Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Gamergate Gets Nastier

For those of you who are lucky enough not to know anything about Gamergate, these three articles  offer a comprehensive (though much-diluted and sterilized) version of what has been going on:    The Future of Culture Wars*,   Why everybody is fighting and Misogyny.  The most recent female developer getting online threats is Brianna Wu.  This article shows the sort of gentle messages she received for a mocking tweet and the consequences to her and her family.

It is hard to measure numbers on Twitter or social media in general.  This means that the number of truly hateful participants in the Gamergate cannot be easily estimated.  But it's not one or two, though neither is it anywhere close to the total number of people playing games.

Now at least one of the haters is  making threats against an institution, Utah State University where Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak on Wednesday.  Sarkeesian is one of the targets of misogynistic wrath in Gamergate:

 Utah State University plans to move forward with an event featuring a prominent Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist, despite threats of terror, a spokesman said Tuesday evening.
The decision came after several staff members received an anonymous email terror threat on Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a student proposing “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if it didn't cancel the Wednesday lecture.
The email author wrote that “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they've wronged.“

Sarkeesian canceled the event because the Utah police could not guarantee her safety or the safety of her audience.  The university statement:

Anita Sarkeesian has canceled her scheduled speech for tomorrow following a discussion with Utah State University police regarding an email threat that was sent to Utah State University. During the discussion, Sarkeesian asked if weapons will be permitted at the speaking venue. Sarkeesian was informed that, in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue.
This particular case is an intersection of several different ideas (think of a Venn diagram):  The role of online misogyny (the attacks focus on the person's gender, threaten sexual violence, use the equivalence of "cunt" with an uppity woman and so on), the capture of the most visible part of the Gamergate movement by misogynists from various places on the net (4chan, some meninist sites?), the deeper philosophical questions about who owns games, who decides if presenting women as salivating tidbits and victims is AOK or not (entitlement, fear of losing what one enjoys) and so on, the anti-gun-control laws in Utah (guns in the audience!),  the lack of adequate diagnosis and treatment for mental illness and so on and so on.

On the latter, the author of the anonymous e-mail expresses admiration of Mark LĂ©pine, the butcher of Montreal and presents a somewhat similar psychological profile of warped beliefs: a belief in the global rule of feminists, a belief in this imaginary group of powerful and evil feminists being the cause of all bad things that ever happened to that person and the belief that killing that group is the appropriate remedy.  Indeed, if we switch "women" for "feminists" we get the pattern of beliefs that Elliot Rodger, the butcher of Santa Barbara, demonstrated.

It's not possible to judge how realistic this most recent threat might be.  But it's worth noting that there are some sites which fall under the rubric of meninism or MRA/MRM (Men's Rights Activists/Men's Rights Movement) where the idea that feminists are demonic monsters who run this planet for the purposes of squashing all men under stiletto shoes is  accepted as a basic truth.

In reality, of course, feminists are not exactly running this world (in some places, such as the so-called Islamic State women are not running anything but perhaps away), feminists are all individual men and women with both good and bad sides, and the vast majority of feminists work to make the world a fairer place.  This reality correction doesn't reach the people it should reach, especially on certain misogynistic online sites and in several comments threads to anything which is about feminism.

Then the real question I have:  Was Sarkeesian's speech going to be on the topic of online harassment of female game developers?  If that is the case, how ironic that the event was canceled because of threats violence.

*This article is especially good on Christina Hoff Sommers, the famous anti-feminist, carrying water for the gamers.  Her argument seems to be that the presentation of women in games as sexual objects or victims is perfectly understandable given the young-male-demographic of the market.