As Gaming Editor here, I get to play a lot of video games. I love the gaming medium; I think it’s got the potential to define the 21st century as much as film defined the 20th. I also get to experience the gaming community and industry, which can be a wonderful place. There are a lot of genuinely positive people out there making groundbreaking interactive art, and similarly positive people playing it.
But it’s hard to self-identify as “a gamer” when there’s also a large swathe of that community apparently committed to presenting us all as a bunch of hateful sociopaths. It’s like being a moderate Muslim in the middle of the continuing ISIS takeover and oppression of Iraq. A few weeks ago, I’d have said that was an extreme analogy, but given the events of the past week, it’s become clear that it’s actually really fucking appropriate.
I’ll get to this week’s events in a minute. But first: some context. And a warning, because there’s some truly horrible, misanthropic stuff in here that I unfortunately have to repeat in order to discuss.
Layfolk who don’t frequent gaming websites may not be aware (but certainly won’t be surprised) that there are rampant issues with sexism, homophobia, and racism within the gaming industry. There are too many examples of misogyny from employers, readers, or fans to count, but a prominent, representative example - now ballooned to ludicrous proportions - is the continued harassment of video blogger and media commentator Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian is the creator of webseries like Feminist Frequency and the excellent Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games, which critically examine the games industry's treatment of women in its products. As a result, she has suffered literal years of online abuse like denial-of-service attacks, rape threats, Web vandalism, and attempts at “doxing” or distributing personal information online, not to mention unceasing abuse in the form of tweets, emails, and internet comments. Some astonishingly awful creatures even made a video game consisting of nothing but punching Sarkeesian’s face into oblivion. What crime has Sarkeesian committed to deserve this treatment? Merely speaking up about the fact that, y’know, women aren’t portrayed all that well in video games. And Sarkeesian isn’t alone - attacks on female gamers, game developers and game journalists happen all the time, with a mob mentality bordering on the rabid.
One developer targeted this week (a phrase I have to use because multiple developers were targeted this week) was Fez creator Phil Fish, whose website was taken down, gigabytes of personal information (including banking details and emails) leaked, and Twitter accounts hacked. Fish has always been a volatile personality, but his tweets prior to shutting down his Twitter paint a particularly dismal picture of the gaming community:
this is videogames. this is what i get. this is unacceptable. this is not okay. terrorist. never again, you hear me? never again. this is videogames. this is your audience. to every aspiring game developer out there: don’t. give up. it’s not worth it. nothing is worth this. give up on your dreams. they are actually nightmares. just don’t do it. RUN AWAY. RUN AWAY. i would like to announce that POLYTRON and the FEZ IP are now for sale. no reasonable offer will be turned down. i am done. i want out. [...] you should all be ashamed.
Fish’s “public execution” was served in retaliation for his support of Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn. Depression Quest is great, and its designer is one of the most interesting figures in the industry. Quinn fell victim to an enormous, organised campaign of harassment over the week that also included doxing, account hacking, the distribution of nude photographs, and even obscene phone calls to family members. These attacks were followed up by attempts to cover up the hacks and present Quinn as a liar and a hoax artist. I’m not going to link to the original “accusations” the gaming rogues gallery heaped upon Quinn, but suffice it to say that they first surfaced in a lengthy, narcissistic rant by a jilted ex-boyfriend, and they’re all either demonstrably untrue or just none of anybody’s fucking business.
The centrepiece of the attacks was a claim that Quinn cheated on that then-boyfriend with a Kotaku writer and got a favourable review of Depression Quest in return. Yes, this tsunami of harassment was concealed beneath a smug, paper-thin veil of “exposing corruption”. Yet the writer in question never reviewed Depression Quest, which leaves only personal attacks on Quinn’s sexuality. I don’t know if they’re true or not, but it doesn’t matter. A sex life belongs to one person and one person alone, and what these attacks amount to is misogynistic slut-shaming. A woman exercised autonomy as a sexual being. Who cares? That’s her right as an individual, regardless of whether it fits anyone else’s moral standards. Only the people directly involved get to have an opinion on it, and nobody gets to systematically bombard anyone with abuse over it. The abusers bleat that it’s not slut-shaming, but claims of sexual “misbehaviour” represent the entire attempted substance of the attacks. Without them, there is nothing left.
