Last month, a corruption scandal in the video games industry began to unfold, addressing suspected collusion between feminist game developers and the journalists who reviewed their work. At gaming news websites such as Kotaku, Gamasutra, and Polygon, it was claimed that feminist writers gave these developers positive coverage because of close personal, including sexual, relationships.
Evidence arose that three journalists on these websites were giving money to Zoe Quinn, a feminist game developer who was involved in the scandal, and that this same developer was channeling donations for a game event she was organizing into her personal PayPal account. In the face of increasing public awareness of the scandal, several prominent web forums resorted to unprecedented levels of censorship, and thus gave more credence to the allegations of collusion in the industry. AVfM has detailed these incidents, which marked the start of the scandal, in the first article of this series.
Since then, over the last several weeks, the story has broken into the mainstream media and has kept growing with new revelations; the scandal, now known as GamerGate, has been the subject of more than 1 million tweets and has been covered by more than 40 news websites. Those who are now investigating GamerGate have gathered evidence of possible collusion between the chair of the Independent Game Festival and a PR agent employed by all the game developers who went on to receive awards at that festival. Investigations have further discovered that Leigh Alexander, editor-in-chief of the game reviews website Gamasutra, runs a consulting company and uses her clout as a journalist to write positive coverage for the same games that her company helps create. Along with that, she uses her own Twitter account, which has accrued 53,000 followers in part due to her journalistic activities, to promote her consultancy’s clients.
In a bizarre response to the emerging scandal, on August 28 and 29, a number of game journalism websites published articles claiming that gamers were uncivilized, racist, misogynistic, homophobic neckbeards who oppress minorities, with one article even stating that “gamers don’t have to be your audience; gamers are dead.” As a reaction to these articles, the female, non-White, and GLBTQ gamers who participated in GamerGate discussions created the Twitter hashtag #NotYourShield to reinforce the fact that they were not oppressed and that they did not want to be used as a means for game journalists to deflect accusations of corruption. Gamasutra, the website that hosted the “gamers are dead” article, has seen its readership plummet in the aftermath, and several of the other websites involved in the scandal are facing the loss of several of their advertisers, owing to complaints from the gamers themselves about the anti-gamer rhetoric.
On September 18, Milo Yiannopoulos, writing for the mainstream journalism website Breitbart, published a series of emails from a secret mailing list used by the editors of major game review websites. The emails show that editors such as Ben Kuchera of Polygon, Susan Arendt of Joystiq, and Kyle Orland of Ars Technica talked about how best to keep the scandal under wraps. Kuchera went as far as asking Greg Tito, the editor-in-chief of The Escapist, to edit his own forums’ terms of service and thus make discussions of the scandal subject to deletion.
To understand what caused these incidents, it is important to acknowledge that the gaming media has never been a stranger to corruption. For instance, in 2007, Jeff Gertsman was fired from the website GameSpot after writing an unflattering review of a game at a time when that game’s publishing company was paying GameSpot for advertising space. In 2012, the hitherto-prestigious Geoff Keighley earned the nickname “Dorito Pope,” as well as ample ridicule, after appearing in an interview that featured gratuitous product placement for Mountain Dew and Doritos. Also in 2012, the game company Sega filed a series of indiscriminate copyright claims against YouTube users to help promote its new game series, sparking outrage among its fans.
Over the last few years, however, a new form of corruption has emerged in the games industry, spurred not by corporate underhandedness and financial conflicts of interest, but by deceptive activism and ideological bullying. In 2008, for instance, feminists started to complain that a new game from Sony Entertainment, Fat Princess, was demeaning to women. Although the mainstream gaming press, including one article on the website Kotaku, widely dismissed this perspective, the website Joystiq published an article of its own that suggested the game will create “a new generation of fat-hating, heteronormative assholes.”
In 2011, a controversy arose over a line of code in the video game Dead Island; one of the female characters possessed a skill called “gender wars,” but in that line of code, invisible to the players themselves, the skill was jokingly referred to as “feminist whore.” This was, again, not treated as a major issue by either the company or the media, and no one was fired in the aftermath.
