Gamergate might be gaming sexism's Waterloo

The gaming world is confronting its inner demons

Republique video game
(Image credit: (AP Photo/Camouflaj))

The series of events the internet has called "Gamergate" might be a seminal moment for the gaming community in America.

The Week's Ryan Cooper has a good summary of what Gamergate actually is, and how real valuable consumer products brands aren't able to figure out the core of the controversy.

Aside from a few articles, the mainstream media has also stayed away from Gamergate, perhaps because editors think it's an insular, self-referential controversy that says nothing about society at large. Perhaps it's because the media doesn't really get gamers and doesn't know how to cover them.

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Ostensibly, Gamergate is the response to an indigenous movement among people who play and make video games to protest what they allege is a lack of objectivity and professional ethics in the small world of game industry journalism.

The brutal truth, though, is that it Gamergate has its origins in a relationship gone bad. A disgruntled ex-boyfriend of a prominent female game developer did something really boorish and immature. He publicly alleged that she used her sexuality to gain favors in the industry. How dare s/he?

Suddenly, out of nowhere, deep-rooted anti-feminist sentiment in the gaming community exploded and became the movement's motivating force. A vocal minority used the tools of internet shaming to attack a female gamer who decided to do her graduate thesis on female tropes in video games, and then others, usually women.

Some gamers with legit nits to pick with gaming journalism complain that the gaming journalists focus on the activities of a tiny minority in order to avoid dealing with the problems they've exposed, like how political correctness softens hard-edged game reviews, for example.

For one thing, though, there's no such thing as objectivity in gaming journalism, and there shouldn't be. For another, the level of vitriol and open sexism in the industry means that gaming journalists ought to be attentive to things that matter now, like how women are portrayed in games. For a third, there's been plenty of open debate about this subject already, so Gamergate really can't claim to have exposed anything but their own visceral meanness, which borders on fascism. Kind of interesting that a movement based on challenging conformity punishes people who won't conform.

I'm all for better journalism in general, and I'm sure that there are trends in gaming journalism that I wouldn't like. Unfortunately, the hijackers, who have turned into the most active members of the movement, are not going to succeed in changing gaming journalism to fit their conception of what's fair. They have instead re-ingnited a debate about online bullying. They have given substance to the stereotypes they hate. It really does seem like there are thousands of male gamers masturbating in their basements to the effects of their violence — women are getting death threats. (Actually, that's unfair. People masturbate everywhere, not just in their basements, and I'm sure that many of these gamers live in apartment buildings or have their set-ups in above-ground rooms. Sorry!)

Attaching the "gate" suffix to whatever you call something automatically makes it about a scandal. But the scandal here is pretty obvious: the gaming world is confronting its inner demons.

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