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Shadows of Gamergate, but Few Answers, Materialize at Gaming Industry Shindig

"The people onstage, they have stakes. And they're afraid."

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The after-party for the 18th annual DICE Awards was a revelrous one: Two open bars, some pretty good food and a parade of industry insiders buzzing about Pete Holmes’s jokes or the surprise winner of the Game of the Year award, EA’s Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Naturally, I decided to ruin the fun by asking almost everyone about Gamergate.

Although Intel has started to make amends for its role in legitimizing the anti-woman harassment campaign in 2014, most of the gaming industry has remained mum.

And as I heard from several DICE attendees, women in gaming — and, to a lesser extent, male allies who have expressed supportive feminist views — continue to receive threats and harassment.

Some women said they had permanently changed their online behavior, cleaning up the WHOIS info for domains they had registered. Others said they had become more guarded in what they said on public forums like Twitter.

One person even said she considered deleting her Twitter account outright, but decided against it because she worried she might need her accumulated followers the next time her company released a game.

The consensus: No, Gamergate is not over, and some of the wounds it opened starting last August are as fresh as ever. And yet, references to and discussion of sexism in gaming were far less common, and mostly oblique, in the public-facing fora of DICE.

“We’re not only game developers here, we’re — and this word has gotten a bad rap recently — we’re gamers,” Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann said shortly before presenting the final two awards on Thursday evening.

“As we’ve seen this year, we may need to defend ourselves against our own, carefully cultivated, hardcore audience,” said Tracy Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, in a speech during the two-day DICE Summit conference, which preceded the awards show.

“When I look back [to] more than a decade ago, when I decided to go into academia and take on the challenge of training a generation of game designers with a greater purpose, I thought it might take some time,” Fullerton said. “That was eleven years ago. Back then, when I told those early students that we could make different games and we could change the world, I honestly thought that by now, things would be so much better than they are.”

Fullerton’s speech, which didn’t mention Gamergate or any of its actors by name, was the exception that proved the rule — most of the speeches at DICE avoided the topics of harassment and gender altogether. I’ve reached out to the organizers of the DICE Summit and Awards, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, with some questions about that; they said they would get back to me later today.

At the awards show after-party, plenty of attendees had their own explanations.

“The people onstage, they have stakes,” one male developer said. “And they’re afraid.”

Afraid, that is, of both online political trouble and lost sales. In her talk, Fullerton said the gaming industry had cultivated and capitalized on gamers’ “sense of entitlement.”

On the other hand, another developer said the vocal minority of gamers who have participated in intimidation campaigns are not worthy of sales concerns.

“I’ve already written off murderers,” the developer said, tongue-in-cheek. “I’m okay if no murderers buy my games.”

Perhaps the most depressing explanation for the industry’s general silence, though, was that when a segment of your audience is threatening violence against your peers for speaking up, the rational response is to protect yourself and let them absorb the heat.

“If someone else is on fire and I try to go put her out, I’m just going to catch on fire myself,” one developer said.

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