If it had been a man at the centre of the controversy, the attacks would never have happened. If a woman posted a rant as psychotic as Quinn’s ex did, she’d be lynched as a “crazy bitch” by the very same people currently holding up a blog post as incontrovertible proof of Quinn’s “guilt”, and the man in question would be Internet high-fived for getting some. The original accusations were 0% about “exposing corruption in the gaming industry” and 100% about emotional revenge - and the subsequent attacks about hatred, pure and simple.
There is no justification for this behaviour. Even if there was some journalistic slight committed, there is no world in which taking over people’s accounts or websites, publishing their personal information, and swamping them with personal attacks is an appropriate, proportional response. The only explanation is hate.
Because, you see, the Video Gaming Internet can be a horrible place. Hiding behind infinite fake Twitter accounts and message-board anonymity are some of the worst examples of humanity. The abuse gushes forth in such torrents that reporting tweets becomes almost useless. You block or report one anonymous, anime-avatared account, and fifteen more take its place: fifteen more slackly flapping mouthpieces for cowardly, whining crybaby manchildren. (Because they are always, always men.) It’s so bad that hacker groups like Lizard Squad have gone so far as to commit real, actual acts of terrorism, like calling in bomb threats to a plane carrying Sony Online Entertainment chief John Smedley. The internet lit up with shock that gamers had sunk to the level of real, actual terrorism, but the sad truth of the matter is that terrorism had been going on for far longer. Terrorism is terrorism regardless of whether the target is a nation, an institution, a vehicle or an individual.
The attacks come from all over the internet, but the fires are fueled by the fan of message-board sites like 4chan. 4chan is the cauldron from whence Anonymous spewed forth, but while Anonymous typically select oppressive institutions as targets for their online vigilantism, perilously straddling the line between hacktivism and dickery, vanilla 4chan is a different story. Its users still use the same tactics - denial of service attacks, theft and leaking of information, server-bombing, and so on - but they frequently, and certainly in this case, use them for evil. Making enemies with 4chan is a dangerous prospect simply thanks to how relentless they can be. They get off on causing others “butthurt,” and there’s a cavalier lust for LOLs in how they discuss and act on their varying hatreds that’s extremely dispiriting.
So who are these people? What do they want? I’ve spent way more time than I’d like to have looking into them, ruining my YouTube recommendations in the process.
See the guys up in the header image? They’re Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini, the utterly predictable faces of a Patreon crowdfunding campaign (currently seeking a laughable $15,000 per month) called The Sarkeesian Effect. Owen and Aurini are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conservative-misogynist gamer movement, but they’ve put their creepy mugs out there more than others, so I’m more than happy to give them some publicity as representatives of their kind. Their proposed webseries aims to “explore how gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors as well as look into the background, ethics, and methodology of some the movement's most prominent voices.” The crowdfunding video represents possibly the longest eight minutes you will experience this week (warning: contains delusional sociopaths). Watch it if you love cringing at self-satisfied cretins; I’m not embedding that shit on Badass Digest.
“Social Justice Warriors” is a term used often by these sort of people, and it’s a term whose pejorative use perplexes me, because aside from the source of its invention, it sounds like a really badass thing to be. I’d much rather label myself a Social Justice Warrior than a warrior for...whatever it is that these people are warriors for. Social justice is such an inherently positive thing - literally everyone benefits from greater equality - that it’s impossible to see its enemies as anything but sociopathic. Hatred of Social Justice Warriors can be seen as a broader hatred of social justice itself.
Central to the self-centred psychology of these people is that they see themselves as the targets of a grand conspiracy of feminist, progressive journalists and game developers that seeks to destroy their ability to...something. They have no actual issue. It’s all perceived persecution at the hands of political correctness. These “theories” are so narcissistic, so devoid of substance, that the only way to explain them is through delusion. And I mean, I get it - justifying one’s shitty behaviour with a made-up conspiracy probably feels better than confronting the painful truth that one is an asshole. They think they’re part of a “silent majority”, but the real silent majority is the one that either isn’t aware of their ridiculous conspiracy theories, or understands that there’s simply no reasoning with people who are so obviously out of their minds. It’s the same kind of fictional oppression old white folks claim about foreign immigrants who are still generally less well-off than they are. The moment a woman - or even someone who empathises with women - muscles in on “their” territory (which hasn’t actually ever been “theirs”), they’re off, spouting slurs, giving the fingers at intersections, and publishing their banking details on hate sites.
