape you to death for speaking about games, or daring for to make them, isn’t enough to constitute a serious problem in the eyes of the media. #GamerGate receives sporadic coverage on the occasional mainstream news site, some of it even marginally accurate, and the occasional celebrity pops up to call the whole thing awful. (Seth Rogan, astonishingly, led the pack on this.) By and large these acknowledgements that something is happening in nerd land treat the whole mess as a curiosity.

The headlines of these articles make it seem like gaming is some bizarre anthropological study of isolated cultures, rather than, say, a massive, billion-dollar industry employing people all across the country that suddenly went from occasional ugly trolling moments to wanting to beat the shit out of every woman that stands still long enough, nearly overnight. After all, its just a problem in gaming, right? Those women chose to make a living doing what they loved; they could leave at any time!

Of course, they actually can’t leave, ever. Kathy Sierra, one of the first to be doxed out of the tech field for the sin of existing while female, wrote an article in October 2014 discussing how completely disappearing from the internet, moving and changing jobs for more than five years didn’t stop people remembering her and picking the campaign right back up again as soon as she reappeared. A decade after she ‘fed the trolls’ by being female, she rejoined and got harassed straight back off Twitter again, this time in a climate where one of her doxers achieved fame, interviews, and praise for his later work among her industry co-workers, despite his continued gloating about his attack on her.

If Zoe Quinn or Brianna Wu tried to quit being game developers, this mess would still follow them, their parents, their children, and their employers. Probably forever. Anita Saarkeesian, the feminist cultural critic best known for a breakdown of gender in Lego’s toy advertising, and who barely addressed gaming at all before being attacked just sort of went with it and became a feminist critic of gaming culture specifically. After all, how do you discuss American Apparel’s hiring policies when gamers are calling in bomb threats to the school you are at?

(No, inevitable trolls, the guy was apparently not in a position to seriously carry the bombing out. As they discovered well after the fact. Good job, you sure showed how that woman was terrified of a plausible threat that wasn’t from a nearby crazy terrifying her for his own purposes, but instead from a far away crazy terrifying her for his own purposes. If only she could tell when a threat was real, like if you make it not ok to threaten to murder hundreds for the lulz.)

The golden age of women in comics.

A solid 50% of the reason I am personally so frustrated by this was that last week, in my comic book culture heavy twitter feed, everyone was celebrating the dawn of a new age of inclusiveness for women in comic culture. To some degree it is; there have been great forward strides recently. So why do I have a bad taste in my mouth? Maybe it is because of how many female comic creators have told me there is no gendered harassment problem in geek culture nowadays. Maybe it is because I always have to be the one to bring this stuff up, even in crowds more than willing to talk about how things like how creepy Fifty Shades of Grey is.

Or maybe it is because I already wrote this article once (maybe twice…ok, four times). I write it, I save it on my hard drive and then I delete it unposted, because why borrow trouble? I have things to accomplish in comic culture which I can do safely and easily. There’s no reason to risk finding my head on the chopping block by talking gaming online, not while this is still going on. My day job isn’t the sort that would react well to people getting seriously harassment happy towards me, and there’s a whole internet of empowered women with things to say. Let someone else do it, right?

Yeah…except not enough people are doing it. Probably because they are pragmatic, scared, or discouraged, just like me. Or because they don’t see the harm in letting the women of the games industry swing for a while to avoid risking the lightning hitting them instead. #GamerGate isn’t going away soon (though someone will surely dream up a new hashtag eventually). The movement isn’t interested in just shutting specific people up; it did that fairly efficiently, at least for a time. All the women and men out there still arguing with them are doing it because they are not willing to surrender their place in gaming, their hobby, or their career over this, and there will always be some women who want it bad enough to fight. (We are stubborn like that. Almost as if we are human or something.) But six months in, with feminists starting to give up and go elsewhere, and more and more mainstream media outlets calling their fight to exist in gaming ‘old news’, they are increasingly doing so alone.

So here it is, my tiny little voice adding itself to the pile. Apparently, tiny little people like me are all the help these women will get. Because out of all the feminist comic sites (and there are lots), I can remember maybe three articles about #GamerGate over the last 6 months. Maybe. All of comic culture’s prolific feminist writers, and they just about matched the Washington Post, that bastion of indifference to geeks. Two of the most aggressively cool creators I follow tweet on very rare occasions registering displeasure with harassment, but beyond that, nothing.

Gaming is fundamentally not comic culture’s problem. It also isn’t something the mainstream of the press and feminist movements should have to, or ever will, concern themselves with regularly. But #GamerGate isn’t normal gaming social upheaval. This is a major, regressive pushback against feminism and equality for just about every minority group, in a giant, planetwide economic and cultural engine.

