GamerGate Campaign Targets Women In Gaming

depression quest

This campaign for journalistic integrity is fueled by a lot of misogyny.

If you’re a woman playing video games, you probably haven’t missed out on the latest gaming scandal, dubbed “GamerGate“. It’s ostensibly a campaign for ethics in games journalism, but it began as a campaign of harassment against the woman who developed the text adventure game Depression Quest.

In Depression Quest, you take on the role of someone with depression, walking you through the day to day experiences and struggles of someone with the disease. While it was positively reviewed by critics, many traditional gamers felt that its text-based nature hardly qualified it as a proper game at all, dissatisfaction that culminated when the developer’s ex-boyfriend made a post online claiming she had slept with a game journalist in exchange for good press.

Despite the fact that the journalist in question never reviewed Depression Quest, the GamerGate movement picked up steam, including harassment and doxxing as well as rape and death threats against both the developer and those who spoke in her defense.

There’s no question about it: GamerGate is a mess of misogyny that explicitly targets women in the gaming community, from developers to journalists to gamers. Even though the harassment campaigns are online, the threats to the safety of women in gaming are real — especially when their harassers uncover phone numbers and home addresses, which are shared online. While there are discussions to be had about journalistic integrity in the gaming community, this isn’t it. The fact that the campaign has focused on a female game developer rather than the male journalist who would have been the one violating the journalistic integrity the movement claims to be about says a lot about GamerGate’s true goals.

This is part of an ongoing cultural struggle in gaming: many traditional gamers want games to be products (like cars), with reviews focusing on how well they perform, rather than works of art (like movies), with reviews focusing on what they are. As games are used more and more as a storytelling medium, with epic works like BioShock and Mass Effect telling stories worthy of the cinema, game reviewers are more likely to talk about them thusly, considering their artistic merit as part of a review. Unfortunately, when looking for artistic merit, games don’t always add up: the stories are often about men and treat women in a sexist fashion, but rating games based on these features tends to frustrate gamers whose favorite games get poor ratings for what they feel are social or political reasons.

The problem with the cry that games should just be fun is that those games may be fun some, they exclude a large group of people: namely women and queers. We’re all here and playing games in order to have fun and get away from the real world, so why does so much of the sexism and discrimination we see in the real world also make it into our video games? Why can’t games be a safe place for everyone to play, free from harassment?

GamerGate says that’s not possible, unless you’re only interested in playing shooters and other games without any kind of story or message.