Backlash against the #Gamergate movement escalated several notches this week, thanks to high-profile accounts in The Washington Post and The New York Times, along with a public statement from the Entertainment Software Association.
“Threats of violence and harassment are wrong,” the ESA said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Dan Hewitt. “They have to stop. There is no place in the video game community — or our society — for personal attacks and threats.”
Though #Gamergate purports to focus on ethics in gaming journalism, it’s become known primarily for misogyny, harassment and threats of violence against women.
Most recently, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled a lecture at Utah State University because police wouldn’t prohibit firearms at the event despite death threats against her and promises of a “massacre.”
Sarkeesian has been relentlessly targeted by Gamergate, in particular for her work in exposing the treatment of women in games in a series of videos, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, funded by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. The videos — several have been produced — are used as educational tools.
Game developer Brianna Wu last weekfled her home after personal information including her address was published online.
The hashtag #StopGamerGate2014 reportedly has ranked high on Twitter’s trending list this week.
Gjoni Speaks – and So Does His Mom
Now two months old, the Gamergate campaign began after gamer Eron Gjoni broke up with his girlfriend, indie video game developer Zoe Quinn, and publicly aired his grievances against her in a lengthy post.
That led to the online targeting of Quinn by many other gamers.
Not long afterward, gaming site Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander wrote a story criticizing gamer culture.
Under pressure from Gamergate supporters, Intel then pulled its ads from the site.
Gjoni on Thursday, spoke out in an interview, saying that while he regretted the harassment his post created, he would do it again. Gjoni’s mother is also quoted in the article, saying that she advised him not to publish the post.
Gjoni reportedly has lost his job at a Boston hospital.
‘Depressing and Stupid’
“My first reaction when heard about the New York Times story was, ‘Oh dear god, now I’m going to have to explain all this to my mother,” longtime gaming industry journalist Paul Semel told TechNewsWorld.
The Times article details the harassment Sarkeesian, in particular, has endured, which includes regular death threats, rape threats, online impersonations in an effort to destroy her reputation, and the concoction of conspiracy theories about her activities and motives. That’s on top of a daily onslaught of obscene, hateful posts and videos.
“Until you start to explain it to someone who’s not into video games, you don’t realize how depressing and stupid the whole thing really is,” Semel added.
Gamergate supporters are not representative of the gaming world, he stressed.
Millions of people all over the world play Call of Duty — to name just one example — but “this small and vocal group has become the face of gaming,” he explained.
‘Looked Upon as Losers’
“I keep coming back to the idea that we as a society have turned a corner where being sexist or misogynist has become socially unacceptable,” Semel suggested. “It used to be that people could get away with making jokes and comments, but they can’t anymore — people get fired for things like that.”
As a result, “one of the things that has fueled aspects of Gamergate is that people in that scene feel they are now looked upon as losers, and that doesn’t feel good, so they’re lashing out,” he added.
Where will things go from here?
“I don’t know how you end this — ultimately it will go away. Over time, these things burn out,” Semel said.
“I don’t think it will go away in my lifetime, but eventually we will look back at these kinds of prejudices the way we now look back on hatred for other groups,” Semel reflected. “What I would love to see is what will happen in the heads of some of these people when they get married and have daughters of their own.”
A Business Problem
The controversy has become salient enough that it has the potential to have a material impact on the gaming industry, Christine Arrington, a senior analyst for games with IHS, told TechNewsWorld.
“The ESA has invested heavily in understanding the gaming consumer and helping the game industry expand its appeal, and as a result its business opportunity,” she pointed out. “This sort of controversy could drive existing and potential gamers away. When that happens, it becomes of interest to the business community.”
The ESA also has worked hard with parents and regulators to establish a ratings system that gives parents a sense that their kids will be safe in the gaming community, noted Arrington.
“A controversy like this has the potential to revive a lot of the issues,” she pointed out, “about whether gaming and the game community is a safe place for young people to engage.”