“Oh, Anita, you are so beautiful and sexy, you know that?” was the funniest horrendous thing a random Twitter user said to Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, as he bombarded her with threats of rape, death, and the address of her home and that of her parents after posting her last video on Monday. The video, which would be right at home on PBS in terms of tone, if not content, suggested that many mainstream games represent women as accessories and shorthand rather than people, a position that sparked quick and unrelenting anger.
The attack on Sarkeesian was one of several incidents in recent weeks that exposed some of the ugly (yet familiar) attitudes and prejudices that are still deeply ingrained in gaming culture. This time, those feelings have become entangled in ethical arguments in an effort to highlight the toxic behavior.
A lie goes half way around the world
The tide of abuse first swept over Zoe Quinn, the creator of the game Depression questwho received a deluge of negative attention, abuse, threats and harassment following a blog post about her written by an ex-boyfriend that was published on August 16. many personal details about Quinn that are irrelevant to her profession or professional conduct.
Details from the mail quickly turned into a conspiracy. Based on the sole fact of Quinn’s relationship with a Kotaku writer, Nathan Grayson, who once quoted her in an article and never covered or reviewed her game, rumors circulated that Quinn had “alleged affairs with video game journalists”, prompting news coverage. about her playing. . There is no evidence to support this claim, and the only fact on which it is based – that Quinn began a relationship with Grayson some time after he quoted her in an article and never published anything about her again – disproves it. The other two people mentioned in the post are a sound designer and Quinn’s boss, who don’t work in gaming journalism.
Yet the allegations continued, along with doxxing and hack of Quinn’s information and accounts. The attack continued with claims that Quinn fabricated the harassment, that she used devious feminine wiles to give her (free) game some attention, and that she portrayed herself as a victim to receive donations. Around August 17, Phil Fish, the creator of Fez, attempted to step in and defend Quinn. After being called back, Fish threatened to cancel nameless projects.
Fish subsequently said his Twitter and Dropbox accounts had been hacked and his email accounts, passwords and banking information had been published in response to his defense. Fish shamed those attacking Quinn on his Twitter account: “All people who attack Zoe are cowards. Attacking a woman in the easiest way you can. Despicable cowards, y’all.” Fish followed by announcing that his Fez IP was up for sale because he “wants[ed] out” of the game industry.
Women as background decoration
Then came the vicious attacks on Sarkeesian and her video series, which looks at how women are portrayed and used in everything from AAA titles to indies. Sarkeesian published an episode Monday that was the second of two parts that examined “women as background decor” in games. The video contains examples of games such as Watchdogswhere the main character looks at multiple cases of violent domestic violence and, instead of even taking a second look at the woman suffering from it, has to run away and track down the man who did it.
Extremely well researched and enlightening, Sarkeesian’s videos always attract a certain amount of harassment and abuse from the stereotypical gamers, who are typically vicious on issues of diversity. This time, the video reached the likes of Joss Whedon and Tim Schafer. The amplified message sent Sarkeesian an avalanche of threats, including rape, death and harm to her family. Sarkeesian eventually left her house and reported the threats to the police. ‘I am safe. Authorities have been notified. I’m staying with friends tonight,’ she said wrote on Twitter early Wednesday.
Enough outlets have by now highlighted the profound irony that a woman who dared to point out some of the misogyny in video games was so inundated with misogynistic threats about there being no misogyny in video games that she was forced to hide. Quinn’s story was completely lacking in irony; instead, it was just a good old-fashioned example of a woman’s personal life being used to inflict professional damage, despite the fact that those two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Many of the people berating Sarkeesian and Quinn are pooling their arguments into bigger issues, saying that Quinn’s situation sheds light on ethical dilemmas in games and gaming journalism, and that Sarkeesian’s crowdfunded “scam” highlights true “social justice warriors”” cherry-pick” evidence to undermine the vast commerce and culture of video games, which are rightfully owned by a certain kind of white man.
All the tertiary charges against Quinn (that she invented assault or abuse) are meant to discredit her. The same goes for Sarkeesian: the structure and content of her videos are extremely common for critical analysis, such as the New statesman points out. But when that style of criticism is applied to video games, it feels like a threat to a particular insular and extremely vocal community whose, as Leigh Alexander writes for Gamasutra, their “identity hinges on the aging cultural signposts of a rapidly-evolving, increasingly wider and more complex medium.”
For gaming to be taken seriously as an art form, it must withstand cultural criticism and gamers must be able to separate a developer’s personal life from her work. But it mostly holds back the medium when these situations not only don’t play out in a civilized manner, but become an opportunistic entanglement of women in the “problems” of gaming culture, creation, and messaging.
It’s, on a sad meta level, a real-life version of what Sarkeesian discusses in “Women As Background Decoration Part 2”: women who are treated as less than, harassed and harassed out of the conversation, in service of another, “bigger” problem. And every time it happens, it advances the goals of the most toxic “gamers” while everything else backfires.