Last night, I watched Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Because of course I did. For those not in the know, last night's L&O dealt with the harassment of a female video game developer. In short, it was "the Gamergate episode."
To summarize, the episode starts with an employee of this well-known video game developer getting sexually assaulted at a video game convention, which Ice-T's character, Fin is attending. Because of course he is. When they find the victim and ask what happened to her, she says her attackers have "leveled up." Ick.
The assault on the employee leads detectives to the head developer of "Amazonian Warriors," a kind of Civilization-type game, if Civilization was crap. The developer is one Reina Punjabi, who's a composite of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu. Throughout the episode, I couldn't stop calling her Zoenitanna WuQuinnsian, so that's what I'm gonna call her here. She's a poor composite of each of these people; we'll get to that in a bit. Zoenitanna WuQuinnsian resolves to push forward with the planned release of her game, despite increasing threats and harassment online, in the form of posts on "Redchannit," of which the inspiration should be obvious.
…sorry, I just threw up a little bit. Anyway.
WuQuinnsian gets doxxed, and she eventually gets swatted during a live streaming interview with a games journalist who blindsides her with "ethics" questions. It's obvious said journalist is a composite/parody of certain people, whom I won't mention here. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.
This all escalates into the kidnapping of Ms. WuQuinnsian, by "hardcore" gamers in masks and voice changers. They assault and rape her, and leave clues for the cops, who are bizarrely, and in what I believe to be a farce, doing something about online harassment earlier in the episode. Eventually, Ice-T and crew confront the perps on a rooftop, complete with FPS camera angles, because games.
In the end, Reina Punjabi aka Zoenitanna WuQuinnsian quits the gaming industry essentially because she's a woman in tech; it was a way for L&O to go out with a giant middle finger.
Wait, actually, the entire episode was a giant middle finger. To the women listed above, to me, to you, to everyone who's into gaming. Everyone who plays games, develops them, writes about them, and loves them. This was, again, "the Gamergate episode." And yet, Pro-Gamergate and Anti-Gamergate alike should be offended.
All of us.
(For disclosure, and so you know where I'm coming from: I am Anti-Gamergate in that I am anti-harassment and anti-bullying. I am very much against the continued harassment of...well, anyone online. However, I will civilly discuss "ethics in journalism" if you like.)
Let's start at the beginning: It's known that Ice-T is an avid gamer, and thus, he helped out the writers with, um, so-called "gamer dialogue."
But he didn't write the episode. That was left to what I can only assume is a room full of out-of-touch people, for whom "ripped from the headlines" means "let's make a cartoon parody of suffering," or "ha ha, gamer nerds." The episode is peppered liberally with gamer-speak. You know, the kind of gamer speak we don't ever use? At one point, a character says "F.A.L.'s," which Ice-T helpfully translates as "Failures At Life."
I confess: I've never heard this phrase.
Terminology like "FPS," "leveled up," "doxxed," "swatted," and so many others are fired at us, to the point where I'd have to explain every facet of the episode to non-gamers, had they been watching with me.
Oh, before I forget: "You can't press the reset buttonon life." -Ice-T.
And those fake games! Seriously! I understand budget constraints; they can't make a full featured game for one episode of L&O. But, really…the FPS Ice-T plays is called Kill or be Slaughtered. Or, KOBS, because Call of Duty. Would you play a game called Kill or be Slaughtered? I struggle to see how a game even called that would be successful enough to warrant tournaments and conventions, even if it was The Last of Us-level storytelling and gameplay.
And Amazonian Warriors. I was being polite when I said it was like a crap version of Civilization. It looked more like that terrible Game of War mobile game. But none of this is the point.
Pictured: Gamer (as seen on TV)
My point is this:
Last night's L&O was a giant, bloated, cartoon version of very real events. The gamers of the episode are portrayed as villains; they are psychotic rapists who live in their mother's basement and scream about how women don't belong in gaming. Their victim, Reina Punjabi, is in turn portrayed as weak. Granted, she was kidnapped and raped.
But the message at the end of the episode, where she says "women in games. What was I thinking?" That's what she says as she quits gaming forever.
What kind of message is that? Women shouldn't be in gaming? Harassment yields results?
What's even stranger is, this flies in the face of the people Reina Punjabi is meant to depict. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu haven't quit, nor should they. It's a frankly offensive episode to them as well. It's of course known that some victims of harassment have left the industry. But this episode took the low road, and basically told people they should quit the industry if people on the internet think you should.
And now I'm speaking to those same internet people. Listen carefully:
This episode of Law & Order was generally not representative of real events. We all know that.
This is how television portrays you. This is how popular media portrays you. And, thanks to that popular media, this episode represents how the general public will see you.
Are you okay with that?
I'm speaking to everyone, Pro-Gamergate, Anti-Gamergate, neutrals, abstainers…gamers. Game developers. Game journalists.
Are you content with being portrayed as caricatures? As stereotypes? When the average person sees the word "gamer," because of junk like last night's L&O, they won't see smart, likable people who are passionate about art. What they'll see is a bro who doesn't leave his mom's basement, plays games called Kill or be Slaughtered, and can't tell the difference between games and reality.
They'll see simpletons.
Are you okay with that?
Because I'm not.
Games have come so far in a relatively short time. Keep in mind, video games are an art form that have only existed since the 70's. Paintings and literature have existed since forever.
And yet, games have come so far in far less time. They're appreciated as an art form; the rise of the indie scene has given a voice to smaller developers, resulting in a kind of creative renaissance.
We've gone from Pong to Shadow of the Colossus in just a few decades. We've gone from simple distractions to art.
But shows like Law & Order continue to make us all out to be the same. We're all, each one of us, just one bad game away from kidnap and rape. We play games called Kill or be Slaughtered religiously. We all think women should be forced out of the industry.
What I'm saying is…we all need to be better. We need to show people that games are valid. We're set back years every time something like this airs on TV.
I mean, look at The Big Bang Theory. That's not what geeks are like. That's not what anyone is like.
Frankly, I'm sick of being insulted whenever I turn on the TV. I'm sick of this portrayal of the "nerd gamer" who plays games and has no friends. I myself am a nerdy gamer, who plays games and is developing one. And yet, I read books, I play music, and I have the most awesome friends in the world. I'm more than "just a gamer" and I know the rest of you are, too.
That's not how I'd be portrayed on Law & Order, though. Or The Big Bang Theory. Or anywhere.
And yet, I continue to play games, and write about them. Because, you know what? I still have faith in my fellow gamer. Faith that we can clean up this farcical cartoon image mass media has of us.
But really, it's up to us. We can be better. We have to be better.
Ask yourself if you're okay with last night's portrayal of our culture. And then, if and when you realize you're not okay with it, take action. Be a better person, and encourage others to be the same. Show the world why video games are an art form, and why we should be taken seriously.
Or continue to drag them down. Continue to be mocked and ridiculed on a public stage.
It's up to you.