Gamergate Campaign: The Fight For Change In Video Games

The gaming community has long had a reputation as a violent arena fueled by a reluctance to adapt to the rapidly-evolving gaming industry.  The ever-growing population of women working in the gaming industry is a positive leap in the direction of gender equality – particularly in such a male-dominated industry — but many gamers do not welcome the new female presence in the gaming world.

Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist cultural critic and creator of the Gamergate campaign, was forced to cancel her speech at Utah State University after receiving an email warning that a shooting massacre would take place at the event. Yet, this was by no means the first time; the Gamergate campaign has long been a target, and receives a constant stream of threats.

So, what exactly is Gamergate?

According to Recode, Gamergate is a “sizeable online community of videogame fans who are upset about growing criticisms of their favorite hobby, especially claims that today’s games often depict women in demeaning ways.”

This backlash against female gamers isn’t anything out of ordinary. Working as editor for Girl Gamer Vogue (GGVogue) — a website that aims to build a new gaming community free from gender bias — I have experienced first-hand what these women go through. Journalist and founder of GGVogue, Jennifer “Narz” Vargas is passionate about targeting this issue that plagues today’s gaming industry.

Centered on this policy to promote equality amongst all gamers, it was mind-boggling to learn that Jennifer would be against covering Gamergate. This was her chance to display a crisis affecting all female gamers and a tangible manifestation of what she fights against each day. It was difficult to understand her reservations with it all. She wasn’t receiving any threats yet and I strongly believe that the moment you piss people off, is the time for you to act and make way for change. Vargas was reluctant to agree, and felt apprehensive of getting the wrong kind of attention adding that,

Anita [Sarkeesian], is strong for moving forward with this but I only want to create a holistic community where we all support each other no matter our gender, background or affiliations. The self-proclaimed politics of the gaming community don’t interest me. I will continue to create, promote, and sponsor workshops for both men and women in gaming for those that need it. I don’t need to justify my point of view of the matter because my actions do. – Vargas

This is what it comes down to. How hard are we willing to push for change?

I understood her reservations completely and people (myself included) don’t realize how difficult it is to take a stand for change in any particular matter. Is Vargas a coward for wanting to steer clear of this whole mess? Sarkeesian decided to cancel her workshop at Utah State University because of fears that the aforementioned threats were all too real:

This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it. – NYTimes.

Some believe she made the right decision, while extremists have expressed concerns that she knuckled under the demands of the ‘gamer interrupted.’ This sequence of events, however, has had a ripple effect leading avid girl gamers, like Vargas, to pull back and focus on why they became involved in the video game world in the first place.  The fact that a movement that’s making waves across the country is placing people’s lives in danger is, quite frankly, eye-opening and deeply troubling.

This wouldn’t be the first time the gaming community has gone all Call of Duty on us, however. Veteran and game developer, Ralph Koster received a number of hate messages after making changes to a specific online game. He discusses his experiences faced with the level of hate stating that there’s almost an expectation for gamers, adding that “gamers have had that for quite a while”. This happened in the early 1990s, rendering his creation part of the first wave of multiplayer web-based games, and was consequently a significant development in the gaming world at the time. This begs the question if this culture of hate is only an issue with women in games.

Are gamers being dangerously sexist or are they just pulling anything from their sockets to oppose to any changes within the gaming industry and community?

Koster endured his threats with grace even after his house was set on fire and someone wrote a note on his personal website saying he “wished the game designer had died in the blaze.” So, naturally gamers are prone to going ballistic about matters that make them… uncomfortable? Or something like that.

In any case, we cannot deny the impact the Gamergate Campaign has on gaming, and Sarkeesian is doing something right if so many are speaking (and that’s putting it lightly) against this. While I do believe that she, her campaigners and the gamers in support of this movement should continue the fight in spite of these threats, I can’t help but concede on Jennifer Vargas’ point. Working on the grander scheme of things to encourage gamers to play video games in harmony rather than fighting violently is the goal here. However, focusing on the latter can only go so far and where does one draw the line? I suppose gamers can define that for themselves much like Vargas did when this all broke out. Gamers however, may never be satisfied and like life, games and the industry will continue to change.

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