Slam the door on the hate from ‘gamergate’

Oct. 18, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

THE PLAYER

Anita Sarkeesian canceled a Utah State University appearance after school officials received an email threatening a school shooting. (Alex Lazara / Associated Press)

Anita Sarkeesian canceled a Utah State University appearance after school officials received an email threatening a school shooting. (Alex Lazara / Associated Press)

On a recent Tuesday evening, more than 50 current and former students of USC’s game design program gathered to talk video games. Student projects were shown and critiqued, but soon students were debating what it means to be labeled a “social justice warrior,” a suddenly trendy term in the video game world thanks to the ongoing battle in the player population known as “gamergate.”

Consider gamergate an ownership tug-o-war. Do games belong to their growing audience, or will a broader reach destroy all that’s pleasurable about them — the sex, violence and profanity? You know, the fun.

But framing gamergate as only a debate is too kind. From the moment the term emerged as a hashtag in mid-August, it was ugly, messy and convoluted. Female game designers and critics who spoke out about the medium’s future experienced harassment, including threats of rape and death.

And this week gamergate became associated with a threat of mass murder. Cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled a Utah State University appearance after school officials received an email that promised, according to a transcript obtained by the Deseret News, “the deadliest school shooting in American history.”

Even before the Utah threat, one member of the USC community, home to the country’s most prestigious game design program, said, gamergate is “making me embarrassed to say I play video games.”

Who could blame him? Video games, long targeted as inspiration for mass-shootings across the country, were now explicitly tied to a particularly heinous threat. And thus gamergate — after months of vile social media hatred — was national news.

Nominally, gamergate is a revolt against the intellectualizing of the medium, a belief that games should be judged for technical merit rather than their content or cultural relevance. It’s a fear that the sort of criticism often applied to film, television and music will result in a politically correct makeover of the entire medium.

This panic is wrongheaded. See Jennifer Lopez’s “Booty,” the blood and nudity on “Game of Thrones,” or even the bleak view of humanity present in the film “Gone Girl.” Criticisms of the aforementioned works haven’t resulted, as far we as know, in threats of a school shooting.

Sarkeesian regularly states that finding fault in parts of work is not a dismissal of it. Her videos on the Feminist Frequency website are casual, friendly — indicative of someone open to a discussion.

Her prominence is representative of gaming’s slow march to maturity — the realization that games really are the cultural force the community has long insisted they could be.

When this column first wrote about gamergate this summer, industry professionals expressed hope that the movement, such as it was, would subside. Instead, its attacks are even broader and more confusing.

Just this week, gamergate supporters lashed out against the website Polygon for a largely positive review of the Wii U game “Bayonetta 2,” which raised questions about “deliberate sexualization and objectification.” Gamergate forums argued misogyny is “something unrelated to the game” and shouldn’t be in a critique.

While gamergate as a term only dates to this summer, it represents a long-festering divide in the video game community, a world that has only recently begun to shake its reputation as boy’s club. The rise in recent years of independent games has gradually shifted the cultural conversations.

To non-gamers, or those who drifted away from the medium when it became focused on shooters, these more approachable games are broadening the audience and the scope of what games can discuss. Yet to what is considered a small-but-vocal part of the game community, independents represent something of a threat, a challenge to the ideal that games cultivated over the last decade and a half.

Gamergate message boards have starting circulating lists of which games should be supported, an attempt to send a message to the industry with its dollars. What do they want? More games like “Killer Is Dead.” Why? Because, one commenter wrote, it has a “gigolo mode — a mode where you could stare at women’s boobs on dates, then sleep with them.”

Independent developers have been vocal about the odious nature of gamergate, but large companies have largely been silent. This has led to the slow and uncomfortable realization for some that this is the audience that has been catered to and pandered to, given gore and nearly-bare breasts with the false justification that games should be message-less and purely digital toys.

People protest on the Utah State University campus on Wednesday after Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her speech because of threats. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

People protest on the Utah State University campus on Wednesday after Anita Sarkeesian canceled her appearance following threats of a mass school shooting. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

This week’s very public death threats on Sarkeesian brought to the fore what even those who love the medium have long known but try to ignore: The game community can often be an inhospitable place. The trend in online games, from “Hearthstone” to “Destiny,” is to place greater controls on how strangers can interact. This isn’t because people play nice.

Hate was a primary topic of conversation at last week’s IndieCade, the gaming conference and festival that concluded its seventh year over the weekend in downtown Culver City.

Dealing with it — or, rather, learning how to ignore it — was the subject of a keynote address from Sony executive Adam Boyes, who works with independents. He framed the video game community as one grappling with the idea that more of one choice does not equal less of the other.

