The hashtag #GamerGate is a recent phenomenon in the twitterverse of games culture. If you’re familiar with it, you’re probably in one of three camps: exasperated by it, invigorated by it, or flatly uninterested in it. The genesis of the hashtag began as a response to a blog post from Eron Gjoni, an angry ex of game designer Zoe Quinn. To very quickly summarize, he posted accusations of infidelity, private pictures, and other information that accused Quinn of trading sex for game awards and/or positive reviews for her game “Depression Quest.”
This pissed a lot of people off.
But, contrary to what you might think, much of the outrage ignited by this post was directed at Quinn and the media—even after Gjoni redacted the section of the post concerning how Quinn boned her way to the “top” of indie game design. Not to mention the accused site Kotaku confirmed the reviewer that allegedly was “influenced” by Quinn had only written one article about her.
They had never reviewed any of her games.
It didn’t matter. A vitriolic fuse was lit, and the Internet blew up like a Michael Bay film shot in a stadium bathroom.
Gamers felt it was time to disabuse game journalists of their relationship with game designers, and games journalists responded by attacking these gamers for ignoring the misogyny that started this whole “Quinnspiracy” to begin with, a stance augmented when feminist gamer Anita Sarkeesian, as well as Zoe Quinn, received death threats and rape threats and were “doxxed”—their private information such as their home addresses and bank account information were shared online. Both women had to go into hiding. At one point, Quinn reported that her father was receiving regular calls from strangers telling him they thought his child was a slut. She has stated she’s been couch surfing for months in order to escape these threats.
Sick, I know. And if you were to ply any #gamergater about this deplorable treatment, the general response would be something along the lines of: “this is not about Quinn/Sarkeesian this is about journalistic integrity,” where “journalism” is the reviewing of games by bloggers (LOL) and “integrity” is, um, whatever not standing up for women is.
There is A LOT more to #gamergate than this tiny treatment. Suffice to say, I am very vocally against misogyny in gaming, and feel the way women are represented in games and how they’re treated in gaming culture needs to improve. I feel those who are attacking Quinn, Sarkeesian, and gamer journalists are at best naïve, at worse evidence that evil is rampant throughout the world, but mostly just that people can be ignorant assholes online. I don’t think journalists are perfect or innocent, I just think a culture that is silent about, in support of, or ignoring threats to ruin someone’s life is worse and deserving of more attention than the difference between a 9.4 and an 8.9 on IGN.
In tweeting about #gamergate, I was called a Nazi, accused of trying to silence gamers, trolled, spammed, called sexist, a misogynist, and even had a bot attached to my twitter account posting gibberish whenever I mentioned anything #gamergate… all because I was tweeting about how women deserved better treatment in games and gaming.
The most obnoxious thing a cultural majority can do is appropriate victimhood. “Gaters” feel victimized by how games are being reviewed. How, though? How are gamers being made into victims? This has yet to be made clear. Yet gaters continue employing the language of the oppressed: they are “silenced” and “underrepresented” and “bullied.”
But, unlike, say, equal rights and representation, there is nothing at stake here. Nothing is being taken away from gamers, and no one is threatening to take anything away. Victimhood isn’t just how you feel—it’s also about what you can lose or what you have lost. There is no evidence whatsoever that treating women better, in life or in video games, makes anything worse. Just as there is no evidence that journalists who have no relationships with game designers create better content than for-profit games journalists.
(It should be noted no serious attempt to boycott games has happened, just the sites of games reviewers, as if only review sites are complicit in the “corruption” of games and not games vendors as well.)
What, you ask, does this have to do with Young Adult Literature?
When I first waded into #gamergate, I was scrolling through my twitter feed and I came across another article lamenting how a third of all young adult books are being purchased and consumed by adults. The issue that concerned the article’s writer is that adults should be putting down childish things and reading adult things, and the fact that they’re holding on to childish things means they’re childish, and they should stop being childish because they’re adults, and, obviously, adults aren’t children. By definition.
Absent here is what exactly constitutes an “adult” or a “child,” any mention of genre fiction whatsoever, a sense that the worldview presented in children’s literature is simpler than the one presented in adult literature (which evidences an appalling fundamental misunderstanding/sweeping generalization of young adult books), and, biggest of all, the fact that the majority of individuals complaining about adults reading YA are middle-aged or old white people that prefer books about middle-aged or old white people written by middle-aged or old white people.
Ignoring how your demographic influences your position is a political act of willful ignorance.
We see this everywhere: in how men try to legislate women’s bodies, in white privilege… and in #gamergate when those who feel oppressed are ignored and derided and threatened by the many more who aren’t.
We see a mirror of this attitude in the “great debate” about adults reading YA literature as well. The people who feel threatened by it, the “pro-literature-literature, anti-YA literature” critics, authors, and readers—they have nothing to lose. They are being derisive over nothing. They are commenting on a phenomena that threatens nothing. There is no proof a 40-year-old reading Harry Potter diminishes the number of people who plan on picking up Jonathan Franzen’s next novel about sad white people. If anything, the explosion following the massive readership of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has lead to more adults reading than ever in history.
The same goes for #gamergate. 20 years ago if you could beat SNES’s Metroid in an hour, you were rewarded with a video of Samus slipping out of her Metroid suit clad only in blue skivvies. Is anyone going to say games are worse now that designers have enough sense to not reward gamers with this kind of objectification?
(I mean, obviously some “people” would say yes. All questions are rhetorical when assholes abound.)
George Orwell wrote, “Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same.”
#Gamergate and literary critics are false patriots. They are so loyal to outdated status quos that they can’t see, stand, or appreciate shifts in the cultures they’ve sworn allegiance to. More people than ever are reading and playing video games, which means there will be more diversity, more nuance, and more voices in the content we consume.
#Gamergate will continue to be complicit in misogyny as long as it treats misogyny as secondary (or lower) to their pursuit of gaming culture integrity, and literary critics will further trumpet their irrelevance the longer they lament the new and wax for the old.