After her latest YouTube video showed how video games use sexual violence against women for advertising, Anita Sarkeesian was driven out out of her home by threats of sexual violence. In the same week, game developer Zoe Quinn suffered harassment after being accused of unethical behaviour because, supposedly, she had sex with a game journalist to increase her review scores.
Sarkeesian is the founder of Feminist Frequency and the YouTube series ‘Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games’, a critical analysis of the depictions of women in games. Sarkeesian this week revealed on Twitter that she and her family had to leave their home after a barrage of violent and chillingly specific threats. In her most recent video, she started a discussion on how sexual violence is often used to sell games. This isn’t the first time Sarkeesian has faced harassment for her work. In 2012, some members of the gaming community took offence to her criticisms, creating an interactive game where you repeatedly punch an image of Sarkeesian in the face, progressively and visibly injuring her. This was, apparently, a rebuttal to her criticisms.
Similarly, Zoe Quinn’s experience was also not a one-off. Quinn is the developer behind the successful indie game, Depression Quest, which has been praised by critics and gamers for its insightful approach to exploring the nuances of living with depression. When it was first shared on Steam Greenlight, Quinn had to remove it because of gendered and sexually related abuse she received. After being released on the Steam Store, a group of online ‘vigilantes’ accused Quinn of corruption because of an alleged sexual relationship between her and a game reviewer. Disregarding the fact that the guy in question never reviewed her game (which is free anyway), it’s also no one’s business whom anyone decides to fuck. Phil Fish, the game developer behind Fez, had his Dropbox and Twitter accounts hacked after speaking out in support of Quinn.
In discussing the recent unwarranted, but unfortunately unsurprising, attacks, Badass Digest editor Andrew Todd wrote “The Video Gaming Internet can be a horrible place. A documentary, which came out earlier this year, Gaming in Color, focuses on the crossover between the queer and gaming communities and how ingrained homophobia is in some game types. In it, one programmer hypothesises these homophobic and sexist remarks come from people who are generally pretty shit in real life.
However, a number of these are straight male gamers who wouldn’t call themselves as discriminatory, but get defensive when faced with criticisms telling them to interrogate their escapist hobby. A good example of this is a Kickstarter-style project recently launched, called “The Sarkeesian Effect”, a documentary by two guys who claim to “explore how gaming and tech culture have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors”. They say that a Social Justice Warrior is a “pejorative term to refer to a person who berates other internet users over matters of political correctness”. They feel threatened by people coming into “their” community and pulling them up on harassment.
This year has seen a plethora of sexism in gaming and tech. The TV show GAME_JAM got derailed in a day when all the developers involved up and left after some of their female colleagues experienced sexist remarks from the producers. At E3, developers behind the blockbuster series Assassin’s Creed settled for four male playable characters, explaining that female characters were too difficult to make. There have been several notable departures of women from tech start-ups because of sexism in the workplace. Sarkeesian acknowledged this in the same tweet she made, flagging she would be leaving her home. “Authorities have been notified. Staying with friends tonight. I’m not giving up. But this harassment of women in tech must stop”, she said. It’s disheartening to hear these reports almost week after week, but it’s at least comforting to know it constitutes outrage.