I am not what most would consider a ‘hardcore gamer’, or at least I wouldn’t describe myself as such.
But I’ve enjoyed playing computer games for most of my life, starting with perennial favorite Oregon Trail and moving on to other timeless classics like Carmen Sandiego. When I got older I started playing – and, even though I wasn’t really the target audience, actually enjoying – my dad’s military-oriented games like 688 Attack Sub (I liked to be contrarian and play the Russians) and F-14 Tomcat. When I was maybe 12 or 13 I found my true gaming niche, in the form of a buggy, crash-to-desktop-prone RPG with lame graphics and a cheesy MIDI soundtrack called Darklands. It was a fantasy RPG (er, that means ‘Role Playing Game’ for the uninitiated) set during the Holy Roman Empire, with a massive area to traverse and enough random encounters and side quests to keep you busy enough to forget there was actually a main plot you were supposed to complete (which I never did), and it was awesome. From there it was Diablo and Diablo 2 (I’d love to play Diablo 3 if I thought my weedy laptop could run it), Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and a loooooooong stint playing Neverwinter Nights. I currently run around pretending to be an Elf on Dungeons & Dragons Online (that’s one of my alter egos in the picture up there, and she’ll totally kick your ass).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I enjoy gaming. It’s not, like, my life. I don’t know everything about every game, and there are loads that I’ve never played. That’s why I don’t call myself ‘hardcore’. But I take an interest in gaming and I know a bit of what I’m talking about.
Which is why it brings me no pleasure to say I’ve been following the so-called #GamerGate controversy with increasing levels of exasperation and despair. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, just google it, read up, and prepare to facepalm. Or cry. Or break something. What began as essentially an exercise in good old-fashioned slut-shaming under the guise of ‘ethics in journalism’ has metastasised into a depressing mass of harassment, bullying, and your standard-issue rape and death threats – aimed predominantly at women – in an attempt to silence them and, it seems, drive them out of the gaming community altogether. See, these harpies have, like, opinions, man. Opinions that differ from these cretins who call themselves ‘gamers’. Opinions like: ‘I sometimes feel unwelcome in the gaming community because of x, y, and z, and I’d like to see things change,’ or ‘If your true aim is to push for more transparency in games journalism, maybe you should focus on that and stop harassing women,’ or ‘I love games and the gaming community but sometimes it can be a little misogynist.’ And what better way to prove that these women are wrong than to call them a stupid cunt and threaten to rape them? Or wait until one of them writes an honest, thoughtful blog post about how she’s hesitant to talk about #GamerGate because she’s afraid she’ll get doxxed… and then doxx her? It’s all in the name of ethics in games journalism!
My own experience with gaming has admittedly been generally positive; I’ve never in my lifetime of gaming been subjected to any hardcore harassment or bullying, and I’ve never been threatened with rape or murder (apart from the occasional PK), in-game or otherwise. Maybe it’s the types of games I play; maybe pointy-eared fantasy nerds are just inherently more egalitarian? Or maybe it’s because in the past when I played online I tended to avoid groups and preferred to go solo, or if I did play in a party it was usually with people I knew (these days I play online exclusively with my husband). Or was it because I never used voice chat and didn’t announce my gender, so people just assumed I was a guy? Whatever the reason, I’ve come to realise that I’ve probably just been really lucky, and that my experience as a female gamer may very well be somewhat of an anomaly.
But this hasn’t been the experience of other women. I’ve read countless articles and blog posts describing how they’ve been threatened and harassed. How they’ve been driven from their homes and forced to cancel events. How they’ve had enough of the abuse and just straight-up quit. This is happening to them because they have an opinion and the audacity to voice it. This is happening because a contingent of woman-hating troglodytes within the gaming community don’t like what these women are saying, and would rather they just shut the fuck up and play. Or better yet, get the fuck out. This is happening under the guise of a ‘progressive’ hashtag movement. This was happening long before there was a hashtag for it.
Before I started playing DDO, I spent countless hours in an online game world for Neverwinter Nights. It was (and still is) created and maintained by one guy in his home, the world was vast and detailed and fun, and it was inhabited by a relatively small group of friendly and supportive gamers. If you wanted to roleplay, that was cool. If you wanted to skip all the talking and just kill goblins, that was fine too. Like crafting skimpy battle thongs for your female assassin character? You could do that. Prefer actual armor that covers your ass? No problem! Both guys and girls played on the server, and I witnessed no blatant misogyny or harassment. People helped each other and offered advice to newbies, but you were also left to your own devices if you chose, free to explore the world on your own terms. It was all the good things about gaming wrapped up into one brilliantly designed realm, and I actually formed online friendships with several of the players. It was a real gaming community.
And that just goes to show what a gaming community can be, without hateful trolls ruining everything. It’s proof that gamers aren’t a bunch of mouth-breathing monsters; they’re actually really awesome people.
I know that there are people within the #GamerGate movement who aren’t misogynist dickfaces. I believe that they genuinely are concerned about ethics, and they want to implement positive change within the games community. But they have unfortunately aligned themselves with a disingenuous movement which doesn’t give a shit about ethics, and is using it as a cover to continue spewing hatred and abuse. It doesn’t matter if these trolls are a minority within #GG; they’ve already done enough damage to completely sully the name, like it or not. So if you want things to change, if you believe that the gaming community should be a safe and inclusive place for everyone, you should be backing the hell away from #GG. Supporting the movement – however well-intentioned it may be – won’t help, because it’s too late. It’s poison. It’s Kryptonite. Talk to the hand. Nothing to see here.
And we should be speaking out against these assholes, these angry, spiteful bullies who have nothing better to do than destroy their community from the inside. We should be saying, ‘Look, this kind of behavior isn’t cool, it’s fucking disgusting and it isn’t welcome here.’ We should be talking about what we can do to actually make things better and more inclusive for everyone. We should be leading by example, so those on the outside can see the kind of decent, awesome people most gamers surely are. Fuck #GamerGate, start a real movement! We can’t ignore the trolls and hope they go away. Feed the trolls, stuff them full of counter-argument and riposte, and show them who the real gamers are. They don’t deserve the title of ‘gamer’.