#GamerGate: The Players and the Played

The #GamerGate controversy reached a new high (or low depending on your perspective) recently when one of its main protagonists, the radical feminist and cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, was featured on the front page of the New York Times. Ironically, in view of the focus of her criticism about passive female characterization in video games, she herself was cast as the “damsel in distress”, under threat from active male protagonists.

Ostensibly, headlines like this are a direct validation of her work. Sarkeesian asserts that video games directly contribute to a culture of gendered violence in real life and – hey presto – there it is!  

But are radical feminist claims about games promoting violent norms really correct?  Studies of violence in video games say no. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court evaluated the evidence and came to a disappointing conclusion for people, like Sarkeesian, who are fond of using ideological rhetoric to win hearts over minds before all the evidence is in.

It appears that video games, even violent video games, have more positive effects on people than negative. Where negative effects were noted, these were with people who had already scored highly on tests showing a predisposition to anti-social behaviour. But, as the following graph shows, the case for the corruption of society by video games, is weak.

violence vs games graph

*What makes people angry with Sarkeesian (anger is allowed, abuse is not), is that she is unaccountable. Her videos on sexism and toxic masculinity are used as educational aids in schools, yet they are based on ideology not evidence. Sarkeesian has no academic credentials. She has legitimate critics, I am one of them, but she refuses to engage in open debate and instead directs attention to the abusive minority. That’s cowardly and manipulative. There is no logic that dictates that women are any less corruptible by power than men. To suggest otherwise, in fact, would be sexist. 

This is not to excuse threats or suggest that such harassment isn’t traumatic. What reasonable person would not condemn the criminal harassment of women, (or men), in any industry? That is surely moot. What is less moot, is who is actually responsible for these threats.  

Sarkeesian is adamant that the culprits are the supporters of #GamerGate. Yet the evidence points to third-party mischief-makers and anonymous trolls being equally vicious to both sides. Journalists are disseminating the radical feminist narrative uncritically, but they themselves are implicated in the scandal, so their impartiality cannot be taken for granted. The involvement of the notorious hacking/trolling group GNAA (who are experts at tricking the media into panic-mode) should also send alarm bells ringing.

Absent further evidence, claims about the identity of the anonymous trolls are pure speculation. There have been no arrests. People on either side of the barricades have been subject to abuse, although coverage has focused mostly on one, photogenic side. In a story about games and players, it’s difficult to discern just who is the player and who is the played. 

Who are the most likely suspects? GNAA aside, in every 100 people there will be one bona-fide psychopath. Twitter alone has over 200 million active users per month! There are estimated to be around one billion “gamers” worldwide. That certainly leaves room for a sizeable minority of psychopaths who would jollily send prominent women obscene emails. I’m inclined to think it’s these kinds of people who are responsible for the threats, and a recent study of online trolls supports this. A lazy trend in the media towards favouring the narrative of lunatic minorities on Twitter to draw sweeping conclusions about gender and culture is not a healthy one.

But I spy another trend. I am a gamer, but I am also a researcher in evidence based gender studies. I see this squabble not as about games or journalism but an expression of a wider battle that has been spilling out into popular culture for a few years now. A battle that was surrendered, and whose unintended consequences are now emerging. When Sarkeesian made the front page of the NYT this battle also went mainstream, yet very few people are aware of it. It is the battle for feminism. 

Radical feminism has already won this battle. It is documented in the denouncement of the woman who launched the second wave, Betty Friedan, as an anti-feminist, by Susan Faludi in Backlash. Many equity feminists dropped “feminist” and took up “egalitarian” instead. The unforeseen consequence of this was a vacuum of authority that allowed radicals to claim the “feminist” brand. Now people who attempt to challenge radical feminism are, like Friedan, labelled anti-feminist, as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren’t.

The dictionary definition of “feminist” is in urgent need of revision!

 Radicalism is the orthodoxy in feminism today. Radfem mater familiar Germaine Greer went so far as to announce this summer, “We’ve gone as far as we can with this equality nonsense. It was always a fraud!”

The radical feminist script; about men and masculinity, female passivity, objectification and patriarchy, was written in the 1960s and 70s, but you can still hear it echoing down the generations in the sermons of people like Sarkeesian, who has a long and troubled relationship with “straight-male” sexuality.

gender raquel 2
Radfem questions are always rhetorical. The answer to, “Is it sexist?” is always, “Yes.” They see sexism and misogyny everywhere, the way Abigail Williams saw Goody Proctor with the devil.

In the face of increasing tolerance of sexual expression, radical feminism has refused to adapt. More worryingly, it has refused to listen to the voices of dissenting women. This raises an important question: Does feminism exist to support women, or do women exist to support feminism? Unlike radical feminist questions, this one is not rhetorical.

So when radical feminists protest that gamers are “anti-feminist”, remember this does not mean “anti-woman”. In the modern context, it is more likely to mean “pro-equality”.

Radical feminism is a separatist movement, not a conciliatory one. One which “Bathes in Male Tears” while David Haines and other members of an accursed class of “straight, white males” pay an unimaginably terrible price for the freedom radical feminists take for granted. Radical feminism is about building walls between the sexes. Egalitarianism is about building bridges.

In an interview before she died, Friedan wondered, “if women are alienated from the women’s movement because it is antagonistic toward men, I understand that…Maybe the women’s movement has to be superseded by a larger political movement.” That movement is egalitarianism.

#Gamergate is an egalitarian push back against a modern feminist doctrine which explicitly wants to suppress “problematic” elements of human nature. History is littered with the damning results of such attempts. But history also shows that humans – men and women – fight back. Against the last wave of radical feminism comes a rising tsunami of egalitarianism.

*edit 25/10/14