I know you’re probably all tired of hearing about GamerGate. We’re tired of it as well. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t worth talking about. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away so the best thing to do is have a civilized discussion about why this is happening and what we can do to make things better.
Brianna Wu, co-founder of indie game dev studio Giant Spacekat and the victim of online harassment and death threats, spoke at our school this past Wednesday. The talk was originally supposed to be about her game Revolution 60 and the current climate for women in the game industry, but in light of recent events it was necessary to address GamerGate.
Other members of the Giant Spacekat team who we will leave unnamed were also in attendance and shared some thoughts but Brianna was the primary focus of the talk.
To start things off, she provided a general overview of the beginnings of the GamerGate and then shared her own personal experiences with the movement. She discussed how female friends and colleagues were essentially forced out of the industry due to harassment and how many gaming journalism entities, such as IGN, GameSpot, and Giant Bomb, chose not to report on it.
As gamers, we depend upon the freedom of speech and expression. To prevent someone from working or speaking out due to fear for their own personal safety is to violate that right. What we’ve seen these past few months is no less than the silencing of voices.
After a certain point enough was enough. She told us how she decided to put her foot down and start calling people out, and how that made her one of the primary targets of the GamerGate movement.
For the purposes of this article, we will be using the term GamerGate to refer to the rampant harassment and misogyny. Regardless of whether or not you support the hashtag, or if you believe it is actually supposed to represent something nobler, it’s fairly safe to say that at this point the movement is being driven by hate and toxicity. If you truly want to bring the focus back towards journalism and ethics, you should probably start thinking about getting a new hashtag.
So why is all this happening? I could easily just blame and demonize gamer culture and its less savory elements, but I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to attempt to analyze it.
Let’s dive in!
Looking at the “common GamerGater”, we can see two things at play: various degrees of sexism, and zealous defensiveness. The former is fairly obvious; the overwhelming majority of harassment targets has disproportionately been women, and the movement itself has questionable roots. Even if we ignore that the original allegations surrounding Zoe Quinn don’t add up, it’s quite telling that the call for journalism reform went after the developer rather than the actual journalist.
But we know all that. Let’s focus on the defensive behavior. Because I’ve seen it before.
If you’ve followed gaming at all in the last decade or two, you might remember the Censorship Wars. As I’ve outlined in a previous article on violence, this is a conflict that has stretched back for several decades. As some of you may be aware, I am a very outspoken critic of the mindset that games are linked to real world violence, so believe me when I say that I have firmly been on the side of gaming. Blatant misrepresentation of gaming in the media, “book burners” wanting to take games away (or at the very least stop the continued sale of them), anti-game legislation, THIS GUY … I’ve seen and contested all of it. And now I see the same attitudes taking hold against critics like Anita Sarkeesian and others.
But here’s the thing: the two conflicts are completely different. One side sought to actually legally prevent the sale of games; all the other really wants is to have more games with diverse representation.
I don’t see the demonization and harassment of those who ask for more games as supporting the interests of Gaming. Do you?
So what can we do about this? Well, the biggest thing we can do is to adopt more appropriate responses. Much of the corruption and social justice war mongering in gaming has been little more than modest opinions and critique. It’s perfectly fine to disagree with someone, but it is essential keep it civil and bear in mind that there is another human being behind the screen. Know the difference between an opinion and an attack.
Now, this cuts both ways; when we see others behaving inappropriately or offensively, it’s easy to become upset or hostile. During her talk, Brianna Wu demonstrated an example using myself and another student. I, assuming the role of a developer, had unintentionally just said or done something that was misogynistic. Brianna Wu called me out in an accusatory tone putting me on the hypothetical defensive, then had the guy sitting next to me offer an objection as a friend: “Hey man, that was kind of a dick thing to say. Not cool.” Guess which approach I didn’t take personally.
One of the key problems I’ve seen with GamerGate is the tendency to perceive others’ opinions as attacks. Many GamerGaters have interpreted the call for more diverse games as an attack seeking the elimination of games that are less diverse, in this case games featuring straight white male protagonists and games that might portray women from a misogynistic point of view. However, this is not really the case. All critics such as Sarkeesian are doing is voicing their opinion that there is not enough representation of women in games and that we should add more games starring well written female characters on top of what we already have.
During her talk, Brianna Wu mentioned that she loves female characters that are badass but, at the same time, portrayed as people, as flawed individuals. And those are the kind of characters she set out to create in her game Revolution 60 which features a cast of strong women. This is the exact sort of thing that women in the game industry are calling for: more games like Revolution 60 that bring more diversity to the gaming community, not the elimination of games that happen to cater to male audiences.
Creating more games with more diverse characters is something I think we can all benefit from. Not that games staring straight white male characters are bad, because there are a lot of amazing games out there that do, but it is something that is done to death, and it would be nice to see some variety.
Introducing more characters from different walks of life can provide us with a nice range of new and interesting game experiences. Even if they aren’t the main protagonists, it would be great to see more well written female characters, black characters, gay characters, whatever. And this goes beyond simple “token” characters that are defined by the traits that set them apart from the average straight white male characters.
I’ve been a part of several conversations, both about GamerGate and characters in general, where the idea of having more diverse characters in games that aren’t defined by some particular trait, but rather who they are as individuals has come up. As a disabled gamer, I personally would like to see more well written disabled characters in games that aren’t defined by their disabilities.
This isn’t part of some “social justice warrior” agenda either. This is from a genuine passion for games and a want for more varied gaming experiences. And that is definitely something that should be considered when looking at some of people who have been harassed by the GamerGate movement. People like Sarkeesian and Wu are not necessarily trying to attack games that are sexist or misogynistic, but are instead saying “it would be cool if we had more games that aren’t like that” or “it would be cool to see more games with well written female characters.” To me that just sounds like “it would be cool if we had more games.”
This is also something we can extend beyond just the scope of games, to the people that create them. Game studios could benefit a lot from employing a more diverse set of people. Individuals from different walks of life can bring in new ideas and perspectives that can make for new and interesting game experiences.
Brianna Wu’s studio, Giant Spacekat, is made up of a majority female team but several times during her talk, she mentioned that she’s looking to diversify the company to bring in a variety of new perspectives. She specifically cited BioWare as a shining example of this idea. She stated that they are one of the best at hiring a wide range of people and that it really reflects in their character designs. I definitely agree with this. BioWare has exceptional character design and they have a plethora of well written characters from straight white men to women, to gay and lesbian characters and characters of a variety of racial backgrounds, even disabled characters.
Many game studios, and gaming journalism publications, could learn from the example set by companies such as BioWare and Giant Spacekat. It is wonderful to hear such a diverse chorus of voices joined in their passion for games so it is sad to see some of those voices silenced by harassment and vitriol.
These are just our opinions, and we’d love to hear yours as well. Remember to keep an open mind, keep things civilized, and respect each others opinions.