August of 2014 saw an increase in the focus on the misogyny in the gaming world, more specifically the ethical issues in video game journalism which addresses malicious attacks on female gamers and the issues facing the diversification of gaming culture. The term Gamergate was coined after the unhappy ex-boyfriend of an independent game developer, Zoe Quinn, claimed that Quinn had had a relationship with a journalist for the new side Kotaku. Because of his allegations, Quinn and her supporters such as Anita Sarkeesian, received harassment, threats of violence, malicious broadcasting of their personal information, and the created of fake social media accounts in their names that depicted them in an extremely negative light. These attacks sparked the discussion of sexism in the community and brought the issue to international attention as many attributed them to the increase of female gamers as the industry expands and matures.
In response to the Gamergate scandal, Anita Sarkeesian started the web series Feminist Frequency to explore the representations of women in pop culture narratives. She has been at the forefront of the argument against the often negative and sexist portrayals of women in video games, stating that “If these roles were rethought, diversified and expanded, gaming’s creative class and audience would be diversified and expanded in turn, and games would become more fun to boot. Her comments on the subject caused a severe backlash from hardcore gamers under the hashtag #GamerGate, which has, under the façade of support for journalistic reform and anti-censorship in gaming, targeted prominent female video game critics and designers. It has gotten so extreme that in mid-October Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech at a Utah State University due to a mass-shooting threat about which the police refused to do anything.
Many gamers reacted strongly to what they see as increased censorship of forums such as the Escapist and 4chan. One post by user “upgray3dd” on Escapist discussing the effects of GamerGate lamented that “The Escapist forums will never be the same. All of the people who came to the Escapist exclusively because they are allowed GamerGate discussion aren’t going away…I think feminist critics, cultural critics and critics of other forms of media will decide that they are not wanted and kind of move on from games criticism.” The GamerGate movement claims in their FAQ page that “GamerGate is a consumer revolt triggered by overt politization, ethical misconduct and unprecedented amounts of censorship targeted at gamers.” Supporters make claims that the movement is being vilified by Sarkeesian and her contemporaries as an attempt on the part of the women to silence their critics.
This is not the first time that feminist critics have been met with free-speech paranoia, but it does make it more apparent that some sort of decision needs to be reached on how we can protect not only gamers but anyone who has any sort of online presence. A new survey released by the Pew Research Center stated that 40% of Web users have been harassed online, the majority of whom were women, and that 73% of Web users stated that they have witnessed someone being harassed. One need only read the comments on most YouTube videos to believe that this is true. However, the difficulty lies in finding ways to protect users without encroaching on their right to free speech, a debate that many sites have been trying to resolve for years.
Twitter seems to have reached a sort of resolution through the introduction of new rules to prevent trolling on their site. Due to the anonymity of Twitter users, the site was host to many of the threats and abuses received by the women involved in the GamerGate controversy. Twitter stated in a blog post that the changes will make it easier to monitor and respond to bad behavior. The abuse will be even easier to report on mobile apps, requiring less information and facilitating the manner in which a user flags accounts or specific people for review while also making it simpler for users to report abuse targeted at others. The site has been criticized for not making enough of an effort to stop harassment so the site also stated that they have made changes to be increase review and response time for abuse reports. Hopefully these improvements to reporting and blocking features will prevent much of the harassment that currently occurs, but it waits to be seen how much of an effect the changes have on the lives of those who have been targets of such abuse. It will be interesting to see how other social media sites choose to respond to the responsibility that the public has placed on them to protect their users, but it seems safe to agree that the near future will bring changes in not only the gaming industry but also on social media platforms as both industries continue to diversify and mature.