The #GamerGate controversy is terrifying. It is pervasive. It has already silenced journalists. It drove people from homes and jobs. It stopped an entire company from presenting at PAX East this year, because risking your own life at a convention isn’t the same as risking the lives of employees.

It impacts the life of every female geek, whether they acknowledge it or not, recognize it or not. Every woman who has something to say about gaming today has to think about this. The internet is vast, single voices are small and often unnoticed, but the chance always exists that you will be next. Kathy Sierra wrote about the point at which women in gaming acquire enough attention to draw the lightning down; her take was that once you hit that point, there is no going back, and no ‘victory’. The victory you can not win, if it isn’t clear, is the ability to exist in the games industry. Women who succeed in the field, be it through incisive criticism, game design, or snappy reviews, are punished. Consistently and aggressively, in a way that would never be allowed elsewhere in our culture.

For the mainstream to cover #GamerGate in the light of a temporary problem for feminist game critics alone is incredibly dismissive. Every girl, boy, woman, and man who paid any attention at all to games, read any of the gaming sites, or checked out the trending hashtags on Tumblr or Twitter for the last six months has been exposed to this. And every single one learned exactly the same lesson:

Being labelled as a feminist in gaming culture is potentially fatal. And no one is coming to help you.

Can you imagine what would happen if this much aggressive hate got aimed at Jennifer Lawrence over the Hunger Games films? Not the cranky people who doubtless call her a talentless asshole, I mean hundreds of tweets from the same person, with her social security security number, her family’s phone numbers, pictures right outside her house, detailed descriptions of assault strategies and techniques they assembled with the help of their like-minded friends.

That scenario? That would be better. Because she has security. Because feminists would be appalled. The media would be horrified. It would attract attention if it happened once.

Now picture it happening for 6 months straight. Add a bomb threat at the Golden Globes. Except  the Globes are a school she happened to be at. And it isn’t Jennifer Lawrence. It is any woman. It could be you, any time, any day, just for being a woman near a game. And the feminist bloggers all treat it like a tragic ‘gaming problem’. The media takes 3 months to notice, gets the facts wrong, then apologizes to your would-be rapist, because your evidence isn’t enough to disprove the baseline assumption that you are just an attention-seeking liar.

This is an issue about women losing ground when it comes to the ability to work in their job of choice; with the ties between the programming and game design communities, it could one day wipe out the T in STEM. No big deal though, women can always work in SEM.

More importantly, this is about women of all ages, everywhere, seeing a societal acceptance of the idea that they just can’t talk about gaming any more. Not because no one can; those hashtags keep on trending. But you are woman. So just sit down and shut up until the gamers get their shit together, ok?

In the face of that, what can 1 person do? Nothing. But society as a whole could push back, could report with something more than clinical curiosity like our assailants are a science project. The expectation that something will not happen because it is so profoundly unacceptable that everyone in the country will be mad at you is a powerful tool. It is enforced by the media, the bloggers, the professionals in all fields. The people who aren’t stepping up to help.

Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu and the other victims should have been empowered by the backing of an entire nation and most of a planet that doesn’t treat women that way. This isn’t a bizarre item of interest, or the source for a funny nerd joke. It is a group of regressive idiots retaking the right to assault women without consequences, and it damn well deserves more than the occasional tweet from a director going ‘well, harassment is a bad thing…’. Many of the people who carry out these attacks have jobs in the field. Some have even been identified by name. They still have jobs.

The mainstream media raised a hue and cry over Sony getting hacked. People argued about the revelation that the executives were telling each other inappropriate jokes. Meanwhile, lower in the company, terrified women get to experience the fear of achieving success impressive enough to attract attention. Lower in the company, the few women who fought their way through the competition to get jobs  in gaming are seeing their opportunities strangled by hate speech going un-contradicted save by half-hearted disapproval from websites reciting truisms about being polite to other people they learned in kindergarten.

There is no ability to speak freely where fear of violent retaliation hangs over the speaker. There is no freedom of speech for women in gaming culture today, to such an extent that the companies they work for find their movements limited.

How long do women have to face their nightmares daily, and go to work with a death sentence over their head before it becomes a mainstream problem?

How long do creative women have to live in terror before it stops being a golden age for women?

How long before it is worth talking about the screams coming from the hobby next door?

I’m not demanding  that the mainstream media or the feminists of comic culture bare claws and leap into the fray; I wouldn’t wish #GamerGate rage on my worst enemy. But I don’t think a paragraph of recognition and disgust at what is happening a few times over the course of six months should be too much to ask of people who have an audience willing to listen .