In 2012, however, the feminists began to organize. A Twitter campaign called #1reasonwhy started that year to give reasons for why there were few women in the game development industry; Nathan Grayson, one of the people implicated in the GamerGate scandal, wrote an article supporting this campaign on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Favorable articles also emerged in Gamasutra and Kotaku, two websites heavily involved in GamerGate. Following the campaign on Twitter, prominent feminist game developers would later set up the #1ReasonToBe panel at the Game Developers Conference, as well as, in 2014, a feminist panel called “the F-word” at the PAX Prime event. The topics of these events related not to how female game developers could develop new skills to improve their businesses, but to how feminist women could change the culture of the games industry so that it better suited them. Several of the major players in the ongoing controversy of GamerGate gave talks at these events; one of them is Leigh Alexander, who would, at the 2014 #1ReasonToBe event, encourage the audience to “take the system apart.”
Also in 2012, Anita Sarkeesian gained notoriety for raising $158,922 for a series of (so far) six YouTube videos, amounting to less than three hours of content in total, in which she claimed the video games industry portrayed women as “damsels in distress” or “sex objects” and loudly complained about companies that appeared to employ these stereotypes. Since then, she has been exposed for apparently lying about being a gamer, using other people’s content in her work without their permission, making claims about video games that contradicted the games’ own content, and tweeting about unprofessionalism on the part of the police in a conversation whose existence the police denied.
Spurred by their early successes, feminists pushed to impose their ideology throughout the game industry from 2012 onwards. To give one example, Brenda Romero convinced the International Game Developers Association to exercise “vigilance” against employing scantily clad female dancers when she resigned from the institution in protest on discovering such dancers at a party during the 2013 Game Developers Conference. Nevertheless, she continued to attend the conference and, in the following year, used it to give a speech on sexual harassment in the game industry.
Referencing that talk in her own article, Danielle Riendeau wrote at Polygon that the Game Developers Conference needs to “make sure all attendees have some kind of exposure to the advocacy work being done in this industry.” Likewise, Polygon promoted the Different Games conference, which focused on advocacy work against such things as “hegemonic masculinity” and included several of those involved in the GamerGate scandal as speakers.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun openly declared its support of feminism, alongside other aspects of the “social justice” ideology that it espoused, while Gamasutra wrote an article on “sexism in the game industry.” These and other advocacy pieces on several major websites—including Rock, Paper, Shotgun; Kotaku; Polygon; Destructoid; and Gamasutra—carried a distinct political message that rang clear from 2012 to this day. They hinted that a radical left-wing culture was growing within the game journalism industry, keen to spread its influence over the game development process itself. Though the adherents of this culture used no name for themselves, their critics chose to refer to them as “social justice warriors.”
To accomplish their goals, the “social justice warriors” not only called for inclusiveness, but also accused parts of the game industry of bigotry. In an opinion piece on the game Tomodachi Life, for instance, Samantha Allen wrote at Polygon that “Behind all the corporate jargon and flowery public-relations language lies hatred, pure and simple.” She made this accusation because the developers of Tomodachi Life had said the game would not feature gay romance.
Kotaku, Destructoid, and other gaming news outlets published articles praising the game Sunset Overdrive for giving the option to play as a woman; the same articles also criticized the game Assassin’s Creed: Unity, whose developers had stated that they could not implement a female main character due to budget constraints. Likewise, Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief of Kotaku, wrote an article on “Grand Theft Auto V and Women,” criticizing it for its lack of strong female characters, but otherwise praising it for being “occasionally refreshingly progressive” in its political attitudes. The transsexual game critic Carolyn Petit of GameSpot also complained about the game’s “misogyny,” saying that all of its female characters were “strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.”
In truth, all of the major characters in GTA V, including the women, are unsavory people whom the game mocks at every opportunity, and so the accusations of misogyny against the game were undeserved. Petit’s review on YouTube earned 1.45 downvotes for every upvote, and those who commented on it made it clear that their dislike was about Petit’s accusations of misogyny. Reviews such as these, which prize political correctness over entertainment value, have become increasingly common in the past three years, prompting a backlash from the gamers themselves.
Developers and publishers who shared these journalists’ political views chose to join them in this ideological conflict. The major game publisher Electronic Arts, for instance, has hired Anita Sarkeesian to influence the design of its upcoming game Mirror’s Edge 2. Electronic Arts’ subsidiary BioWare has made a number of games, such as the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age 2, with strong feminist influences; its developers have even spoken in favor of feminism on game journalism websites and at conferences. Likewise, Microsoft hosts its “Women in Gaming Awards” event, in which Anita Sarkeesian was nominated this year for an ambassador award.
