— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) October 15, 2014
Wasn’t sure if this would be sufficiently interesting to the readership, but people (thank you, VFX Lurker) have asked, so… Intro, from the Guardian:
The feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian has been forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University, after a threat of a “Montreal Massacre-style attack”.
Sarkeesian, who is best known for her YouTube series “Tropes v Women in Video Games”, assessing various anti-feminist trends in gaming, was scheduled to talk at the university on Wednesday, when the unsigned email was sent…
“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” the letter said. “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history and I’m giving you a chance to stop it.”
“You have 24 hours to cancel Sarkeesian’s talk … Anita Sarkeesian is everything wrong with the feminist woman, and she is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU. I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.”
Initially, Sarkeesian stated her intention to hold the talk despite the threat, but was forced to back down after discovering that it was impossible to prevent guns being taken to the event.
“Forced to cancel my talk at USU after receiving death threats because police wouldn’t take steps to prevent concealed firearms at the event,” she tweeted. “Requested pat downs or metal detectors after mass shooting threat but because of Utah’s open carry laws police wouldn’t do firearm searches.”…
Did I get this straight: black guy w/ toy gun in Wal-Mart = shot on sight. White guys w/ guns at threatened feminist's talk = no prob?
— Evan Munday (@idontlikemunday) October 15, 2014
And the title article, by Kyle Wagner, at Deadspin:
Over the weekend, a game developer in Boston named Brianna Wu fled her home after an online stalker vowed to rape and kill her. She isn’t the first woman who’s been forced into hiding by aggrieved video game fans associated with Gamergate, the self-styled reform movement that’s become difficult to ignore over the past several months as its beliefs have ramified out from the fever swamps of the internet into the real world. She probably won’t be the last.
By design, Gamergate is nearly impossible to define. It refers, variously, to a set of incomprehensible Benghazi-type conspiracy theories about game developers and journalists; to a fairly broad group of gamers concerned with corruption in gaming journalism; to a somewhat narrower group of gamers who believe women should be punished for having sex; and, finally, to a small group of gamers conducting organized campaigns of stalking and harassment against women.
This ambiguity is useful, because it turns any discussion of this subject into a debate over semantics. Really, though, Gamergate is exactly what it appears to be: a relatively small and very loud group of video game enthusiasts who claim that their goal is to audit ethics in the gaming-industrial complex and who are instead defined by the campaigns of criminal harassment that some of them have carried out against several women. (Whether the broader Gamergate movement is a willing or inadvertent semi-respectable front here is an interesting but ultimately irrelevant question.) None of this has stopped it from gaining traction: Earlier this month, Gamergaters compelled Intel to pull advertising from a gaming site critical of the movement, and there’s no reason to think it will stop there…
What’s made it effective, though, is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides. Even when not presupposing that all truth lies at a fixed point exactly equidistant between two competing positions, the American press works under the assumption that anyone more respectable than, say, an avowed neo-Nazi is operating in something like good faith. And this is why a loosely organized, lightly noticed collection of gamers, operating from a playbook that was showing its age during Ronald Reagan’s rise to power, have been able to set the terms of debate in a $100 billion industry, even as they send women like Brianna Wu into hiding and show every sign that they intend to keep doing so until all their demands are met.
The simplest version of the story goes something like this: In August, the ex-boyfriend of an obscure game developer writes a long, extensively documented, literally self-dramatizing, and profoundly deranged blog post about the dissolution of their relationship. Among his many accusations, he claims she slept with a gaming journalist in return for favorable coverage. This clearly isn’t true, but a group of gamers becomes convinced there is a conspiracy to not cover this story. The developer’s personal information is distributed widely across the internet, and she and a feminist gaming activist receive graphic, detailed threats, forcing the activist to contact the police and flee her home. In response, several sites publish think pieces about the death of the gamer identity. These pieces are, in essence, celebrations of the success of gaming, arguing that it is now enjoyed by so many people of such diverse backgrounds and with such varied interests that the idea of the gamer—a person whose identity is formed around a universally enjoyed leisure activity—now seems as quaint as the idea of the moviegoer. Somehow, this is read to mean that these sites now think gamers are bad. The grievances intensify, and the discussions of them on Twitter are increasingly unified under the hashtag #gamergate.
The longer, more detailed version of the story is considerably more interesting…
A more important resemblance to the Tea Party, though, is in the way in which it’s focused the anger of people who realize the world is changing, and not necessarily to their benefit.
The default assumption of the gaming industry has always been that its customer is a young, straight, middle-class white man, and so games have always tended to cater to the perceived interests of this narrow demographic. Gamergate is right about this much: When developers make games targeting or even acknowledging other sorts of people, and when video game fans say they want more such games, this actually does represent an assault on the prerogatives of the young, middle-class white men who mean something very specific when they call themselves gamers. Gamergate offers a way for this group, accustomed to thinking of themselves as the fixed point around which the gaming-industrial complex revolves, to stage a sweeping counteroffensive in defense of their control over the medium. The particulars may be different, and the stakes may be infinitely lower, but the dynamic is an old one, the same one that gave rise to the Know Nothing Party and the anti-busing movement and the Moral Majority. And this is the key to understanding Gamergate: There actually is a real conflict here, something like the one perceived by the Tea Partier waving her placard about the socialist Muslim Kenyan usurper in the White House…
What we have in Gamergate is a glimpse of how these skirmishes will unfold in the future—all the rhetorical weaponry and siegecraft of an internet comment section brought to bear on our culture, not just at the fringes but at the center. What we’re seeing now is a rehearsal, where the mechanisms of a toxic and inhumane politics are being tested and improved. Tomorrow’s Lee Atwater will work through sock puppets on IRC. Tomorrow’s Sister Souljah will get shouted down with rape threats. Tomorrow’s Tipper Gore will make an inexplicably popular YouTube video. Tomorrow’s Willie Horton ad will be an image macro, tomorrow’s Borking a doxing, tomorrow’s Moral Majority a loose coalition of DoSers and robo-petitioners and scat-GIF trolls—all of them working feverishly in service of the old idea that nothing should ever really change.