On Community, Fragments, and the Fringe: GamerGate, SJWs, and Everyone Between
This is not your usual NYMG post.
I’ve been talking about the Good Game Autoblocker a lot lately. Everyone has; it’s a hot point right now, with talk of blocks as censorship, as people shutting off lines of discourse. I talk about it, I defend it, but I don’t use it. I’m not much harassed, and I will block or mute people who can’t treat me as a human on an individual basis, but I know that’s a privilege; for some, the wall of noise is too much. I get it. But there’s been so much pushback that I decided I would raise a question on Twitter: I tagged GamerGate and said someone had told me, not long ago, that GamerGate would have been over quickly if gamers got more respect. I asked for open discussion. I indicated I would not tolerate condescension or attack, and I only had to block one person, a person who wanted to smirk and preen, and I simply wasn’t interested.
I learned a lot, but not as much as I wanted. For all the noise about the autoblocker cutting off discussion, not many took up my offer (until later, when I asked about Zoe Quinn, and my mentions were hit like a hammer with explanations), but the people I talked to had some interesting things to say, and I hope we can keep talking. I have my thoughts about gaming media, and certainly about issues of representation and treatment (or I wouldn’t be here). I expected some good answers, and some bad. What I didn’t expect is how I would feel afterward, how emotional and conflicted. How I would feel somehow that we were all doing something wrong, and how lost I was in finding a way to do things better, and in that attempt, I have written the following, a fragmented essay tracking my reactions and work in the wake of this conversation, and other conversations I was having with friends.
I am sitting at my computer with too many tabs open. In one, a friend is telling me a story of a man he knew who lost his way, his only solace, when gaming conventions went too mainstream, when the only haven he knew turned into a reflection of the rest of his life: a place where a “freak” like him was no longer accepted, but instead subjected to the stares and whispers of “mean girls.” He talked about fake geek girls, my friend tells me, and for the first time, I understand, a little, where these accusations come from. I’m able to see the source of bitterness and anger.
My friend tells me he thinks this man is dead; he hasn’t heard from him in a long time, and at first I want to say, but you don’t know. I can’t say it, though. I can’t, because what did this man, the one my friend describes, have left? What would you do, if you felt there was no place for you at all? To what extremes would you be pushed? I suddenly overwhelmed with such a sense of horror and sadness that I have to look away.
In another tab, I am reading a dissection of Zoe Quinn’s body, a discussion of nude photos discovered, or hacked; I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. I don’t even know if they are really her; I do not look. What matters is that these people are dismantling her, piece by piece. This is a person and they are talking about her as though she is just a body, and one they own, as though she is the sum of parts, simply meat on a table for them to analyze. Is she attractive enough? Is she fuckable? Is she Hitler incarnate? Is she even a person, in this discussion? Each day, I assume, she wakes up. She gets dressed. She yawns. She eats. She has feelings, reactions, thoughts, opinions. As I write this, perhaps she is brushing her hair. Maybe she is thinking about cats.
In another tab, I am searching Twitter archives, though I’ve done this before, for all-time mentions of Nathan Grayson and “rape” versus Zoe Quinn and “rape.” I search them both for “kill.” I search for “stupid.” I search for “ethics.” Every time, Quinn wins the war of mentions. In another tab, I’m told she’s responsible for mass censorship. In the other tab, they are still discussing her body, will always be discussing her body. I will close my eyes and I will see the words. I will remember we are all just bodies.
Somewhere else, though I am not looking, a person is explaining that the harassment is made up, or less than we imagine; that it’s just a few people banding together under alts. That it’s just the Internet. That it’s fair because anti-GG has done it too. That there are reasons.
There are no reasons. No one should be treated this way. I am not looking at these explanations, not now, but I have seen them, and will see them again. It’s just the Internet. It’s not real. But it feels as real as a wound, and it’s not even my pain.
In another tab I am re-reading a conversation I had with a man (I assume, from his statements) about games, and GamerGate. He started out a little confrontational, to my eye, calling Anita Sarkeesian a con artist out of nowhere, dropping the “SJW” moniker, and referring to “Gestapos” calling for changes in games. I am remembering that I almost pulled out of this conversation several times, as his “spare mes” and hyperbole were skating close to a line I’d drawn with the discourse I was willing to tolerate. But I didn’t. I stayed, and we talked, and by the end we were discussing Dontnod and Quantic Dream and when he had to go, he thanked me cordially for the chat and we were just gamers again, talking about what we liked and what we didn’t.
I am back listening to my friend, who is telling me there’s no fix. That we can’t fix this. That we will always find someone to marginalize, someone to hate. I open a new tab and search #gamergate and everyone is fighting, yelling, mocking. All sides. Back with my friend, I am crying a little, because I want so badly to do something good and real in this world and because I want to help him not feel bad, not feel marginalized and also ignored because he happens to be a white dude because there are so many levels of privilege, but all I have are words and in this tab, they are failing me. In this tab, they are useless. Words are nothing.
