GamerGate. It’s a word many in the gaming journalism world have been timid to write for going on 16 months or so.
For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, GamerGate is the heart-wrenching story of some boys who just wanted to play video games, until one day a woman made a video game and some people really liked that game. But these boys didn’t like that game, which made them sad, and so they sent its designer death threats. That woman had sex with people who weren’t those boys who just wanted to play video games, which also made them sad, and so they sent her more death threats.
When some journalists in the gaming world said “hey guys, cut it out”, those boys realized who the true enemy was: corrupt gaming journalists who didn’t want to report the real story. The real story, of course, being that women were making video games that they didn’t want to play and also weren’t having sex with them. So they sent the journalists death threats and said it was all about “ethics in gaming journalism”.
Real talk: many gaming journalists are in the pockets of AAA gaming companies, like when EA paid YouTubers and reviewers to play Shadows of Mordor but included clauses in their contracts that prevented them from voicing negative feedback.
GamerGate isn’t concerned with that. Instead, they’re concerned with small Indie games with female and minority designers who make games about gender or race or sexual orientation. Why? Because GamerGate is far from a cause. It is a symptom of fears rooted in a changing demographic; the same fears behind the rise of the Tea Party or Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Let me give you some other words. Misogynist. Racist. Sexist. Homophobic. Transphobic. MRA. Stormfront. Linger too long in the community that calls itself GamerGate and you will see one thing above all else: the fear that the world is expanding to pander to more people than just young men.
2015 has only furthered those fears.
Since its inception, gaming has concerned itself with the bigger questions in life: can Mario save the kingdom from Bowser and rescue Peach? Can Link save Hyrule and rescue Zelda? Can Crash Bandicoot…well, you get the point.
And with year after year bringing bland reworks of games that are little more than fantasies of the American military shooting people from other countries, it’s easy to see why the outside world might characterize the gaming industry as vacuous and immature.
But as games have developed, increasingly deep storylines and themes have evolved. This process has been mirrored in the movie industry as well as on TV. This year we have seen geek culture cover a much wider array of perspectives, with a number of classic franchises taking a distinctly feminist bent.
Mad Max: Fury Road — a continuation of the gritty post-apocalyptic series — took a radical departure from its usual male-dominated themes to tackle the issues of childbearing and consent in a post-apocalyptic world. Despite a minor MRA protest that the change in the franchise was “emasculating” movies, Fury Road went on to be perhaps the most critically acclaimed of all Mad Max movies.
Marvel’s experiment with TV series’ has proven massively successful. After Daredevil, which was hailed as a massive success, Marvel took a chance on Jessica Jones, a superhero whose origin story is rooted in relationship abuse, PTSD, and the nature of consent.
The newest installation of Tomb Raider — once a male fantasy about a scantily clad woman with copious guns — released its second title within the reboot, featuring a younger Lara Croft struggling with PTSD.
And then there was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, featuring a black lead and female protagonist. Of course, in a world populated by aliens and The Force and lightsabers and lasers, it was a black stormtrooper that many were up in arms about, leading to some truly bizarre critiques of the movie.
It’s hard not to see the backlash against these franchises as one and the same as GamerGate: an ugly, knee-jerk, regressive reaction to change. For too long, the fantasy that is geek culture — fantasy and science fiction and video games and comic books — has been defined by exclusivity.
The target audience for geek culture is broadening rapidly. Comic books and superheroes are a mainstream delight, not a niche fandom. The word “gamer” is rapidly becoming meaningless as it starts to include almost everybody. We should celebrate that expansion, not fear it.