In August, Zoe Quinn, a female game developer experienced harassment after a former boyfriend posted a blog listing men he suspected she had physical relationships within the video game industry. After receiving a number of death and rape threats, and having her personal information leaked online, she left her home for safety.
From this incident, #GamerGate was created on Twitter. Gamers described #GamerGate as a call to action for better ethics in journalism for video games, beginning with the assumption that Zoe had relationships with menin the industry for positive game reviews. However, it presented largely as targeted harassment towards women that were asking for diversified representation in gaming.
Video games have long been designed by, and for, men and boys. However, women and girls have been taking on increasingly prominent rolesin video game culture and though there has been a turn to embrace more female developers and gamers, there is still pushback from a group that has often identified as an exclusive, male-dominated, club.
In addition to the threats posed to Zoe, more sexist and violent comments on Twitter were being directed towards Anita Sarkeesian. Anita runs the website Feministfrequency.com, which has recently explored the depictions of women in video games. Her intent, to call out the victim or vixen roles played by female characters in games, recently resulted in threats of a mass shooting at a college she was scheduled to speak, forcing the cancellation of the event.
the connection between sexuality and violence in games supports a misogynistic version of reality... As a result, gaming culture is mirroring, and perpetuating, rape culture.
These video game fans and gamers are using fear in an effort to continue to oppress and intimidate women, a familiar tactic in violence against women. This violence is an attempt to keep activists and critics from changing their idea of a perfect male-dominated video game culture.
But women like Zoe and Anita are not hiding their experiences or perpetuating the silence. They, like other female gamers and developers, are fighting for equal opportunity to participate in the gaming society. They want female characters to be depicted as complex, multidimensional persons rather than subordinate sex objects.
In current gaming culture, the connection between sexuality and violence in games supports a misogynistic version of reality, in which the majority of heroes are males displaying their masculinity through violence, and women are serving as background characters to be objectified. As a result, gaming culture is mirroring, and perpetuating, rape culture.
The problems that exist in gaming culture not only relate to the visual representation of women, but also through the language used by gamers in their interactions with their counterparts. Technology now provides ample opportunity to interact with others in the game, which has lead to a normalization of violent language to match the game’s level of violence. Name-calling is a standard practice, and studies show female gamers receive higher levels of taunts and sexually aggressive remarks while playing than men. As a bonding method, teams assert their dominance by using sexually violent language, often referring to winning or beating a player as “raping” them. Perhaps without knowing, their consistent use of this language minimizes the seriousness of sexual assault. With 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men experiencing sexual assault in their lifetimes, these violent interactions impact survivors in what should be a safe space.
This #GamerGate conversation allows us all to speak up about the way women should be represented in the video game and entertainment industry. The acknowledgment from some and resistance from others to change the video game culture can serve as an educational tool. By calling out aggressive behavior and empowering the marginalized gamers and developers to continue working on new, creative, and fair storylines, we can create a safe space for everyone in the gaming industry.