In this blog I’m going to focus on the hate campaign against women working in video games that emerged back in August, 2014 with the #Gamergate hashtag. This example is particularly interesting as a unfortunate consequence of online communities and the awful hate campaigns that the Internet can be used to carry out.
Online communities and hate campaigns:
One of the great things that the Internet has brought us is online communities. The restrictions of time and distance are removed allowing users to connect with others all over the world with the same interests as themselves. Whether it is online communities for the LGBT community, fans of a television show, or people who share an interest in a video game there is an online community out there for your interests. Even better they can empower groups for example in healthcare the Internet has enabled patients to become empowered with support groups sharing information, emotional support and giving a place to discuss health issues.
Personally, I am in regular contact with friends in the US I made playing Minecraft around 4 years ago. The Internet has had a significant impact on our social lives with online friendships and being able to talk about interests that interest you but no one else you interact with in your day to day life. Online communities can be a wonderful thing in our lives, but there are also negative consequences.
One of the issues with the Internet is the quantity of information and choice available to users, which results in users limiting the amount of media stimuli they are subjected to. This is through personalisation of their Internet usage with users selecting the information that they see and spending their time only on areas of their interest. This is something we all do.
However, a consequence of this can be the reinforcement of extremist views. If someone who already held sexist views can connect with others who hold the same values and these online communities act as echo chambers reinforcing these beliefs. An example can be seen in the online groups of the MRM [Men’s Rights Movement].
Unfortunately, within the online communities surround video gaming there are some embedded with racist, misogynistic, and homophobic beliefs that have become the dominant discourse in these communities. Not all video gaming communities suffer from these issues, but the consequences of online communities that hold these values is that they will attack and attempt to silence criticism.
An example could be seen with the hate campaign targeted at Anita Sarkeesian. This hate campaign emerged as a response to a Kickstarter campaign started by Anita Sarkeesian which asked for $6,000 to fund a video series examining female representations in video games.
The attack against Anita Sarkessian was both direct messages and vandalism of her online pages including. This included rape and death threats which she still continues to receive. There have been threats made at public events where she was a speaker. There were images were posted of her being raped by video game characters and there was even a flash game which allowed players to “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” by clicking a picture of her until it turned into a bloody pulp.
Despite the threats and attacks Anita Sarkessian was successful with her Kickstarter campaign receiving much more money than she originally asked. Rather than silencing criticism the harassment highlighted the issues in video gaming culture and produced a huge amount of publicity for her project. At the same time highlighted the issue of sexism within the gamer culture.
A couple of years after the harassment campaign against Anita Sarkessian in August of 2014 there was the emergence of Gamergate. Gamergate started with a harassment campaign against a video game developer called Zoe Quinn. This began with Zoe Quinn’s ex boyfriend posting a long (nearly 10,000 words in length) blog post which accused her of having a relationship with a video games journalist.
Now a long rambling ranting blog post by an ex boyfriend became viral. The hashtag #gamergate emerged on Twitter and received huge amounts of attention. Gamergate made an attempt to appear to be about ‘ethics in video game journalism’. However, a harassment campaign began with the spamming of negative reviews on her game ‘Depression Quest’ on Steam.
There were death and rape threats made and a pattern of harassment that took place very similar to what Anita Sarkessian went through.
Those who stood up for Zoe Quinn on social media also received harassment and video game websites that took a stand against Gamergate had letter writing campaigns targeting their advertisers to try to damage the income these websites depended upon. Another developer who was the victim of harassment was Brianna Wu who became a target when she criticised Gamergate on Twitter. Death and rape threats and her address was shared online – link to a twitter post showing some of the harassment but be warned its deeply disturbing.
Gamergate received international news coverage due to the online harassment of women in the video game industry and the attempt to cover members true intentions with a discourse of ‘ethics in video game journalism’ has failed. Instead Gamergate will simply be remember as another Internet harassment campaign.
The harassment campaign against Anita Sarkessian and the Gamergate harassment campaign highlight the darker side of online communities and also the embedded sexism within some of the online video gaming community. In both occasions those participating within the online harassment have simply highlighted the sexism embedded in some of the video game online communities. It is deeply disturbing the scale and long term nature these online hate campaigns can achieve.