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Opinion: Misogyny In Gaming Identity Is A Harsh Truth

Posted April 25, 2013 by Ramp.ie in Ramp Specials

While it goes without saying that revenge is a dish best served cold, there is an undeniably instant gratification in a perfectly executed parting shot right at the moment of wrongdoing. Step forward Rae Johnston, a lifestyle editor at TechLife.net, whose avenging comeback to a pervasive and troubling Internet trope went viral this week on Twitter.

While queuing for coffee in Sydney a few days ago, Johnston was wearing a BioShock Infinite t-shirt. To the uninitiated, BioShock Infinite is one of the biggest video game releases of the moment, a franchise sequel and massive console-gaming cornerstone that is expected to shift eight million copies by the end of the year.

This steampunk first-person-shooter, with a serpentine plot that ties together revisionist strands of history, religion, class structures and American exceptionalism, has struck a cord with gamers and the media worldwide; it’s the kind of game that even if you’re not a gamer, you can’t have missed the unavoidable publicity campaign airing on every screen in your possession.

Its gameplay and graphics have been instrumental in its success, but particularly its BioShock’s twisting narrative that has proven the ever-hushed talking point. So tightly kept is the secret of the game’s ending that any discussion of it comes with the strictest of spoiler alerts, or the onslaught of rage and flaming indignation in a webpage’s comment section.

Back in the café, a man was glaring at Johnston, his brow furrowing at her t-shirt. It wasn’t long before he approached her to spitefully declare, ‘You probably haven’t even played it.’

Johnston’s reaction was cool-headed and caustic. She looked her accuser square in the eyes and told him exactly how the game ends, divulging the plot’s big reveal and leaving him totally bewildered. Picking up her coffee, walking out the door, Johnston tweeted her encounter into the stuff of girl gamer legend. Cappuccinos and comebacks have never tasted so sweet.

It’s hard out there for the girl gamers; a minority in a subculture stereotypically dominated by an active group of angry males with a sense of entitlement matched only by their social insularity, the past few years have seen a troubling facet of gaming culture come to the forefront. Harassment of female gamers in the online community, along with the casual use of ‘rape’ as synonym for defeat, has become ingrained as acceptable behaviour simply because it is part of the gaming identity.

While, of course, the numbers who resort to such uncomfortable practices is relatively small in the grand scheme of things, it is the ability of those male gamers to mobilise in their offensive quest to defend their orthodoxy that is truly alarming. We need only look at the case of Anita Sarkeesian, a California-based blogger whose web-series, Feminist Frequency, and personal information was the subject of a vicious online campaign last year.

Sarkeesian blogs about the roles women and female issues have traditionally played in popular culture, and took to KickStarter to crowdsource the funding for a series of shows dedicated to female characters in video games. Almost every avenue was exploited in a campaign of harassment against her: attempts were made to hack her social media accounts, she was sent emails with photo-shopped images of herself being sexually assaulted by male video game characters, even an online game, Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, was created in which users punched an image of the blogger until the screen turned red.

In the end, the torrid abuse was more than matched by financial support from people outraged by the reaction of those gamers. While she set out to raise $6000, by the end of the campaign, Sarkeesian had sourced almost $160,000, and the first video in the series, Damsels in Distress, was released recently.

While Sarkeesian is perhaps an obvious target for disgruntled male gamers, not even 3 year-old girls can escape their ire. Earlier this month, it was reported that Mike Mika, a game designer, had hacked the classic 1983 game Donkey Kong and patched the code so that his daughter could play as the female character, Pauline, rather than as Jump Man, a proto-incarnation of Super Mario. The YouTube video went viral as people around the world applauded Mika for fulfilling his daughter’s desire that Pauline take the lead and do the rescuing.

Then the smack-talking comments rolled in:

‘Cute, but you daughter is going to grow up to be a vapid c—, spewing nonsense about gender equality.’

‘Is this the request section??? ‘cause I’d like a Duck Hunt hack where all the ducks are changed to feminists…’

‘All girls are dumb sluts that want control. Nothing more. They could care less about ‘equality.’’

