Ever since the “Gamergate” debacle began roughly two or so months ago, I have restrained myself from exercising any sort of opinion in the public sphere in favor of either side, mainly because I felt that fighting for either set of ideals would lead nowhere, given the amount of hatred surrounding the whole movement on both sides. However, starting yesterday when Anita Sarkeesian was featured on The Colbert Report, I began to become truly saddened by the path that this whole controversy was taking, and began to get the urge to write something (regardless of if it would make any difference). Truly though, the final straw was when I read this article on The Verge, saying that “Gamergate” is dead, based on the idea that Anita’s feature on The Colbert Report essentially crowned her victor (victor over what, though). So let’s begin examining this, and then get to the real question that I wish to ask Ms. Sarkeesian.
Let me be very clear to begin with: under no circumstances are death threats/rape threats or anything of the sort even remotely acceptable responses to anything that has been done or can be done. It’s simply a ridiculous level of immaturity and irresponsibility to go to such futile lengths, as not only is it dangerous and unacceptable but it also condemns the entire group affiliated with anyone issuing them (as has happened with anyone disagreeing with Anita). Thus, I absolutely think that Anita did not deserve being under attack from these threats, as no one deserves such a thing, and furthermore I believe that most of the “Gamergate” community condemns these horrific misrepresentations of the gaming community (in the interest of solidarity, I will mention: there was debate as to whether or not the threats genuinely occurred, but I believe by now that this has been proven given the sources here). For example, if you simply head over to /r/pcmasterrace and look for posts such as this, you can see that the gaming community does not support death threats of any kind. Those issuing these exercises in self-indulgence and anger are a vocal minority, however they are simply screaming the loudest. This isn’t rocket science, it’s a proven social phenomenon where those with the most radical opinions scream extremist statements, and the silent majority stays quiet or attempts to ignore the issue.
So you may ask, “Why don’t we simply ignore the issue?” Honestly, I had hoped we could. I believed that eventually cooler heads would prevail and people would begin to realize that there was no winning “Gamergate.” However, it became apparent to me that this wasn’t occurring, and even worse, the public was increasingly getting the impression that all gamers who disagreed with Anita were misogynist, male-supremacist pigs, and that saddens me. I think the majority of gamers are good people who are simply getting more and more frustrated at how this situation is being pulled from their hands. The (poor) action of the few and the inaction of the many are damning this industry and its reputation.
I’m an amateur game developer (so much so, I hesitate to use the term “game developer” because I don’t want to compare myself to greats in the field such as Jonathan Blow and Todd Howard), but even so, this controversy has hit me in ways that have made it apparent that some of the consequences of Anita’s escapades and the poor choices of immature gamers are more dire than others. When I receive an article such as this via email from my mother, as she questions the field that I want to be in, the industry that I love and have such a passion for, I wonder what the outcome of all this will be. Has this all really been worth it?
There are the claims that Anita stole footage from YouTubers without crediting them, and other evidence that perhaps Anita doesn’t care about the industry at all, and in fact simply used video games as a medium to effectively gain coverage of her beliefs. Are these accusations true? Possibly, but I honestly don’t believe they matter at this point. Anita was featured on CBS, enabling such amazing and thought provoking comments as “From what I understand of this is that some gang of a-holes is systematically waging a smear campaign using slander, threats of violence, and even murder” (posted by Lookingforpeace). What I worry about more than anything is that the public sphere, people who don’t typically get involved in video games or gaming news, are getting a horrible impression of what gaming and gamers are like. This hurts everyone: gamers, game developers, men, women, children, any race, any sexual orientation, etc. Anyone who loves games and wishes to see this industry move forward loses.
While this may have begun with Zoey Quinn and some of the escapades centering around her, Anita Sarkeesian is now the main focal point of all the discussion (whether or not she truly should be). So, I must ask her my main question: Anita, what were you hoping to gain from this? What was the point? I truly want to know. I know you were striving to advance the female position in video games. But what does that truly mean?
Let’s take for example, Bioshock: Infinite, one of the games she criticized for having traditional gender roles, etc. How would you see this fixed? Would you want the protagonist as a female, with Elizabeth being played by a male? Is that not sexist against men, for a man being in the “lesser” position? Or, in fact, maybe you want the ability to choose what sex the protagonist is, with the Elizabeth character changing based on that choice. But then, would that not be unfair to homosexuals? Or even further, would the necessity of choosing “male” or “female” be unfair to transgender or undecided individuals?
At some point this nit-picking becomes madness. You can never fully satisfy everyone, and even if you do, does being forced to cater to everyone squelch artistic freedom/creativity? If a designer decides that the game will have a male protagonist, does that make him sexist? The problem is you can carry out this line of thinking to such extremes that there no longer is any merit in discussing it at any length. The whole argument gets us nowhere because there is no meaningful change resulting from this train of thought that could be done to actually improve the industry.
In fact, gaming has actually been getting more inclusive as the years have gone by. For example, Dragon Age: Origins (a title that Anita herself condemned), allows the player to choose to be male, female, homosexual, or heterosexual, and even has a perhaps transgender-ish golem named Shale. What more than that are you asking for?
Anita, you claim to love video games and to be doing this for the betterment of the industry, but are you really? How will this benefit the industry as a whole? With an industry constantly scapegoated for causing real world violence, an industry that is still regarded as childish by much of the public sphere, an industry that is struggling against tides of critics claiming that it is not and cannot be art, why would you needlessly damage it even more?
I am absolutely and completely in favor of equality in all areas: sexual orientation, race, sex, whatever. However, when you start using words like “sexist,” “patriarchy,” “feminism,” and “oppression” you set yourself up as a victim, which is neither helpful in an intellectual discussion nor useful in avoiding extreme positions. There is a clear reason why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, one of the most level-headed advocates of equality in history, was so successful (more so than Malcom X) in the face of adversity.
Obviously the death threats against Anita have hindered the industry and “gamers” even more, and due to natural victimization, led to her cause being viewed as even more just. But here’s an important note that many forget: Nobody deserves to be a victim, but being a victim does not inherently mean that what you say is correct and without flaws.
The true position of the “Gamergaters” has been to fight against the corruption in games journalism. However, that fight has been all but obscured by the media and the misrepresentation of much of the industry and its members. Now, the entire focus of the issue has been shifted to the harassment and the hate, and all meaningful discussion has been squelched.
So in the midst of all this unnecessary animosity and hostility on all sides, I must ask you again, Anita Sarkeesian, what was the goal here?
As a gamer and a developer, it is my desire that those reading this can understand the situation better, and see that this is not quite as black and white as it may seem. It is too easy to swallow the media’s spoon-fed stories, and point blame at groups where many lie blameless. I don’t consider myself a complete supporter of “Gamergate,” and I understand some of the egregious missteps that the movement has made. However, I do think that this whole situation is a tragedy for the industry, and that nobody will walk away truly victorious so long as the screaming continues on both sides. I can only hope that maybe my words can help douse the flames of hate.
“Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.” -Friedrich Nietzsche