And the thing is, there is no persecution. Social Justice Warriors don’t victimise anyone. That’s kind of central to the idea of social justice. Yes, developers and journalists like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian speak loudly about feminism and equality, but it’s not to attack self-involved lunatics like Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini. It’s because they actually stand for something - for people to behave like decent human beings and treat each other with respect - as opposed to rallying against viewpoints that aren’t compatible with Middle Ages-era opinions about gender and equality. And sure, technically misogynists have a right to say whatever they want, but they don’t deserve to be listened to - especially not when their world view is couched in hate speech, online predation and emotional violence. The world does not owe them a single second of airtime.
Why are these people so terrible? Is it games that are doing it?
The inevitable #NotAllGamers hashtag has sprung up on Twitter in the past few days, and I get where that comes from. I play video games too, and I’m not a total dick! Hooray for me. But I also think the hashtag misses the point in the same self-serving way that #NotAllMen did. This is a problem endemic to gaming, and everyone is part of that problem. There is a culture of harassment, abuse, and bigotry in the rotten core of multiplayer gaming; it has been allowed or even encouraged to fester by developers; and it has created some of the most toxic individuals on the Internet.
As stated earlier, abuse has been around in games far longer than just this week. Seas of bile and hatred are poured onto developers by fans, or onto journalists by fans, or onto other fans by fans, every single day. BioWare writers have been targeted by death threats for daring to end a game their way. The comments section of virtually every mainstream gaming site is invariably filled with vitriol. What is it about gamers that fills them with such fury? Why can gamers only seem to interact with the world in a hateful manner? For an industry ostensibly built on fun, it’s a bizarre way to go about existing.
I have a friend who plays a lot of Call of Duty. He’s a brilliant comedian whose name you’ll probably know in the future, though I won’t mention it here. One of his favourite aspects of the game is verbally abusing other players - he LOVES it. It’s another game within a game. But it doesn’t matter if you’re the funniest or cleverest abusive dick on a server - you’re still being an abusive dick, and you’re still perpetuating a problem that has visibly grown way past that comparatively innocent context and into actual terrorism.
There’s no reputable research that states violent video games create violent video gamers, but I’d be curious to see whether they create abusive ones. At this point, abuse and harassment are as ingrained into gamer culture as headshots and killstreaks - but the difference between the two is that while the violence is fake, the abuse is real. That is a real person on the other end of the in-game chat line. It even extends outside of matches, with one player proving such a sore loser that he called a SWAT team on the kid who beat him.
Is there some sense that the consequence-free world of gaming is bleeding over into the real world? When Lizard Squad take down Sony’s servers and tweet “gg [good game] Sony,” you get the sense that to these people, it’s all a game. There’s a fundamental lack of empathy or understanding for other human beings at play here. These people live in a fucked-up alternate universe where everything is done for the lulz, or to win points in some kind of psychopathic game of one-upmanship. What we’re seeing is the gamification of a social struggle. It’s not about making salient points for these people (not that they had any to begin with) - it’s about winning. It’s the result of decades of seeing everything as a win/lose scenario, only now the no-holds-barred competition of Street Fighter is being manifested in the real world. These people will do anything they can to win, regardless of whether it’s morally or even legally acceptable. And they get away with it!
Before the internet, this didn’t happen - but places like 4chan give these people an echo chamber in which to shout at each other and firm up their sick worldviews, free from the influence of outside opinion. It’s logical and inevitable that the flames will snarl out from inside the fireplace. And for what? What is the goal of these people? I don’t even really want to know. It feels like they’ll just keep going, going, going, until there’s no more good people in the world and all that’s left is a bunch of antisocial asshole bros high-fiving each other with memes.