It’s worth noting, however, that other developers have refused to capitulate to the “social justice warriors.” Some, like Dustin Browder and John Carmack, have done so politely, refusing to comment when prompted to an ideological stance or shrugging off accusations of political incorrectness altogether. Others, like David Jaffe, known for his God of War and Twisted Metal series, have been more vocal: after Stephen Totilo’s Kotaku released an opinion piece calling him a “misogynist” on spurious grounds, Jaffe sat face-to-face with Totilo and told him that he was done with his publication.
In recent times, with GamerGate emerging, other developers have come forward to speak about the creeping indoctrination problem in the games industry, including an anonymous Microsoft employee who worked on the Xbox One and more than a dozen indie developers, but also two major figures in the games industry: Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, and Daniel Vavra, co-founder of Warhorse Studios. Wardell’s encounter with the “social justice” crowd came about when a woman falsely accused him of sexual harassment. Although the woman in question retracted her accusations and had to issue a public apology, Wardell has since been the target of hostility from “social justice warriors,” some of whom threatened him online after revealing that they knew his whereabouts, and some of whom opted instead to smear his fantasy book with false accusations of racism.
Ben Kuchera, the feminist game journalist, wrote an article on the alleged harassment, triggering more hostility against Wardell, but refused to write in regards to the public apology. On the website TechRaptor, you can find interviews with both Brad Wardell and Daniel Vavra.
In what is perhaps the most striking example of politicized game development in the industry recently, Dina Abou Karam, a feminist from Lebanon, took on the role of community manager at the game company Comcept and worked on their major title Mighty No. 9, using her position to promote her feminist agenda. Karam was offered her position in the company after asking developers to turn the male protagonist of Mighty No. 9 into a woman for the sake of “gender representation” and tweeted about her involvement in designing robots for the game soon after joining. Mighty No. 9 was supposed to be a spiritual successor to the highly popular Mega Man series, and fans grew concerned that she would spoil the franchise for the sake of her own political aims.
As it happens, Karam’s own Twitter posts stated that she had never played the original Mega Man series and that her best friend was a member of the development team. When the game’s fans confronted her with this, Karam temporarily locked her Twitter account and deleted the relevant tweets. When they further confronted her about the deletions, Karam allegedly banned some of them from the game’s forums.
People who helped fund Mighty No. 9 and have taken an anti-corruption stance during GamerGate have now reported being blocked by the game’s Twitter account. Karam has referred to these people as “mouth-breathers” on her personal Twitter account, as well as expressing support for and friendship towards Zoe Quinn, one of the key figures in the GamerGate scandal. There is therefore the possibility that Karam blocked them from the game’s account for the sake of her personal friendship. In spite of displaying contempt for the fans who helped finance the game, she has not been removed from her role as community manager.
While the gamers protested affairs such as these across online forums, game journalists stiffened their stance in support of feminism. John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, who has also been vocal against men’s rights activism, wrote that “Rock, Paper, Shotgun will never back down on the subject of sexism and misogyny.” Polygon reprinted one of Leigh Alexander’s blog posts in order to “help answer” the question of how readers could “make a difference” about sexual harassment in the industry, which would be fine, were it not for Alexander’s “answers” such as “don’t tweet at women asking them what should be done.” These along with other articles spelled out the ideologues’ interest to promote a feminist agenda, and if the “seething internet community,” as one author on the website Destructoid described it, would raise objections, the community itself would be regarded as part of the problem.
To get a sense of how things stand within the industry today, it is enough to see this picture.
This is Danielle Riendeau, the writer at Polygon mentioned earlier in this article. She is also one of the members of the secret mailing list that Milo Yiannopoulos uncovered. As her LinkedIn profile shows, she works in academia, teaching digital media at Northeastern University; her previous position was in the American Civil Liberties Union, where she served as communications coordinator.
Notice the dot at the start of Riendeau’s Twitter message. On Twitter, posts that start with a username (such as @samusclone) are regarded as messages and are not automatically broadcast to the author’s followers. The dot thus prevents Twitter from seeing that the post as a message and so exposes it to as wide an audience as possible. At present, Riendeau has more than 6,000 followers; she therefore intended for thousands of people to see this “adorable” picture.
