Gamergate* is dead. Indeed, it’s been dead in the water since it began. I’m not going to cover the genesis, or the long arc of harassment and continued misunderstandings about what words like “ethics“, “games” or “journalism” mean. That, as you can see, has already been extensively covered.
But like a rapidly transmitted virus – say, the flu – the reach of Gamergate went far beyond the borders of the nation of ManCavelandia to find coverage in the mainstream media from the likes of NPR, PBS or the New York Post. In no particular order, the death of Gamergate:
No one actually buys the ethics in games journalism defence. It was a slapdash bandaid applied to a bitter ex’s angry blog rant about a claim of collusion that is provably false. More than a few minutes spent in any of the forums for pro-GG posters show that a) they’re primarily concerned with punishing women who critique the game industry status quo and b) they have no fucking idea what ethics in journalism actually means, since they feel like games coverage shouldn’t be critical or negative of a product when that company also advertises with you. No, really.
The smokescreen of ethics probably makes the next point so infuriating.
2) Mainstream media coverage:
In a setting where “fair and balanced” coverage means giving both sides of the story equal play, even if one side is completely ridiculous (looking at you, climate change “debates”), the MSM has been unequivocally critical of Gamergate. New York Times coverage focuses on GG as a movement devoted to silencing feminist critics of games, Forbes ran an article criticizing Intel’s decision in pulling advertising based on the campaign, and big name stations like CNN and the BBC covered the Utah State massacre threats because, well, obviously.
In fact, the only thing GG appears to have been remotely successful at with regards to mainstream media is getting Anita Sarkeesian interviewed on everything, including the Colbert report:
(In a cute piece of irony Alanis would love, most GGers seem to believe this is a coop for the movement because Stephen Colbert argues for boobies in video games.)
3) Everyone knows it’s about hating women.
Chris Kluwe took basically an enormous verbal dump on Gamergate hydra-like head, and nothing happened. (He made a few people cry, maybe.) Nerd idols like Joss Whedon, Wil Wheaton and Greg Rucka have all spoken against the toxic nature of the movement. And yet, it’s Anita Sarkeesian, Felicia Day, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu – all relative small potatoes, until they got national attention for being targets, anyway – were the ones threatened. Those threats were widely reported on, which led to a number of reporters looking into men who have criticized GG, and why they weren’t threatened. Considering this is the media that was hesitant to talk about the Isla Vista shooter’s misogyny, don’t you think that’s a little telling?
4) Games are changing.
Anita covers it a bit in her talk, but the truth is that interdisciplinary programs are gaining ground in universities and colleges, and many media labs and incubators have computer scientists who are artists as well, visual artists who can code, writers who can market. This isn’t just meant to double-dip and save money, but rather reflect the flexibility and diversity of the world in the people who make games, so that games can grow beyond the linear narrative structures and kill-to-win models that dominate a lot of major game studios’ portfolios. Sandbox games like Animal Crossing, Tomodachi Life, the Sims, and Fantasy Life are immensely popular, entertaining and fun. You can’t beat them them. The only way to win is the satisfaction of enjoying the game while playing it.
What’s more, you get games like Fold it, where the satisfaction and enjoyment from the game can also be derived from the sense of purpose that succeeding has applicable, real-life benefits. Check out the latest puzzle, for example, where players need to find a way to bypass a cap on the ebola virus that prevents a cure from binding before the virus can bind to a human host. Terrified of ebola? Be the actual change here.
Gamification has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so poorly in most cases. rewards based systems only work so long as the reward is high enough value for you to press through doing your homework, or chores, or job. But gamification done well broadens the scope and arena of gaming to be pretty much limitless, which is terrifying for Gamergate. How can it be a special club if everyone enjoys it?
*not to be confused with gamergates, or reproductively viable worker ants.
(See WoW Insider’s “Open Letter to Jaina Proudmoore” for backstory. Be warned of 5.4 spoilers!)
If it comes as a surprise to anyone that I love ladies behaving badly in Warcraft (and other storytelling mediums), then I invite you to take a gander at my two Blizzard Story contest entries, where I think about Blood Queen Lana’thel and Leyara’s histories, respectively.
It’s hard being Alliance for all your WoW-playing career and having a fascination with villainy, because they tend to either be a part of the Horde (Sylvanas) or quest/dungeon/raid bosses (Keristrasza, Leyara, BQL, ad nauseum). The Blizzard Story contest is, at the moment, defunct, but I had been planning exploring a Sylvanas story after reading Dave Kosak’s short story, Edge of Night, because I did find it very interesting that she wasn’t present at Arthas’ death.
