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Making Sense of #Gamergate

Oct 28, 2014

Credit npr.org

There is a growing criticism of the rampant sexism and misogyny in the video games.

And now there's a big backlash from the world of gamers in the form of #gamergate.

A mostly male group of gamers is fighting back against people - mostly women - who have increased pressure to reduce over-sexualized portrayals of women and violence against women in video games.

"This is complicated," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "For several years now there's been this rising controversy in the video game community about sexism and misogyny which is rampant in video games. Most games lack strong female characters. Instead they relegate the role of women to damsel in distress or they fetishize certain women or they treat them as blatant sex objects. And others actually promote violence against women. Some of the biggest critics today include a generation of women who have grown up playing video games and are now part of the video game industry -- either as developers or video game journalists."

And some of those critics are the targets of #gamergate.

"Leigh Alexander is a journalist who has a column at Vice called 'Understanding Video Games.' Anita Sarkeesian is the founder of a web video blog called 'Feminist Frequency' and they are the targets," McBride explained. "But it goes beyond that to the entire video game journalism industry. That's because in August, in response to a flare up in this conversation, many video game sites published stories that essentially proclaimed the end of that awkward, girl-hating boys club that's dominated the video game world for so long. In response to that, the people who were were part of that awkward, girl-hating boys club created #gamergate."

The #gamergate crowd believes there's a conspiracy among gaming journalists and the gaming industry and that it's their job to expose that.

"And it is more forceful than anyone imagined," said McBride. "They have convinced some major advertisers to withdraw ads from some of these video game websites. Two weeks ago, Anita Sarkeesian canceled a speech at Utah State University because of death threats. The people behind #gamergate will say this is about journalism ethics, that there is a collusion going on. And those on the other side of this will say it's about intimidation and harassment of anyone who speaks up for those who might be marginalized by the gaming industry - which is pretty much anybody who is not a white man."

Is #gamergate a setback in the fight against sexism in video games?

"I think the pressure on the video game industry to become more friendly and welcoming to women - both as workers and consumers - is only going to keep growing," McBride said.