Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of conversation, anger, and frustration centered in the geek gamer world regarding perceptions of women. This culminated in a denouement yesterday when several celebrity women were victimized when their nude photos became available for anyone to see online. The geek community has a problem and we owe it to each other as members to have an honest, respectful conversation.
Unfortunately all the noise, emotion, and anger make it difficult to process through these issues because nuance is involved and it’s hard for someone Hulk-raging into their final form to process anything subtle. So let’s hit pause for just a moment and look at the issues.
I won’t recap the sad Quinnspiracy/#GamerGate story line, it’s available on numerous other sites for anyone curious, but I would like to address the themes that have been constantly battered around as a result of it.
Let’s start with an easy one that’s so basic it is often automatically assumed for ourselves, we just don’t always extend the courtesy to others. What indie game developer Zoe Quinn does with her body is her business and no one else’s. While anyone can understand why a loving partner (her ex-boyfriend) would feel hurt at being betrayed by the other partner’s infidelity, he should probably have just gone to the bar, sought counseling, caught a movie, played some video games/read some comics, and started learning to live his life without the partner who done him wrong. Retribution, as we’re seeing in a rather grand display, almost always leads to a catastrophe and an uncomfortable episode of Dr. Phil.
What I find simultaneously impressive and disturbing about this particular issue, however, is how many people have attempted to enact some manner of vigilante justice against Quinn, like some Relationship Batman out to right the wrongs of Gotham. Their method of doing this has largely been to attempt to drag Quinn through the mud, doxx her, threaten her, and accuse her of such ridiculous things like sullying the sacred bastion of internet gaming “journalism” by attempting to win favor with use of her feminine wiles.
If you read that last sentence and said, “You’ve got to be f*king kidding me,” then good! A woman has relationships with men in the gaming “journalism” world and suddenly… what? What’s supposed to happen? Does Quinn unfairly become an instant billionaire? Do we find ourselves lamenting the loss of gaming ”journalistic” integrity? Did such a thing ever truly exist to begin with? I’d love to know what exactly is so sacrosanct about internet gaming journalism that it’s worth forcibly taking a woman through Dante’s tenth circle of Hell: the Internet.
Every year gaming orgies of epic proportions are held, at which multi-billion dollar companies attempt to woo favor with gaming journalists. The largest of these is probably E3, which by its very own website will tell you if you’re not a member of the elite echelon of gaming journalists then you can’t even get in the door. Why? Because these multi-billion dollar companies are spending MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to fellate these elite gaming journalists as an attempt to win favor. This is their livelihood and there are billions of dollars to be made each year off gaming. So what if they have to spend a few bucks to get some positive word of mouth going on the Internet? No big deal, their ROI is likely to be huge when the fifteenth sequel comes out in the fall. These companies throw giant suck fests, pass out swag, hire super sexy models, buy food, drinks, and generally cater to and cup the balls of the “journalists.” And we, the gaming public, thank them for it.
But with Quinn? According to the internet she’s a slut trying to earn favor or—let’s use a fun word—taint the integrity of internet gaming journalism. One of the fantastic traits we have as homo sapiens is our ability to use logic and reason to reach conclusions. The fact that we’ll voluntarily abandon those efforts willingly is sometimes baffling. Quinn is doing nothing negative to any form of “journalism.”
There’s a poster on YouTube, Internet Aristocrat, who has made three videos so far centered on this very issue. Each video is nearly thirty minutes in length (so all together that’s roughly one and a half hours) decrying Quinn and the loss of gaming “journalism integrity.” And here’s the thing that gets me the most. This guy is good at his job. I mean he’s DAMN GOOD. His videos are slick, well written, well edited, and funny. And while some of the points he makes are valid, he ultimately goes in the wrong direction. It doesn’t matter who Quinn has relationships with. It just doesn’t. Just imagine what Internet Aristocrat could accomplish if he spent the same time, effort, and energy on an issue that actually mattered.
I get that gaming, and the Quinn issue specifically, matter to him and possibly a few other folks too. But it is important to get past the idea that gaming journalism has ever had any shred of integrity involved; not when publicly traded companies are throwing parties with “journalists” as the featured guests. Sorry, but any integrity these guys had was burned at the altar years ago in favor of a goody bag and a reach around. Quinn didn’t destroy the integrity of the system. It never existed.