A lot of this is born out of my frustration that women in Warcraft tend to be pushed to their limits by the storylines, and then callously abandoned to their fate (often death, at the hands of us “heroes”) when they’re deemed irredeemable. Keristrasza was captured, abused and forced to be Malygos’ consort after she murdered his previous one, and you have to kill her in the Nexus, an act which the wiki entry for her states “a sad, but necessary end.”
Lana’thel is forced into service for the Lich King when she faced him at Northrend, armed with her former friend’s blade Quel’delar, which she was overwhelmed by Frostmourne, and forced to serve him. (Sensing a theme?) Leyara’s grief and anger at the Horde, and her father-in-law’s madness leads her to ally with the minions of Ragnaros because she doesn’t feel she has anything left to live for (and she doesn’t even make it into the dungeons, you kill her during a quest chain.)
This female madness issue didn’t start with Wrath, nor end in Cata. In Pandaria, where strong emotions are made physically manifest in the Sha, both Suna Silentstrike and Liu Flameheart become infested with Sha, and the players are forced to kill them. It would not be so very telling if not for the fact that Tarah Zhu, leader of the Shado-Pan, is similarly affected, but in the dungeon where you encounter him, all the player needs to do is drive the Sha out of his body, and defeat it.
If that’s the case, why did Suna and Liu have to die? Their grief and doubt – at the loss of a beloved husband, the fear of failing your god – are perfectly reasonable within the context of their stories, which were created by the writers and quest developers. Why do the women of Warcraft only get one chance at redemption, and then only through death?
What’s even more fascinating is that this is a narrative that’s not just played out in the game and supplemental materials, but also in the fan base. Jaina factors into this because like Suna and Leyara, she’s lost loved ones, people she was a leader to. Her story has always been one of courage and of loss. SPOILERS for 5.4 to follow the cut:
I have been mad at Game of Thrones before. I was mad when they made Daenerys’ wedding night into a graphic rape scene. I was mad at some of the asshole-clenchingly awful sexposition scenes. I was mad about the attempted rape on Sansa during the riot (and the dream-recap the next night). I was livid about the scene where Joffrey abuses two prostitutes.
Last night, I was mad enough to actually stand up and yell a lot. There was huffing. I scared Gary.
There have been a lot of reasons to be angry this week. Truly, legitimately angry. Most prominent would be the Stuebenville verdict and the backlash Jane Doe has faced. (And her compassionate response to everything continues to be an incredible inspiration to me.)
Or how about Adria Richards, who tweeted a request for PyCon employees to deal with some con-goers making sexual jokes. She did it via twitter in order to not disrupt the on-going presentation, and tweeted a picture IDing the perpetrators. As you can see, it was handled! Excellent. However…not only is PyCon in the midst of changing their code of conduct after the fact to avoid similar firestorms, but Adria also lost her job (as did one of the men making the jokes) over the incident after internet heroes started ddosing her company’s website, not to mention the ubiquitous threats and slurs.
Or the release of Anita Sarkeesian’s first video in her Tropes versus Women project, which is wholly (almost to the point of blandness) the bare bones of feminism 101, and still received and continues to receive a shitstorm of threats, not to mention just plain absurd accusations of being a Fake Gamer Girl.
Right, so here’s the thing.
I do not, as a matter of course, wake up angry. When I got married, more than one person signed off their cards with, “never go to bed angry” and I try to hold to that. (I guess they meant towards my husband and not existentially, but eh, what’re you gonna do?) I do not even engage in people saying things I disagree with angry.
But I sure do get angry fast when my (to my mind) relatively mild disagreement becomes phrased as “too angry” or “an attack” or, my personal favourites “irrational and/or hysterical”. Nothing in my entire experience prepared me for how easily people will call you angry – and then suddenly, other people see it too! Whatever the topic of conversation was, it falls to the wayside in the wake of a discussion on whether or not I was angry, am I justifiably angry, how much literal venom am I pouring into innocent bystanders ears. “You’re right,” I murmur, “I was angry all along. I retract my position because this anger is unbecoming and causes frown lines.”
Okay, maybe not the last part. But I do, at that point, start get angry. Anger has perhaps even become a default starting point, if only so I can skip the song and dance about exactly how angry I am. It’s like cutting out the embarrassing stumbling around after someone asks you if you’re pregnant. (“No, just fat. welp, you must be embarrassed.”)