When that man walked up to Rae Johnston, he didn’t scream at her, he didn’t harass her with messages of hate and sexual assault. In plain view, he didn’t hurl slut-shaming slurs, the kinds which Sarkeesian gets on a daily basis.

But make no mistake, the disdain with which he casually accused her of having never played the game is indicative of the latent and active fears among a group of male gamers who are increasingly afraid of the evolving nature of the gaming community. His accusation was an insult, designed to undermine Johnston as a woman and as a gamer.

And with one sentence, she finished him.

James Dempsey

James Dempsey spent his entire childhood sitting in front a screen. Now that he’s grown up, it’s usually two screens.  Follow James at @James_Proclaims

About the Author


  • Dennis L

    James, it is extremely insulting to a lot of gamers out there (myself included) to be branded with the actions of these idiots. The distinction of them as “gamers” is disingenuous, as this behaviour is common across many different sub-culture groups. Groupings of horrible, misogynous, hateful prigs is not confined to gamers, and not even to males (apart usually from the misogyny)… There are assholes in every grouping on Earth.
    I am not saying that there are not a lot of assholes who play online games (usually blockbuster FPS console games that I stay away from), but I think that the correlation you draw between their assholeness and their status as gamers is not fully controlled. You might draw some input from the horrendous abuse that Twitter enables the “hive-mind” to inflict on the unwary. Your comment about the YouTube comments is pretty moot, given that I have rarely seen a YouTube comment section without some kind of trolling.

    You are basically taking a common thread across the internet (anonymous mass trolling) and attempting to lay the blame squarely on gamers. It’s a pity because a properly thought-out article on misogyny in GAMES and the industry would be really interesting.
    Thanks for the article anyways though.

    • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

      If you don’t want to be lumped in with “those idiots”, you should do everything you can to condemn them, show them their behaviour isn’t welcome. Complaining at the guy pointing to the problem is not very helpful.

      Simply not participating in bad behaviour isn’t enough. Not condemning it is as bad as approving it. Sure, it crosses subcultures. We’re gamers, though, maybe we could start sorting out that one first?

      • Dennis L

        Ciaran, my problem with the article is that it does not address the problem. The problem is not “gamers”. The problem is a lot more widespread than that. I never addressed my participation in, ignoring of or active condemnation of this kind of behaviour, so I do not know from what you are drawing your conclusions about my lack of action.

        My issue with the article is that it brands gamers as the perpetrators of these actions without drawing in the rest of the sub-culture. This issue is pervasive across the anonymous web, and is exacerbated by any medium which allows the huge participation of people who fail to think critically about the information before them. This is especially true of real-time communication media such as twitter but it is common on forums as well (see TheJournal for examples).

        If the article had been a call for more clamping down on the anti-social types who participant in the gaming scene then I would be all for it.

        • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

          We all know the problem is spread across several sub-cultures. You’re not going to find some magical solution that’ll fix all of them simultaneously. It’s more realistic to take them on one at a time, and more likely to get results, too.

          And of course gamers are responsible for the problem in the gaming sub-culture. There’s a clue in the name, we can hardly blame Morris Dancers for it, can we? If you’re a nice chap who doesn’t perpetuate the problem then good for you, it’s nice to meet you, and I hope you do everything you can to fight the fucking stupid prejudices and abuses wherever you see them. But you don’t have to be insulted by a true statement. All crimes are committed by humans, but nobody’s going to protest that, are they?

          • Dennis L

            Your point is not the point made in the article. The article specifically and solely calls out gamers as being misogynistic without reference to any other wider issues. It fails to place the problem in a wider context and that is a problem. Without placing it in context the gist of the article errs toward identifying gamers as the sole perpetrators and worse, it insinuates that gaming (or the “gamer culture”) is the source of it.

            The author has fingered the gaming culture and gaming in general for a problem that is not caused by it, as evidenced by its proliferation in every other aspect of online “social interaction”.

            That is my problem with this article.

          • http://twitter.com/Sarklor Ciaran O’Brien

            I’m not sure a gaming culture is something you want to be accused of fingering.

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