Nagle om Gamergate

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Från Angela Nagles Kill all normies, sidorna 19-24.


One can feel the life draining out of the body at the thought of retelling or rereading the story of the gamergate controversy, one which involved internal controversies, hit pieces, hate campaigns, splits and a level of sustained high emotion more fitting for a response to a genocide than a spat over videogames. But for the sake of introduction here is a synopsis, which will undoubtedly satisfy neither side. In the lead-up to the gamergate controversy, feminist games critic Anita Sarkeesian found herself at the receiving end of a hate campaign like the Sierra case, but this time involving hundreds of thousands of participants and a level of vitriol utterly baffling to those outside of the gaming world, which lasted for several years. Her offence was creating a series of YouTube videos introducing viewers to some elementary concepts from feminist media criticism in an accessible and pretty mild-mannered style. Her level of criticism, as a self-identified games fan and someone who sought to reform rather than censor games, would be considered quite normal in literary or film criticism. These other audiences and critics are used to debate and to a relatively civilized adult kind of discourse, in which one can describe an old Hollywood classic as sexist without doubting its aesthetic value and one can disagree without going straight to the rape and death threats. Her videos feature no calls for video games to be censored or banned. They also offer no criticisms more harsh than what you might read from other pop-culture critics like Charlie Brooker or Mark Kermode on some very obviously retrograde depictions of women in some video games.

For this intolerable crime, Sarkeesian has endured years of jawdroppingly dark and disturbing personal abuse. Typical online commentary has included things like: ‘I’ll rape you and put your head on a stick’, ‘It would be funny if five guys raped her right now’, ‘I violently masturbate to your face’ and the old 4chan standard ‘Tits or get the fuck out’. Her Wikipedia page was vandalized with pornographic images and hateful messages. There was also a campaign to mass report all of her social media accounts as spam, fraud or even terrorism.

Attempts were made to hack her website through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack and to hack into her email. Pornographic images of her being raped by video game characters were created and one offended male gamer even created a video game in which players could punch Anita’s face until it was bloodied and bruised, and her eyes blackened and swollen. If you look up Anita today on YouTube you’ll find countless videos devoted to hating her and obsessively trying to destroy her reputation and career. This was largely based on the fact that she ran a Kickstarter campaign that made more money than initially planned precisely because of the harassment. All of this was done, remember, to prove that sexism was definitely not, as she had so outrageously claimed, an issue in the ‘gaming community’.

Tactics such as DDoS and doxxing (exposing the person’s personal details to enable their mass harassment) used by 4chan and originating in Usenet culture became central to attacks by the anti-feminist gamers. Games marketed to the anti-feminist gamergate audience were more likely to aestheticize war, violence and technology, while in the years preceding gamergate, the market for games directed at women had grown. This was especially so with games like Candy Crush, aimed at teenage girls who don’t know what World of Warcraft is and which obviously offended those who considered themselves real gamers. Gamergate itself kicked off when Zoe Quinn created a video game called Depression Quest, which even to a nongamer like me looked like a terrible game featuring many of the fragility and mental illness fetishizing characteristics of the kind of feminism that has emerged online in recent years. It was the kind of game, about depression, that would have worked as a perfect parody of everything the gamergaters hated about SJWs (social justice warriors).

Nevertheless, her dreadful game got positive reviews from politically sympathetic indie games journalists, which turned into a kind of catalyst for the whole gamergate saga. It was understood to be either a war over ethics in games journalism or an excuse to attack feminists and women entering the gamer world, depending on whom you ask. First, let me be clear on my own position on gaming. If you’re an adult, I think you should probably be investing your emotional energies elsewhere. And that includes feminist gaming, which has always struck me as being about as appealing as feminist porn; in other words, not at all. However, anyone with some grasp on the basic norms of human conduct will still be able to see why the fallout was utterly unhinged based on Quinn’s bad game, other cases of alleged biased reviews and what was no doubt an ideological project to change gaming to make some of it more feminist-friendly. It became possibly the biggest flame war in the history of the Internet so far, an overreaction on a grand scale, in which everyone accused everyone else of lying and malicious intent.

