If you’ve read any major online publication of late, you’ll have come across the term Gamer Gate — the online war rippling across the video game industry with no end in sight.
While much of the fighting has occurred online, documented under the hashtag #GamerGate on platforms like Twitter and Tumblr, many women have felt this war in real life — hiding out in fear of death threats and quitting their jobs because of online harassment.
Add to that fiery debates about feminism and journalistic integrity and Gamer Gate is sure to make your head spin.
So what is it really about and how did it even start?
It all began with a blog post.
Or, more accurately, a series of posts by programmer Eron Gjoni accusing his ex-girlfriend and indie game developer Zoe Quinn of cheating on him. According to Gjoni, Quinn slept with a writer for Kotaku, a prominent games website, for positive reviews on a game she was working on at the time called Depression Quest.
The post sparked a viral response. First on 4Chan, where users harassed Quinn for trying to challenge traditional video games with Depression Quest. Commenters wanted to reclaim what it meant to be a real “gamer” — dismissing anyone who wanted to pursue a “social justice” cause through games.
The hashtag #GamerGate began on twitter, where proponents of the movement criticized the lack of transparency in the gaming press. Too many video game journalists had close ties with game developers, they argued, and this was tarnishing fair coverage of video games.
The campaign started to falter as many comments started to target Quinn and other female gamers and writers who supported her. She received countless rape and death threats. The abuse reached its height when the developer’s personal information, including her home address, was released online (called “doxing”). She then went into hiding.
Critics point to this online harassment as a way to invalidate those who are rallying under Gamer Gate, saying that gamers can’t ask for an ethical press if online trolls abuse women in the video game industry.
“Whatever the higher motivations of some of those involved, the debate has had such a toxic undercurrent of abuse and anti-feminism that it has poisoned the whole concept. If this is about ethics, it cannot also be about systematic harassment. Those two contradict each other completely, ” wrote The Guardian games editor Keith Stuart in an interview with Vox.
So yes, GamerGate is about journalistic integrity, feminism, and gamer — or rather, “player” — identity all at once.
It’s about the idea that anyone can be a player, and allowing this new frontier to evolve into what players — of all genders, ethnicities, and creeds — want and need. Because, these aren’t “just games, ”
Journalist Leigh Alexander wrote in her essay for Time Magazine, “We will get this, because we’re creating culture now. We are refusing to let anyone feel prohibited from participating.”
As Avatar Secrets contributor Jessica Hammer states, “…there’s less and less socioeconomic integration in American neighbourhoods. And games can cut across this this because in the real world, we’re often subject to first impressions, biases that we cannot control… You can go your whole life without ever really leaving your bubble. And it’s much harder to disrupt this in the physical world than it is in the digi world…. This is a big problem with the racism, sexism, and homophobia in gamer culture. Because when gamer culture tries to drive away people who are different, they are destroying the ability for games to challenge who we connect with and how… Which is one of the potentials that games have to connect people who do not otherwise have a relationship.”
We’re in the middle of a big shift, and we don’t have very many rules right now for how we act and interact online.
Vint Cerf argues, “We don’t yet know what social conventions we should adopt in order to protect each other from unintended harm.”
But at the core of it all, it’s about a community of people trying to desperately catch up to what video games have come to mean to society since its inception. And the finish line is far from sight.