#GamerGate: The war on women in video games

“It’s very clear that misogyny in our own culture . . . runs so deep.”

Slade Lane

An Italian plumber named Mario is an international icon recognized even by grandmothers. Ten million people online play World of Warcraft. What seemed to be just a passing fad in the ’70s and ’80s has come to dominate pop culture and influence the economy. And what started as a type of boys’ club now has everyone playing.

In August 2014, the hashtag “#GamerGate” was created to talk about the ethics of video game journalism. The hashtag was coined by actor Adam Baldwin (“Firefly,” “Chuck”), who was tweeting in response to allegations against Zoe Quinn, a female game developer.

The allegations stemmed from Quinn cheating on her boyfriend with a journalist from Kotaku, a well-known gaming blog. Accusers stated that Quinn’s game, “Depression Quest,” had received a positive review because of this relationship, not the quality of the game. It was confirmed that Quinn did have a relationship with the journalist, but the favorable treatment was proven false, as the journalist had never reviewed any of Quinn’s games.

However, these claims were enough to fuel the gatekeepers of video game culture. What started as a hashtag to discuss the ethics of video game journalism turned into an attack on women in gaming, developers and gamers alike.

At the same time the hashtag launched in August, noted feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian launched a series of YouTube videos critical of representations of women in video games. The video, a continuation of Sarkeesian’s series “Tropes vs. Women,” analyzed women being used as background decoration in many mainstream titles.

Sarkeesian and Quinn both faced harassment, doxxing (unauthorized release of personal information) and death threats via Twitter under the #GamerGate hashtag. Both women have reported leaving their homes out of fear caused by these promises of violence.

Though supporters of #GamerGate still maintain that the movement is concerned with ethics and not the harassment and expulsion of women from the medium, many high-profile personalities have spoken out against those using the hashtag as an attack against women in gaming culture.

Director Joss Whedon (“The Avengers,” “Serenity”), a prominent voice in feminist pop culture, has spoken out against #GamerGate and the misogyny it perpetuates: “I don't get it. So usually I'm shocked, then occasionally amused, then occasionally extremely not amused, but once I get over the shock, it’s very clear that misogyny in our own culture . . . runs so deep.”

And as the #GamerGate movement has progressed, it has proven to be about just that: misogyny. Its underlying goal is not to discuss ethical video game journalism, but to keep women silent and out of gaming culture.

In October, Sarkeesian was scheduled for a speaking engagement at Utah State University. Before she could arrive, Sarkeesian received many threats that if she spoke, there would be a shooting. At least one was tied to #GamerGate. Under the state’s firearm laws, the university could not check for weapons and would not ensure her safety. Sarkeesian canceled.

The #GamerGate movement has brought to light the levels of misogyny that exist within video game culture. And critics like Anita Sarkeesian who are speaking out and challenging the status quo are being attacked for simply noticing a venomous trend.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 48% of gamers are women. It is time to look at what is being portrayed and perpetuated in the medium. #GamerGate has ultimately left a stain on gaming which shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored.

Gamers in support of #GamerGate have ultimately missed the message of Anita Sarkeesian and others like her. These critics aren’t trying to take away games we love or say they’re bad. They are recognizing the growing and diverse fan base of this platform and have acknowledged it is time for a change in how we treat and represent those who play them.

Slade is a senior studying language arts education.