I was hesitant about whether or not to write this. I haven’t exactly been silent about my feelings on GamerGate on Twitter, but I don’t have the huge follower base that the women getting forced from their homes because of death threats do. I worried that writing this would just open me up to more abuse. But if women like Brianna Wu can speak up amidst threats of rape and murder, I can certainly write a post about my feelings.
I never expected GamerGate to explode the way it did. No one I know professionally really believed that it was about ethics, because it started with an angry ex revealing a game developer’s alleged sexual history, which is just so, so gross and so wrong. I thought about how awful it would be if someone I trusted did that to me. And I have been accused of having sex with someone to get a job, as have many women in this industry, so it seemed like a pretty clear-cut case of overt sexism to me: horrible, but sadly nothing new, and certainly not an ethical journalism scandal that anyone would take seriously.
Since then, I’ve been called a bitter man-hater who should kill herself while also being told I didn’t know the difference between harassment and criticism. I’ve watched friends, colleagues, and people I respect and admire having to deal with vulgar sexual comments and rape threats while being told GamerGate wasn’t about sexism. I’ve had my personal email address published on a conservative website in a so-called reveal of industry collusion—though ironically, the published emails only showed dissent and discussion among its members. I was part of a large group of game journalists against whom swatting threats were made. Even though I’m not as prominent as Brianna Wu or Anita Sarkeesian, my husband and I came up with a “just in case” plan for if I’m threatened or doxxed. I’ve tried—and failed miserably—to explain GamerGate to people outside the industry, who simply cannot understand because it’s straight nonsense.
It’s always been tough to be a woman in any male-dominated field, but the last few months have made it even harder. There are so many amazing things about the gaming industry, and I just want to write about them without fielding sexist insults, being threatened, or having my “nerd cred” questioned. I’m not exactly covering wars here, unless you count the Console Wars; I write about gaming and other issues pertinent to geek culture. If you’re anything like me, you were an outcast at some point in your life because of your hobbies. Think about how awful that felt. And then think about the things you’re saying behind your internet veil of anonymity.
When I first started writing about games, I didn’t often speak up about sexism. When I did, I was often told I was overreacting by my male coworkers. Or that I’d misunderstood. I was making too big a deal out of nothing. These were smart guys I loved working with who just couldn’t see the issue because it wasn’t happening to them. I thought rape threats and vulgar comments were part of the job, I thought having a thick skin and not reacting (or pretending it was funny) made me better at what I do. I told another journalist “welcome to the club” when she got called a bitch in the comments for the first time. I didn’t identify as a feminist, because I didn’t really understand what it meant, and I was so young and inexperienced that I hadn’t seen how ugly things could get when men think women’s bodies and opinions belong to them. Things are different now. I still love games and the gaming industry—god, I love video games an absurd, unhealthy amount—but when I see people in the industry getting personally attacked, I’m going to call out the attackers on their bullshit. At the same time, I worry that it makes me a target. I don’t worry about being criticized. I worry about my personal information becoming public knowledge. I worry about whether the abuse will spread to my loved ones by association. I worry that more women will say fuck it and walk away, and that I’ll be tempted to follow them, because just existing in this industry can be so goddamn exhausting.
But yeah, let’s talk about ethics, because that’s really important here. Let’s talk about how most gaming sites have clearly written, easy-to-find codes of ethics readily available—GamerGate supporters have just chosen to ignore them. Let’s talk about how most of the people screaming “BUT ETHICS!” seem to have no idea how any journalism works, let alone the weird field that is game journalism. Let’s talk about how none of the people receiving the worst abuse are journalists, but interestingly, they’re all women.
I’ve heard a lot of outcry from the pro-GamerGate movement on Twitter saying that they’ve received similar abuse from the anti-GG crowd. Let me be clear: condemning the abuse of one group is not condoning the abuse of another. If you say you’re all about ethics and the people making death threats using your hashtag don’t represent you, then understand that anyone threatening your life or using horrible slurs doesn’t represent me. If you are frightened for your safety, as too many women in the industry have been recently, I urge you to reach out to the authorities and take care of yourself. Abuse of any kind isn’t acceptable, but it’s come to define this ambiguous movement. If anything, it should give us all a reason to walk away from GamerGate as a movement, as a hashtag, as a trending topic.
Here’s the thing: if you really want to talk about ethics, most of my colleagues and I are pretty open. You can reach us on Twitter or Tumblr. You can send me messages on The Escapist. There are plenty of ways to have a rational discussion. But what I’m seeing isn’t people who want that; what I’m seeing is unrelenting abuse and misogyny from a movement that began with slut-shaming.
I have seven years of experience writing about games, but I’m still learning all the time. I’m learning from my incredible editors and colleagues. I’m learning from the commenters who mange to criticize my work without resorting to personal attacks. I’m learning from the examples set by incredible women in this wonderful, difficult industry. And I want to keep learning. So I’ll talk about ethics, but not GamerGate. That movement, whatever it was meant to be, started with something awful and has only made things worse. So if you want to talk about ethics, drop the hashtag, and let’s have a discussion.