A few friends and associates have asked the same thing over the last few weeks; “What is #GamerGate?” As of now, it’s something that has grown to gargantuan proportions and has a different definition depending on who you ask. At its core, it’s about 2 things: The treatment of developers, recently and specifically women, and the ethics of games journalism. Part one of this article focuses on the first issue, violence against game developers as a whole.
Most recently, #GamerGate has involved Zoe Quinn and critic Anita Sarkesian, both of whom were harassed horribly online. Zoe, along with a small team developed a text based game, Depression Quest, which allowed players to experience depression, in hopes of bringing light to a serious topic. Zoe and the team were met with stout opposition, claiming that Depression Quest wasn’t a real game (which is debateable), among other things. This backlash soon turned personal to Quinn, when an a former romantic interest of Zoe’s, Eron Gjoni, release private and personal information about Zoe, including an accusation that she had slept with Nathan Grayson of the influential videogame site, Kotaku. Threats (murder, rape, assault) aimed at Zoe soon poured in, and authorities have been brought in.
Anita Sarkesian suffered similar blowback to videos and essays she’s published. Mostly known for feminist criticism on all forms of media, Anita received a slew of threats after her successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a series on female characters in videogames. Eventually, the threats became so personal and specific that she went into hiding. This attracted kind words and support of both Joss Whedon (Firefly, Avengers) and Wil Weheaton (Start Trek:NG, Big Bang Theory).
While #GamerGate and most of the media outside of gaming circles are focusing on the recent threats to women in the industry, this public backlash towards videogame industry professionals has been a long building and disturbing trend. By no means am I trying to belittle what Zoe, Anita and countless other women have gone through in the games world, but this issue is bigger than one group of the industry.
In 2013, we saw Phil Fish, creative mind behind Fez, receive enough negativity and malicious attention, including violence, that he cancelled Fez 2 and left the industry. Earlier, Treyarch design director David Vonderhaar received threats of violence for patching Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The aforementioned game patch amounted to reducing damage from one weapon and adjusting the rate of fire on two others by fractions of a second. Adam Orth, creative director at Microsoft received a mountain of death threats after tweeting about an always online internet connection for the Xbox One, a policy that would later be abandoned. Orth left Microsoft a week later. Stephen Toulouse, former head of Xbox Live, received personal death threats up to two years after he left Microsoft.
Obscene and malicious threats towards women are abhorrent, and the recent highly publicized attacks on women have shed a light on what numerous other women have faced inside a traditionally male dominated industry. But as stated before, these attacks are part of a larger issue.
Violent threats in the gaming industry are rising at a sickening rate, and the vocal minorities are being heard above everyone else. Because of recent events, gamers are being stereotyped into misogynistic, immature, violent young men that spew hate in every direction, when in reality, the gaming audience has never been more diverse.
In 2014, The Entertainment Software Association published statistics about the modern gaming landscape. While the stereotypical gamer is some lonely dude in a basement that lacks basic social skills, the truth is that the average gamer is 31 years old. 48% of gamers are female, with women 18 and older representing 36% of the total gamer population, where boys 17 and under were just 18%, and half of all videogame purchases are done by females. This shows that while a vocal few can spew hate and violence, they are not the majority, and they do not speak for all gamers. The gaming landscape is becoming more diverse, and while it’s far from perfect, the gaming industry is making great strides.
With a diverse and expanding audience, gamers are going to have new perspectives, new topics to talk about, and new ideas to share. With more women entering the industry and audience, it’s logical that some of these discussions would focus on the problems that directly impact women, like wages, job opportunities, advancement and the like. But with #GamerGate, the focus is shifting from an epidemic that threatens an entire industry to an epidemic that threatens one subset of that industry.
#GamerGate does bring up an important issue that needs to be on the minds of all gamers. This issue isn’t confined to only women; this issue affects the industry as a whole. This is an issue that has been recognized by AAA developers and indie studios. It’s an issue that has elicited a response from over two thousand industry employees, including people from Rockstar North and Ubisoft, and hurts every one regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. It’s pushing employees out of the industry, forcing studios to open support groups for their employees, and misrepresenting the diverse audience that gamers have become. It hurts and sickens me that the people that love to create what millions love to play have to suffer so much because of so few. The issue isn’t violence against women in the industry; its violence against the industry.
Part 2 of this piece will focus on ethics in games journalism.
“We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.” –Andreas Zecher