I’ve held off on writing about GamerGate, but I might as well speak my piece. It’s not a very large piece.
I’ve followed Anita Sarkeesian‘s videos since her kickstarter. I follow her on Twitter. I haven’t always agreed with her views (in fact, I often find things I disagree with) but I think it’s really cool of her (and really brave) to be working so hard to have a discussion about gender issues in gaming. I’m really glad that she’s done her thing in the face of so much venom. I support her and developers like Zoe Quinn that have been driven out of their homes by threats from a very vicious, very vocal, very venomous group of people.
And that’s nothing new, nothing that many other reasonable people aren’t also saying. “Wait, Matt, you’re agreeing with the idea that it’s wrong to threaten to kill a bunch of people because a woman is talking about video games?” I know, it’s a totally radical opinion I have.
So here’s what I will talk about instead. Let’s talk about gamers. Let’s talk about us.
I’ve been a lifelong gamer. I had the dubious honor of being part of this group during the Nineties when Mortal Kombat hit the scene. You remember Mortal Kombat, right? Violence in games exploded in a big way after that one came out. Suddenly, everyone was talking about those violent video games. Violent games were forbidden in my house. I had to sneak over to a friend’s house to play Mortal Kombat. Considering how much of a super-geek I was growing up, this is literally the only thing I’ve ever done behind my parents’ backs. I played a video game. No drugs, no booze; just that one particular game.
I remember how it went, from Mortal Kombat to Doom to Grand Theft Auto. The issue of violence in games kept growing. Columbine happened. School shooters became a thing. And for most gamers like me, we kept hoping that it wouldn’t get any worse. We hoped that the public tide wouldn’t turn against games. We hoped they wouldn’t end up banned or strictly controlled. We just wanted to play.
Politicians like Lieberman and Pelosi and Hilary Clinton, likely looking to pick up family-first-morality credit, seemed to be in every article, saying how we need to take a closer look at these games, we need to control this. It might be a little ironic that I’m now a vehement liberal who’d vote for any of them, since back then, they were the enemies of gaming.
I remember when I was about ten or eleven, a friend whose parents worked for the local news station wanted to do a story on kids playing video games. At the time, I thought it was the coolest fucking thing in the world. They interviewed us (hilariously neglecting to get permission from my parents) and took footage of us playing games. I remember I had the first twinge of doubt when I offered to show them some of the non-violent games we had. I brought up Mario Kart and explained that it was my favorite, but they didn’t care about that. The reporter said something about how they already had enough footage of that kind of game. So all they wanted from us was the shooters.
I remember being so proud until the segment finally came on and it was an absolute nightmare for a kid who loved games so much. We were painted as being addicts playing murder simulators. Closeups of concentrated faces, hands moving over control pads. At the time, I thought it was because of how good it was at the game. When I saw the segment, I saw how we’d been lied to, literally lied to by the reporter and the camera crew. Fortunately for my younger self, the segment didn’t air until the last fifteen minutes of the evening news, so nobody I knew other than my parents ever saw it. I didn’t get picked on at school for it.
But honestly, I’m still pissed about it. I still disdain the channel that did it, although I won’t mention which news group it was. But I felt like they’d been out to get me. It was an us vs. them. Gamers vs. normals.
We didn’t want to bother anyone. We wanted to play our games and be left alone. As a kid who was picked on a lot, that was my refuge, a place where it didn’t matter that I was awkward and weird.
I remember Jack Thompson’s insane crusade and the mind-boggling amount of media attention he received. He was the universal enemy of all gamers. Even if you didn’t particularly like the games he railed against, if you were a gamer from 2003-2008, you probably had a negative opinion on Thompson. He was our collective nemesis and it felt like justice when he was finally disbarred as a lawyer.
That seemed like a turning point. Gaming had gone from this insular little thing that a few kids did to being everywhere. Suddenly, everyone was a gamer. We weren’t weird anymore, we weren’t different just because we liked games. Of course, I was well into adulthood as this magical change was happening, so at that point it didn’t matter quite as much to my life, but I could see how we were being treated by the general public consciousness. Famous people were gamers! Practically every single male in the world had a copy of Modern Warfare 2! And some females, too, although not as many. That game was a serious bro-fest. Guys that used to pick on me on the playground were lining up in front of me in the GameStop!
It seemed like gamers had proven the naysayers wrong. We weren’t violent, we weren’t maladjusted, we’d grown up and gotten jobs and become productive citizens and kept on playing. More murders have been committed because of something someone wrote in a novel than because of games.
And now, a few years later . . . here we are. Now we’re at the point where some gamers are threatening to commit the school shootings and rape and kill and literally, literally fucking prove every negative stereotype that we’ve endured since the beginning. How the fuck does that happen? How the fuck do you not see how fucking stupid it is to look at the stereotypes men like Jack Thompson heaped on us and say, “yeah, that’s a good fucking way to solve the issue of a woman talking about video games in a way that I don’t like?”
Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me is this; we grew up in a siege mentality. Gamers were used to being the bad guys, we were used to video games being the demonspawned corrupters of souls, the way movies, comics, rock music, etc. were once.
We were persecuted for being geeks and nerds by a hypermasculine social structure that didn’t reward intellectualism over athleticism, that didn’t value wanting to be different and do our own thing. And how, in some dark hilarious twist, instead of saying we’ll be better than that, we’ll be better than the fucking guys that made our lives such living hells throughout our youth that the only solutions seemed to be drugs, suicide or virtual escapism, now we’re just being the same as those fucking guys.
There’s only one explanation that makes sense to me. I can’t believe that any kid who grew up loving games and having that stigma would be doing this to someone else.
So maybe GamerGate and this systemic campaign of harassment and threatened violence against women in gaming is due to the fact that gamers aren’t the same little group of people anymore. Now gamers are everyone and that means that Gamergate isn’t simply a gamer problem, it’s one battle in a larger social struggle against male privilege and patriarchy and the way women are treated and depicted in this culture. That could be it. Maybe it’s not just gamers, but a very specific group of men in general. I don’t know that this would make me feel better about the situation, but it does make more sense.
Or maybe it really is a gamer problem. Maybe the problem really is us and today’s gamers didn’t heed the lessons of the past. Maybe they’re just ignorant of the history of what Columbine did to the hobby that we love so much, which is why they’d literally threaten that very same thing. Maybe we’ve forgotten what it was like to be the ones singled out for wanting to be who we were, for wanting to like the things that we liked. Maybe we’ve forgotten, taken the current status quo for granted, and now that someone else is daring to want to be part of it all, we’re turning on them like rabid beasts.
Or maybe it’s just a case of the echo chamber of the Internet and a small group of voices can be so mind-boggling, disproportionately loud. Maybe it’s the same group of MRA assholes that have been harassing people like Sarkeesian for years and their voices are just now getting particularly loud, their threats particularly egegrious. Maybe for every one idiot who supports the systemic terrorization of women in gaming, there are 99 other gamers who just want to keep quiet and play on.
Regardless, it’s a shitty situation that we’ve found ourselves in. It’s shitty and it’s depressing and it makes me wonder if maybe we weren’t better off with Jack Thompson and his one-man crazy crusade. Because at least when he was around, saying his crazy things, we could just shrug and say, “man, can you believe what this guy is saying?”
Because right now, all I can do is put my face in my hands and say, “man, can you believe what gamers are saying?”
No. I can’t.
I really, really can’t.