Last Wednesday, feminist video game blogger Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her talk at Utah State University after receiving multiple death threats, including a letter from an anonymous student that threatened to carry out “the deadliest shooting in American history.” Sarkeesian was to speak out at the event about misogyny and harassment in video game culture. She’s been receiving threats like these ever since she launched a 2012 Kickstarter campaign to examine feminist tropes in video games. Some of the threats are associated with the recent Gamergate movement, which attracted attention last weekend when threats from persons behind the movement forced game developer and Gamergate critic Brianna Wu to leave her home.
Gamergate is a controversy in video game culture that began in August 2014; it concerns issues of sexism and misogyny in the video game community. Zoe Quinn, an indie game developer, released a game titled “Depression Quest.” An ex boyfriend of hers posted information that month that claimed that Quinn had slept around with multiple journalists in order to garner positive reviews for her newly released game. Quinn and journalists both denied that they had any sexual relations whatsoever. Many will try and say that the movement is all about ethics in game journalism, but the actions made by the so-called movement paint a picture that is quite the opposite.
Instead, hackers posted Quinn’s personal
information on numerous web sites that included her home address and nude pictures. This launched the Internet culture war that Gamergate has manifested itself into today. One side holds independent game makers and video game critics, many of whom are women advocating for greater inclusion in gaming culture. The other side includes an army of misogynistic trolls against feminism. It’s a clash between the classically stereotypical nerdy white dude who digs guns and boobs, and the ever growing and changing group of people who play video games now.
Jenn Frank, a video gaming journalist, was able to sum up the controversy best in an essay she wrote for the Guardian, that “Gamergate is less about ethics, and more about drowning out critics of traditional, patriarchal, dude- dominated gaming culture.”
Supporters of Gamergate will continue to argue that the nastiness that these feminist bloggers and game critics are facing is merely a coincidence – and these supporters will probably never accept their unease at becoming irrelevant in a new wave of examining video game culture. The movement largely has a desire for gaming sites to stop covering issues of female representation in games, but given the increased audience of women as both video gamers and critics, it probably won’t happen anytime soon.
If Gamergate is the last breath of an old mindset, then these new perspectives and ways of looking at video games are the birth of a new one, and we have to do what we can to promote this new age in gaming and its critique. There’s a culture war happening not only in just games, but also in movies, television, books and many other things, and it’s happening everywhere. And the extremity of the tactics of these sexists, misogynists and bigots is an implied acceptance that they are losing, even as the ridiculous shouting matches continue.