“I will write my manifesto in [Anita Sarkeesian’s] spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.”
On Oct. 14, Anita Sarkeesian, the maker of the feminist “Tropes vs. Video Games” series and target of the recent GamerGate Internet movement, canceled a speaking engagement at Utah State University after the school received an anonymous email threatening a mass shooting should she speak. The above quote is from that email. Sarkeesian dropped the event because campus police couldn’t guarantee safety, as Utah’s conceal-carry laws would prohibit a ban on guns at the venue.
But GamerGate is not about the many issues its members like to cite.
GamerGate is not about journalism ethics. It never was. GamerGate is not about giving voices to an underrepresented group. It never did. GamerGate isn’t even about preserving “the gamer.” It never could.
GamerGate is about silencing voices and terrorizing women, and this week, it did something it hadn’t accomplished to date — it prevented Sarkeesian from speaking. It wouldn’t surprise me (and no doubt others) if the sender of this anonymous email knew that the event would have to be canceled because Utah’s gun laws could circumvent standard security measures.
From its start, GamerGate — a leaderless campaign that’s more loose collection of individuals than organized protest movement — has been about discouraging people to speak out on cultural issues in gaming. Its members use tactics such as doxxing (making one’s private information public on the Web) and violent threats via social media to scare its victims, usually women, into remaining silent.
GamerGate began by morphing a spat between lovers into a quest for journalistic ethics. Like other Internet groups, such as the hacker group Anonymous, it uses sites like 4chan and 8chan — places known for their belligerent online populations — to communicate. On Twitter, it spreads its messages with the hashtag #GamerGate. Its supporters claim they are standing up for the rights of “real” gamers against feminists or game journalists, whom they see as forwarding a feminist or anti-gamer agenda.
No matter how many of its supporters may sincerely believe GamerGate is about journalistic ethics — and even come out against issuing threats, as some have — this hashtag and everything it represents are only about two things now:
Silencing voices. Threatening women.
GamerGate claims that Depression Quest creator Zoe Quinn slept with a Kotaku journalist for favorable coverage. It’s a baseless smear; the media member in question, Nathan Grayson, never wrote about Depression Quest while at Kotaku (although he did mention Zoe Quinn in an article unrelated to the game), and he only mentioned it in passing in a Rock Paper Shotgun post before working at Kotaku. Some GamerGaters claim that Quinn doxxed herself — to even think this requires a convoluted take on logic that defies belief.
The complaints focused on Sarkeesian have nothing to do with journalism; she’s a critic, a documentarian, and not a journalist. In fact, GamerGate seems more preoccupied with talking about its detractors than talking about ethical media coverage. GamerGate has targeted other journalists, such as essayist Jenn Frank, but again, this has nothing to do with ethics. It’s only about two things.
Silencing voices. Threatening women.
GamerGate is a threat to everything video game fans hold dear. It scares developers from participating in the wider discussion about games. It could have a chilling effect on the medium: Should GamerGate grow strong enough, it could convince smaller developers and indie houses to abandon any ideas that don’t meet this Internet mob’s definition of a “game.”
We’ve seen this before in the United States, though not in games. The “Red Scare” lasted from 1950 to 1956, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) led the charge in a crusade against rooting out the communists in the U.S. government. His rhetoric and investigations fostered an environment of fear from Washington, D.C., to Hollywood (where some actors, directors, and writers were blackballed whether they actually held communist beliefs or not). GamerGate is having a similar effect on developers and media, scaring some to be silent while drumming others out of the industry.
How much does GamerGate resemble McCarthyism? GamerGate, in part, has risen from some gamers’ fear that our changing culture — with its growing attention toward issues around women, minorities, and gender identity — is going to destroy the hobby as they know it. No more triple-A blockbusters like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed. Even the phrase “cultural Marxism” has appeared in GamerGate discussion, which alludes to the similar fear that McCarthy capitalized on with communism, which was on the march worldwide in the 1950s. People who make games or write about such issues have become the targets of these fears, and some GamerGate supporters have taken to employing McCarthy-like tactics to silence them.
But McCarthyism was stopped — because the senator overreached. He couldn’t prove his allegations. And the Senate censured McCarthy for his baseless claims. He finished his political career in disgrace.
Does this sound familiar? McCarthy, like GamerGate, silenced voices. And he, like GamerGate, couldn’t prove the allegations.
With death threats driving Quinn, Sarkeesian, and, most recently, indie developer Brianna Wu from their homes, GamerGate and its supporters have shown that adapting McCarthy-like intimidation tactics for the Internet age is working. When your position has no logic or facts to stand on, you have just two other options: silencing detractors and threatening them.
These death threats, legally, are known as terroristic threats, and they are subject to prosecution. Whether your local law enforcement has the resources or ability to do anything about them, however, is questionable. And the fact remains that being overwhelmingly attacked online is a situation that can feel irreparably damaging, something any victim of stalking or cyberbullying will understand.
And here’s where GamerGate diverges from McCarthyism. GamerGate is an intentionally leaderless community. If no one is in charge, no one can be held accountable. People hide behind pseudonyms like masks hurling threats, knowing that no one knows who they are — and even giving supporters cover to claim some of these making threats are not affiliated with GamerGate because they lack the hashtag.
But here’s the secret: They can be made accountable. Speak out. Don’t let GamerGate supporters hijack your online conversations. Report threats to law enforcement. Don’t let them scare you into silence. Support the game developers, critics, and media outlets you like — and do so vocally. Encourage others to do so. Create separate online accounts for just this purpose (keeping your “real” ones locked down).
Don’t let them silence you.