Geeked Out: #GamerGate

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 6:30 AM
Geeked Out: #GamerGate by John Lindvay

I used to use the word “gamer” to help self-identify. I used it so that I could help signal to other people, like me, who would rather sit at home and play countless hours of video games than go out with a group of friends to, say, go bowling, because it helps me find like-minded people, especially as the gaming industry continues to grow and evolve.

But in the past few weeks, the term has been a topic of discussion and concern because of #GamerGate – a recent women harassment-based campaign that’s revealing just how women are being viewed and treated in the industry.

Actor Adam Baldwin first tweeted out #GamerGate in reference to a video he linked to about a conspiracy in which a female developer had slept her way to fame. I will allow you to judge the reasons behind why a vocal, right-wing Hollywood actor got involved by promoting videos that spin a conspiracy theory linking a woman’s private sex life with the corruption in gaming journalism.

That developer is Zoe Quinn, an independent game developer responsible for the critically successfully game Depression Quest, which was built to help those suffering from depression cope and help those who don’t have the illness to begin to understand and empathize with those that do.

 The videos Baldwin promoted detail the supposed cover-up over Quinn’s alleged affairs with five different men initially reported by her ex-boyfriend in a lengthy and annotated blog post. It’s a stretch to call it a cover-up since most game news sites don’t dabble in the realm of gossip and jilted boyfriends, but the story gained traction because one of the five named is a games journalist. The result has been a lengthy online harassment campaign focused on women working in the video game industry, thinly guised as a call for better journalistic ethics.

The harassment has been terrible and vulgar. Agitators have hacked into Quinn’s email and Skype accounts, leaking personal information to the public including her home address, phone number, and private photos. When Quinn went public about the hacking and harassment, dissenters demanded that she prove she was actually being harassed and not just fabricating the whole thing to help earn her more publicity.

Let’s be clear: When you demand someone prove they are being harassed, this is also a form of harassment.

Anita Sarkeesian is also a prominent female figure in the game space, with her video series titled Tropes VS Women in Video Games. Sarkeesian originally went to Kickstarter to fund her series earning a whopping $150,000 while she was only asking for $6,000. The campaign earned a lot of attention after a very vocal and angry subset of male gamers took to the Internet to slander her and attack her critique of how poorly women are portrayed in games. It is also important to note that Sarkeesian starts her latest video with this disclaimer:

“This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.”

Her latest video discusses how women are often portrayed as background decoration in video games. The result was yet another harassment campaign that escalated to the point where someone tweeted her home address to her, which forced her to leave and stay with friends. Since, Sarkeesian has been a constant target for various forms of misogyny including rape and death threats over her work.

A way the agitators hoped to legitimize this level of harassment was to bring into question the role of gaming press in the authenticity of these prominent female voices in the industry.

Remember how the ex-boyfriend named a games journalist as one of the five men? That’s what they used to claim that Zoe had slept her way to earning a good review, but this claim was promptly proven false, as the journalist never reviewed her game nor said anything other than Zoe Quinn was the creator of Depression Quest.

Many games writers are now calling for the death of the term “gamer,” because the very word is conjuring up the negative image of the often-vitriolic nature of male gamers. Imagine a Call of Duty voice chat—often brimming with racism, bigotry, and misogamy—smashed into a mold of a person.

This naturally upset many people who do identify as a “gamer” but are not awful human beings, causing the whole conversation to escalate even further with many more writers weighing in and many female writers looking to defend those being harassed.

Prominent and award-winning writer Jenn Frank wrote a piece for The Guardian defending Zoe Quinn, titled “How to attack a woman who works in video gaming.” In the submission to her editors, she included the disclaimer that she contributes to Quinn’s Patreon account—a donation tool to support creative individuals to continue creating. The Guardian’s legal team found no conflict of interests and pulled the disclaimer out. Because of that, conspiracy theorists looped Frank into their harassment campaign, claiming she’s in cahoots with Quinn because they know each other and support each other. After the harassment began, Frank forced The Guardian to amend into her post the disclosure and then promptly quit writing about games due to the vitriol she received.

What’s on display is how women are being treated in this particular creative space. It has been documented that the whole ordeal has been orchestrated by a handful of members of 4chan—a website that functions like a basic web forum, except users are generally kept anonymous and the culture relishes in the unsavory, to put it mildly. So now that the veil is down, it is easy to separate the concerns of journalistic integrity from the harsh treatment many women suffer when they dare to take a stand for self-respect on the Internet.

One silver lining is a large open letter signed by over 2,000 game industry professionals pledging to take a stand against harassment of minorities in the games industry – though I doubt this will bring much comfort to those who have been so greatly affected already.

John Lindvay can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @FightStrife. 

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