UPDATE: #GamerGate was in its last days when I wrote this. Today it died. Or was put out of its misery by Anita Sarkeesian on The Colbert Report. That’s right…#GamerGate set out to silence a feminist games critic. Two months later she is on one of the world’s most watched television programmes. Well done! Here it is.
For those yet unaware, #GamerGate is an online campaign run by some fans of video games, a campaign directing a lot of anger at people who criticise video games for being violent and sexist. #GamerGate has been rumbling along on social media, Twitter being at the eye of the storm, for some weeks now. But today #GamerGate entered its final phase.
Is #GamerGate anything more than a pointless online squabble? I believe it is, yes. The real question at the heart of #GamerGate is this – are video games essentially an adolescent distraction, packed with sex and violence to capture a predominantly young, predominantly male audience? Or can video games, after four decades of development, become a mature art form? Just as novels, movies, tv and other kinds of mass media art exist to serve many kinds of audience, so should video games.
In it’s early days video gaming was part of the children’s toy industry. Consoles and other early gaming platforms like the Sinclair Spectrum were marketed to children, and games were largely focused on on kids. As those kids grew in to adolescents and young people, the games became increasingly violent and sexualised, simply because these are easy ways to capture the young male demographic many game producers see as their core audience.
So when Anita Sarkeesian points all of this out in her Feminist Frequency podcasts, or when Leigh Alexander explains that the audience for games is now much broader than just young adolescent males, and that the old “gamer culture” that exclusively served them is therefore dead, they are ENTIRELY CORRECT. And also doing video gaming a great service by helping it move on, and develop its full potential.
The #GamerGate backlash was entirely predictable, but its venom and nastiness was even greater than many expected. Of course there are people – some young adolescent males, some older men who haven’t grown up emotionally, and some developers dedicated to serving them – who feel threatened by all this. And they make a lot of noise. People looking at #GamerGate in recent weeks can be forgiven for thinking it represents what the majority of gamers think. But like many radicalised movements, it represents a small minority who make far more noise and attract far more attention than they deserve.
For anyone who wants to to see video games fulfil their potential, the last days of #GamerGate can’t come too soon.
And also like other radical factions, #GamerGate crossed some serious lines to gain attention for its lost cause. Members of #GamerGate issued bomb threats, not the first we should note, leading to the cancellation of a public event by guest speaker Anita Sarkeesian. In short, #GamerGate became such a hysterical overreaction to the issue of video games that its members HAVE ACTUALLY TAKEN UP DOMESTIC TERRORISM. In response, the vast majority of the gaming community have come out against #GamerGate, making the #StopGamerGate2014 hashtag trend worldwide.
If you’re still in any doubt about which “side” is in the right in #GamerGate, ask yourself what happens if one side or the other wins? If #GamerGate wins, video games continue as a highly violent, highly sexualised distraction for adolescents. If everyone other sane rational human with an interest in video games is heard, then gaming has the space to grow in to something much more creative and valuable. #GamerGate suits the interests of a few game producers who can’t see beyond the quick buck they make selling sex and violence to teenagers, and a minority of gamers who are happy with that limited idea of gaming. For anyone who wants to to see video games fulfil their potential, the last days of #GamerGate can’t come too soon.