Are gamers misogynistic? Some certainly are
Opinion: ‘Virtually every time a feminist comments on video gaming culture, slope-headed reactionaries attempt to shut her down with threats of sexual violence’
Criticism of video games has, traditionally, come from the likes of Mrs Lovejoy in the Simpsons: “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”
If you never play video games you will, most likely, be unaware of the furious controversy that has belatedly been dubbed “Gamergate”. Gaming’s version of the Dreyfuss Affair has, to this point, played out largely in the (admittedly quite wide) digital margins. Anybody with half an interest in contemporary discourse should, however, make an attempt to disentangle the increasingly knotted threads. There are lessons here about the slipperiness of social media, the widening influence of gaming culture and – more than anything else – the continuing prevalence of violent misogyny in popular culture. Theses are being written.
We should begin with the grim story of games developer Zoe Quinn. Earlier this year, Quinn released an interesting text-based game entitled Depression Quest. Dealing with issues raised by her own struggles with depression, the project triggered a few thoughtful pieces from specialist sites. Then Eron Gjoni, Quinn’s former boyfriend, wrote a meandering post suggesting that Zoe had cheated on him with a journalist from the gaming blog Kotaku. Suggestions that Quinn had received special treatment were refuted, but that did not dam the flow of spittle-flecked digital antagonism. There was a death threat. There were attempts at computer hacking. It hardly needs to be said (tragically) that there was much discussion of rape.
The campaign had depressing similarities with the treatment meted out to the cultural commentator Anita Sarkeesian. For the past few years, Sarkeesian has been writing persuasively on the stereotyped portrayal of women in video games. The Neanderthal contingent fully woke up when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance a series of videos in 2012. The resulting flood of misogynist sewage has continued right up to this week. On Wednesday, it was confirmed that Ms Sarkeesian had cancelled a speech at Utah State University after the college received emails threatening violence. “Forced to cancel my talk at USU after receiving death threats because police wouldn’t take steps to prevent concealed firearms at the event,” she tweeted.
Last weekend, Brianna Wu, a games developer from Boston, fled her home when an online pest threatened to rape and murder her. There’s more.
Virtually every time a feminist comments on video gaming culture, slope-headed reactionaries attempt to shut her down with threats of sexual violence, accusations of corruption or with general non-specific, pre-linguistic grunting. The term “social justice warrior” (surely a good thing) has been used pejoratively to describe those writers who choose to examine the social and political subtexts of contemporary video games. “The problem is that women are doing it,” the admirable Laurie Penny wrote. “Underneath it all, you’re just a woman, just a body. You can be reduced to flesh. You are less. You are an object. You are other. LOL, boobs.”
That’s all true. But there’s something else. Criticism of video games has, traditionally, come from the likes of Mrs Lovejoy in the Simpsons. “Won’t somebody think of the children,” the oldsters bellow as they get the titles wrong and mispronounce the console names. Commentators like Sarkeesian and Quinn are relatively young and totally clued in to the gaming zeitgeist. It’s bad enough that they’re women. But they’re doing their weeing from within the tent. How dare they not conform to our rebellious non-conformity.
The story gets particularly tangled with the emergence of the “gamergate” hashtag (that’s “#gamergate” to you, Grandad). Devised by Adam Baldwin, an actor who thinks himself a “small government conservative libertarian”, the campaign claimed to be concerned with the supposed corruption in games journalism supposedly exemplified by the supposed (in fact imaginary) misdemeanours of Quinn.
Yet the hashtag rapidly found itself attached to tweets whingeing about pesky feminists and the attempts to impose an “agenda” on video game criticism.
You will find perfectly reasonable people who view the Orange Order as nothing more than a harmless social club for Protestant gentlemen, but its stubborn association with sectarianism should be enough to scare away any liberal-minded citizen. Similarly, the misogyny that gathers around the gamergate hashtag is enough to render it toxic.
“Imagine there were an organisation set up to destroy the public perception of games and gamers,” Graham Linehan wrote on Twitter. “#gamergate would be their masterpiece.” He’s right and he’s wrong. Fewer people outside the gaming world are paying attention than the tweet assumes. But the campaign certainly reinforces the outdated notion that gamers are all teenage boys with pizza dependencies. An increasing number – such as Graham and your current correspondent – are more than halfway through their biblical span. About half are women (why would they not be?). Some are prominent feminists.Sadly, there is no group in society more easily aggrieved – not UFO nuts, not religious maniacs – than the misogynist video-gaming minority. Don’t feed their fantasies. Don’t entertain their prejudices. Let them wither into insignificance as the demographics widen.
Donald Clarke’s column will appear in News every Saturday
* This article was amended on Saturday, October 18th. “Damn the flow” has been corrected to “dam the flow”. The error occurred in the editing process.