In another tab, words are everything. I’m reading someone telling Anita Sarkeesian “you’re so influential you deserve to be put into a gas chamber.” Someone else is warning against killing her because she will attain martyr status. She’s anti-Semitic. She’s a Jew. She’s ruining video games and possibly the world. She’s a hateful bigot, a scammer, a con artist. A few people wish someone would bomb her.
This is all in the last four hours of a Twitter search of Feminist Frequency mentions (though some are retweets of older posts).
In another tab, there it is: someone is explaining again that the threats and harassment are only a few people. The threats are this group, or that, or certain individuals. I’m looking at the Twitter accounts of some of the people I’ve spoken with about GamerGate, and it’s all high-fives and one-ups and people joining the movement. It’s all celebration, and anger, and fuck SJWs. One is saying he can’t play with the public “shitposters” because there are too many people he actually knows who follow his account. He’ll have to make a new account. For another, it’s all about SJWs, how ugly they are, how useless. In another tab, I open Kotaku In Action on reddit. I read about suggestions for the gaming media. Some are reasoned; I begin to nod, and then there’s something, there’s always something about politics. About agendas. I just want them to leave their fucking biased and PC SJW political agendas OUT OF THEIR FUCKING REVIEWS. FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! FUCK! one comment reads. But how can you write a review without an opinion? Without a feeling? How can we, as TotalBiscuit suggested, divorce ourselves from politics? We are politics. Fiction is political, even when it’s not overt. We are not robots. Why can’t we find reviewers we like and just listen to them? Why can’t anyone that miserable with the status quo Kickstart a new solution? As I said on Twitter, I simply choose not to read Breitbart. I do not watch Fox News. Sometimes, they make me angry, but I never demand they change. There’s room. The world is vast.
I can’t reconcile this with the conversations I’ve had, and also, I can.
In another tab, I am reading about Dr. Robin DiAngelo and her ideas on white fragility, and I am thinking that there’s a lot of what she’s saying that could be equated to defensive statements about the status quo in the gaming industry. When she talks about observing “very predictable patterns,” in white behavior in conversations about race, she says, “And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place…a lot of the time, the person simply cannot function. They regress into an emotional state that prevents anybody from moving forward,” I begin mentally replacing words. I think of all the times I have questioned something online and been bombarded immediately not with discussion or discourse, but “articles that explain everything.” With “facts” and “studies” that aren’t. With statements, uttered without a shred of irony, that of course young white men are the target audience for games so of course developers cater to them. It doesn’t matter that studies indicate more women are playing games than ever, and are in some ways a majority; it doesn’t matter that all such studies are somewhat flawed because it’s hard to tell not only who’s buying what, who’s borrowing what, or sharing what, but also what people would play if they had access to a larger variety of games. It’s just a defensive barrage of “get over it,” “accept it,” “read this for everything you need to know,” and “fuck, stop whining about games; I like my women sexy in games, okay?”
DiAngelo says, “White fragility also comes from a deep sense of entitlement. Think about it like this: from the time I opened my eyes, I have been told that as a white person, I am superior to people of color. There’s never been a space in which I have not been receiving that message.” I think of Dying Light, which I’ve been playing; I am a white male savior with a group of people also led by a white man; most of the other characters, the ones I am saving, helping, aiding, and fighting, are not white. I think, too, of Shepard in Mass Effect, how it didn’t matter that everyone loved FemShep, that BroShep is still the face of the game. I think of the research I did earlier this year (that I have not yet shared, as it is not complete) that revealed only some 13% of top-selling Xbox 360 games featured a playable female protagonist option. Not even a character designed as the lead, just an option—games like Skyrim, I mean. Sure, more women were available as options in DLC or multiplayer modes, relegated once again to the sidelines. DiAngelo speaks, and I hear a male voice: “From the first time I picked up a controller, I have been told that as a white man, I am superior to everyone else in games,” and it helps me understand their outrage. It isn’t my outrage, but we’re all mad about something. On that, at least, we can agree.
Another, smaller voice whispers that maybe when I joke about being a “misandrist harpy, ha ha ha” and when other feminists talk about white male tears, maybe this is our own version of defense. Our own point at which we cannot engage, born not from privilege but from something else—from doubt, from harassment, from feeling, always, like we are in places where we are not welcome, like we are maybe not really welcome anywhere because we are not named John, because we bleed, because we are supposed to be taking care of the children, because we dare to move into spaces of shadow. That some of us, too, have reached a point at which we can no longer engage, and it’s a point I don’t know how to move past.
In another room, I am taking a break, I am moving, because I must, because the weight has moved beyond what I can bear. I am making coffee, and I am thinking about all the times I’ve had to explain that I’m a gamer, yes, really. There’s a certain look around the eyes people get, particularly men, when I say this, and I know the next question will be, “What do you play?” There’s an edge to it, a challenge. There’s a test I have to pass, and no matter what I say, or how, I might fail.
In five months I am starting a PhD program in which I will study games, and gaming.
I play the shit out of some games.
