If you have been following recent news reports, you may have heard about an army of angry, thuggish male gamers marching under a banner called GamerGate. According to some reporters, this “lynch mob” will stop at nothing to defend its sexist turf. Is video game culture toxic?
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If you have been following recent news reports, you may have heard about an army of angry, thuggish male gamers marching under a banner called GamerGate. According to some reporters, this “lynch mob” will stop at nothing to defend its sexist turf. Is video game culture toxic? I’ll consider the evidence next on the Factual Feminist.
#Gamergate is a Twitter hashtag. It attracts gamers from all over the world, male and female, republican and democrat, black and white, atheists and believers. Some gamers identify with GamerGate because they believe there is too much corruption and cronyism in gaming journalism. Others are weary of cultural critics who evaluate video games through prism of social justice.
A few weeks ago, I wandered into the war zone of GamerGate when I released a video about video games. I cited data that show that men are the dominant demographic in gaming. I pointed out that evidence does not support the claim that video games cause sexism and misogyny. I also deplored the treatment of women like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn but noted that these threats should not be taken to represent gaming culture as a whole.
Gamergaters were amazed and grateful for my defense of their hobby. I was deluged with affectionate messages, declarations of support, and was even given a nickname—based Mom (based means cool). But game industry journalists were not happy with my video. Writers at popular game websites like Kotaku and Polygon once valiantly defended games from the erroneous charge that they lead to violence. But now, they eagerly joined gender activists who claimed that games engender misogyny. Colin Campbell, senior reporter at Polygon called me a “reactionary” and said that my apparent indifference to sexism in videos is an “irresponsible abrogation of our shared humanity.”
I don’t doubt Campbell’s sincerity. Many games do depict horrific violence and the mistreatment of women. There are scenes in Grand Theft Auto that horrify me, and I’d rather play a game based on the theme and characters of Downtown Abbey. But my game preferences cannot be generalized are certainly no basis for condemning others. Here’s where critics like Colin Campbell go wrong: they fail to connect games or things that occur in someone’s imagination to real life consequences. They need to show, not dogmatically assume, that video games make people sexist. The burden of proof rests with them. And intuitions that games, books, films, comic books, or songs are psychologically demanding and socially corrosive are rarely borne out in reality.
Critics might respond that we should be unforgiving of sexist tropes even if video games can’t be proven to cause misogyny. But what counts as sexism is unsettled—even among feminists.
Consider Bayonetta. Bayonetta is a powerful, charismatic lead female character created by a Japanese female game developer. She is a wildly popular video heroine, and one feminist critic even wrote that she “exudes feminism.” But leading pop critic Anita Sarkeesian disagrees. She says that “Everything about Bayonetta’s design is created specifically for the sexual pleasure of straight male gamers.” She cites a decades old feminist theory about the “male gaze” and how it objectifies and demeans women. But “gaze theory” has evolved since 1975. It turns out that spectators might be able to gaze at a woman’s beauty and also identify with her on a human level.
What critics of GamerGate get wrong
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