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Debunking the Idea That Gamergate Isn't About Sexism

The treatment of male and female critics of Gamergate speaks volumes about its aims.

Shutterstock / Sean D

People who support Gamergate, the online movement of gaming enthusiasts who’ve been in an uproar over gender and criticism of games, tend to target women more harshly than men.

And that matters. Although the public is increasingly aware of Gamergate supporters’ threats against women like Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, the real “win” condition for the movement is not death or violence. It’s silence from those women, and others who think like them, and a return to a more homogeneous games culture, where male voices are privileged.

Quinn, a game developer whose ex-boyfriend triggered the movement back in August, tells Re/code that even though she faced some harassment in the past, her life after Gamergate has changed dramatically.

“The worst that happened before [Gamergate] was someone showing up at my apartment and mailing me a rape threat, which was pretty messed up,” Quinn said via email. “But since this whole latest thing started it’s been nonstop. My accounts got hacked, my family’s been targeted, my boyfriend’s been targeted, anyone who has stood up for me has been slapped down. … An IRC room was talking about how they can push me into suicide. Now I can’t live at my old address, the one that got distributed, because I am not sure how much worse this is going to get.”

By contrast, a noted male writer who has criticized Gamergate — but who asked to remain anonymous — said the worst thing visited upon him was an implicit threat that he should be “swatted,” an online harassment tactic that involves a phony emergency report tied to someone’s address, forcing a mandatory response from the police.

“I took this seriously and contacted the local police and FBI, but nothing ‘real’ seems to have come from it,” he said. “Other than that, it’s mainly been a lot of Twitter insults, of the ‘you are a hypocrite, how can you sleep at night, you should be fired’ variety.”

In other words, nothing life-changing or really comparable to Quinn’s experience for that writer. And he’s not alone. The gap also extends to the more “moderate” side of the movement.

When another opponent of Gamergate, Gamasutra Editor-at-Large Leigh Alexander, wrote a strongly worded opinion column criticizing its supporters, Gamergaters successfully convinced Intel to pull its advertising from her site; when a male writer, Dan Golding, made a very similar and also widely disseminated point on his blog, nothing happened.

“I’ve basically received no blowback over this,” Golding said. “Some YouTube videos about me, some forum posts, a few hundred angry (but never threatening) tweets, and a handful of offended emails is all there’s been. Pretty clear why they’re going after Leigh and not me — and it’s got nothing to do with the content of our articles.”

Another male writer, BuzzFeed’s Joe Bernstein, said this also aligns with his experience, having received “nothing except incoherent Twitter vitriol.” Two other male gaming writers contacted for this story declined to comment.

(Feedback to my own coverage of Gamergate has been much the same as Golding’s and Bernstein’s; the worst I’ve received is name calling and an invitation to commit seppuku, the latter of which a more moderate Gamergater quickly rebuked. Two Gamergaters have even drawn caricatures of me, which I’m planning to print out and have framed.)

Alexander said this sort of male privilege — as I understand it, a greater freedom to have “wrong” opinions — is nothing new. Gamergate’s biggest accomplishment, she said, was uniting people who for years have tried to silence “social justice warriors.”

“There is an incredibly lush body of feminist writing, feminist game-making, and even big sites offering a bit of a platform to these conversations, and those things have never happened unmolested or comfortably,” Alexander said. “Anyone who would even entertain the idea that this ‘has nothing to do with sexism’ is so shockingly clueless that I can’t imagine they’ve been paying attention.”

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