#Bendghazi. #StopTheGOP. #CDNPoli. It is tough to keep up with Twitter’s always changing trends, but some hashtags are worth paying attention to. Lately, users may have noticed a new hashtag — #GamerGate — popping up on their screens. Given its title, it is fair to think that the story behind the hashtag affects only video gamers. #GamerGate is a movement aimed at addressing the gender inequality in the video game industry, though it is sometimes presented as nothing more than a question of fairness in online video game reviews. In reality, however, this is not the case. The hashtag’s short history is rooted in misogyny and online harassment. Any alternative explanations for the controversy surrounding the hashtag are a subversion of the industry’s sexism problem. Gamers and non-gamers alike have a responsibility to address the issue at hand.
The #GamerGate campaign began in earnest on the heels of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” YouTube series. She funded the clips through a 2012 Kickstarter campaign that attracted some attention, though not as much as the videos later would. In her seven videos, she calmly lays out the case that video gaming exists in an inherently misogynistic realm, one in which female characters either need to be saved or killed. If gaming were to diversify, she argued, all players would benefit. Response from the gaming community was swift. Sarkeesian received graphic rape and death threats, her home address was posted online and she was ultimately forced to flee. Last week, she canceled an appearance at Utah State University after someone threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if she went ahead with the lecture. Harassment of women who stick their head above the parapet in traditionally male-dominated spheres is nothing new, especially for Sarkeesian. In 2012, a Twitter user created an online game in which players could virtually punch Sarkeesian in the face, leaving her avatar bloodied and bruised.
Some gamers are quick to point out that they do not condone the threats and abuse that women who speak out against sexism in the gaming industry are receiving. They do believe that video game journalism is to blame for the industry’s sexism, however, referencing a recent incident with controversial designer Zoe Quinn. Quinn’s ex-boyfriend posted blog posts in August claiming that the reason Quinn’s game was successful was because she slept with several video game critics. Gamers were enraged at the apparent journalistic dishonesty, and subsequently attacked Quinn for being a woman, among other things. Like Sarkeesian, Quinn was forced to flee.
Women are coming forward to speak against this abuse at the expense of their personal safety. Gamers attempting to shift the discussion about the causes of #GamerGate away from misogyny and toward the ethics of video game reviews must stop implicitly condoning the abuse women are subject to. Trying to steer the conversation away from women within the industry fearing for their lives and to journalistic integrity draws attention away from the real issues at hand.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 21 print edition. Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]