Eron Gjoni, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, posted on forums that she had cheated on him, setting off a wave of attacks on her in which she claims her haters began sending revenge porn to her family and employers, and trying to hack her accounts. Quinn was, needless to say, threatened with rape and death, and was doxxed. They then attacked a series of feminist gamers and games critics, who waded in, including Brianna Wu, Felicia Day and Jennifer Allaway. In each case there are countless conflicting accounts about the nature of threats and attacks, but even taking the uncontroversial ones alone, it is fair to say they did receive a level of abuse that in the pre-Internet days were reserved for few other than child murderers. This got so out of hand that even the founder of 4chan and champion of the anonymous Internet, moot, banned gamergate talk from 4chan, eventually causing him to leave the site, and the gamergaters moved to the more lawless 8chan.

Quinn found and recorded some of the conversations that took place on a 4chan IRC called ‘burgersandfries’, in which users conspired to destroy her career using the most extreme misogynist language and motivations. In this chat, they express their hatred and disgust towards her, and their glee at the thought of ruining her career. They also expressed fantasies about her being raped and killed. They hoped all the harassment would drive her to suicide and only the thought of 4chan getting bad publicity in response convinced some of them that this isn’t something they should hope for. They distributed falsified nude pictures of her, posting links to online archives of them and sending them to Quinn’s supporters. They attempted to dig up information about her family and to track down anyone with links to her. One found a picture of Quinn at age 13 and posted a link to it. So committed were they to ethics in games journalism that in this discussion they discuss Quinn’s vagina as ‘wide’, large enough to ‘fit 12 dicks at once’ and ‘a festering cheese-filled vagina’ that leaves ‘a trail of cunt slime’ wherever she goes and then speculated about its smell.

Jenn Frank, an award-winning freelance games journalist, wrote an article entitled ‘How to attack a woman who works in video gaming’ for The Guardian that looked at on-going harassment. It outlined the ways in which trolls were harming women who work in the male-dominated field:

… someone recently and bafflingly tried to hack into my email and phone contacts. This is all very frightening to write, and so I must disclose that I am biased, insofar as I am terrified. I have worked in this industry for most of the last nine – not always perfect – years and I have never professed to be a perfect person. However, my values, my belief that abuse must not, cannot become ‘normal’, ‘acceptable’ or ‘expected’ is at odds with oh, God, please, why are they doing this, what’s the point, don’t let it be me, don’t let it be me. My unabashed love for video games, my colleagues and my work have a conflict of interest with my own terror.

Games writer Jennifer Hepler also came under attacks, in which she claims to have been sent hundreds of abusive messages on Twitter, calling her things like an ‘obese cunt’ and threatening her. Feminist gamers complained that games writer Felicia Day was publicly dismissed as a ‘booth babe’ by a male games journalist. Games designer Patricia Hernandez drew the attention of 4chan, when she called it a ‘cathedral of misogyny’. Encyclopedia Dramatica has a permanent entry for the memes 4chan created inspired by her comment, where she is described as:

A fat, wetback ‘game journalist’ with sausage fingers and a chin like Jay Leno who works for Kotaku, a gaming gossip site infamous for allowing game designers to sleep with its columnists for good reviews and publicity. Patricia is a noted lesbian and feminazi who follows in Kotaku’s proud tradition of writing countless articles about how various games either promote rape or literally rape their female players. Another staple of Kotaku ‘journalism’ she takes part in is nepotism, which explains why every other article to come from her chubby hands is about her live-in girlfriend. Without getting too far into the minutiae, and at this point it would be impossible to reach the end of all the various accusations of lies and contestations of how the mass event unfolded, the important feature of the furor here is the role it played in uniting different online groups and in spreading the tactics of chan culture to the broad online right.

Gamergate brought gamers, rightist chan culture, anti-feminism and the online far right closer to mainstream discussion and it also politicized a broad group of young people, mostly boys, who organized tactics around the idea of fighting back against the culture war being waged by the cultural left. These included all kinds of people from critics of political correctness to those interested in the overreach of feminist cultural crusades. These brought in to the fold people like Christina Hoff Sommers, the classical liberal who started a video series called The Factual Feminist, which aimed to expose faulty statistics within feminism. Somewhere in the mix with the polite and light-hearted Sommers were also apolitical gamers, South Park conservatives, 4channers, hardline anti-feminists, and young people in the process of moving to the political far right without any of the moral baggage of conservatism. It also made Milo’s ill-fated career, as he used it to shoot to mainstream celebrity status. Ultimately, the gamergaters were correct in their perception that a revived feminist movement was trying to change the culture and this was the front, their beloved games, that they chose to fight back on. The battle has since moved on to different issues with increasingly higher stakes, but this was the galvanizing issue that drew up the battle lines of the culture wars for a younger online generation.