One of the giant flaws in the argument made by Internet Aristocrat and his ilk is based on the assumption that gaming reviews have much of an impact. Of course, they do hold some influence, but in order for Quinn or Activision or EA or anyone to have as much an impact as he believes, we, the gaming buyers, would have to be a completely clean slate with zero opinion on a game whatsoever. We’d have to say, “I am going to buy a game today but have no advance interest in which game I purchase. Please, oh great Joystiq journalist, direct my money to the worthy recipient!” And that’s bullshit of course, nobody does that. We gamers tend to read the reviews for games in which we already have some interest but want another opinion before committing, but most of us look for validation of our existing opinion. Every gamer has bought a game that has gotten a bad review. Can we please get past the notion that there’s any real consequence of Quinn destroying gaming journalism?
What makes this all the more disheartening is the manner in which Quinn’s opposition offers their “logic.” Slut shaming and use of the “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” is a tactic solely used against Quinn because of her gender. I’m sure those employing this tactic don’t see it in that light but there’s no denying the sole purpose is to degrade Quinn just a little bit each time and prove her to be less valuable. This is bullying, plain and simple. I’d include more on why the negative social stigma associated with the terms “slut” and “whore” should forever be removed from our collective consciousness but that will be saved for another rant.
To us, the general public, who do not know Quinn or have any relationship with her outside of what game she makes, the extent of our judgment of her should go to the art which she’s making for our consumption. Either we decide to engage with it or not; and if we wish to sing its praises from the rooftops or denounce it as pure trash, all that is fine and isn’t even slightly misogynistic. The moment the attack becomes personal, it is wrong.
If you think Quinn is a lousy developer or even if her now-public personal life bothers you so much, then you have action you can take: don’t use her game. But to doxx her, threaten her, call her horrible names is not only wrong, it’s insane.
Here’s what bothers me the most about this: we are geeks. We were the ones who were often vilified in school, belittled and picked on for being what we were. We should know better because we’ve been put in that bad social situation and didn’t like how it felt. We should have empathy.
Most of us do. Some of us don’t and the results have been horrifying.
I also think we need to address the avalanche of hate directed to Anita Sarkeesian for her series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” Sarkeesian’s depiction of how women are treated in games is dead on. (In fact, the way so many people are violently disagreeing with her makes me think they haven’t played the same games I have.) She’s absolutely right in her depiction, but she’s also wrong in her conclusion. In her YouTube video, “Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games” Sarkeesian states (at 24:18) that the way women and their bodies are treated in games has a negative impact and that it “sanitize[s] violence against women and make[s] it comfortably consumable.”
This is a bit of a stretch. Video games have for years been the go-to bad guy for the mass shootings this country has suffered. This is extremely unlikely and also has never been proven. Sarkeesian’s assertion that the depiction of how women are treated in games is contributing to violence against women is also a murky area. Is it possible? Sure it’s possible. Does that also mean it’s also not possible? Of course it is. Using absolute statements that make sweeping assumptions about a group of people or things becomes problematic. Ultimately these statements are unprovable and it’s much easier to look at experiences in our own lives to know the allegations don’t unilaterally hold truth.
The piece of human nature that Sarkeesian (and those who wish to blame video games for mass shootings) overlooks is empathy. Most of us in a civilized society, gamer or not, have empathy and as a result understand that works of fictional entertainment are just that. Fiction. Not real. We don’t live our lives as though we’re in a video game and the overwhelming majority of us in reality respect each other enough to not plan and carry out mass shootings. Similarly we don’t commit (nor should we tolerate) violence or verbal or physical abuse towards women. While there are some people who enjoy the relative anonymity of the Internet and use it as a soapbox to preach hate towards the opposite sex, the vast majority of geeks would encourage these misogynists or misandrists to go play in traffic.
While I agree that we should expect better portrayals of women from our entertainment, I believe that gaming, like comics, exists in a kind of chicken or egg scenario. It’s mostly guys who buy comics and games and therefore it’s not surprising that both comics and games are created by guys. However, because the entertainment is designed to appeal to guys, ladies don’t often get involved. When women don’t get involved, then they usually won’t help create. If they don’t help create how can other women feel comfortable to get involved?
It will take more time and more voices like Sarkeesian’s to help bring about change. Trying to shut her down or stifle her opinion is foolish. We should be welcoming other opinions, as long as they’re respectful.
Geeks have inherited the earth and we have a better opportunity than any powerful force that’s come before us to recognize evil and not participate. We’re supposed to be the good guys. If we participate in the mudslinging, the threats, the distribution of photos of naked celebrity women, or even stand idly by and allow any of this to happen, we’re not the good guys anymore and we’ve lost our empathy.
My advice to my fellow male gamers: be the good guy and keep your empathy. Sometimes you even get the woman in the end.
-by Shane McNulty, chaotic neutral