Monthly Archives: October 2014

#GamerGate: The Players and the Played

Hammer, meet nail.

Paula Wright

The #GamerGate controversy reached a new high (or low depending on your perspective) recently when one of its main protagonists, the radical feminist and cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, was featured on the front page of the New York Times. Ironically, in view of the focus of her criticism about passive female characterization in video games, she herself was cast as the “damsel in distress”, under threat from active male protagonists.

Ostensibly, headlines like this are a direct validation of her work. Sarkeesian asserts that video games directly contribute to a culture of gendered violence in real life and – hey presto – there it is!  

But are radical feminist claims about games promoting violent norms really correct?  Studies of violence in video games say no. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court evaluated the evidence and came to a disappointing conclusion for people, like Sarkeesian, who are fond…

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The Moral Hypocrisy of #StopGamerGate2014

I truly wish that I did not feel the compulsion to write on the unfolding GamerGate saga but recent events have given me cause to reconsider. Last night, the #StopGamerGate2014 hashtag trended on twitter after developer Brianna Wu had received threats from an as-of-yet unknown party. While there is no evidence that anyone affiliated with GamerGate issued the threats, that has not stopped the StopGamerGate crowd from painting all “gamers” with the same broad strokes. Prominent YouTube personality, MundaneMatt, recently had something of a Howard Beale moment decrying the embellishments and outright lies spread by the StopGamerGate movement. I leave my own tweet here for everyone else for see. I will be the first to admit that my comment was mean-spirited  and unnecessary. However, I believe that it I must show it and explain that it was out of sheer exasperation at the hypocrisy I see in it. Especially when you consider that many supporters of StopGamerGate are equally guilty of harassment as the people they criticize. Yet too few within that movement call them out on their behavior.

They have reduced the words “harassment” and “misogyny” to meaningless buzzwords to silence their critics. Do I believe that Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu were telling the truth? Yes, yes I do because the Internet is full of vile cretins who will hide behind their anonymity to harass, belittle, and threaten others. Do I need to bring up John Gabriel’s “Internet Dickwad Theory?”

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The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to conclusive prove that the trolls who threatened these woman were associated with GamerGate because that movement is far from organized and is an unruly mob at worst. Moreover, to tar all gamers with the same brush is disingenuous. “Gamers” are not a monolithic or homogenous entity. My definition of the work gamer is simply a person who plays video game; there are RPG gamers, FPS, casual, hardcore, and it covers spectrum of people of different races, ethnicities, creeds, and sexualities. Hundreds of millions of people across the planet plays video games, and a maybe a few dozen threaten Ms. Sarkeesian et. al? Is it fair to hold those millions to account for the actions of a millionth of a percent? I suspect there other forces at play here.

I was born in the year 1984. I am all too familiar with the moral panic over the violence present in games like Mortal Kombat and Doom in the mid to late 90s. Many self-anointed moral guardians claimed that these games, along with other facets of youth culture, motivated or “trained” the Columbine High School shooters to carry out their heinous actions. Similarly, disbarred lawyer and activist, Jack Thompson, when on a similar crusade against games like the Grand Theft Auto series during the aughts. We are now in the “New Tens” and we have a new breed of crusader claiming that developers and gamers are fundamentally sexist and/or misogynist.

Yes, I have just compared Anita Sarkeesian to Jack Thompson, and I am not the first person to do it.

Do Ms. Sarkeesian’s criticisms in Tropes vs. Women have merit? To an extent, perhaps. Back in my misguided youth, my compatriots and I used to joke around about how you could solicit the services of prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto III and then kill them in a grisly fashion to get the money you spent on them back. However, does that inform my attitude towards women today? No. It does not because I learned such behaviors and attitudes are abhorrent. However, as JJ McCullough observed in his rebuttals to Ms. Sarkeesian, her methodology is spotty and allegations of her cherry-picking information to suit her confirmation bias exist.

I do not have a problem with feminism; I hold a great deal of respect and admiration for the first and second waves of feminists that struggled for legal and workplace equality the turn of the 20th century to the 70s. However, I have come to believe that third-wave feminism has become a toxic strain of a once-noble ideal. Sarkeesian and her ilk embraced an ideology that believes we exist in a “rape culture” where everyone with a Y chromosome is out to rape women and the fight against “the patriarchy” completely inform their world view. Ms. Sarkeesian’s confrontational manner in approaching a perfectly valid conversation on sexist imagery in video games has no doubt contributed to Gamers’ defensiveness on the subject. Not that it justifies the threats made against her and her compatriots, but this anger and indignation does not exist in a vacuum.

Like Ms. Sarkeesian, Jack Thompson had received harassment and death threats in the past but the reaction to it by the gaming press at the time was ambivalence. Granted, Mr. Thompson’s antics did not endear him to gamers or the press, but where was the outrage then? Part is has to do with my belief that Ms. Sarkeesian, Ms. Quinn, and other feminists inside the industry positioned themselves in a place within the industry that grants them a great deal of privilege. After the threats leveled against her when Tropes vs. Women first appeared on YouTube, all Ms. Sarkeesian has to do to deflect criticism is accuse her critics of misogyny and harassment.