Maddy Myers is friends with Riendeau, as well as being “best friends forever” with journalist Samantha Allen, who has openly referred to herself as a misandrist and written for The Daily Beast about how feminism should politicize the development of artificial wombs. Myers is, furthermore, a reader of Misandry Mermaid, a tumblr blog that features the motto “forever bathing in your male tears.” She makes jokes about killing all men, or at least “only the boring ones,” on her Twitter account. Although Myers drew the manticore picture, the idea of “misandry manticores” was apparently Riendeau’s own idea.
Of the people who profess similar attitudes, Leigh Alexander stands out. Her Twitter history includes threats to people’s careers over their polite disagreements, grandiose statements such as “I AM game journalism,” and calls for a “violent cultural backlash” against “ghetto” men, which, given other tweets from her, may well refer strictly to Black people.
Commenting on how one of her cronies should address his critics on Twitter, she told him to “toss them to your army to be torn into bits, that one is also good.” Along the same vein, when her self-proclaimed misandrist colleague, Samantha Allen, complained that two White men had been hired by the website Giant Bomb, Alexander expressed her contempt for that website, saying, “Literally everything I write is more interesting than everything most of the GB staff does. bye haters.” We can also find her revelling in female-on-male violence, as she once wrote “SHE JUST AIR SLAPPED THE MALE DANCER #misandry #excellent” in one Twitter post.
Likewise, on the “frequently asked questions” page of her blog, she responds to the question “I’m not sure if I agree with you. Can we discuss?” with “No. Be quiet and listen for once.” To the question “Don’t you think being friendly is better than being sharp?” she sarcastically responds: “Ah, yes. The many revolutions that were won by smiling and not being negative.”
As we have seen and we will continue to see, Alexander is one of the most vocal “social justice warriors” in the computer games scene, and her motivation, as she sees it, is to bring about a revolution.
It’s rare for journalists in the games media to make such public displays as the Misandry Manticore picture or the tweets bashing “ghetto” people, but the mere fact that these women continue to write at their websites, which claim to be bastions of “equality” and “diversity,” drives the point home that the feminist ideology of the “social justice warriors” is profoundly hypocritical and, by now, deeply embedded in the culture of game journalism.
Even in private, in the chain of emails that Milo Yiannopoulos leaked, Danielle Riendeau described the pro-GamerGate people as “a mob of angry insane misogynists.” Discussing Eron Gjoni, whose blog post on his cheating ex-girlfriend gave essential information at the start of the scandal, she quipped: “I don’t care if this jilted moron walks around with sad puppy dog eyes for the rest of his life.” Three weeks later, the same Danielle Riendeau wrote a feminist article about the lack of diversity in customizable comic-book action figures, saying it “reeks of cynicism and sexism.”
Looking at these and other comments, it would not be a stretch to say that many journalists at Polygon, as well as at websites such as Kotaku; Rock, Paper, Shotgun; and Gamasutra, share these sentiments.
To start with, the chain of emails published September 18 shows compelling evidence of the collusion among editors of different publications for the sake of their fellow ideologues.
Kyle Orland, senior gaming editor of Ars Technica, proposed several plans for how the mailing list (comprising people from more than 20 different websites, many of whom were supposed to be in competition with one another) could jointly take action about the scandal, which at the time was mainly affecting Zoe Quinn. In a blatant show of collusion, he proposed that “maybe we should just use this as an excuse to give more attention to her work.” He also proposed that the mailing list draft a joint letter expressing support for her. The letter, he said, should be passed via word-of-mouth rather than Twitter in order to, in his own words, “keep it under the radar.”
Although most of his fellow journalists disagreed in their emails, they did so out of consideration for Zoe Quinn’s privacy rather than a potential breach of ethics. One journalist, Andrew Groen, who writes for Wired Magazine, suggested that the list’s members present her with a “feel better” gift. He even called her a “colleague” in the emails, even though she is a developer and he is a journalist, tasked with impartially reviewing her work.
William O’Neal, the editor-in-chief of TechRadar, jokingly commented in one of the emails: “Who here hasn’t slept with a PR person or game developer? #AMIRITE”
Of note is that some of the journalists were steadfast advocates of censorship. Ben Kuchera of Polygon, in particular, was vocal about ensuring the censorship of GamerGate, to the point, as mentioned earlier, that he demanded to Greg Tito, editor-in-chief of The Escapist, to change the terms of service on his forums so as to justify deleting the GamerGate thread there. This is despite the fact that Tito had already limited discussion of GamerGate to that particular thread.
