Sexism in Gamer Culture, Take Two

Alright, let’s deal with this.

Last time I wrote about sexism amongst gamers, it was largely targeted towards the casual harassment that women receive in convention spaces.  That’s still not cool, by the way.

This time, I’ve been thinking about the casual harassment of women in online spaces.  The big story of the gamer community for the last couple weeks has been the harassment of Zoe Quinn by various internet people who disapprove of her personal choices regarding her sex life.  Quinn, who is an independent game developer, has become the target of abuse since an ex-boyfriend of hers publicized a rant where he accused her of cheating on him with multiple men in gaming journalism in exchange for positive reviews of her game Depression Quest.  Because of Quinn’s perceived promiscuity, she has become the victim of relentless online harassment.

Mixed up in this scandal of misogynists behaving like misogynists is a legitimate conversation about the ethics of gaming journalism and how reporters who cover video games can avoid bias when they are embroiled in a relatively close knit community with developers and publishers.  This is an important conversation to be having, but it doesn’t require the villainization of Quinn, especially considering that the source of the accusation is a disgruntled ex.  How Quinn chooses to exercise her sexual agency is no one’s business but hers and her partners’.  The discussion of whether the journalists who did review her game compromised their integrity is still a valid one, but it doesn’t require further personal attacks on her.

Even accusations of Quinn being unscrupulous in her game’s promotion strike me as absurd, because the game is freely available online.  No money is asked of people who wish to play Depression Quest, and people who do donate can judge for themselves based on the merits of the game (I played through it once, and I found it to be a fairly well-crafted interactive fiction; I suspect that some of the negative opinions surrounding the game stem from its text-based design).

Following on the hooplah surrounding Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian also released the latest video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.  Sarkeesian has been producing these videos for about a year now, and I think she’s done some truly excellent criticism of how video games mistreat female characters.  Nonetheless, a very vocal group of detractors have continued to harass Sarkeesian simply for having the temerity to discuss problematic elements in popular video games (following this most recent video, Sarkeesian received death threats that were deemed serious enough that she involved authorities and evacuated her home for a few days).

This kind of treatment of women bears all the same markers of the harassment that we see at conventions.  It’s a case of men assuming that they have a right to ignore the autonomy of women, either by trespassing against women’s bodies or, if they’re not physically present, against their reputations and personal spheres.  It’s been said elsewhere, and I’ll say it here: this kind of behavior is a form of terrorism.

Beyond that, I honestly don’t know what else I can say.  I’ve been following this issue as it’s continued to blow up, and there doesn’t seem to be anything else to say other than this vitriol that’s getting directed at women in the community just for being women is not an aberration.  It just happens that in this case two relatively high-profile personalities in gaming got particularly bad doses of abuse, and everyone’s paying attention because of it.

Given all that, I’d just recommend looking at what other people have been writing about these events.  I’ve compiled a short list of articles that I’ve seen below.

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