There’s a hot trend among a vocal minority of gamers right now: the harassment of women developers and critics. Of course, this sort of thing is not new in tech – or, let’s face it, across the internet – but in the video games industry it has hit a fashionable peak.
On Thursday, it was widely reported that the North American media critic Anita Sarkeesian had fled her own home, thanks to rape and death threats from angry gamers targeting her and her family. Her crime was to produce a series of YouTube videos analysing the depiction of women in games from a feminist perspective.
Sarkeesian’s plight eerily mirrors that of games designer Zoë Quinn, developer of the experimental adventure, Depression Quest, who has also had to pack up and move in with friends, after an online campaign of hatred against her.
Earlier this month, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend published intimate details of their relationship online, and her sexual history inexplicably became the centrepiece of a large-scale, industry-wide debate about journalism, nepotism and ethics.
Accusations were hurled at Quinn via gamer forums and sites like Reddit and 4Chan. Gaming news blog Kotaku clarified that an alleged breach of journalistic objectivity concerning Quinn never actually took place. But the hate speech continued.
Yes, it’s been quite a banner season for the collective of self-identifying core gamers who gather on forums to muster shared fury. Now they feel they are at war with a group of left-leaning games writers and developers who they refer to as “social justice warriors” – this is effectively anyone who has ever questioned the patriarchal nature of the games industry or the limited, often objectifying depiction of women. Because, you know, games are fine as they are thanks.
So, for those out there who have decided to join in and harass a woman developer or critic out of the games business, this is how you do it. Launching an actual hate campaign is a major commitment, so you’ll need to stick with it if you really want to generate a culture of fear with lasting repercussions. Remember: one surefire way to make your mark on the world is by scarring it.
Crucially, a good troll knows how to attack a woman’s “professionalism” – particularly if you’ve never read, watched or played anything she has produced. Your method is to undermine her credibility and devalue her work by hardly discussing it – and maybe discussing her full sexual history instead.
Your goal – if you, too, are keen on suspicion and hate – is total alienation, making your target feel impossibly hopeless and alone by way of attacking her friends, colleagues or anyone who has ever written anything positive about her.
If your target is Anita Sarkeesian, you will direct your outrage toward her supporters, including game designer and all-around luminary Tim Schafer, film director Joss Whedon or Phil Fish, designer of the beautiful platform game Fez.
You can make your attack extra personal by researching your target’s address, work details and, if your target is Quinn, even her father’s home phone number. Publishing this online is a great way to ensure your target receives death threats, without ever having to actually pen a death threat yourself.
Finally, if you really want to help ruin the games industry, it helps to have money on your hateful side. For instance, you might launch a successful online campaign to fund a documentary exploring how tech culture has been “hijacked” by Sarkeesian and other “social justice warriors”.
All the while, bullies of the games industry, do insist that your efforts to totally ruin a woman’s life and career are founded in “transparency”, “ethics” and “integrity”. Do suggest, at every turn, that “games journalism” has not yet fully acknowledged your campaign of terror because of an industry-wide “cover-up”.
Be careful not to concede that anyone writing about said campaign may also fear retaliation. Certainly we do. In fostering this culture of terror, you can ensure the majority is silent – that it won’t speak out against the harm you are doing.
For example, someone recently and bafflingly tried to hack into my email and phone contacts. This is all very frightening to write, and so I must disclose that I am biased, insofar as I am terrified. I have worked in this industry for most of the last nine – not always perfect – years and I have never professed to be a perfect person. However, my values, my belief that abuse must not, cannot become “normal”, “acceptable” or “expected” is at odds with oh, God, please, why are they doing this, what’s the point, don’t let it be me, don’t let it be me.
My unabashed love for video games, my colleagues and my work have a conflict of interest with my own terror.
See, the best, most successful hate campaign dreams big. For some, it isn’t only about targeting one woman, two women, or a handful of women. The endgame is to frighten all women out of the video games industry – no matter what they write, film, create or produce – and to additionally frighten anyone who would support them.
As Slate’s David Auerbach put it, “keep in mind that targeting Quinn will drive away the next Kim Swift”. That’s Kim Swift, co-designer of Portal, one of the greatest games ever made. Never was there a nobler cause.
One last thing. When harassing brave women, be sure to maintain that your campaign isn’t about gender. And in a way, it isn’t. Sustained abuse knows no gender, race, religion or creed. It hurts everybody.