Oh, Gamergate. That multi-layered mess of a controversy causing everyone to dig deep and ask themselves...what was the scandal again? Corruption in video game journalism? Some anti-woman problem in the industry? If you're late in the game, watch Colbert's recent coverage or Gawker's explainer for non-geeks. However incoherently the revolutions rolled out these past few months, any honest gamers have to acknowledge that individuals in the community have treated women atrociously.
So we are happy to hear a video-game exec saying as much this past weekend. At Blizzcon, a semiannual video game convention highlighting the Blizzard Entertainment franchise, president and CEO Michael Morhaime began his presentation calling out Gamergate, even if in vague terms.
"I'd like to take a moment to talk about something serious," Morhaime began. "Over the past couple months, there's been a small group of people who have been doing really awful things. They have been making some people's lives miserable, and they have been tarnishing our reputation as gamers,” he said. “It's not right.” Mucho applause.
Whether or not it’s a small number of gamers, as Morhaime suggests, they certainly are ones with loud impact. Sending death and rape threats to a game-developer woman because she dated a video game journalist is never justified—and yes, that's what started all this. Angry gamers who were suspicious of the motives behind a woman named Zoe Quinn and the men she chose to date. Gamergate isn’t about sexism, some angry gamers tried to say; it’s about a sincere concern for corruption in video game journalism. To which I’d respond: Then why wasn’t the brunt of the backlash aimed at the male journalist? If I remember correctly, it’s journalists who are responsible for ethics in journalism…not outside pressures that will always exist. (Lobbyists and advertisers, anyone?)
The simultaneous backlash and threats gamers aimed at Anita Sarkeesian (who was recently interviewed on The Colbert Report) for her research on misogyny in video game imagery, as well as other female video game developers who spoke up on the issue, remove any doubt that sexism in gaming is a problem. Women are having to watch their backs if they speak up on the issue. Mobs of hackers are publicly revealing personal information of these women, encouraging others to attack them. Speaking engagements are being cancelled due to threats of a massacre-scale retaliation. Morhaime was right: This is a serious problem.
From my research and writing on the issue of porn, I can tell you this looks remarkably familiar. Many men really don’t like it when women criticize porn—their porn. It may just be a movie review that touches on the effects of porn, and—OH NO you didn’t! Hello barrage of bitter comments ranging from those calling me a matriarchal nag to those claiming I’m just mad I can’t compete with porn stars. Let the women-bashing turrets commence.
And that’s nothing. Sarkeesian has been bullied with widespread dissemination of doctored photos and grotesque sexualized imagery of her. Dawn Hawkins of the anti-porn group Morality in Media was harassed with publicized personal details, sexual and threatening language, and her organization’s website hacked by the infamous Anonymous hacker group. Gail Dines, professor and author of the book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality discusses the cold hard facts on porn, only to receive ad hominem attacks in response. “It's funny how it's never attractive women who hate porn stars,” wrote one of the kinder commenters on YouTube.
So it seems that gamers and Internet-porn fans not only have significant overlap when it comes to imagery of scantily clad women, they also have similar bitterness. It has the tendency to come off as an immature kid giving a tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants. He wants something he thinks he deserves and falls apart when he can’t have it.
In one sense, gamers and porn-users are understandably mad because society has told them that objectifying views of women in media are OK. Look at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in newsstands. If it’s OK there, why isn’t it OK in video games and sex tapes? Who are we to tell them it’s not?
I can understand their frustration; they've been lied to, and that's confusing.
The lie that’s being told is that women are not people but are sexual objects for male enjoyment. It can be very compelling in fantasy stories, but in reality it’s not the case.
Maybe we as a society should stop making it so confusing. Maybe we should start acknowledging porn and misogynistic imagery in games for what they are—and stop confusing the next generation of men and women. Because this kind of imbalance always affects both sides. It affects men to see women as objects to use, and themselves as men of conquest. And it affects women to view themselves as things to be lusted after, and men with expectation or suspicion.
Can people like the Blizzard exec Morhaime, who suggest gamer harassment of women as “awful” and “serious,” go further to say "porn and pornified imagery of women is bad"? It’s not a stretch to say dehumanizing imagery and dehumanizing actions might go hand in hand.
If we, and people of influence, can't go so far as to say that, then as a society we'll always have this conflict. Morhaime’s comments are going in the right direction, but they aren’t good enough. They should shoot for a higher score.