You also get the creeping suspicion that even winning won’t be enough. When will they have they won? What are their demands? As far as can be seen, there are none - the campaign exists solely to constantly harrass and abuse people until they disappear. That’s the endgame - the destruction of individuals whose only crime is making comments about sexism - or worse, being sexually active. From the smirking tone adopted by Lizard Squad and more, it is hard to avoid paraphrasing what must also be a favourite movie amongst the attackers: some men just want to watch women burn.
It’s odd that a medium unique in its ability to put its players in the shoes of others has created people so closed-minded.
Though women are not the only targets of abuse and harassment in the gaming community and industry, they certainly bear a sad, disproportionate bulk of it. What makes gamers so uncomfortable when women start making or talking about games? I think it comes down, ultimately, to a fear of change. A lot of these people take to games as a way to escape from the lives in which they see themselves as downtrodden or rejected by women - escaping and moaning at other escapees rather than confronting the root cause of the rejection. When women pierce their little men’s-rights bubble of gamerhood and question the long-standing sexist elements of gaming they hold so dear, they see it as an act of vandalism, taking away something that belongs to them. That’s when they become a pack of wolves and set upon the “evil feminists”.
The ultimate, hilarious irony to these douchebags’ worldview is that they claim to want gaming to be taken seriously. In their blinkered eyes, women are ruining gaming, because in their blinkered eyes, change that benefits anyone other than them is inherently bad. But feminist criticism can only be a boon to the games industry. It’s something shared by literally every other art form in existence, and game developers and journalists examining the very real issues in their industry can only improve gaming’s image. The irony of whinging that people like Quinn and Sarkeesian - whose tireless development, community-building and critical analysis help the industry immeasurably - give the games industry a bad name, while apparently believing that bullying and infighting is going to make the industry look like Amnesty International, is just too fucking hilarious.
The real reason for gaming’s poor image is the aggressive, hateful people complaining about Social Justice Warriors in the first place. It is the Ayn Rand-loving pustules who spend their days ranting on message boards or Youtube about feminist conspiracies. It is ONLY THEM. Gaming will never be "taken seriously" when its self-styled bannermen are such vile cretins. When the media coverage - as it does, and it should - focuses on the behaviour of an amorphous minority group bent on online abuse, that is the image of gamers projected to the world. Because of these people, all gamers are painted with the same brush as cowardly, sociopathic losers.
So what can we do?
Thankfully, people like Quinn and Sarkeesian have proven stronger of character than the petty, cowardly people who would destroy them. They’re carrying on making games, encouraging further game development, and applying a critical eye to the world of gaming, and that’s a pretty fine example of how to go about ameliorating this problem.
The only way the ecosystem can improve is through the involvement of more women, more LGBT people, more of anyone who doesn’t conform to the white gamer-bro stereotype. That is exactly what the Twitter terrorists seek to prevent, and awesomely, is exactly what’s happening. Female gamers are rapidly on the rise - 48% of gamers are female, and adult females now double the number of the once-central under-18 boy demographic - and the collected assholes of the world can’t do anything about it. Women play games. If you can’t deal with that, maybe there’s something fundamental to your worldview you need to examine.
It is the responsibility of every gamer to behave better. Many of us do behave nicely, but because negativity sticks in the mind so painfully, it will take a massive sea change in attitude to make the gaming environment better. So next time you’re playing a game, pay attention to the behaviour of yourself and those playing with you. Make a joking comment in an online shooter about the other team getting “raped”? You’re part of the problem. See someone getting abused in a game or on Twitter, and do nothing about it? You’re part of the problem. We have to show that the silent majority belongs to the side of good.
More and more people are getting fed up with trolls and terrorists and are doing something, even if it’s just reporting tweets or writing lengthy blog posts. Even I have tasted Twitter bullying for supporting Zoe Quinn (because I’m obviously trying to get laid! Lulz!), and I’m sure I’ll get a full meal of it now, but fuck those guys. The more people who sit back and let injustice happen, the more injustice will happen, and I’m sick of injustice.
So let’s be thankful for the heroes who are making gaming culture a better place, and let’s try to be better human beings. We need it. Our hobby, passion and livelihood need it. Hell, the world needs it. Hopefully we can all look back one day with cringing bemusement at what total dicks these people were. But for now, we have to keep fighting the good fight.
Because these cancerous fucks don’t get to claim the word “gamer”.
Watch something good: