Opinion: Misogyny In Gaming Identity Is A Harsh Truth
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 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