Harassment and Marginalization in Videogame Culture

It has been a long time since I’ve commented about anything related to misogyny and other forms of bigotry in videogame culture, much less specific incidents. Although I noted more than a year ago that the discourse is shifting, that we’re seeing more and more coverage on mainstream sites about marginalized groups of gamers, we’re also seeing greater backlash from the vocal minority who feel threatened by what they feel is an incursion of outsiders. They don’t realize that we—women, queer people, racial minorities, and all sorts of other marginalized folks—have been here all along. We’ve gradually been finding our voices, our platforms, and speaking out.

The past few weeks have been terrible for the culture and community of videogames. Concerted harassment campaigns were waged by misogynistic gamers against women in games. Critical Distance has a good collection of links that provides information about it and surrounding discussion about it. I encourage people to read through the blog posts linked there. I am not even going to get into the noxious mess that is #GamerGate, but will note that most of its supporters are actively attempting to drive women and minorities out of games under the guise of journalistic ethics. They are specifically targeting women they perceive as approaching games from a feminist or social justice perspective. A sad side effect of these harassment campaigns is that already marginalized people are further marginalized. Those not directly in the cross hairs may even become the target of harassment themselves. When that happens, it further poisons an already toxic and hostile environment. It silences women and other marginalized people. It makes them feel like the fight they are waging to make games better, to elevate the medium through criticism and cultural analysis, isn’t worth it—and I don’t blame them one bit. Unfortunately, we are losing important voices. I fully support Mattie Brice and Jenn Frank, though I will miss their contributions to games writing. The cultural landscape of videogames will be diminished.

At times like this, and these times happen too frequently, it is hard to be optimistic about videogames as a medium. We all want videogames to be taken seriously, for them to be held up as an art form to the same degree as fine art, literature, or film, and yet some gamers don’t want games to be criticized and actively drive out critics and cultural commentators. We can’t have it both ways. Part of the reason those other art forms are taken seriously is because of criticism. It’s because of analysis of all kinds—not just technical, but social and cultural analysis. Critiquing a game and making mention of misogynistic, racist, homophobic, or other such bigotry is perfectly valid. These are things that should happen when we examine cultural products. Gamers should not be driving out the most marginalized critical voices just because they disagree with the ideological lens used. The rising number of independent game developers also pushes the medium as a whole forward. It gives us alternative viewpoints and broadens our horizons. Gamers should be celebrating the fact that non-mainstream game criticism and independent game developers actually exist, because they represents the growth and forward progress of the medium as a whole. We need more women writers and creators, not fewer. We need more minorities and queer creators rising to prominence, not fewer. Diversity of perspective as well as diversity of those who approach games from such perspectives is important. Without diversity, we’ll have stagnation and boring games.

The sad part about all of this is that everyone involved loves games. The harassers and bigots who conservatively want to preserve videogame culture and the medium as-is and the marginalized critics and developers who want to push games forward, who want change and more awareness around social issues—they all love games. Why do videogaming’s cultural conservatives feel so threatened that they feel the need to lash out by threatening to kill people? I don’t think I’ll ever understand, but what I do know is that there is a reason they’re protesting so vigorously. The cultural landscape of videogames is shifting. It may not feel like it, but I’ve been an observer and participant in online videogame culture and the videogame blogosphere for nearly a decade, and have been playing videogames for most of my life. Perhaps people who have been around longer may also feel the same way: things have been changing. Despite painful setbacks like these recent incidents—death threats, rape threats, abuse, and harassment towards marginalized gamers—progress is being made in broad terms. We’re winning.