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Sexperts: Navigating the sexist politics of GamerGate

becky sexperts

 A guy with a headset on, a controller in his hand, swears loudly for more than one reason. On screen, guns fire and sexualized women’s bodies gush blood. Between his legs, a woman’s head bobs up and down, while he never pauses the game.

This scenario of coupling a hobby with sexual pleasure has been conveyed to me as a fantasy by a number of men, who would not lose it over getting head while playing violent games. This little fantasy has also been a suggestion in Cosmo and discussed widely in hetero-gamer circles. This seemingly strange coupling of a sex act and consumption of violent media is in fact totally in keeping with the sex lives of many people our age.

These couplings are well illustrated with stories about “GamerGate.” This movement recently received a lot of coverage on mainstream and online news, and rightly so. The violent threats that have been issued against a number of women are truly terrifying and deserve media attention.

For those of you who have not been exposed, GamerGate is a movement to protect the identity of a “gamer” from so called “social justice warriors” couched in contrived language about ethical journalism. The belief is that feminist critiques and pointing out of a lacking diversity in games are a distraction from legitimate journalism about the quality of said games.

The scary part is that these critiques have lead to a backlash so intense and violent that women have literally been driven from their homes with threats of sexual violence and murder. Anita Sarkeesian, a well-known feminist critic, was forced to cancel a speaking event at Utah State University because of threats lodged by GamerGate to conduct “the deadliest school shooting in American History.”

This news story has caught my attention not only because of its vile sexist harassment, but because it raises questions of defining “identity” around a form of media, which applies broadly to our generation. Chalking GamerGate up to a bunch of unstable teenagers is dangerous because it ignores the strong link being demonstrated between virtual and physical violence. I am not suggesting a simple causal link; sexism is complex and forms of violence against women come from many different areas of life, but media is undoubtedly one of them.

People like Sarkeesian, who simply raise questions about the portrayal of women in games, now face threats of death, rape and other forms of violence. These threats do not come from some Internet boogey man; they come from real humans who really think that people who question and critique a game deserve to be silenced or, in some cases, die. This idea runs parallel with shifting conceptions about rape, in that we want to put the violence on to some “boogey man” instead of recognizing it among our peer groups.

With the “It’s On Us” campaign that has been taken up at Rollins, there is a shift in this paradigm, and we are addressing the issue among actual peers. GamerGate then seems to be a new stage to explore this idea; the recognition of the identity of a “gamer” gives people room to treat other gamers as people with real responsibility to end this violence.

The violence in games is disassociated and anonymous, but the people behind these screens have brains, and can indeed develop some human decency. Plenty of gamers are already there: the Indie scene has produced some diverse games with less sexism and violence that have been well received by consumers.
This could have something to do with the strong demographic of female gamers who have recently outnumbered their male counterparts. It can no longer be argued that these violent games are simply giving the consumer what they want, because over half of the consumers are women, and the fact that criticism is growing for these games shows the broader demographic that now has to be appealed to.

This threat to the single narrative of “gamer identity,” then, is perhaps what is breeding the intense backlash we see. While actually the identity of gamer makes this form of media more interesting to critique because people identify so strongly with the media as opposed to more casual forms of consumption of movies or television.

Problematically, this identity is being narrowed to only include white men who do not want to see women as playable characters and cannot handle diversity in race or gender identity in their games. Playing as a queer character, a woman or a person of color, is not an odious concept to many people involved in the gaming scene. GamerGate is claiming to be a voice of a community that it does not represent.

Their backlash is non-unique, but it does affect the vast majority of our generation who are either a gamer themselves or involved in relationships with gamers—romantic, friendly, or otherwise. When we make forms of media impenetrable to criticism, as GamerGate wants to do, we lose the opportunity to examine important dynamics at play in our real lives. GamerGate supporters are our partners, our friends, and our family. While plenty of the people we know who play video games do not support the single narrative of gamer or violence against critics, plenty do. The toxic attitudes they take are supported by systemic and widespread attitudes around gender and race in our society, and the particularly violent elements of this form of media supports the narrow-minded ideas that affect all of us.

While GamerGate remains a prevalent movement, we cannot deny the reality of violence against women in media. After all, they do not deny that games are violent towards women, or lack diversity; they simply think this violence and exclusion is not problematic. These issues are intricately linked to the way women are treated in real life, and I am not just talking about Game critics.

Women here at Rollins are interacting with GamerGate supporters, and these gamers’ acceptance of violence and faliure to have conversations about diversity plays out in real time for real women. If you do not care about strangers receiving death threats, care about the women all around you on campus, because they are also affected.

The ideas behind GamerGate are linked to attitudes about women overall and open the door to more violence. Here on our Rollins campus, gamers need to check their privilege and remember to examine the weird and complex links between sex and violence that are ever-supported by GamerGate.

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