I’ve been doing a lot of research and reflection on GamerGate. For those of you lucky enough to have missed this, this is a movement largely inside the video game community, ostensibly about journalistic ethics. But spend a few minutes trying to wade through the misogyny on display will leave anyone who lived through the 80s saying, “Where’s the beef?”
This is not a video game site, though I’ve been playing video games since my family had a Pong machine when I was very young. It is, however, a site about the intersection of feminism and geek media, and this existential crisis in our neighboring fandom hits a lot of notes that comics fans are extremely familiar with.
I’ve been following Anita’s work since her kickstarter (which I happily backed), and knew who Zoe Quinn was before August, and am friends with several of the peripheral targets. And I’ve read through the GamerGate internal git repository. The whole thing left me wondering, where on earth does all this come from? Why are there so many people, mostly men, ready to jump on this bandwagon that seems so obviously morally suspect from day one?
In other words, how did this culture get this broken?
Thinking back on the history of video games (which Ms. Sarkeesian has done an excellent job discussing), in the 80s and 90s things were mostly benign. Games were played in bedrooms and living rooms and basements, and nobody really cared how many women and girls were controlling Mario. (There were a lot of us, even if the marketing skewed heavily male.) Women were an afterthought and there are things to criticize, but I claim that the culture hadn’t gone crazy yet.
Then online play happened, and something went badly wrong. Ask any women what their experience was like in the early to mid 2000s, up until virtually the present day. The early adopters of services such as XBox Live (and others, but my personal experiences were heavily XBox and PC) were predominantly male and young. And they brought over a very specific young male culture, that we’ve all seen, that was heavy into insulting friends. It’s not awesome but it’s something young, immature men do, where they try and call each other worse and worse names as a bonding exercise.
When women joined in, the men naturally tried to include them in this culture, and called them things like bitch, cunt, and dyke. For most women who were not spending their lives in this context, this was exceptionally hostile. The men didn’t understand this, the women didn’t understand what they were doing, and so women == unpleasantness for the dominant gaming culture. So they started believing it, and escalated their game, and most of the women left. I know I cancelled my Xbox Live account for a long time because online play was just not fun.
And this created a feedback loop with the industry. Women suddenly really didn’t play online games, and online was where the money was. So the games started getting hyper masculinized. Where before the edgy games were like Mortal Kombat, now they were Grand Theft Auto and Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball. Which attracted more men, which amplified the toxic to women culture.
And the people who liked this sort of thing were very happy. They had their gendered space, they had their culture they enjoyed, they got to be assholes with no consequences and people liked them for it. A paradise.
That’s the context for GamerGate. It’s impossible to understand where this comes from without that specific culture.
So, why the sea change? Why did feminism and social justice and liberalism make a comeback?
My theory is MMOs, which ultimately means World of Warcraft. Women /love/ these games. I love these games. Unlike the random companions of the above culture, we started forming persistent communities. These communities started to have women as a reasonable percentage, and when people brought over gamer culture, the women actually had enough backup to shout them down. Sure, there are GamerBro guilds, but that’s not the dominant culture in those games. And the women started teaching the men to not be raging assholes all the time or they’d be the ones ostracized from the group. I’ve seen this dynamic play out time and again over the last decade.
And then when the women all became confident gamers, many of us went back to other games. And instead of just logging out the first time someone called us a fucking slut whore bitch, we had enough strength to stand up and say no, and suddenly some of the men started coming to our defense. And then a lot of them.
And now, for the GamerBro, his culture he loves is actually under assault. His boys’ club where you can be as awful as you want and people think it is funny, where people conform or leave to his view of how people should act, wasn’t like that anymore. He was the one being criticized for the first time. His friends were the ones leaving. He, the serial abuser of everyone, felt under assault. Games weren’t a safe place to level up as an asshole anymore.
This is why, when Melissa McEwan complained about a Penny Arcade strip that tried to make Rape funny, they lost their minds.
This is why, when Elizabeth Sampat made a plea to game developers to skip PAX and go to conventions with a better culture, they felt a need to counterattack.
This is why, when Anita Sarkeesian started making videos about how sometimes video games themselves are misogynistic and can we please pay more attention, they felt a need to discredit and destroy her.
This is why, when a vengeful ex-boyfriend accused Zoe Quinn of sleeping around to get better reviews for her indy games, they were in the perfect place to believe it and feel outraged.
This is why, when the other half of the Internet rose to the defense of all of the above, we entered a holy war.
This is why it’s not a consumer revolt, it’s not about ethics in journalism. It’s not even really directly about misogyny, though that’s a lot closer to the mark. It’s about trying to bring back a dated, toxic, dead boys club culture. Which can’t come back. There’s no means for that to happen. We’re not going to apologize and we’re not giving the keys to the clubhouse back and leaving. We don’t want to. We never wanted to let you have them in the first place. Your culture was the anomaly that lived longer than was necessary, and sorry, you’ve got to cope with that.
Note that our side of the movement (amusingly dubbed Social Justice Warriors by the GamerGate bros) isn’t saying companies can’t produce games like Grand Theft Auto. We’re saying if they do, we’re going to call them out on what they’re doing and say we don’t like it. It’s okay, they don’t need our approval. We aren’t gods. We won’t play their games, and when do you care about someone insulting you? It’s all you do to everyone else.
In the internal memos of GamerGate, one of the state goals is for the SJWs to apologize. For what? For existing? For playing games? For not rolling over or leaving when someone calls us a fucking whore slut pussy? Because to be honest, we feel like you owe us a massive apology for how you’ve acted for the last 15 god damned years, and it’s about time you’re losing the stranglehold on the hobby you used to have.
Me? I’m feeling like it’s starting to be okay to play some games again. And I couldn’t be more excited.