But I’m also thinking about everyone else who’s looked at me funny, like I’m less than human, maybe, because I’m still playing video games at my age, when I have children. When I should be doing something “important.” Most of these people have a game or two on their phones, but wouldn’t call themselves gamers; even in the short span of years before GamerGate when all geek things were pretty cool, there was something off about the label. Rejected, always, by normal people with better things to do with their time (like kill hours in Farmville or Candy Crush Saga).
For days I’ve been discussing the #ggautoblocker, saying again and again that I don’t use it, but I support it, that everyone has the right to close a door if they want to. That it’s not censorship. That it isn’t stopping anyone from speaking. That the internet still exists. I try to talk to “gators,” asking how they can divorce a media and press so entwined with every level of the thing it reports on. After all, fans become writers, reviewers, and columnists, and then many writers move on to work for devs. Outside of that, everyone goes to the same events. Everyone reports on the same body of news. It is a finite amount of news. Games are developed, released, and played. I try not to insult. I read the #gamergate tag and I see as many people harassing and mocking back as are getting harassed and mocked. I am not neutral; I do not support GamerGate, for reasons I’ve explained, but I try not to harass. Sometimes (often?), I fail. Sometimes, I am an asshole, I am angry; sometimes I mock and rage. I am often flabbergasted at opinions presented as fact, as though no one could possibly disagree, as though criticism is somehow censorship. As though blocking is censorship. As though there is no nuance left in this world of gamers, no complexity; it is them and us, we and they, and everyone paints in bright, bold strokes of rage.
It’s not always this way, but as I write this, that’s all I can see.
I am watching this video and I’m crying now, not a little but a lot, because I feel like I can’t cry, or shouldn’t and that makes me cry harder, because if I give in to emotion then I’m hysterical, just a hysterical woman with too many feelings and a lack of logic. One tear and it doesn’t matter that I’ve tried to engage politely, to discuss. That I want to talk to people, to discover something deeper than repeated party lines and really talk about solutions and ideas. It doesn’t matter, because I’m a stupid feminist weeping over a video, because god do I know that feeling of pausing, of considering what you’re about to say oh-so-carefully, lest you have to explain yourself ten times because someone is waiting to leap on you with a link to some “fact” that is really a thinkpiece or worse, a Wikipedia page, like I have never been on the Internet, like I have not not been playing games longer than some of these folks have been alive. Nothing matters except that moment of hesitation, the deep breath, the reconsidering. The careful crafting of statements lest they be misconstrued.
I close the tabs. I stop reading. There’s nothing left to see, not now. It’s too much. I need to breathe again, and think, and I need to say these things:
I don’t want to destroy games. I want more games, better games. I’m critical when every other game I pick up features a grizzled white dude on the cover, just as I’m critical of yet another book by a dude that’s set in New York, or another movie in which a tough white dude trades barbs with a tough white or inconclusively “exotic” chick, and just like I’m critical when women are shoehorned in just for critics. I’m critical because I think games need stronger writing, because I think diversity brings that, because I’m tired of playing the same things over and over. It doesn’t mean I want to tell developers what they can and can’t make; it means I fucking love games. It means I think nuance makes better stories, and over-reliance on tropes makes shittier stories. It means sometimes I think white dudes are the default, and why? Why is it always a father figure, or an ex-military dude, etc., etc. Why are they bursting their T-shirts like they’ve just dropped in off a bodybuilding forum? Why are all the women trying to navigate the apocalypse in high heels? Where is the logic? I get to say this, because my opinion is my own. It’s mine. Stop telling me I’m too near-sighted to see “the truth” and then linking me “objective” pieces like this one (spoiler: it’s not objective). I can make up my own mind, and I am free to express myself.
You see that in a lot of GamerGate messages. Freedom. But when I exercise it, I am the voice that ruins games.
I’m not here to ruin games. Listen, I am a feminist, and I try to make my feminism inclusive. I want to be aware of the impact my voice can have and how it can silence others. I want to fight for everyone to have a voice. I want to talk about how names are read on job documents, and how perception of names, such a simple thing, helps maintain a class structure it’s impossible for some people to break out of. I want to talk about the very real dangers faced by trans folks, and the horrendous practice of outing and deadnaming, particularly in these internet fights, and how that can put someone’s life at risk. I want to listen to my friend reminding me when he feels like there is no place for him. I want to talk to people who feel that way, too, and I want to break open rooms until there is space for them. I want to talk to anyone who will engage, but I will set my limits because I must. I want to understand the feeling that something is being taken away or threatened. I want to welcome them in and tell everyone that my feminism is about making room. It’s about being what you want to be. It’s about choices, and community, and trying to make something better than what we have.
I want to remember that I am a gamer, too, and passionate about what I like and what I don’t. I want to talk about games with everyone and anyone, all the time, and all the ways we can make games even better, and how we can bring in those people who reject the label. I want to build a community again, but every piece I have is broken, and I don’t know how they can be fit together again, or even if they can. I don’t even know where to begin.