Kuchera is no stranger to censorship: as the GamerGate scandal was unfolding, he created a joint Twitter blacklist with fellow Polygon editor Chris Grant, which led to him blocking the accounts of more than 1,500 people. The blacklist included Milo Yianopoulos, who went on to expose their part in GamerGate, and the equity feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, who had chosen to speak against the social justice ideology in a remarkably non-confrontational way. Eventually, Grant and Kuchera abandoned the blacklist after apologizing to Sommers.
The mailing list may explain part of why, on August 28 and 29, almost two weeks after the scandal began to emerge, the websites with a presence on the list released articles proclaiming the “death of gamers” and decrying the “harassment” that women like Zoe Quinn face in the games industry. Some of these articles were posted only a few hours apart, indicating that they were the fruit of prior discussion among their creators. The archived list of articles can be found here.
One of these articles, written by Leigh Alexander for Gamasutra, says “’Gamers’ don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers’ are over.” Another article by Devin Wilson, again at Gamasutra, is entitled “A guide to ending ‘Gamers’” and goes into great detail about the political means to radically shift the nature of the gaming industry; he calls on his readers to bring about a revolution and proposes, among other things, that they “change the culture of game consumption” as well as “maintain a critical eye towards the e-sports scene and its accompanying machismo.”
Casey Johnston of Ars Technica wrote her own article entitled “The death of the ‘gamers’ and the women who ‘killed’ them,” attempting to portray GamerGate as an outburst of misogyny rather than an examination of corruption in the games industry. Luke Plunkett of Kotaku further stated that “We might be witnessing the death of an identity,” claiming to be “horrified by the degree of hostility, bigotry and sheer inhumanity” on the part of the gamers who have spoken out about journalistic corruption, whom he refers to as “reactionary holdouts that feel so threatened by gaming’s widening horizons.”
In the mainstream press, Leigh Alexander also wrote for TIME magazine, discussing the “bizarre conspiracy theories” and accusations against her. The mainstream British newspaper The Guardian likewise published a news article decrying the “misogyny” and “harassment of women” in video games. At the time of publication, Jenn Frank, the author of this article, was receiving funding via the Patreon website from Maya Kramer, one of the people involved in the scandal. Frank’s Twitter posts further suggest that she and Zoe Quinn, the person discussed in her article, are friends; if this is true, it would violate The Guardian‘s own code of ethics, which requires all conflicts of interest to be stated.
Confronted with polite but firm accusations of corruption on his colleague’s part, Tim Hatfield of The Guardian responded with such comments as “You are utterly full of shit,” “fuck off back to your fantasy land,” and “go fuck yourself.”
One particularly outspoken anti-GamerGate journalist is Devin Faraci, who wrote an article for his publication Badass Digest, in which he described the pro-GamerGate people as “They’re outsiders, losers, weirdos and freaks.” He further added that “most of them aren’t just male, they’re white males.” Faraci has written numerous troll posts on Twitter, including one in which he stated that he has more respect for the genocidal organization ISIS than for gamers.
The #NotYourShield campaign on Twitter sprang directly as a response to these insults; it comprised women, ethnic minorities, and GLBTQ people, all of them gamers, who spoke about how welcoming their fellow White, male, heterosexual gamers have always been. These people further called out the game journalists for hiding their corruption behind the smokescreen of “racism, sexism, homophobia” campaigning. Almost 160,000 posts on Twitter now feature the #NotYourShield hashtag, more than 10,000 of them having been written in the past week.
It’s noteworthy that, in spite of the barrage of articles proclaiming “the death of gamers” by websites whose members were implicated in GamerGate, the media overall was divided regarding the scandal. In the games press itself, such websites as GamesNosh, APGNation, TechRaptor, NicheGamer, and GamerHeadlines published several articles that showed support for the anti-corruption campaign, as did several mainstream websites such as Slate and Breitbart, while some news sites, such as Forbes, took a neutral stance.
Christina Hoff Sommers, an academic who has often spoken out about the excesses of modern feminism, has made her own YouTube video expressing skepticism for “the death of gamers” claims; the video has so far gained almost 400,000 views. Likewise, prominent video bloggers such as The Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t have featured videos discussing GamerGate from a pro-gamer point of view.