So, yeah, I’m angry. I’m angry that in the year of our lord twenty thirteen we are still having discussions about whether or not a woman has a right to bodily autonomy; yes, even if she signed a contract. I’m angry that I see women going before me into the tech and game industries and be pushed aside, pushed out or drop out from the sheer exhaustion of dealing with idiot men. I’m angry that most people can’t point out what rape is on a map. Sometimes I take that anger and channel it into a project I’m working on. And sometimes I use it to fuel a discussion about any of those topics long past the point where I just want to throw up my hands, understand that equality isn’t ever going to really happen except on the most superficial levels, and sleep the day away in a pillow fort filled with cats.
I’m tired of fighting in my own circles. I have just as many, if not MORE, arguments with people who want to be allies and other feminists, than I do with Straight Up Card Carrying Misogynists. Sometimes these arguments can be good, a way to clarify and expand on my own thoughts on feminism and women’s rights. Often, they’re infuriating, borne out of a societal drive to promote a Meritocratic Individual who Has Opinions (And opinions, naturally, can never be wrong.) I don’t like being angry at people who are ostensibly “on my side” but I don’t want the half-assed deals they’re offering, either!
When women were imprisoned during the American federal suffragette movement, due to bullshit charges (Obstructing Traffic, for example), when they were issued pardons, some refused to take them, because they hadn’t committed a crime to begin with. Taking the pardons meant admitting guilt in the original instance. There are hundreds of posts’ worth of problems with first-wave feminism, but I admire that particular spirit. I don’t want fun, sexy feminism. I don’t want to assuage men that I shave my legs, and abhor misandry to get them on board. I want them on board because it’s the right thing to do.
Yeah, I’m angry. What are you going to do about it?
So there’s a makeup company making its name on the cache of nerdism, which, whatever, I partake of nerdy things and cosmetics, so I can’t really judge someone for the combination of the two. They have a lip gloss called “Tentacle Grape”, (edit Feb 18 2013: Now called Willful Wyvern, apparently!) which aside from being hideous as sin, is also a pretty tasteless joke, which let’s be real, is so transparent my nana would have seen it. And I love nana, but she’s getting on in years.
Which has upset a few people, myself included. It was mentioned at them on their twitter, and also talked about on tumblr, and while initial responses in private were professional, eventually it came to a public vote and snide as fuck blog post.
Hey, remember this? Remember how well it turned out? Yeah. And that was just for a character model in an advertisement
The public is full of terrible idiots with awful track records with pretty much any sensitive topic, but asking for opinions on a rape joke, among a group of nerds, is just so mindbogglingly stupid I could barely wrap my head around it except rape as a joke is still all too common because “it’s meaning has changed.” or “I’m not actually advocating rape.” (Even though you totally are.) This is not a new or particularly surprising opinion, nor is democratically putting it to a vote to prove that majority doesn’t think rape is a problem, hurray we solved rape!
I had a really great experience last night having a meal with about 12 people I really love and respect from all varieties of life and careers: old priest, young priest, teachers, doctors, dental hygienist, etc. And me, Angry Feminist the First (though hopefully not the last) of this circle. You know how you go home for the holidays and you cringe whenever any public issue is brought up around pie, because inevitably it’s going to end in shouting and tears? This didn’t happen there. We talked about everything – sexism and racism around rap music and rock music, male privilege, problems with the white saviour attitude towards other nations, issues of the church adopting social justice language but not practice, all sorts of sticky, uncomfortable topics.
We didn’t all agree. But I came out of that dinner feeling revitalized, not beat down. If we couldn’t see eye to eye on an issue to the same extremes I might take it, they still saw me as a person and valued my ideas and supported the way I want to go about perpetuating them in speech and actions, of myself and others. It gave me hope that not backing down, calling things out, drawing the eye of privileged people to their straight privilege or their male privilege, while painful and difficult, can have value still.
Okay. Let’s go back to the beginning. This is a makeup company. They sell lipgloss. And the hill they want to die on is making a giant, public mess over something that could have been easily avoided. I have enough BPAL to last me a lifetime, so I don’t frequent the company any more, but there’s been a number of issues with their oils: copyright infraction, lack of a component, too time-consuming to make. They simply posted a note under the news section. “Oil of the Damned is being retired because blah blah reason. If we can find a new component/easier formula it will come back (under a new name because copyright issues)” Some people were like “Aw, man my favourite perfume!” when something was retired due to component probs, but I never – never once, and let me tell you the BPAL forums are not for the faint of heart – saw someone go “shit a new name, WELL I NEVER”
People bring out “Well, if I give in to everything people says is offensive, I won’t be able to say anything ever!” They always say this! And yet, I haven’t seen it a) stop stupid people from saying offensive shit or b) stopped thoughtful people from going, “Actually, yeah, I found this word that works great in lieu of b*tch.” Someone will say, “but I’ll apologize and they’ll still keep hounding me!” Really? because my experience has always been that a genuine apology and effort to not repeat the mistake has ended a potential shitstorm, even if the person correcting me still doesn’t particularly like me.
