Sergeant Benson Slays a Neckbeard: How SVU Foretold the Trolls
(Caution: Law and Order: SVU Spoilers– Is there such a thing?)
As a nerd of many facets I especially enjoy when my interests unexpectedly intersect. So whenever an episode of Law and Order: SVU is on that touches on video gaming in any way, I tune in, commercials or nah. As you could predict the plotlines are sensationalized at best and downright corny at worst. There’s a lot that they obviously get wrong. But there is one episode that is still unfortunately too right.
In Season 16, Episode 14 titled Intimidation Game fictional video game creator and programmer Raina Punjabi is harassed, stalked, eventually kidnapped and actually assaulted for daring to both create a non-violent game and be a woman while doing it. It’s basically their version of Gamergate, a muddled semi-targeted attack on women in the gaming industry falling under the criticism of ethics in gaming journalism. Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, basement dwellers’ favorite punching bags, were threatened and doxxed along with many other women for perceived personal slights to video game culture. One of our former writers here at Pop Culture Uncovered penned a spectacular rant back when things were going down. While neither Zoe, Anita nor any of the other women affected were physically hurt the threat was very real, causing them to essentially go into hiding and uproot their own lives.
‘But Kimono,’ you ask, ‘This was so long ago. It’s 2017, haven’t we moved past this now? No one’s seriously still pissed off about women in gaming, right?’ Wrong. You’d be unfortunately wrong. Green Ronin Publishing recently announced a talent search for their upcoming RPG–and they’re specifically looking for women writers. How awesome is that? Women professionals and creatives are largely absent from gaming development and programming and new perspectives easily make way to innovation. Predictably, this has ruffled the feathers of the shrill flock known as Men’s Rights Activists and other self-appointed elitists who have decided womens’ verses have no place in their sacred Gaming Bibles. The uproar seemed tiringly familiar and other RPG developers like Bill Bodden rushed to set them straight, even calling out men who see toxicity towards women in the gaming environment and do not act. So I went back and watched that Law and Order episode to see how much they indirectly nailed.
One of the most laughable points the dissenting gamers in the show have for why they dislike Raina’s games is that they have none. They are angry–righteous, even–when ranting about how women have no place in gaming and that they ruin the ‘integrity’ or ‘true spirit’ of the culture, yet can offer no concrete reasons why. Anita’s game lets the player choose whether or not they want to take the violent or non-violent path–not to mention there are plenty of nonviolent games designed by male programmers that aren’t denounced as not ‘true’ games for these same reasons. In the same vein, the men complaining that a talent search for women programmers is ‘sexist’ are probably the same men who have no problem watching well-endowed female NPCs walk across their screens. We are good enough to be recreated (inaccurately) for 8-bit eye candy but not enough to be the ones creating. The problem isn’t the type of game, it’s that a woman was behind the wheel.
There is no reason behind alienating women from the gaming community that makes logical sense that isn’t rooted in misogyny. It’s been established for a very long time that conflicting stereotypes and assumptions about women are just that: conflicting, stereotypical, and assuming. Women have been just as capable of writing, developing, programming, marketing, and pushing a successful game as men since the beginning of video game history. Now that the world is slowly coming to terms with this fact, more and more women are being given the opportunity to share their perspective with the world and as a result we could be looking at one of the most diverse and complex eras of gaming that has ever been.
For those looking for No Girls Allowed gaming, you do not have to go far. You have thousands, if not millions, of games at your disposal. But I do have to ask: for those who are adamantly against women in their gaming credits, are they sure they haven’t fallen in love with a game that’s been worked on by a woman already? If anything, getting more women involved in gaming could bring us protagonists and storylines we have never seen before. And greatly improve the realism of video game boob physics. The gaming industry’s large indifference towards its female audience has always been stark and is slow to change. Steering towards diversity in the development phase will ensure we will not be looking at the same old game formula for the rest of nerddom.
In Law and Order hardcore gamers are portrayed as unyielding, misguided mini-vigilantes acting out the games they spend so much time on–a very irresponsible way to display violent video games and those who play them on television. The bad guys are also found and charged in true cop drama fashion, something wholly missing from real life as the anonymity and expanse of online harassment makes it impossible to hold one person or a few people responsible. It is easy to dismiss it all as over-the-top and just for ratings, ignoring the fact that pervasive hostility towards women in gaming on all levels didn’t just appear for the show and has not gone away in the smoky aftermath of Gamergate. When hearing Zoe discuss the abuse she experienced that we so often lump under the umbrella for trolling, it is not hard to feel like you are dealing with what she calls ‘Schrodinger’s Murderer’. It’s almost impossible to know for whom these kinds of threats are real and for whom they are just a game.