“Think of any other place in the world, any other aspect of life, any other industry, where there would be a group of people who would come and say, ‘I don’t want this, you shouldn’t sell it,’” Boyes told an audience of mostly indie developers. “Imagine walking into a Chinese buffet, ‘Yo, beef and broccoli? … I don’t want that. Get out of here!’”

So while big business is quiet on gamergate, there is one reason for optimism: Gamergate will ultimately be bad for business. To use Boyes’ metaphor, who would want to dine in such a hostile environment?

“We live in a world now where options are incredible. They’re the things that drive commerce, drive choice and drive personality,” Boyes said.

“The reality is we should be going for more options.”

— Todd Martens | @Toddmartens | @LATherocomplex

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Comments


9 Responses to Slam the door on the hate from ‘gamergate’

  1. Rik Franze says:

    Well. I suppose your article is one way to look at it.

  2. Jeff Chang says:

    "Female game designers and critics who spoke out about the medium’s future experienced harassment, including threats of rape and death."
    Which were found to be unsubstantiated. I suggest the writer stop using YahooKIDS or some remove the 5 year old child filters on his computer.

    "And this week gamergate became associated with a threat of mass murder."
    Unsubstantiated, as well.

    "While gamergate as a term only dates to this summer, it represents a long-festering divide in the video game community, a world that has only recently begun to shake its reputation as boy’s club. "
    No, you are in correct. Look at WoW or other MMORPG. Even on GTA V Online females are FREE to join. Many have. It's just we don't want the gaming "club" to be infested with Bejewlled or Candy Crush players.

    "Even before the Utah threat, one member of the USC community, home to the country’s most prestigious game design program, said, gamergate is “making me embarrassed to say I play video games.”
    May you please release the name of this individual?

    "Nominally, gamergate is a revolt against the intellectualizing of the medium, a belief that games should be judged for technical merit rather than their content or cultural relevance."
    I am sorry. I do not want to be given the option to play Depression Quest or Feminism Quest.

    "Just this week, gamergate supporters lashed out against the website Polygon"
    I see how you failed to mention that behind a collusion to discredit the gaming community.

    "Gamergate message boards have starting circulating lists of which games should be supported, an attempt to send a message to the industry with its dollars. What do they want?"
    Hasty Generalization fallacy. Let's see a breakdown percentage-wise of what they want and not just a cherry picked opinion.

    " He framed the video game community as one grappling with the idea that more of one choice does not equal less of the other."
    Again what if the choice is Depression Quest or Feminism Quest?

  3. max says:

    One of the most poorly written,poorly researched, unashamedly biased articles Ive seen in a long time. You have blatantly regurgitated the feminist side of the argument and done the same things you accuse gamergate of doing. And ofcourse you fail to mention any of the mass censorship and banning of accounts happening or why this whole thing started in the first place.
    Hypocrisy at its best.The gaming world wont let this go and will continue to drag this on because of people like you and articles like this which continues to address just one side of the issue.

    If you are going to be a journalist,have the decency to at least give the illusion of some kind of objective analysis.

  4. dudebro says:

    "… indicative of someone open to a discussion."

    Except that she blocks all comments on her videos

    • StrangeFly says:

      Nasty name calling and long rants are not "conversations." Based upon the comments directed at her recently, I would block my comments section too.

      • charlieblue says:

        Supported. Even the few comments on this article betray a snide, nasty, aggressive culture associated with games.

  5. S.L. says:

    … and almost immediately commenters prove your point.

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I don’t game as much as I used to, and part of the reason is that I just got tired of all the under-dressed women in my games. It shows how pathetic the situation is when the first reasonably-dressed female character I can think of is Tenchu’s Ayame, the ninja who wears a sleeveless, midriff-baring top while sneaking around in the dead of night – and she was paired with a dude you only see from mid-nose up! What the Gamergate idiots don’t seem to realize is that women like me have been playing Resident Evil, SoulCalibur and other non-Candy Crush games for years and been complaining about the sexism in them for years. These are not new issues, and they seem to have been getting worse in recent years.

    Yet when people like Anita Sarkeesian sensibly point out that potential consumers like myself have been and will continue to be rightfully unhappy with weirdly small percentages of female characters, oddly revealing outfits and whatnot, they are not only greeted with death and rape threats, people actually deny that those threats happened! It’s too bad I just bought a new laptop; I wouldn’t touch one with an Intel chip in it if I could do that over. Next time, I guess. Luckily, there are some alternatives to the Adobe programs I use.

    Also, thanks for pointing me to the IndieCade Five Noteworthy Games article. I had missed it, but Hack ‘n’ Slash and Framed look particularly interesting. Now if only someone would make something I could fight in that had lots of major, female characters who were dressed reasonably and treated with respect…

  6. fuck you says:

    all of you delusional

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