I'm joined here today with Liana K, journalist for Metaleater, to discuss how she feels the gaming community is becoming exclusionary towards women. Full Disclosure: Liana had a lot to say and so this interview is edited down with Liana's permission.
Could you clarify your background and position in the whole #GamerGate debate?
I saw the “gamers are dead” articles on August 28th and started looking into the backlash. I published my first GamerGate article for Metaleater.com on September 12th. It was fairly well received. At around this time, that I found out that a piece I’d pitched to Polygon was going to be published on September 18th. This was obviously exciting, because Polygon is the biggest website I’ve ever been published on. On September 17th, the GameJournoPros story broke. My excitement turned to dread. I knew I was screwed. I didn’t sleep much that night. I can’t say what ensued is the worst online bullying I’ve ever experienced, but it was certainly the most people ever thoroughly hating me at a single point in time.
Things snowballed for various reasons, I gave certain people too much benefit of the doubt and it bit me. If you’d asked me if GamerGate was full of misogynist haters at that point, I would have said yes. But some folks offered me support through twitter. Some were even brave enough to publicly defend me and got accused of actually being me on anon boards, which is hilarious and tragic at the same time.
That was the beginning of me realizing that GamerGate is far more complicated than the mainstream gives it credit for. I feel my role is to observe and document the ongoing consumer revolt and to speak against false rumors. I’m extremely concerned by the blanket accusations of misogyny, because the facts don’t support that, and by the bashing of autistic people participating in GamerGate. That crossed a big line for me. I think there are better ways to bring about better games journalism, but I’m sympathetic to GamerGate’s desire to be heard as consumers and not be bullied.
You sent out several tweets recently about feeling pushed out of the gaming community by those who have declared Anita Sarkeesian gaming's "Prom Queen". What made you feel this way?
There are so few big league female voices talking about games right now, so it's telling who ends up getting mainstream attention. While I disagree with Leigh Alexander on a lot, I respect that she engages with criticisms because I know that takes guts. Anita on the other hand, Anita has never had to really address her critics because there's a human shield around her willing to fight for her. Ironically, she’s become gaming’s biggest damsel in distress, and it’s taken her all the way to the Colbert Report as some sort of authority on video games. But an authority actually has to have a body of work that holds up to scrutiny. Anita makes pretty glaring oversights that weaken a thinking person’s ability to take her seriously.
She’s won a popularity contest involving Hollywood stars, tons of game devs and even moot from 4chan. That’s where my “prom queen” analogy came from. Too many gamers now distrust female professionals because of the belief that we get special privileges. Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s a reality. Even if you disagree with everything Anita says; if you’re a feminist, you’re distrusted.
Non-gamers who watch Feminist Frequency videos -- and there’s plenty that do because it’s feminism -- think gaming is this horrible cesspool of sexism. The Tropes vs Women videos have poisoned the whole well, leaving a very narrow social group for feminists who are also hardcore gamers.
The whole thing with Anita's most vocal defenders resembles a form of bullying called “relational aggression” which uses relationship to damage or manipulate others, causing harm through social exclusion. In essence, it’s “If you don’t do what I say, you can’t play with us.”
So Anita’s videos have effectively left me without a natural peer group. They’ve isolated me. There is no longer any group that trusts a feminist hardcore gamer unless you worship St. Anita. The cult of personality around one woman is depriving me of a community where I feel accepted. Anita is not ruining video games or taking any artistic product away. Yes, she has legitimately taken a lot of unfair crap. But there are real, practical things we need to address to make the playing field more welcoming to women in games. Simple, structural things. And we can’t have these discussions because the headlines are constantly screaming about Anita’s latest wave of scandal.
I completely understand how you feel, as a feminist and a gamer, I've been called all names under the sun. I'm misguided, a useful idiot, a gender traitor and so on, because I don't agree with some of the theories flying around out there. Anita et al claim they want the gaming community to be more inclusive, but women like us now feel excluded. What do you think could be better done to achieve this inclusivity?
I think there needs to be a greater separation between things that are better and things that are just different. The thing about GamerGate is that it happened in response to a specific series of events. So it’s going to attract a very eclectic group of people.
The problem with being "othered" is that people are very quick to expect similarities that don’t exist. So “women in gaming” are expected to have a lot more in common than we do. The name calling is a separate issue. To me it’s people who really don’t understand what’s going on misapplying tropes to sound smart.
When I say I'm a feminist, I get people focusing on and attacking that, from both sides. Can you name specific ways in which you feel you have been excluded from the community, since the whole GamerGate scandal began?
We're taking abuse from both sides because of the culture war that’s erupted. It’s silly, because gaming is built on strong female characters and female developers, but the myths about the industry have overpowered the truths.
Because GamerGaters felt rejected by the left, they became vulnerable to persuasion by certain opportunists with misogynist or anti-feminist tendencies. There aren’t many of them, but they caused problems. It wasn’t that they made people in GamerGate hate women. They caused GamerGate to distrust the women who crossed them, one by one. People are starting to realize what happened, but not the whole of it.
And don’t get me started on the anti-GamerGate side. Their heads are filled with their own myths, and many of them are condescending and cold as anything to those who don’t swallow their narrative of across-the-board misogyny. These are people I used to think were my friends, or at the very least, colleagues that respected me. But when someone won’t listen when I tell them my truths, that’s not respect.
And then I’ve just seen deplorable behavior by so-called professionals. I no longer trust subjecting myself to their scrutiny to get published. People say GamerGate is ruining the reputation of the video game community, but I can’t help but feel that it’s just exposing the rot that’s formed since money entered the equation.
I feel bullied by people now more than ever. If I don't agree with someone, then suddenly I'm biased, blinded, misguided, attention-seeking etc. I feel that many people in the debate won't take notice of a woman's opinion because it doesn't fall in either of these two neat boxes. Do you think this happens on both sides?
I think there are bad people on both sides, yes, which is why it's been so hard to get productive dialogue going. I've found some people to be exceptionally blind to their own behavior. People will claim they support women, for instance, then say nice things about a guy they agree is misogynist. They don't realize that things like that show that being popular means more to them than their ethics.
As for your "attention-seeking" comment, that's been a nasty bit of subtle sexism in this whole thing. There are a lot of male attention seekers using GamerGate to build their profiles, but I don't see them getting called out on that as much. "attention whore" is something more often directed at women. Men do get accused of it, but they have to do so much more to get labelled.
The "blinded" thing is just condescending as anything. All these things are wrong no matter who says it to whom, and it's telling that so many people think that women who choose to support GamerGate are somehow incompetent. That's almost more insulting than being called evil.
I've been really disappointed by the fact that so many people in this thing see themselves as intelligent and caring but have failed at basic listening. We all screw up and that's why forgiveness is so important, but past mistakes are being used as a wedge between people instead of as a source of empathy. I'd expected there to be more understanding than I've seen. People seem terrified of admitting they're wrong and apologizing. People are being far too intensely critical of others while being blind to their own faults. We live in a very partisan age, and it's having a negative effect on the growth of this industry. People have to come first.
My attitude is that no matter what anyone else does, I'm responsible for my own behavior. I own that. I'm not going to make excuses for myself because other people acted badly. I work very hard not to stoop to the low level of others. That's never gotten me very far professionally, but it helps me live with myself. There are few things more off-putting than a guilty conscience.