As in the early days of GamerGate, the campaign experienced censorship. In a surprising move, Twitter suspended Thunderf00t’s account, claiming he had “participated in targeted abuse,” presumably against Anita Sarkeesian, despite never having addressed her on Twitter. Even more remarkable is that, soon after Milo Yiannopoulos released the chain of emails, censorship also began to take place on the popular webforum 4chan, where the forum’s administrator, Christopher Poole, announced that all discussion of GamerGate would promptly be deleted. 4chan is famous for offering anonymity to its users and tolerating free speech, no matter how crude or offensive, so this turn of events represented a drastic reversal of its policies. Even though 4chan had soared to become the 500th most visited site on the Internet recently, largely because of the GamerGate revelations, this news caused it to lose a significant portion of its readership, who instead migrated to forums such as 8chan.
Beyond resorting to censorship, the anti-GamerGate crowd have even employed a DDOS attack against The Escapist Magazine, which has proven sympathetic to the pro-GamerGate crowd over the last several weeks. The website’s general manager, Alexander Macris, even thanked the pro-GamerGate campaigners for their part in creating the website’s new ethics policy. As the DDOS attack was aimed at the GamerGate thread on the forums of The Escapist, it’s fair to assume that the reasons for the attack had to do with the website’s pro-GamerGate stance.
“Social justice warriors” have also tried to strike at the personal lives of GamerGate supporters, doxxing them and contacting their employers; one man has lost his job as a result, while another is currently suspended. Furthermore, a well-known anti-male troll group called SRS seems to be behind the recent doxxing of six prominent GamerGate figures: Adam Baldwin, who coined the name “GamerGate” and is best known for his role as Jayne Cobb in the Firefly series; journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, who has even received a syringe containing an unknown substance in the mail; the popular vloggers JonTron, Boogie2988, and Shoe0nHead, who have expressed their sympathy for GamerGate; and Eron Gjoni, the man who wrote the now-infamous blog about Zoe Quinn. Along with these people’s private information, the text file delivered by the doxxers states: “Let this be a warning, don’t fuck with Zoe or Anita anymore or this list grows.”
In the midst of the backlash, a number of enthusiast investigators have been trawling the Internet, looking for instances of collusion among the ideologues in the game industry. From their work, more and more evidence surfaces every week. We find Leigh Alexander inviting game journalists such as Kirk Hamilton from Kotaku and game developers such as Steve Gaynor to follow each other on Twitter. We find that Kirk Hamilton and another journalist, Matthew Burns, have written for the same magazine, Killscreen, and appear to know each other on a personal level. We find that when Matthew Burns published his game, The Arboretum, Kirk Hamilton wrote a favorable review for him and even persuaded Cara Ellison, a journalist from the website Rock, Paper, Shotgun, to write her own review of the game. We find that Steve Gaynor seems to likewise be good friends with Leigh Alexander, who later wrote a review praising Steve Gaynor’s game, Gone Home.
Alexander’s website Gamasutra is heavily involved in the Independent Games Festival—indeed, both it and the festival are subsidiaries of UBM Tech. Thus, it is intriguing to find that Gone Home won awards at the IGF and at another event hosted by UBM Tech, the Game Developers’ Choice Awards, in spite of popular outcry.
The website Metacritic shows that, whereas 48 critic reviews of the game have been positive, 4 have been mixed and none have been negative, as many as half of all user reviews on the game have been negative, while only 41% of the user reviews have been positive. This shows that the critics’ opinions bear little resemblance to those of the players. It is relevant, then, to see Steve Gaynor’s apparent friendship with Danielle Riendeau and the fact that they once made arrangements to see a political documentary called The Punk Singer together (though apparently they never wound up going to see it). The film’s focus was the feminist activist Kathleen Hanna, who according to Wikipedia told her producer specifically that the number of men being interviewed in the film should be minimized. Thus, it seems that Steve Gaynor, like Danielle Riendeau, is a feminist ideologue.
As mentioned earlier, Riendeau writes for Polygon, which made Gone Home its Game Of The Year at the end of 2013 despite complaints from its audience that the award was given on ideological grounds.
Beyond mere relationships between developers and reviewers, we find that there are academics who are actively trying to push a feminist agenda into gaming. Much of the investigation since the start of GamerGate has focused on the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA), a group of academics and professionals in the world of computer games, some of whom have shown a strong desire to inoculate the industry with gender politics. Of special interest are Mia Consalvo, who is the current chair of DiGRA, and Adrienne Shaw, who works as both an academic and a co-chair of the GLBT Studies Special Interest Group at the International Communications Association.
