This month of August has been one of the most frustrating in a long time for a number of reasons. One of those reasons has been a Twitter trend dubbed #GamerGate, which in recent weeks has been a conflict between many video game players and journalists/critics/etc. While those participating in it all say that their intention is to instill integrity in gaming journalism (another loaded topic for another time), a lot of this antagonism stems from the blatant misogyny that many of these male gamers have displayed towards game developer Zoe Quinn and critic Anita Sarkeesian.
When Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni (who has since clarified his initial statements) accused her of cheating on him with Kotaku game reviewer Nathan Grayson, a subset of gamers cried foul of “corruption” and that she was sleeping around just to get good reviews for her game Depression Quest (despite Grayson never having written a review). Somehow Quinn became the target for ruining “journalistic integrity” instead of, you know, the actual journalist in this situation.
Meanwhile, Sarkeesian has been creating a Kickstarter-funded video series, “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games,” for the past couple years that examines how female characters in video games are often marginalized and objectified. Many of the people attacking Sarkeesian reason their actions by arguing that her Kickstarter funds have been put to shady use, among other excuses, but these accusations have been unfounded.
Misogyny in the video game realm has been well known for a long time now. The incessant rape and death threats (among other generally horrible terms) lobbied at these two women in the past month have triggered a conversation about what can be done to change the ways women are treated in gaming by both the gamers and the developers/producers of games. The worst of it seems to have passed, hopefully, but it’s important to remember that this conversation shouldn’t be limited to just gaming.
Geek culture in general has taken over the mainstream in a way that was most likely unanticipated almost two decades ago, and now the previously put-upon culture is the one in power. So when a beloved property receives criticism, the push-back often looks like a pack of wolves defending what they perceive as “theirs.” Female game journalists like Jenn Frank are even leaving the industry because the sustained abuse has become unbearable. And unfortunately this form of abuse isn’t restricted to the dark side of gaming culture (although that is just about the worst of the worst).
Negative reviews of films based on major geek properties get attacked on a frequent basis regardless of the critic’s gender, but the comments were decidedly gender-pointed in the case of Amy Nicholson’s review of The Avengers. Nicholson, much like Sarkeesian, created a balanced and fair piece of art criticism and was met with vitriol simply because she dared to have a different opinion. She also happened to be a woman doing this, so double strike. Examples of such poetry include “stick to rom-coms, bitch,” “self-absorbed cunt,” and “she liked Green Lantern because Ryan Reynolds… was shirtless.”
Back in April of this year, veteran journalist and comics editor Janelle Asselin wrote a harsh analysis of the Teen Titans #1 comic cover. While Asselin was critical of other aspects of the cover, her most ardent criticism was the portrayal of Wonder Girl. Her points reflected concerns similar to Sarkeesian’s, namely that the female character was presented as an over-sexualized object. This is nothing new in the long and problematic history of women in comics, but it becomes a legitimate point of concern when said character is an under-aged teen. And, like clockwork, the same hateful sexism from the male-dominated target demographic arrived.
The sad thing is that this conversation about sexism isn’t just limited to traditionally geek media. In the last couple of weeks, dozens of Hollywood actresses became victims of a widespread hack into their iCloud accounts for nude photographs. Although most of the reaction to this theft and invasion of privacy was justified anger, that didn’t mean that the actresses were free from victim blaming in some corners of the media. Sarkeesian had a similar experience of victim blaming. And then when a few of the actresses, such as Mary Elizabeth Winstead, spoke out about the subject, they got the same offensive and gender-pointed insults that Quinn, Sarkeesian, et al experienced.
These incidents leave the impression that these women were aggressively attacked (including, as mentioned before, threatened with rape and death) because they expressed their individual voice, sexuality and/or dared to point out that, hey, maybe we should be more mindful and considerate of how females are portrayed and treated across the media. The fact that these situations still occur in 2014 indicates that this subject is one that should be addressed now, and silence on the matter just leaves this to continue on longer than it should in this day and age.
P.S. After finishing the article above I learned that Quinn had been spying on the 4chan message boards (where most of the misogynist harassment originates from, and also where the celebrity photos were initially posted) for some time now. Quinn and Sarkeesian have frequently been accused of making up their abuse claims, but the compilation of messages that Quinn found and released this morning reveals that #GamerGate, regardless of what it has since morphed into, very much started as an organized attack meant to tear them down.