The Who, What and Why of Gamergate

Maggie Kelso, Contributing Writer

Gaming is an escape–just ask anyone who does it. To any person who identifies as a gamer, playing a video game is somewhat akin to reading a book. If well-written and well-crafted (graphics, story progression, etc.), it immerses you in a world filled with wonders you could only dream of. For many of us, it is an escape to a better world, maybe one with fewer troubles or, as is often the case, filled with different kinds of trouble, the kind that is less personal and more objective. In a video game, you are an actor playing a role in a long and complex play set on a stage that, with modern advancements in graphics, seems so realistic that it is easy to forget that there is another world outside of the game.

When we play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), we become someone completely different than we are IRL (in real life). Our avatars, characters, are the people we wish to be, our “alter-egos” so to speak. As an avid gamer myself, imagine my surprise, horror, and sadness when the worlds I love to visit suddenly erupted into chaos with the onslaught to anything female associated with video games that is now referred to as Gamergate.

Gamergate began as a response to allegations made by the ex-boyfriend of a female video game designer that she had traded sexual favors for better media coverage of her game. I leave her unnamed because I don’t think I have the right to put her name in all of your minds as the focal point for the start of this movement.

Initially, though the reaction was radical, it only called to question the legitimacy and ethics involved with gaming journalism. Unfortunately, this backlash on one video game designer called to light a noisy giant that had simply been ignored in the past. For years now, a popular female feminist video game critic has received death threats, and many around her have been cyberbullied anonymously for her views on the depiction of women and the roles that women play in video games.

Some threats even reached terrorist-level standing, one of which canceled her talk at Utah State. The culprit detailed that they had many weapons at their disposal and would “make sure they die.” This phrase was, of course, referring to attendees of the talk and the critic herself.

In reality, this is an outlet for misogyny and sexism to continue in a market largely designed for the traditional role of the male. In the “shoot-for-the-shiny-bits” imagery that proliferates throughout gaming culture and graphics, men are surrounded by female characters wearing very little to cover their bodies that defy realism in favor of the perfect woman for men’s idealized sexual fantasies.

Many video games force female gamers to sexualize themselves–whether they want to or not. This advocacy against, and outright hatred for, feminism in the gaming world does have one positive outcome: despite all of its negativity, it reminds us that while feminism has come far, there is much further for it to go. We may speak of feminism as if we have overcome it with the First Wave (which dealt with voting rights) and the Second Wave (which dealt with sexual harassment and planned motherhood), but truthfully much work remains to be done. We have the right to be angry when the worlds we visit to escape from real-life problems are attacked by the same injustices that perpetuate reality. So yes, I am an angry feminist female gamer, but by no means does that make anything I say less valid, for it is I, in the presence of Gamergate, who has the most to lose.

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