One of Shaw’s academic papers, “On Not Becoming Gamers: Moving Beyond the Constructed Audience,” states that she uses “feminist and queer political critique of identity categories” to examine the gamer identity, with the ultimate goal of reshaping that identity to be more inclusive of minority groups. The article concludes that, because people who don’t identify themselves as “gamers” do so for reasons that cannot be subject to cultural intervention, the best way to benefit minorities is not to expand the “gamer” identity so as to include them, but to instead diminish the value that people place on this identity so that minorities can feel less excluded as a result.
Mia Consalvo, the chair of DiGRA, has more scathing opinions of gamers. In an academic paper of her own, “Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Game Studies Scholars,” she writes that “With increasing frequency the ugliness of gamer culture is being put on display for the wider world to see,” giving examples of hostility such as the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian. She claims that these examples were not isolated, but show “a pattern of a misogynistic gamer culture and patriarchal privilege attempting to (re)assert its position.”
The article ostensibly aims to “push for a more welcoming kind of game culture for everyone” by analyzing the debates surrounding controversies in the gaming world, finding out how to influence these debates, and seeing to what extent the “beliefs and practices” of developers and marketers influence the attitudes of gamers. In her own words, “if companies do not actively and quickly respond to shut down sexist, sometimes pornographic uses of their game materials, can we expect players to respond to other players’ calls for better behavior?” All of this alludes to a desire to carry out social engineering and bring a feminist agenda into gaming.
Both Consalvo and Shaw took part in a roundtable discussion at DiGRA, called “The Playful is Political,” that included feminist academics as well as feminists employed in the games industry. Two of the participants, Andrew Wilson and Zoya Street, have worked with the Silverstring Media consultancy, which employs Anita Sarkeesian in an advisory role. A transcript of the discussion at DiGRA shows that the participants were eager to influence the world of computer games, with one student, Meghan Blythe Adams, saying that “Academics ought to be making demands” of the industry. Both she and Shaw expressed a wish to tear down the industry’s “capitalist norms.” Casey O’Donnell, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, praised Gamasutra for the diligence with which it shuts down “hostile” comments. Moreover, in O’Donnell’s own words, “Gamasutra will shut down negative conversation at least in part because they’ve had their awareness raised by academics.”
During the discussion, Andrew Wilson expressed his dismay that Samantha Allen, the self-proclaimed misandrist mentioned earlier in this article, left games journalism to write for the Daily Dot after engaging in a verbal conflict on Twitter over Giant Bomb’s decision to hire “a white guy.” To quote Wilson’s comment from the transcript itself, “Academia needs to push for more radical positions within the industry” to make it more amenable to people like Allen.
What the journalists and developers only hint at, the academics state clearly. In their writings and their conversations with one another, they do not shy away from declaring that they wish to have influence over the industry and, indeed, over the attitudes of the gamers themselves.
It would not be a stretch to assume that the game journalists have the same goals; when they write a review about sexism and misogyny rather than graphics and gameplay, they are not doing so because of popular demand for this sort of review, but because what they write can shape public opinion. In doing so, they unveil their contempt for their audience, to whom they see themselves as having no obligations of any kind. It is arguably with the very same contempt that they engage in censorship and cronyism: praising a shoddy game made by a friend or a lover and shutting down all discussion about the affair is perfectly fine when the readers don’t matter at all.
Nevertheless, there is some indication that readers are taking a stance in regards to how they are being treated. Since the “death of gamers” articles came to light, the website Gamasutra, which has been particularly strident in its anti-gamer rhetoric, has taken a serious hit to its readership. Polygon and Kotaku have also lost a few of their advertisers and affiliates as gamers emailed them about the above-mentioned articles. As one commenter pointed out, there is no faster way to alienate your audience than by describing them a dead demographic, and so it may well be that the feminists, in their attempts to reconstruct the gaming world in their own image, will find themselves marginalized against a growing number of people who rightly see them as wishing to cause harm to their industry.
The outcome of the conflict is yet to be settled, however, and it may be that the actions of both sides will tip the balance one way or another in the coming weeks, as further evidence comes forward and new voices join the fray.
One thing is certain at this time: this clash will be a turning point the industry and will have widespread implications for the “social justice” movements as a whole.