In 2013, Zoe Quinn developed a text-based adventure game called “Depression Quest.” I’ve played it. As you can imagine, it’s not the most fun game. But it did what it set out to do in a way that was easy to play at all levels of ability, and it did its part in trying to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni then wrote a blog post. A huge one, detailing sexual acts Quinn allegedly performed with reviewer Nathan Grayson to gain favorable reviews of “Depression Quest.” The allegations were debunked by Stephen Totilo, editor at Kotaku where the review was said to be posted. No such review ever existed. The post and following ordeal gained a label: Gamergate.
It’s tempting to say boys will be boys, exes will be exes or professional rivals will be professional rivals. Anonymous message boards, 4chan and its all-virgin counterpart Wizardchan, are famous for doing stupid doxxing campaigns, where they dig up all sorts of personal information on a person and post it publicly online. Usually, nothing happens. But to Quinn, things did. Someone posted the date of her “death (we hope)” on her Wikipedia page. They called her parents and screamed obscenities at them. Even a friend that merely supported her had social security numbers and bank statements posted online.
Quinn is a point of high activity in the movement, not the entire issue.
Anita Sarkeesian hosts the popular YouTube channel Feminist Frequency that includes the series “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games.” Someone made a game with her image where players can attack her until she bleeds. Designer at Giant Spacekat Games Brianna Wu received threats of rape and murder on Twitter, after which she evacuated her home. Even commenters on the feminist news site Jezebel were bombarded by rape GIFs, a type of image format, in the comment sections of articles.
These women had the audacity to exist on the Internet. And because they are women, it is easy to devalue their contributions. People of all genders contribute a lot to the gaming industry, proven by the $101 billion it is expected to make in 2014. This radical sect of men feel like they have to personally take out any threat to their traditionally hypermasculine culture. That’s when it gets scary. 25 percent of college-aged women have reported being sexually harassed online, 23 percent have been threatened with physical harm, and 18 percent report sustained harassment, according to an October Time magazine article.
As much concern as I had for those female developers, they live in New York and Los Angeles. I live in Kansas. I’m supposed to feel safe here in Middle America. This is the place where my friends from middle school took me on my first “World of Warcraft” raid. It’s where I get recommendations for new games from other people – women included – in the hallways after my classes. I have watched the sunrise come up over the plains as we struggled to take down just one more boss.
What people don’t realize is that a movement not based in a physical place, like these Internet flame wars, erases the boundaries that would prevent harassment like time and proximity. If you met a woman who played games in person, you wouldn’t call her a whore and threaten her. In person, she’s a person; on the Internet, she is an object to be hated.
Since the world is only getting more Internet-centric, the line could become blurred very easily. Even if only a small number of men are actually Gamergaters, it only takes one person doing something drastic to harm anyone in the country. No place with an Internet connection is entirely safe for women. We can never truly know what effects this could have on the contributions women can bring to the table. Any number of games, videos, commentaries, blogs, art pieces or photographs could have been lost to the world because a female creator was afraid to post them. It’s hard for women to open up to the larger online population for fear of this particular brand of persecution.
Even writing this article makes me a little nervous. I said some pretty heavy stuff up there. As a journalist, a lot of my writing and personal information is easy to find because I allow sources to be able to contact me about my work. If someone doesn’t like this, I could wake up the next day to my personal information all over the Internet. Will it be my alleged sexual history, like Quinn? How about my personal address, like Wu? Will people threaten to rape and murder me? Will they text my boyfriend and tell him they slept with me; will they leave voicemails at my house describing their desire to kill me for my sisters to hear?
We are an Internet culture. This is larger than a few bad names and scary pictures. These offenses, though unlikely to those of us with smaller Internet presences, set a precedent that leaves a lingering threat over all of us – don’t get too prolific, don’t be too controversial. Men do not understand the culture of fear these attacks set up, especially for women. Gamergate and similar movements destroys the online community that games and other productions try to build.
This is growth and expansion of something we love. Women don’t want to own the whole Internet, just be a part of it. We don’t want men to leave, we want to work and play with them.