It should surprise very few people who know me to hear that I’ve been keeping up with Gamergate. I’ve been trying to follow the story ever since I first heard about Zoe Quinn and the campaign that was started to ruin her life, and I keep feeling like I should be saying something about it.
I feel like I’m letting myself down every time I see another story about what a group of people are willing to do to terrorize the women they disagree with and stay silent. What’s going on right now is incredibly important, and incredibly brutal, and it’s not so much that something needs to be said – because people who know more than I do are already saying things – as that those things need to keep being said by as many people as are willing to say them, or nothing will change.
At the same time, I find myself struggling to figure out where to begin, because for me, Gamergate feels like it’s just one part of an ugly puzzle.
I’ve always known that the Gaming Community contained pockets of anger, hatred, and vitriol. It’s why I’ve only ever tried to play a multiplayer game once. The results didn’t surprise me, they won’t surprise anyone, though they hurt me deeply; from nearly the moment I joined the game I found myself subject to a torrent of verbal abuse on account of my newness. My team tried to kill me to keep me from ruining their game, told me to leave (though I had thought I was in a new-to-the-game zone). When someone messaged me, sounding friendly, asking for my A/S/L, I told them that I was a 21-year-old Canadian girl.
And wouldn’t you know it, people stopped calling me the “f%cking noob” and started calling me a whole lot of other things, of which “whore” was probably the nicest.
The take-home message: Being a new player in a multiplayer game is a sin; being a female gamer is even worse.
So it doesn’t really come as a surprise to me that these people who responded so angrily to my moderate-incompetence, which served to only inconvenience them, have taken that anger and let it boil over into death threats against women who actually challenge the status quo. It hurts me, though – particularly, oddly enough, because in many ways I have more in common with the gamers who do the threatening than I do with the women who receive the threats.
I’m a feminist, but I don’t really participate in what I think of as feminist appreciation of culture. I read books about men going on adventures, I watch movies with minimal plots in which the women are dressed to look sexy, I play games where I run around shooting things whose only real crime usually amounts to ‘working for the wrong person or getting caught up in the wrong toxic disaster’. I frequently wish that women were doing more things in these pieces of entertainment I consume, and I’ll object to the use of rape as a tool for character development until I’m blue in the face, but from the outside, my feminism and my recreational pursuits seem fairly segregated from each other.
I play violent video games. I’ve never played GTA, but I’ve played games that were similar. I play big-name big-ticket games, the same ones enjoyed by the men who want women out of their pastime. Most of my self-indulgent spending is split pretty much evenly between the buying of video games, and the buying of fashion dolls. I don’t think we’re so very different, the men and I, or at least I don’t think we have to be (except for the dolls).
But evidently they do – or, some of them do, because while we may all be getting tired of the contractual obligation to acknowledge that yes, #notallmen send death threats, I think I’d still rather err on the side of polite, open communication than risk seeming generalist.
Evidently, some men think that women don’t belong in their treehouse, and that a woman who dares to enter should be on her best behavior, that failing to do so in an online context should be met with abuse, the threat of violence, and real-world harrassment.
That’s bad enough. Really, that’s enough bad right there. I’d love to be able to say that it doesn’t get worse, but I can’t.
The problem isn’t just that a fragment of the gaming community has taken upon itself the mandate to ruin the lives of the women it doesn’t like. The problem is that as far as I can tell, this phenomenon itself is being viewed by the rest of our society as a little fringe problem.
Gamers have a history of being picked on. It’s only fairly recently that 58 percent of Americans have started playing video games (45 percent of those players being women). When I was a teenager, a “gamer” was someone who played Dungeons and Dragons, and there was a lot of media hype at the time wondering about the psychological dangers that D&D posed to its players. Gamers are still viewed with suspicion in the media; when someone kills people in a school or a theatre, the media starts wondering how many violent video games they played. Many people who play games today remember what it was like to be mocked for their hobby. Gamers were a minority, they were marginalized and persecuted.
So it must be hard have to set aside that mantle of oppression. It must be difficult for those people who can now celebrate their social power by playing Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed or Halo with their coworkers, who can exercise their financial power by purchasing a constantly-cycling series of systems and games, to realize that being a gamer doesn’t represent the same things that it used to. And it seems to be incredibly hard for the rest of the world to understand that this group of people they used to eye sideways now occupy more social space than the people who don’t like to unwind by throwing birds at pigs, or decapitating pirates.
