the writer, wearing a purple knit cap, hair long and grass green behind her.

How I Almost Gave Up On Games

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  • I.

    I am nobody.

    II.

    #GamerGate is not gaming’s JFK assassination. I don’t remember where I was when it first peeked its head around the corner. If you are a writer and feminist on the Internet you are accustomed to angry comments, they flow like water whenever you open your mouth as though that is the tap. Just another woman complaining. People telling you to find your own sandbox. When an old article on Zoe Quinn got an uptick in comments, I brushed it off.

    III.

    Is this the part where I write disclaimers? Where I say that I met Zoe Quinn once and found her instantly likeable and how later, on the train, I saw her dye her hair purple with a friend in the snack car and wished I could participate?

    Is “I met Zoe Quinn” the new “I am Spartacus,” where admission will throw you to the Romans to be crucified with your fellow SJW’s?

    I have a profile on Deep Freeze, one of those GamerGate websites that seeks to point out the biases in games writing but mostly showcases the biases of the people keeping Deep Freeze. They call me out for backing Zoe Quinn on Patreon years and years ago and perhaps that’s the other disclaimer. The reason it was OK to threaten me on the Internet: a few dollars five years prior.

    IV.

    As a writer on the Internet, especially one in the entertainment industry, fame is an incidental consequence. What you really want is to pay your bills. What you want is respect and acknowledgment from your peers. Fame is the byproduct, a way you can receive these things.

    #GamerGate is fear. It’s intended to be so. It’s a warning to women in the industry to play by the rules. It slides along the edge of your mind and it implies when it does not outright state. Be cute, be attractive, sell sex – but don’t consider having any. Even if it’s never explicit, the point is the same. “You can be a part of this industry, but you don’t belong here.” The story is the same. Be our booth babes, our video hosts, our masturbatory fantasies, but don’t talk about issues that affect you as a person. You’re the interloper here, they say, you can play but only on our terms.

    If being famous and being a woman on the Internet means toeing the line – or else – then the question becomes “Is it worth it?”

    Don’t tell me this isn’t about women. I’ve been here since the beginning, when it was just slut-shaming one developer. When it was calling her and masturbating into her phone because she released a game about depression. I’ve watched women flee from their homes, give up their careers, all as their lives have been splayed on the altar of journalistic integrity. I’ve seen the effects of #GamerGate, the vitriolic core. It may have skinned itself in another cause and paraded itself around, but it hasn’t changed. Not really.

    Of the women I started writing with, how many are still here? How many have stuck it out? They don’t stay because staying means to paint the target on your own back and smiling when people who just want you gone strike repeatedly by. I’ve never met an industry so willing to sacrifice it’s best and brightest to appease a vocal, shitty minority.

    V.

    We’re going to talk about Anita Sarkeesian in class and the thought makes me intensely uncomfortable. I’ve already been established to my classmates as the “gamer girl,” so my silence in any conversation would be noted.

    When a classmates asks what kind of feminist Sarkeesian is, my jaw tightens. He asks if she hates men. I can’t help but murmur “She’s the regular kind of feminist.”

    I get stressed out at the mention of her name, my brain goes defensive. My hackles raise and I’m ready for a fight. None comes, of course. We’re not online.

    VI.

    I don’t like being afraid to write. It’s a hashtag, not an axe murderer. But it waits in the wings, either way. I never thought I’d be balked by bullies, anonymous children sewing my mouth shut with my own fear.

    It’s not without a sense of failure that I write this, that I confess that I am not as brave as I thought I was. But speaking out about equality should not be an act of bravery. It’s with an element of hypocrisy that some of my best writing on GamerGate went out under a pseudonym.

    I am timid. I don’t want to be a target.

    I was an editor when GamerGate hit, one of my first games writing jobs, and it has always hurt that we spent so long saying nothing as the waves of vitriolic fear capsized the industry around us. Our silence was a lifeboat, but more importantly, it allowed us to ignore the people who still sat in the waters begging for life. We floated on.

    Did they?

    VII.

    My partner and I are sitting down for lunch. It’s Taco Bell, so we’re talking about games. All I can think about is GamerGate.

    “I was reading on Reddit about things that make you lose faith in humanity. Like people who write, I don’t know, “David was here” as graffiti in Auschwitz. Or carve their name in sequoias. There are people out there who want to piss all over beautiful things.”

    “I don’t think so,” he says.

    “They think they’re the Joker. Some people want to watch the world burn, you know.”

    “I don’t think that’s true.”

    “I guess you think they think they’re Batman?”

    “No, the David at Auschwitz thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

    VIII.

    I started this by saying that I’m nobody and I mean that in the most direct way.

    I’m not one of those named faces of GamerGate, the women for whom, for better or worse, GamerGate has become a part of their identity and brand. If you think back to those most visibly affected, the ones who had it worse, I’m nobody.

    At the worst cusp, the part where every comments section was a minefield of screaming men who wanted for nothing but the blood of female writers, when women I directly worked with were getting threats of “skull fucking,” the comments I received seemed mostly tame.

    And yet.

    This is perhaps the closest I came to quitting the industry for good. This showed me the path. I was never going to be beautiful or quiet. Those things are not in my genes and I have accepted that I will always be the rowdy, ugly girl with the bad hair and the loud mouth. I shouldn’t have to show my gaming pedigree (playing Warcraft on my daddy’s knee before it was World of or unwrapping my first console from under the Christmas tree or my top ten in the world speed time for Downwell) but I still have to. Existing in this industry while looking remotely femme is somehow an act of rebellion, every moment breathing is a point where I have to justify my existence as though I am some rabid interloper even as it is a space I have always occupied.

    It’s an exhausting act. I don’t know if I’ll always be able to do it.

    By the time I reach the point where I could theoretically support myself on my written word, by then maybe, the industry will be ready for me.

     

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