What I find ironic is that while Ms. Sarkeesian criticizes the “damsel in distress” trope present in Super Mario Bros. with Princess Peach’s multiple kidnappings, she, as well as Zoe Quinn and Brianne Wu, show no hesitation in weaponizing the trope to suit their desires. People generally fear being labelled a misogynist or sexist in today’s increasingly politically correct atmosphere, hence many will gladly jump on the feminist bandwagon to appear “progressive” and “enlightened.” Ms. Sarkeesian, et al. exploit the well-meaning chauvinism of men like Bob Chipman, Joss Whedon, and several other prominent male celebrities out for progressive credibility and that is the problem.

#StopGamerGate, from what I have observed, is largely, if not entire composed of affluent white people. I have read personal accounts of how video games were a source of comfort for people who suffered abuse and prejudice in their childhood years. What touched me the most was the testimony of a user named Docheisenberg on the KotakuInAction subreddit.

Due to redistricting, I was assigned and had to commute to a public school in an affluent, largely white neighborhood. Wasn’t a great experience. I was bullied by kids with money and status. Being a working class vietnamese kid going to public school only a few years removed from The War was not fun. I caught crap from racist teachers just as much as I did from other kids. I got called a lot of things; a lot of them racist, but the one that stood out was when they’d call me “Apartment Boy” because of where I lived. That certainly drew a line in the sand. It and other things were why I got drawn in to games and geek culture so much; it was a chance to explore and dream of worlds better than reality. Better than having rich white people treat you as something less than human, or condescend to you about how inferior your culture is and tell you how they want to “help” you. I can’t decide what was worse, the blatant discrimination, or the half-assed ideological imperialism.

I bolded “ideological imperialism” because that is what #StopGamerGate is. The reason why the #NotYourShield hastag exists is because of minorities are tired of a small group of privileged, white, middle class children trying to co-opt their voice. GamerGate may not be perfect, but it is a diverse group that encompasses people of various persuasions whereas StopGamerGate is very much conformist in an ideological sense as evidenced when their gaming media circled the wagons in August. Combine that with their blatant chauvinism and hypocrisy, it is little wonder why I am exasperated.

Perhaps it is an unserious debate by unserious people, but maybe it is time for both sides to stop demonizing each, find some common ground, and discuss the issues as Boogie2988 proposed. However, that will require compromise on both sides, which is part of adulthood as well as an end to the accusations and threats on both sides. Given how polarized both sides are, I do not know if that is realistic.

“Misogyny” and the new Thor

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I return after month of hiding from the mob in the Canadian tundra… actually, I jest because I have not had much to say on anything as of late, however, I found this article on the new female Thor that debuted this week. The gist of it is this: writer/comedian Brett White implies that a certain segment of the fandom is upset that a woman wields Mjolnir because of an innate male fear of feminism as evidenced by this quote.

 There’s a real noticeable difference when the hero’s replacement is a woman. I think that’s because it takes the already strong resistance to change that a lot of predominantly male comic book fans have and multiplies it by “misandry” to the power of “feminazi.” There’s a whole misogynist vocabulary that comes into play when the new hero is a woman. (…) I would be surprised if the same men that are uncomfortable with the idea of a female Thor are not also uncomfortable with the idea of having a woman for a boss. The fear that a female Thor is going to replace the male one seems to run parallel to the fear that feminism means women destroying men.

Let it be clear that I loathe it when identity politics drips into popular entertainment. First, I concede that there are many fans who resist change. We are a rather conservative bunch; we generally accept one definitive version of character, though it varies from fan to fan. By that I mean we have had several versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom because of the split between the differ epochs of comic book history. Case in point–Barry Allen is my definitive Flash because of my affection for the Silver Age but many fans prefer Wally West because he was the Flash they grew up with in the Modern (post-Crisis on Infinite Earths) Age. However, with the Marvel heroes, there has been only one definitive version of their primary heroes since the 1960s. While Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Thor were “replaced” at various parts of their history by the likes of John Walker, Jim Rhodes, and Eric Masterson, such substitutions were temporary and the originals resumed their roles.

I find it highly disingenuous that Mr. White cries “misogyny!” when fans get upset over a woman replacing a man in the role of a hero. Where were the complaints when Carol Danvers took on the mantle of Captain Marvel? I seriously doubt anyone took issue with it because Carol Danvers was a member of Mar-Vell’s supporting cast before becoming a hero in her own right. Factor in her time as a United States Air Force officer (though she earned the superior rank of Colonel, so she outranks Captain America), it made sense for her to inherit the role though Monica Rambeau  set the precident of a woman holding the title. If this new “Thor” was Valkyrie or Lady Sif, I would have less reservations. Both are part of the Asgardian mythos Marvel built and it would make sense if they were able to lift Mjolnir. As Thor #1 (2014) does not reveal the identity of the new “Thor,” I shall withhold judgement.

In any case, I ask Mr. White and Thor scribe Jason Aaron this question: why should I be invested in this character? Comic book fans have long memories and we know this changeover is ultimately temporary. Thor 3 is currently on Marvel Film’s slate and its highly likely that Thor Odinson will become worthy of lifting Mjolnir again and this as-of-yet unnamed character will share the fate of Beta Ray Bill. Likely placed on the shelf and becoming little more than a footnote in Marvel history twenty years’ time. Perhaps I do not know the little details but they are irrelevant compared to the broader strokes. Mr. White may make claims about sexism and talk down to his audience for ideological reason but misogyny is not the problem here, it is cynicism on the fans’ part because the House of Ideas has gone into the recycling business.