‘GamerGate’ Controversy Highlights Gamer Divide

Photo Courtesy of Zoe Quinn, Wikipedia

It is a difficult time to be a gamer. Even the word “gamer” now feels like it has to come with air quotes around it just for the purpose of not being associated with the people currently making noise in the media. But at the same time, there are some who are proud of the label “gamer,” taking to the self-imposed image of brave Internet superheroes fighting for truth and justice. This is the inherent conundrum that lies within the matter of GamerGate.

GamerGate is the name of an online movement consisting of avid gamers bent on promoting ethics in gaming journalism. Back in August, the relationship between game developer Zoe Quinn and her boyfriend ended on bad terms. In anger, the unnamed boyfriend accused Quinn of cheating on him with members of the game industry, including Kotaku critic Nathan Grayson. This led to allegations of Quinn conducting transactions wherein she trades sex to Grayson for positive game coverage and reviews. The rumor led to what is now a massive online campaign devoted to exposing corruption in the industry and promoting journalistic ethics and transparency.

The public and media does not quite see GamerGate as the shining symbols of truth that the gamers see themselves as. Sexism has been a problem in games since their inception, and like it or not, GamerGate has become the face of a culture war concerning women in games. For example, in the movement’s early days Quinn, as well as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, left their homes in fear of alleged death and rape threats. More recent happenings have been even worse.

Neither side is entirely clean in this issue seeming to tear the online gaming community in two. While the accusations of sexist hostility from GamerGate are abundant, GamerGaters claim that the harassment is largely done by a loud minority who do not represent what the faction stands for. Others allege to be the victims of equally vitriolic persecution from “social justice warriors” (SJWs). Both the movement and its opposition has become a large hate-filled flame war on Twitter, YouTube and various gaming news sites. Aggressively stubborn responses exist on both sides of the line, and don’t make it any easier for those in the middle.

Whether one believes GamerGate is fighting the good fight or not, its results are undeniable. Several women have elected to leave the industry forever. Others have been forced from their homes due to threats and numerous figures have been harassed on allegations of corruption. In response, the majority is quickly taking sides against the movement.

"GamerGate really seems to be bringing out the sexist nature of some longtime gamers,” Tom Smolinski, a senior, says. “It's really unfortunate because they're trying to shield their hatred with legitimate complaints about the industry. Real issues with video games are being associated with bigoted rhetoric and it's causing these issues to lose their validity. It's doing noticeably more harm than good."

GamerGate, however, does raise an important question, however. The alleged relationship between Quinn and Grayson would raise an ethical conflict of interest between the two parties, but that begs the question of the importance of a writer and developer’s sexual activities in the public eye. This is what lies at the base of the movement: how accurate can one assume game reviews are when critics have friendships and relationships with developers of the games they are reviewing. It’s not a question worth threatening and harassment, but it is worth answering.

Sexism and harassment in games is a tragically familiar story. The web is often used as the battleground in the culture war between gamers and those fighting to change gaming. However, a movement of this size and volume has never surfaced before. Many celebrities and Internet personalities have spoken out on the subject, some to be received with aggressive responses. Whether GamerGate is setting an important precedent in the wider world of journalism remains to be seen. But it shows no signs of stopping, for better or for worse.