In an unprecendented slew of blog posts about video games, this one’s been sitting on the back burner for a little while. I know I’m late to the party, but I want to talk about Gamergate, and what it means to me to be a gamer.
So first up, what is Gamergate? That’s actually not so easy a question to answer. It started off simply: one female developer made a video game, and she copped a lot of flak for it. A rumour was started that she had been sleeping with people in the gaming industry to get publicity for her game, and this (probably false) allegation caught on like wildfire. Lots of people joined in to deliver some truly terrible harassment, even going as far to coordinate flaming across social media. Her phone number and address were shared publicly, and she was forced to leave her house due to the overwhelming number of death threats (and worse). This raging hatred soon spread to other prominent gaming women, including the feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian.
Some people realised that all this misogyny was not a good look for the gaming community so they turned the focus away from “women deserve to be discriminated against” to “corruption in games journalism is wrong”. On a surface level, people supporting the #Gamergate movement advocated for higher levels of ethical standards in game journalism. But generally speaking, most of the conversation happening around the hashtag Gamergate continued to be impassioned expressions of discrimination and hatred, generally directed at people like Zoe – small, independent, crowdfunded devs, not big game companies.
#Gamergate became so big of an issue that Intel gave into their demands and removed advertisements from a website that Gamergate was criticising. (This concession to their demands made it seem like Intel was supporting them and they eventually apologised for appearing to take sides with them.) Whilst normally the best way to stop a troll is to ignore them, it seems this is not possible as Gamergate supporters demand to be heard by forcing people to listen under threat of violence. Anita Sarkeesian’s recent talk at a university was cancelled because someone threatened to start a mass shooting if they let her speak. It’s one thing to ignore a troll, but it’s quite another when they start shoving guns in your face demanding recognition.
There’s still a lot of confusion about what #Gamergate supporters actually want, or how to go about getting it. There’s a lot of contradiction in what they’re fighting for – some want more equal representation of women in games, others insist that over-representation of women is unnecessary. They’re arguing that not all gamers are young white men, but at the same time they attack gaming sites for discriminating against young white males who are supposedly the “primary audience”.
At its heart, some would say that #Gamergate is about straight white men struggling with their insecurities in a world that no longer revolves around them. They hate having games deconstructed to reveal the existence of a privilege that they’re happy to overlook. The fact that these conversations are happening at all is deeply threatening to them. The Guardian comments that we live in an age of radical feminism, where sexual consent is being reframed, women are being more fairly represented in media and that violence against women is no longer publicly tolerated. Men have felt deeply insecure about this for many years now, and Gamergate seemed to tip many people over the edge. In a way, it is a soap box that allows men to yell for a while to let everyone know that “I am still important!”
And I can relate. When I first watched Anita’s video on Damsels in Distress: Tropes vs Women in Video Games, I didn’t want to hear that Zelda, my favourite series of all time, was promoting discrimination, disempowerment and outdated patriarchal values. Part of me just wanted to say “Shut up. You don’t know anything. This game is amazing, I’m allowed to love it if I want to.”
But while I felt hurt, challenged and insecure (because my core beliefs about something I love were being criticised), I was also able to process it and respond maturely. While I found her critique to be uncomfortable, she had every right to say it, and I could recognise that at least part of the reason it made me uncomfortable was because I knew it was true. She opens her Damsels in Distress video by stating that it’s not only possibly, but perhaps necessary to both enjoy media and be critical of its subliminal messaging, and she does a damn fine job of deconstructing things I had taken for granted for so long. It opened my mind and changed me for the better, rather than causing me to dig my heels in wave guns around (literally or figuratively).
Part of the fallout of the Gamergate movement was that various gaming sites published articles calling for an end to the term “gamer”. The essence of the articles was that fewer people wanted to be identified as a gamer, now considered a negative term, and that games should be for “people” rather than any one specific identity.
I myself have never sat comfortably with the label of a “gamer”. When you buy a product from Nintendo, they invite you to register it on their website and fill out a short survey. One of the (extremely simple and binary) questions is: “What sort of gamer are you? Casual – Hardcore”. For a long time I put casual, because I didn’t spend 8 hours gaming every weekend, staying up all night doing marathons, raids and tournaments like some of my friends. But then I realised that most people who identified as casual gamers were the ones who just played candy crush or tried out Space Invaders that one time.
When I did start identifying as a gamer, I wasn’t always sure what that meant. My “gamer” friends seemed to be completely different; some would play for hours a day, others for hours a month. I became reluctant to be associated with certain types of gamers – like people who exclusively played Call of Duty and yelled obscenities at each other all night long. The definition of what a “gamer” is seems to be in constant flux, with #Gamergate drawing so much attention (mostly negative) to the issue, now moreso than ever.
The word “gamer” is just another label to describe part of who I am and what I love. Just in the same way I don’t feel the need to tell people that I’m learning Japanese, I study karate or that I wear glasses, I don’t feel any need to describe myself as a gamer. Rather, I’m just someone who enjoys gaming, and to whom video games are an important part of life. I cherish that which I love about games, and I celebrate games that teach us to be better human beings.
The nature of the gaming world is changing, and for the better. Although they might apparently be the primary audience, young, white, straight males are losing their battle to remain the majority. In fact, according to a recent study, there are more adult women who play video games than teenaged boys. What’s more is that the average age of gamers is now 35. As gamers age, so do game-developers, and in many cases when devs release more of the same thing, it is well received by people who loved its first iteration. (Just look at The Legend of Zelda – Miyamoto-san has never changed the formula and has released game after game to wild success.) Yet there is also an increasing market for indie games which are more accessible and welcoming to a wider variety of audiences than they ever have been before. The Gamergate movement is still alive on Twitter and other places, and its hard to say what will happen from here. But at the very least it’s given me something to think about in terms of who we are (as “gamers”) and what we’re really fighting for.