Opinion: Misogyny in online gaming culture takes a toll

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Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the Feminist Frequency video web series, launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to fund her now-successful YouTube series “Tropes v. Women in Video Games.”

Sarkeesian found herself the target of a massive and vitriolic online hate campaign, in which people made games in her likeness where players could beat and rape her. She discussed in a TED Talk how these players collected and distributed her personal information online and hacked her accounts and reported them as spam — a terroristic attempt to shut them down.

Regardless of the hate against her, Sarkeesian also received overwhelming support and raised nearly $160,000. She created a 13-part video series on the oppression and sexual objectification of women in video games, in addition to a classroom curriculum that educators can access for free. The campaign was successful, but at what cost?

Forty-four percent of gamers are women, but male-dominated online spaces and communities are inherently misogynistic and have no accountability. Members of these communities lash out in an attempt to salvage their privilege and entitlement. They attempt to use these tactics to silence and discredit women in gaming.

“We’re at a crucial turning point in terms of gaming and gender politics,” said Paul Verhoeven, Australian journalist and game critic in a review of Grand Theft Auto V. “If we can iron out the last grotty vestiges of backwards thinking in games as bewilderingly vast and wonderful as this one, just imagine what gaming could become.”

In a recent TED Talk, Verhoeven explored the intense backlash he experienced after the aforementioned review was published, calling attention to Gamespot’s Carolyn Petit’s review of it (where she gave it a 9/10 score), which was met with outrage and a petition for her to be fired.

The internet exploded in August of last year with #Gamergate, an online harassment campaign against female game developers, including Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu. Editors spent months hijacking the Wikipedia page on the controversy, until the issue was finally reviewed by the site’s arbitration committee. Some editors were banned because Wikipedia’s policy states that the lives of real people can’t be skewed or biased, but as Caitlyn Dewey of the Washington Post explains, “Soft asks like this are cheap, of course, and reliability is relative.” Nine of every 10 Wikipedia editors are male.

The fallacy that online networks and gaming spaces aren’t relevant to real life is dangerous. Sarkeesian’s scheduled talk at Utah State University was cancelled after an email threatened to deliver “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” The author of the email promised to “write [a] manifesto in her spilled blood” so that all would “bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.” This was the second such threat her events have received, not to mention the threats to her home. Who could possibly argue that isn’t a very real threat to her safety in real life?

Video games are the fastest growing form of mass media today. People of all ages game, but young children of both genders especially hone their cognitive abilities through game play, improving multitasking, creative thinking, teamwork and problem-solving skillsets.

Is this the future we want for the next generation, one in which women exist simply to expose their bodies and serve as punching bags? Where are the representations of self-assured, strong and independent women in games? When it comes to young girls and their representations in all facets of media, you can’t be what you can’t see.

Game interactions ostensibly mirror real life behavior and interaction, including how young men and women view themselves and how they act and treat one another. Games have value, but only if we address the pervasive misogyny that exists within them, and exclude those who attempt to ruin these communities through harassment and online violence.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kaley LaQuea at kaley.laquea@colorado.edu.

Kaley LaQuea

Kaley LaQuea is a master's student in the Media and Public Engagement Department. She covers national issues related to intersectional feminism and race.

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