When I first started writing this article it quickly became a blow by blow of everything that has happened in the growing online controversy of #gamergate. I got about halfway through, painstakingly ensuring I had all of the articles, 4chan, 8chan threads, and Twitter snapshots I needed to display the facts, before I stopped and deleted the whole thing.
Rehashing all the messy details is not what I want to do. Plenty of other people have done a far better job of that than I ever could have (including the New York Times, CNN and my personal favorite, a blistering blog by Chris Kluwe), which, if you are interested, you can find here, here, and here.
What I really wanted to say, or portray, relates to my experiences in videogames and why I hope, despite all the slander and current bigotry, that this occurrence doesn’t drive away any potential new ‘gamers.’ Especially women and minorities. Because we need you. We need your diversity, your outlook, and your ideals to make new, different, and better games. What I fear most out of this whole convoluted controversy is that a lethal blow has been dealt to the gaming community at large. That it has set us back into the 90’s, when politicians seemed dead set on shutting the entire industry down. They pegged video games as the breeding ground for all violence, racism, and misogyny; especially among teen boys. This time around, as more and more female critics, game developers and video game players are harassed and threatened, I’m starting to wonder if maybe they were/are right.
Something in the video game community — a community that I have long loved despite its flaws — is rotting, and we need to slice it out before the rest of us are infected beyond saving. These so-called ‘true gamers’ appear to want nothing more than to drive the progression of video games as a serious media outlet and artistic expression back into their mother’s basements.
As I’ve said in previous articles I’ve written I believe we have the power to perpetuate positivity or negativity in this world. I’m not faultless in my endeavors toward my goals of positivity (mostly because my sarcasm sometimes gets in the way) but rather than drive on this endless war that has truly lost any real, defining purpose, I want to bring a little light. A little positivity.
Gaming and gamers tend to get a bad rap; they come up after just about any school shooting, and were under major fire in the 90’s as the unholy bearers of all things evil and corrupting. For a long time ‘gamers’ were painted as basement dwelling teens or 40 year old virgin white males covered in a thick dust of Cheeto residue and splashes of Mountain Dew. To the rest of the non-gaming world, we’re again reforming into those angsty teenage boys with bent up rage and entitlement complexes, because recently, they appear to be the loudest voices.
I’ve spent most of my life in circles primarily comprised of men (or boys). As a child and teen I enjoyed badgering my cousin off his NES and spent a lot of time trying to convince my dad that allowing me to play the old Warcraft games on our beat up iMac wasn’t going to get in the way of my homework. I also read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, immersing myself in the worlds so beautifully transcribed between the pages that I could hardly manage to put them down. But the sci-fi/fantasy and video game culture was and still is very much a man’s world. Few girls growing up, aside from my sisters, shared my interests and even fewer boys were willing to allow me into their ‘no girls allowed’ clubs. I spent a lot of my elementary school years bullied and alone, never fitting in with the girls and mocked mercilessly by the boys for enjoying a lot of the same things they did. It sucked, and I think I carry around a lot of that initial hesitation when people ask me about my hobbies. But I’m trying to get past that and embrace my passions and aspirations.
Now fast-forward fifteen years or so where I work in the heavily male dominated field of government engineering. I am the only female in my office and one of about four or five women in my organization that work in a technical environment. We’ve recently had a field-engineer with us for a program who’s also a woman, close to my age, and she’s the first female I’ve worked with in almost a year. Which is sad — and the reasons for which I’m sure are complex and many — but will hopefully mature and progress in the future (much like video games?). I don’t pretend to be an expert in women’s exclusion in STEM fields, but I have my guesses and my experiences, and the more I consider them the more I draw similarities with my ‘gaming’ experiences. Even down to becoming ridiculously excited when I encounter another woman in a game; it’s almost grounds for being instant best friends.
The point being, I know what it’s like to be censored and ignored because of my gender. And before anyone immediately cries foul, 90% of the men I work and interact with have been wonderful, caring human beings who respect me, my job, and my opinions. But there have been enough bigoted sexist men through the years that I’ve felt the sting of inequality when it came to promotions, ideals and generalizations about my supposed work ethics. Most of it I’ve learned to let roll off my back, to ignore and use as fuel to drive myself to work harder and do better in an effort prove my naysayers wrong. It’s a fight that can get exhausting and one that, I’ve found at least, you can’t really win; one that I shouldn’t have to fight in the first place.
There has of course been a lot of progress. But sometimes we face setbacks and speed bumps, which I believe (or hope), is all that GamerGate becomes. I swear the progress is there, and it’s progress we all have to help along by tackling it in our daily lives. The problem with video games is that they exist in a sphere of unreality where typically the loudest voices are the cruelest and they can, unfortunately, become the uneducated face of the many. At this point it’s hard to believe anyone still using the GamerGate hashtag believes in anything other than retaining their basement dwelling personification and immediately feels attacked by any suggesting that maybe gamers can be more.
GamerGate claims to stand (loosely, very loosely) for a lot of things; journalistic ethics, anti-bullying, and whatever else they can manage to use as a smoke screen. What they stand for, to many women in the industry and even more who enjoy games, is another big sign, scribbled in crayon, hung over the tree house that says ‘no girls allowed.’ But as a fellow gamer, and someone who hopes to one day dip into the fantasy/sci-fi novel waters, I want to say that if gaming needs more of anything, it needs more women and other minority groups to create a community of diverse and creative perspectives. Video games are well on their way to becoming a dynamic media art form, but to do so it must invite the critics of outside sources and be examined under a social lens. It is the only way for video games to reach into the true potential they have always carried; the potential to accentuate the good, to allow players to examine different ideals and lifestyles outside their own. Lifestyles that don’t always involve violence and abuse, often at the expense of women and minority groups (I love Assassins Creed and Call of Duty as much as the next ‘gamer’ but come on, it gets old).
As a little girl caught in a difficult, and often damaging home situation, video games offered me what they offered to so many — an outlet, a way to feel empowered and in control of a life that was tumultuous and scary. The only thing I wished for then and still wish now is that maybe the princess could be the hero a little more often. That rather than waiting around for the ‘prince’ to come and save her, the princess could find a way to save herself and maybe even the prince from time to time. I know the draw to video games for many, especially kids and teens, is the ability to feel empowered through a story where you are the hero. Don’t women and minorities deserve that same feeling? No one is asking you to set aside those things you love, they’re just asking for a place to sit at the table — they’re just asking if maybe they can play too. Minus the harassment, the threats, and the abject hatred that seems to be the current face of our community.
To those who still support GamerGate — and I say this with the niggling fear that I will also be harassed, doxxed and threatened — I ask that if you do not support misogyny, racism, and bigotry, that you find a new hashtag. If journalistic ethics in the gaming community is something you actively care about, pursue it under a name that doesn’t strike that same niggling fear into many women and minorities. That feeling that maybe they aren’t wanted and that they aren’t welcome. You do not speak for me and you do not speak for the majority.
I believe that the only way to make this dissenion from the whole clear is for the rest of us ‘gamers’ to speak up and against those who seem intent to speak for all of us. GamerGate is not ‘gaming’ and it’s time we make that clear.