At the end of the day, all I’m asking people to do is use the voice they have, because unlike the women in the gaming industry, no one has taken it from them under threat of force.

If #GamerGate targets someone, this will be their life. For the rest of their life.

This happened when someone asked me if anything all that bad happens to the women who set off the #GamerGate crowd. It is entirely composed of rephrased, and occasionally direct sentences found during a very, very brief dip into comment threads on the subject (parenthetical blithering mine). Trigger warning, obviously, though I rephrased to eliminate the profanity and slurs in almost all cases:

Because you are a woman (or, occasionally, a feminist man), you are a horrible, dangerous threat to society. You are probably part of a cabal of evil liberal vagina-terrorists, but even if you aren’t, you are still evil. If we let you live, and continue to like games, help make games, or write about games, you will destroy us, because you hate all white cis males. Your opinion (doesn’t matter what it is) is radical feminism. You would never sleep with a straight man except to accomplish something you couldn’t do on your own. Anything you have accomplished you earned on your back. Any discomfort you feel at sexual language, propositions or harassment is just whining (even if you are pro-GG), and anything you write about your experiences is just weeping into a keyboard.

(Cis = straight, non-transgender individuals. The fact that the #GamerGate crowd is among a very small group of people to adopt the proper term for that is incredibly bizarre, especially since they are almost universally transphobic.)

Asking for help from anyone, especially the police or FBI, is weakness. It proves you want a handout rather than equality. If you wanted equality you would be happy with the right to vote and the right to work. The internet is the great equalizer (truth!) and it enables everyone to make games on an even playing field (bullshit!). Women like you who say they are paid less than an equivalent male co-worker just bribed someone to lie so they can have more money than they deserve. In the alternative, they just aren’t as qualified, and only got hired because of affirmative action in the first place.

You, for the crime of being female and in the industry, are a Social Justice Warrior. This is somehow even worse than a feminist, because it means you are not just serving your own agenda with your blatant, aggressive female-ness. You also probably support diversity in gaming (not just the guys we shoot at, even the guys we play as have to be diverse? That would ruin everything!) You probably like transgender people too. I heard you SJWs want to let gay people stare at the lovingly rendered backsides of the Call of Duty characters while the camera floats an inch away during hour-long stealth missions too! Only totally straight men can get off on the incredibly unsubtle homoeroticism that is the king of the shooters! (ok, that last part was me. I can’t help it! Call of Duty is SO into cameras zoomed into the character’s butt, it is ridiculous.) Oh, that reminds me, it is your fault they nerfed the stats in Call of Duty! They wouldn’t have rebalanced it unless they were making it easier for your incompetent, girly little fingers.

Because you are female, your articles about your experiences or opinions (or the narrative of your games, whatever) are solely to attract attention, which you were then to weak to cope with getting. Why can’t you be strong like all the male developers who got harassed by people for redesigning Devil May Cry’s main character? Those guys never got scared. You are probably just faking death threats so more people will notice you, because neediness is an inherent trait of femininity. Alongside slutiness and SJW syndrome, of course.

You are a fake geek girl too, obviously, or you wouldn’t be here. You probably faked your way into geek culture, slept your way to the top, then wrote that incredibly offensive [insert whatever you did] all so that men would want you. I bet you want to be raped. I bet you will beg for my dick after I follow you home tonight, climb through your window, and hit you over the head with my die-cast Batarang replica. Here is a picture of it, and the outfit I am wearing tonight when I come over. Get ready to beg, slut.

You, because you are female, will be told, in great detail, about the rapes you will experience. You will hear all about your impending death and how you will beg for it before you die. You will receive emails with every naughty pic you ever sent to a lover, or snapshots of yourself, or any photos for medical documentation you had anywhere near a modem. You will get a neatly arranged list of the phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers of family members, kid’s school schedules, maybe a map showing your locations throughout the day. (These things are so well organized they look like an application for the Bar Exam; they probably contain things you didn’t know about yourself.)

A redacted dox file of a #GamerGate victim

A redacted dox file of a #GamerGate victim

You will learn about how the assailant will rape your father or husband and infect him with aids, of which he will then die. (This one is especially strange to me, because these guys inevitably use homophobic slurs like the term ‘fa***t’ to describe the victim, seemingly without realizing that this means 1) they will be engaging in homosexual acts themselves, and 2) that  they are also suffering from aids. If they are especially racist, it is sometimes described as ‘black aids’, raising the question of whether it is the blind guy from the Chappelle show KKK skit writing the threats, or just a guy who is really, really self-hating. Think the threats through before you type, folks, just sayin’.)