Hard as it is, though, both sides need to understand that the world is changing. The subset of gamers who used to make up the entire group are now just a part – and while the opinions of the people who helped shape the culture are important, “I got here first” can’t be allowed to hold sway in the real world the way it did in the schoolyard.
And the opinions of a caustic, aggressive group of people shouldn’t be treated as the mutterings of a few angry nerds, no matter how small a percentage of gamers they make up.
Gamers aren’t the Other anymore. Gamers are people too, and when a group of people starts launching systematic attacks against another group of people, when someone in a group threatens violence or murder, we can’t afford to trivialize it.
I was thinking this morning about a story I read, about how Anita Sarkeesian was warned against speaking at Utah State University with the threat of a mass shooting, and how she eventually had to cancel because adequate security measures would not be provided for her. Guaranteeing that students can’t bring a concealed weapon into a room wherein mass murder has been explicitly threatened is, apparently, not something that we can do.
I wonder what had to be going through the minds of the people who made that decision. They couldn’t have believed that the threats were credible, or else how would they allow a room full of people to face that kind of danger. Did they think that an angry person has never before decided to murder women for what they dared to think?
I wanted to remind people about the Montreal Massacre, where in 1989 a young man walked into a school, separated the men and the women, and then shot the women in an attempt at “fighting feminism”. I wanted to say that this kind of manifest hatred has already taken the lives of at least fourteen people – but then I saw that I didn’t have to. The person who made the threat against Sarkeesian signed with the name Marc Lepine, the name of the shooter in the Montreal Massacre. Evidently, deliberately invoking the identity of a man who murdered women because of what they were doing in a school was insufficient to convince law enforcement to protect a woman, who was being threatened because of what she was doing in school.
I can only imagine how different the response might have been, if a Catholic organization were to have received threats from an individual identifying themselves as part of an Islamic hate group. Would concealed weapons still have been permitted in that context? I have an incredibly difficult time believing that they would.
What it boils down to is that somehow, society doesn’t seem to think that violence against women is a problem. Oh, people are aware that it happens – but not as much as women like to claim it does. Maybe it ties into an attempt to be positive? Accepting that a group of people are out to get women would require seeing women as a distinct group, rather than seeing them as part of ‘people’. I’ve heard it suggested that to single women out as the victims of specific violence is exactly the kind of thing that feminists are supposed to fight against, as though in order to be a good feminist I’m supposed to sit by and pretend that people weren’t out to get women just for being women. I’m supposed to accept that Facebook pages dedicated specifically to violence against women are “controversial humor“, not hate.
It’s not in our heads.
People are out to get women.
I follow John Scalzi’s blog, because he thinks a lot of interesting things and he’s not afraid to talk about them. I look at him and I see a part of what I want to achieve – he writes good novels, and he thinks good thoughts, and he puts himself out there when he thinks it’s important. I’ve seen what he gets in response: he seems to be mocked on a regular basis, for daring to speak for feminism, and he handles it with incredible grace. He also posted a picture of his house today, something my brain tells me would be an incredible risk for any woman with a controversial opinion. It feels like another part of the puzzle: men who provoke with what they say get derided, insulted, yelled at, threatened – women have campaigns launched against them. Men are hassled, women are forced to flee their homes for their own safety.
It’s hard not to think about this, as a woman who wants to write books. It’s hard not to see what a small but violent group of gamers is doing to the women who cross them, and wonder what might happen to me if I dare to speak my mind after (if? after!) my first book hits the shelves.
I want to work in an industry where it seems to be tacitly understood that men write books, and women write books for women and children. I want to work in an industry where the product is as much about the ideas as it is about the way they’re packaged, and almost as much about the author of those ideas as the thoughts themselves. I read Seanan McGuire’s explanation for why she won’t write rape, and how the simple fact that none of her female characters have been violently abused is interpreted by a reader as a lack of respect for her craft, rather than a sign of respect for her creations.
My characters will not get raped.
My characters will not all conform to social norms. I began the novel I’m currently writing with no intention to create an ‘alternative’ cast, and ended up with an asexual woman, a homosexual elderly man, a bisexual frat boy, and a heterosexual young woman as my four main protagonists. How many people will take issue with that?
How many of them will decide that I deserve to be punished for subjecting them to it? Or if I choose to speak my mind about why I make these decisions?
Somehow, if I ever achieve the level of success that Scalzi has earned, I doubt I will be in a position to feel safe posting pictures of my house.