If you thought the Gamergate controversy was going away, it isn’t. The recent mass-shooting threat that forced Utah State University to cancel a speech by feminist Anita Sarkeesian and force her into hiding has proven to be more than ample fuel to a fire that will likely continue to burn.
Following the threat to her life, as well as the lives of students at USU, Sarkeesian has received a great deal of attention from news outlets across the spectrum, such as Mother Jones, Newsweek, NPR, and most notably, Rolling Stone, who just yesterday released an interview with her.
In it, Sarkeesian explains that it wasn’t necessarily the threat of a mass shooting that made her decide to cancel the speech, after all, as she says, “I have gone ahead with events that have been threaten [sic] with bombing attacks before–three times, in fact.” The straw that broke this proverbial camel’s back was the local police’s refusal to conduct pat-downs and deploy metal detectors on attendees of her speech, which would have flown in the face of Utah’s concealed-carry laws.
Sarkeesian has long championed herself as an avid fan of videogames who has enjoyed them since she was a child, and as a fan who wants to enact change. The interviewer of the Rolling Stone article, Sean T. Collins, even gushes about her, calling her a “folk hero” to a subset of gamers for criticizing perceived sexist and misogynistic attitudes among the gaming community.
Death threats and sexist slurs aside, much of the more legitimate qualms with Sarkeesian from the gaming community stem from the fact that she is not the avid gamer she claims she is. A video of her giving a presentation in 2010 at Santa Monica College has been making the rounds, in which she explicitly states that she is “not a fan of videogames” and had to “learn a lot about videogames” to prepare for her presentation.
Additionally, her popular YouTube series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, was discovered to have used longplay footage from other people’s “Let’s Play” videos without asking for permission or giving credit, something that undoubtedly compromises her journalistic integrity.
Regardless of the ambiguity behind her motivations, Sarkeesian’s supporters argue that these facts do not necessarily detract from her overall message that videogame culture is contaminated by sexism and misogyny.
The vicious actions directed at her and others like Zoe Quinn are no doubt steering the hearts of many popular figures in the gaming community to her side. Over the course of the last few months the likes of Felicia Day, Seth Rogen, Patton Oswalt, Double Fine’s Tim Schafer, Skullgirls animator Mariel Cartwright, and even Joss Whedon have tweeted in opposition to Gamergate, with Day describing the group as “a cliched bloodthirsty roaming gang from post-apocalyptic fiction.”
It is certainly true that there is an atmosphere in gaming culture that perceives women primarily for their sexuality; just look at the abundance of nudity mods for games like Skyrim and Tomb Raider. However, it is also true that all forms of media, particularly music and movies, are guilty of the same thing. What makes Gamergate stand out in particular is the gaming community, with many of its denizens hiding behind anonymous usernames and avatars, is one that is especially ripe for extremists and psychopaths to express their hatred in unbelievably effective ways.
There are reasonable voices on both sides of the argument, but they do not reside within people like Sarkeesian, an outsider who perceives everything through the lens of feminism, or immature, morally vacant internet trolls who are exceedingly skilled at making their unique brand of hate heard all over cyberspace. They instead lie within the developers, writers, and gamers whose genuine appreciation of videogaming has allowed it to go from the likes of Duke Nukem 3D to Bioshock Infinite.