So: companies. Celebrities. People on twitter who don’t seem to know shit about the public eye of social media and blogging. You can do things quietly. It’s okay. Have convinction in your own decisions. Retire Tentacle Grape and release it under a new name. Absorb the complaints and say, “Thanks but no thanks, we’re keeping it as is.” Don’t put it to a public vote and then complain it should’ve been kept to email, okay? Unless you want this to be posted on dozens of blogs, because congratulations, it was a massive success.
When I was able to create my pandaren monk on the beta realm, it took me a little while to get going – not because the monk isn’t fun and intuitive, because it is – but simply because the starting zone was overwhelmed with young pandaren burning scrolls and fighting trainees. Eventually though, I made it out into the wider world of the Wandering Isle to meet with Ji Firepaw.
As Apple Cider points out on her blog, your first interaction with Ji is not good. In fact, if you’re a woman who’s faced cat calls or been accosted by guys in gas stations, “I bet you can’t keep men off you,” is a familiar and threatening thing to say.
Currently the Mists beta doesn’t have the in-game feedback system that previous betas have had. But since this is beta, and beta means feedback, she makes a post on the beta forums. The response is shamefully predictable, but to save you all the effort of reading seventeen (currently) horrible pages, I’ll break down the main arguments that have sifted to the top, like so much horrible skin on tomato soup.
1. You’re Just Being So Gosh-Darn Sensitive/You’re Looking to Be Offended/PC POLICE:
The most common thread, in pretty much every discussion on sexism, racism, homophobia, you name it, this one comes up. People are so afraid of offending people, they are constantly keeping silent with their awful sexist opinions because the mean, terrible Feminists will bear down on them with the fury of a thousand gods. Oh wait, no they don’t, because there are 17 pages on the Beta forums, over 400 comments on WoW Insider, and similar threads on MMO-Champion and Scrolls of Lore forums, all full of people eager to tell players uncomfortable with Ji’s dialogue that the PC Police are ruining their free speech, and somehow they actually haven’t made posts telling people providing feedback on Ji’s creepy attitude to shut up.
Look, feminists get told we’re too sensitive all the damn time. It’s a lazy argument, it’s malicious, and it’s just plain wrong. It’s lazy because it’s the strawman everyone knows and cuddles to them to warm themselves at night. It’s malicious because it’s a dog whistle term to point out to everyone how SHRILL and HYSTERICAL this feminist is being. Even though the original posts and follow-up comments by Apple Cider were perfectly reasonable and logical, suddenly everyone is seeing how sensitive and over-reacting she is. It takes that cuddly bedtime strawman, and props it up in front of what was actually being said all along. It’s wrong because we see and hear this every day of our lives. You’d be sensitive too if your whole life experience has taught you that “I can tell we’re going to be good friends” isn’t a giant red flag to run the fuck away.
2. It’s His Character to be a Womanizer/He is Just Really Friendly and Kind of Dumb (like men):
Okay. So? A number of solutions within that thread were actually posited to keep that aspect of Ji’s character, and have it not be totally creepy. He could comment on how strong the female pandaren are, the way he does with the men. He could say the line exactly how it is, but an option to react within the quest text box to tell him to shut up, or he’ll get a punch in the mouth would give female player characters agency to react to his come-on. He could say that line, but later in your interactions with him, where it’s not the very first thing he says to you. He could call both men and women some kind of gorgeous, which, despite claims to otherwise in the forum threads, I doubt would go down as smoothly as male posters are claiming. Remember Bioware? Remember The Straight White Male is Your Demographic? Remember Nerdism’s rampant homophobia? Remember those? They’re back.
How crucial is it to Ji’s character that he be a womanizer anyway, as if that was some character aspect and not a way the majority of men feel entitled to act towards women in general? Will changing that line, moving it or allowing players to react to it really diminish this guy’s character? Do you really have that little faith in Blizzard’s writers? More on that in #4.
3. He’s the Future Racial Leader of the Horde:
This one just makes me feel sad for all the cool-ass Horde players I know. “Of course he’s impulsive and stupid and kind of creepy to women, he’s going to be the Horde racial leader!” Really? This is the best you can come up with? Despite being Alliance forever, and really loving some of my racial leaders, like Mekkatorque and Velen, I can’t lie that the factional conflict within the Horde is appealing as a storyteller, and I miss that kind of interaction when I play Alliance. I don’t really like Garrosh or Sylvanas, the way I do say, Vol’jin, but damnit if their characters aren’t interesting or consistent. I don’t particularly like that Garrosh called Sylvanas a bitch, but I can grudgingly see why he thinks that way. That said, they are pretty established characters, with histories reaching back to TBC or right into the original RTS games. Ji is a completely new entity. Sure, start him out with some flaws, so there’s room for growth and interesting storytelling. But it makes me sad that for some reason, even some of the Horde players have internalized that the Horde is savage and brutal and dumb and gross.
