The misogynistic, sexist portrayal of women in video gaming is nothing new – it’s been around since the industry’s earliest days. Custer’s Revenge, for the Atari 2600, had a sole objective of making General George Custer rape Native American women, a plethora of female characters, from Princess Peach (the Super Mario franchise) to virtually every female character in the Duke Nukem franchise, are in desperate need of saving, and almost every female character in video games is specifically rendered with a thin waist, massive breasts, and big eyes – even if the purpose of their character is to kick another character’s ass.
Female video game characters are, collectively, highly-sexualized, which makes sense considering the majority of video game consumerism have historically been adult males (source: Entertainment Software Rating Board). This also means that the gaming culture has been historically male-dominated. But, despite all of that, the male-centric video game industry has recently suffered a black eye, as some within it have resorted to horrifying, disgusting methods of attempting to push back the growing number of women gamers that have recently surged into the industry.
I don’t personally feel that I play enough video games to justify being considered a “gamer,” and I am somewhat of a luddite when it comes to new consoles, new gaming experiences, and really, in many ways, new games themselves. So, keep in mind that I’m not discussing this subject from the standpoint of a gamer. I know some of the history and I feel like I can carry on certain conversations, but I am aware that my knowledge in limited – some would even say “noob-ish.” However, one thing I am fluent in is a concept of right and wrong, especially when it comes to ethical dilemmas and instances where violent, repulsive actions need to be held accountable as such.
“I used to go to games events and feel like I was going home. Now it’s just like… are any of the people I’m currently in the room with ones that said they wanted to beat me to death?”
– Zoe Quinn
In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian, a Canadian-American feminist, critic, and blogger, came under fire for a Kickstarter project she was working on called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which can be viewed on the YouTube channel FeministFrequency. Sarkeesian far-surpassed her $6,000 funding goal, despite being on the receiving end of rape threats, attempts to breach her social media accounts, and attempts to obtain and threateningly publish personal information, as well as receiving several images of herself being raped by video game characters, having her Wikipedia page vandalized with sexually-explicit images, and having denial-of-service attacks lobbied at her website (Kolhatkar 2014). Furthermore, one of Sarkeesian’s supporters found herself on the receiving end of these kinds of malicious assaults after criticizing the game Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian (Fernandez-Blance 2012) and various engagements where Sarkeesian was to speak, including an event at Utah State University, were cancelled because of threats of violence. Also in 2014, threats lobbied against Sarkweesian reached critical mass, prompting her to flee her home, at which point the FBI became involved (Crecente 2014).
Anita Sarkeesian isn’t the only woman in the gaming world to come under fire like this, as harassment of female personalities in the video game industry is a far too common and emotionally devastating occurrence. Game developer Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest) has suffered much in the same way Sarkeesian has. During a BBC interview with Dave Lee, Quinn spoke about a variety of threats, both murderous and sexual in nature, attempted theft of personal information, as well as having been accused of her successes being the result of sleeping with someone in the industry (Lee 2014), the latter of which was found in allegations lobbied against her by her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni (Gjoni 2014). Developer Brianna Wu, cofounder of the Boston, Massachusetts-based independent development studio Giant Spacekat, has also suffered similarly (Wu 2014).
The swelling public conversation on the matter coalesced into #GamerGate, a Twitter moniker, apparently created by actor Adam Baldwin (Firefly, The X-Files, Jackie Chan Adventures) (Mann 2014). There appears to be general confusion as to what the appropriate usage of the hastag is, as some have adopted it to speak out against the harassment of women in the gaming industry while others have used it for the purpose of harassing women in the gaming industry. It seems the only thing that can be agreed upon regarding #GamerGate is that it’s affixed the controversy. The confusion, and what may at times be opinionated representation have come to a head recently, when Wikipedia’s arbitration committee dismissed five editors because of controversy surrounding how to write about GamerGate in a Wikipedia article (Hern 2014).
As I mentioned before, I’m no expert when it comes to gamer culture, so I’m not even going to begin dissecting whether #GamerGate is actually about ethics in journalism or the misogynistic attacks in the industry. All I know is that #GamerGate has been attached to a wide-spread and largely-unspoken problem, and I think that’s all society should view it as. I’ve observed that historically male enterprises have a hard time integrating the opposite sex, but that in itself is still no excuse for actions that have been taken against these, and many other, women. Death threats, doxing, threats of rape, slander, and things like that are abominable behaviors, not conducive the greater good of society. There’s absolutely zero excuse for it.
In any typical thread, like YouTube comments or 4Chan posts, one-hundred people could be “trolling” at any given moment. Most of them are likely harmless, maybe even the near collective. But, if ninety-nine “trolls” out of one-hundred pose no legitimate threat, it is impossible to tell which one actually does. This isn’t to mean that I think all threats should be taken seriously, but I think it stands to reason that given the breadth of threats being lobbied against people like Anita Sarkeesia, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu indicates the possibility that some of these people may actually be serious and worth suspecting. While we’re not here to discuss the efficacy of “trolling” – even though I think it’s completely juvenile behavior that speaks volumes to the psychosocial faculties of the person doing it – it’s difficult for me to see that “trolling” may not have anything to do with incidents like GamerGate. All bets are off when it comes to the well-being and safety of others, and the First Amendment doesn’t apply when speaking libelously or threateningly. I find it disturbing that I have come across people who believe things that have been said to women in gaming should be protected under the First Amendment. Again, this speaks volumes of the people who say these things.
At the end of the day, feminism and the presence of women in a historically masculine industry are not a reason to attempt to destroy their lives.
Crecente, Brian. “FBI Investigating Death Threats against Feminist Frequency Creator Sarkeesian.” Polygon. Polygon, 17 Sep. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Entertainment Software Rating Board. “Video Game Industry Statistics.” Video Game Industry Statistics. Entertainment Software Rating Board, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Fernandez-Blance, Katherine. “Gamer Campaign against Anita Sarkeesian Catches Toronto Feminist in Crossfire.” Thestar.com. The Toronto Star, 10 Jul. 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2015
Gjoni, Eron. “TL;DR:.” TheZoePost. WordPress.com, 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. <https://thezoepost.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/tldr/>
Hern, Alex. “Wikipedia Bans Five Editors From Gender-Related Articles.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
Kolhatkar, Sheelah. “The Gaming Industry’s Greatest Adversary Is Just Getting Started.” Bloomberg Business Week. Bloomberg, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Lee, Dave. “Big Firms ‘Must Condemn GamerGate.’” BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Mann, Effie. “There’s a Petition to Keep the Sci-Fi Actor Who Started #Gamergate out of Australia.” Daily Life. Daily Life, 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
Wood, Benjamin. “USU Students, Faculty Protest Terrorist Threats against Critic of Video Games.” Utah Local News. The Salt Lake Tribune, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Wu, Brianna. “#GamerGate Leads to Death Threats against Women in the Gaming Industry.” Interview by Gwen Ifill. PBS Newshour. Public Broadcast Service, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.