A Critique of Gamergate

Against expectations, Gamergate is actually still a thing, and death threats aside, is bringing out some truly fascinating arguments from both sides of the aisle, as well as stoking a lot of thoughts within me on the games that I regularly enjoy.

I see the whole Gamergate controversy as two cross-eyed gunfighters shooting at one another and missing wildly, even if both of them are clearly trying to aim at one another. Still, its a simplification of an issue that in many ways defies description, as Gamergate can’t be nailed down to one specific issue. So, I hope you’ll indulge me in a bit as I try my best to break things down.

The anti-Gamergate crowd is composed of feminists like Anita Sarkeesian, the gaming press like Polygon and Kotaku, and a host of other notable figures like Joss Whedon, Chris Kluwe and to some degree Felicia Day clearly perceive the Gamergate crowd as a gang of mysognistic, borderline psychopathic young kids with a lot of tech savvy but little sense of morality. Their claims of pervasive sexism in gaming and the community undoubtedly have grounds, but by directing their anger at the Gamergate crowd as a whole, their message loses legitimacy in the eyes of the gaming community.

On the other side, the Gamergate people lack famous names and prominent figures, but make up for it in numbers. They are a community of hardcore gamers who are sick and tired of a “social justice warriors” and an elitist gaming press who sneer at them and want to dilute gaming into a politically correct hell. At the same time, the Gamergate crowd don’t seem to get that it is the bad apples in their lot that are making the headlines. The group’s more moderate members say that these elements don’t speak for the movement, but as someone once said, any movement is only as good as its worst members, and Gamergate is a textbook example of it. At the present, the more reasonable voices in Gamergate seem more enthusiastic about fighting the enemy than squashing the lunatics in their camp, without realizing that those lunatics are seriously tainting that fight.

Here’s the thing about Gamergate: as a leaderless movement with no spokespersons or centralized authority of any kind, it will never, ever be accepted by those outside of it. The denizens flocking to realms of online anarchy like 8chan will be doing little else but preaching to the choir in their gigantic echo chamber. If Gamergate is truly about challenging media ethics and social justice warriors infringing on gaming, then the movement must challenge those parties on equal ground. The movement has, of course, had some effect by forcing Kotaku, Destructoid and other sites to alter their policies regarding journalists and crowdfunding sites, but simultaneously it has also alienated many people who otherwise would have been on their side had it not been for the death threats and slurs.

The only way Gamergate will be known for its true message, and not death threats and slurs, is if it rises out of the anonymity of the internet and puts forth faces, names and voices that clearly set in stone what the movement is about and what it isn’t about. Until that happens, then some lunatic calling Anita Sarkeesian the most horrible things known to mankind has just as much, if not more, say than a sane gamer who wants to debate the opposition like an adult. At the end of the day, Gamergaters have to ask themselves what they consider a victory for the movement. If victory is driving people out of their homes, hurting them with insults and generally making people fearful of critiquing gamer culture, then, well, they’re on track. If victory is changing people’s minds and sparking a reasonable discourse between both parties, then the solution is clear: get organized and make yourselves known.

As far as those concerned with the treatment of women in games go, perhaps the answer could be as simple as letting the gaming landscape change of its own accord. We must accept that there will always, always be a sect of gaming that caters to young men who want to see or play as skimpily dressed, impossibly beautiful women wielding swords or rocket launchers twice their size. As long as people want these sorts of things and are willing to spend their money on them, they will always exist, and telling people that they’re sexist and anti-women accomplishes little else but piss them off.

At the same time, we must also accept that videogaming is and has been changing for the better, and gamers can, in fact, appreciate games with well written stories and female characters. What about the most recent Tomb Raider game, which reboots the traditionally buxom Lara Croft into a more ordinary, conservatively dressed, smaller chested young woman? Gamers responded well to that game, with a rare “Overwhelmingly Positive” status on Steam, which tallies 24,290 positive reviews and 964 negative ones. And what about Alien Isolation, which casts players as a level-headed Amanda Ripley who outlives and outsmarts many of her male counterparts? The game received higher scores from users than it did from critics on Metacritic. If gamers are indeed a gang of women-hating thugs, would they have supported these games?

And let’s not forget others like the ever popular Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, both of which feature complex, mature and extremely well written female characters. These are the games that are bearing the flag for gaming, and they were developed and release well before people like Anita Sarkeesian and this Gamergate fracas came to the forefront. It didn’t take a chorus of feminists and journalists banding together to decry a sexist gaming culture; these games simply came out because, over time, game developers realized on their own that videogames could be more than what their critics made them out to be, and in turn the fans approved with their wallets. The point is, there are games that exist today for *everyone’s* tastes, whether they want huge breasted women or more realistic ones, because there are *people* out there with diverse tastes, and condemning the community and the games they love is little more than a self-serving exercise in futility.

Videogaming is something that’s only now just beginning to grow up, and Gamergate could perhaps be best seen as the first signs of rebellion against the powers that be in gaming. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, we must understand that videogaming is constantly heading towards uncharted waters, and its probably best to let the reasoned people within it steer the ship.

Kerwin Tsang