If your dog dies, people will make Twitter profiles and tell you that he killed himself to get away from you. You will be told to stop whining and weeping by people who claim to be against the harassment of women; some of them will be people you respect, want to work for, or currently work for. You will hear, over and over, that you asked for it. Death threats may be wrong as a general matter, you will be told, but you knew what you were getting into when you decided to be a woman.

Go ahead, write about women in gaming. Why would you hesitate?

As a feminist SJW radical, you had a moral obligation to never have sex ever, so your sensitives about having photos or information from your loving, committed relationship of several years ago all over your wikipedia page are totally hypocritical. Also, why are you on Wikipedia? You are causing trouble and inviting increased harassment. Don’t worry, Wikipedia’s governing body will help by banning you, literally silencing your ability to dispute the lies that will be posted about you.

If you are REALLY lucky, Jayne from Firefly will tell everyone where to find the document with your stolen personal information, and suggest exciting new insults for people to use on you, like ‘Social Justice Warrior’!

(Note: to the best of my knowledge, actor Adam Baldwin only retweeted pages containing links to the dox of victims once. He has also stated that he didn’t intend to name the entire movement when he coined the term #GamerGate, and that harassment is not good. As of this writing, however, he continues to celebrate the ‘small victory’ that is #GamerGate in the ‘long war’ use the term SJW and other very offensive terms to complain extensively about us weepy liberal rad fems to everyone and anyone on Twitter. Also, he wants you to know that he isn’t a gamer. Because this is totally just a problem with those nerds over there.)  

The fantasy death of #GamerGate

The notion that this will soon die down, and on that day we will all just get up and pretend this attitude won’t continue, won’t get worse, won’t affect the content of games and the coverage of games in the future, is incredibly naive. The idea that they will make their point about how games focus too much on adding female characters, diversity, and fair representation, then go home and let us have games with all those things, or even articles asking for them, is insane.

The big sites could barely lift a finger for the last 6 months, in terror of setting the #GamerGate people off, especially the ones who work in the industry; what are the odds they hire a woman, or let her write articles about representation in games? What are the odds developers hire women in prominent positions, if an ex-boyfriend might turn them into the next Zoe Quinn at any moment, leaving the game buried under waves of death threats?

That, of course, is an optimistic outcome, since it assumes that women will continue to seek entry into the field. The fantasy that teaching every girl and woman alive today that they are not welcome, that their accomplishments will be dismissed as the result of fucking its way to the top, and more importantly that mainstream media, and even mainstream feminists will not lift a hand to prevent them being harassed, hounded out of the entire internet, and shrugged off as an unfortunate victim of some regressive subculture will not be a widespread cultural phenomenon is just that; fantasy.

The only solution is condemning these actions and expressing solidarity with the victims. Not by one or two random people, but on a broader scale. Continuously, consistently pushing back against proponents of harassment and rape threats, continually ejecting them from discussions, continually refusing to allow them to hijack discussion of these issues by ranting about games journalism is how they will eventually come to recognize their conduct as unacceptable. Pushing back against people like Baldwin, who serve as their ambassadors and representatives in culture at large, is another way to directly refuse to support this conduct. Yes, convention runners, some people might buy tickets to get a piece of paper signed by Jayne. But by letting him show up and make money in your event you help him reach an audience for all that harassment and aggression he is so happy to see succeed. Stopping him from making that money tells him it isn’t ok to cheer for hurting women, it tells #GamerGate that the occasional radical supporter in Hollywood doesn’t give them mainstream acceptance or a free pass on violent conduct, and it tells women they will be welcome, or at least marginally safe, in your space.

That is how you create change, and drive cultural shift. The unacceptable will always exist, but pushing back against it defines its boundaries and limits its reach. Segregating an entire field, rendering it off limits to any woman or minority not willing to literally risk their life to pursue their hobby is short-sighted and dangerous.

Raising an entire generation of women to know they can’t work in the games industry, because even breaking up with the wrong man won’t just threaten your life, but also the lives of your family, is the opposite of feminism. It is profoundly regressive. Failing to push back, failing to shame every inch of the industry that doesn’t bar known sources of death threats and harassment from employment, or depicting the harassers as anything other than vile and unwelcome in the present day empowers the people using this controversy as an excuse to terrify and exclude victims and potential victims. Society should absolutely deem this type of conduct unacceptable, and act on it. Until they do, #GamerGate will never really be over.

About El Anderson (8 Articles)
Comic Editor, named El Anderson. Hi! Doing my best to help women & girls thrive & participate in geek culture.
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