4. Writing is Sacrosanct!
Are you ready for this one? BULLSHIT. Anyone who’s remotely put more than a few words down on a piece of paper in the interest of having others read it know that this is totally, utter and complete triceratops poop. For this reason, I can only assume people making this argument are the types who hit publish on Dec. 1st to Create Space for their epic Sonic the Hedgehog slash fanfiction novel.
There’s a reason why people who critique your writing are called beta readers, and there’s a reason why beta testers are within their rights to critique game writing. For all it’s gorgeous scenery and actual playable female models for once, this is still a crude, unfinished product. It’s not set in stone, and even if it was live, that doesn’t mean they can’t change it. (Resquiat in pacem, Grea Red Elekk.) In fact, better to change it now, because once it goes live, people somehow feel entitled to it. Entitlement is a hell of a drug.
And trust me on this, writers are professionals. They get told to change things all the damn time. Sometimes to the detriment of the work, like the regular reminder from editors and publishers that queer main characters aren’t welcome in young adult writing. They actually don’t need you to go to bat for their feelings, because they’ve heard much much harsher critiques from the people paying them.
5. Well, Now You’re Getting Angry and That Means You Lose:
This is an argument I’ve been well-familiar with since I was old enough to argue in a manner that didn’t just consist of “no” and “why” (and let’s be real, even today that can make up the bulk of a heated discussion with me.) Anger can be passionate and productive and creative. It’s not an automatic lose. It shouldn’t be brought to the table at all. It, like the over-sensitive claim above, becomes another dog-whistle term where suddenly, everyone can see how angry you are. Even if you are still being perfectly calm and reasonable. And even if you weren’t, who cares?
Because this isn’t a win or lose thing, to me. And that’s the hell of it, folks. I don’t do this to win something. I do this to win rights, fair treatment, the sheer base consideration that women should get, but don’t, because for all claims otherwise that we’re post-feminist, or that feminism is now cool and fun, because you can still shave and be a feminist, being a feminist is still gritty and tough and not really fun. Winning an argument isn’t fun. It just means that maybe, down the road, the people I was talking to might rethink their words or actions because of what we talked about. Sometimes, ‘winning’ still means losing friends and acquaintances. And you know what? it’s still worth it, to speak truth to power, because even the little things, even one person, can make a difference. I do this for the women who don’t see a problem with getting hit on while walking down the street, or with Ji’s dialogue because if it was gone, they would probably never notice it wasn’t there anymore. It’s just become so much background noise that the tiny little blip won’t be noticeable.
But I’ll know. and I’ll be glad for it.
Whenever I make the statement that while I don’t believe men can be feminists, I do think they have roles to play within feminism, there’s inevitably one or two men (or women!) asking, “Well, like what?”
Guys, here’s your chance.
The White Ribbon campaign is an international awareness movement devoted to stopping violence against women. A lot of their promotional materials are devoted to educating and encouraging men to take up action against men perpetuating violence against women. Before the derailing penny gets laid on the tracks, let’s cover it:
Yes, men get raped too. Their assault is typically perpetuated by other men. Yes, women have committed rape – but they account for less than 2% of all sexual assaults committed, and this includes: statutory rape (teacher/student), abuse of their own children or abuse perpetuated on another woman. So of that already tiny percent, an even smaller percent is female-on-male abuse. Savvy? When I say his/he when talking about rapists, I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass.
Now, I often feel very strongly about violence against women, both for personal reasons and the more lofty goal of, “it’s fucking gross, don’t do that shit”. But whenever it happens within something you consider your community, you get reminded of how very far men have to go in telling each other not to rape.
One of the gold-making bloggers, Alyzande aka Gold Queen has been extremely candid in blogging about her recent experience with violence and rape. (TW for suicide at link.) Because she is a woman on the internet, being honest about her experience, people think this gives them license to be gross dicks about it, judging her or doubting her story.
Protip men: when I said there are things you can do to help feminism, this is a key one. Support survivors of assault. Don’t heap on the victim blaming. If you can’t help yourself from the latter, please kick yourself firmly in the nards.
Some WoW bloggers have used this as an opportunity to spread love and support for Alyzande personally, as well as information and education on the international white ribbon campaign. I don’t know who initially made this image, but it’s perfect: