The last couple of months have really had me thinking about the harassment that happens around games and the gaming industry. Some of these campaigns get really disgusting and scary. It has gotten so bad, that not speaking out about the harassment can be seen as being complicit in it. I can’t let that happen in my case.
Last year, I wrote a brief editorial condemning such harassment campaigns. I mentioned specifically a few well known ones, such as the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian and Phil Fish. That editorial and the condemning of harassment still applies. But recent controversy over supposed games journalistic ethics brought to public attention by the GamerGate community has led to all new and very public harassment campaigns.
Much of this started with a harassment campaign started by the jilted ex-lover of game developer Zoe Quinn. Her former boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, decided to publicly shame Zoe and in the process posted what led many gamers to believe that she partook in some unethical activities to get positive press for her game, Depression Quest. Many gamers took this as gospel and used it as the catalyst for harassing her and several journalists associated with her. This campaign included doxxing, or publicly disclosing personal information such as address and phone number, as well as death and rape threats. All this because of the word of her a jilted ex-boyfriend. Think about that for a minute while I move on.
There has been a number of similar campaigns with other people in the games industry. The problem is particularly harsh when it comes to women in the industry. Other examples include further harassment of Anita Sarkeesian, which resulted in her canceling a speaking event at Utah State University, game developer Brianna Wu who was so scared of the threats she was forced to leave her home along with her family. Why? Because they spoke out on an issue that some gamers can’t seem to handle, the fact that women play games and would like more game that suit their tastes.
Of course it is not just targets of GamerGate that are harassed. I have seen some harassment targeted at supporters of GamerGate, particularly Milo Yiannopoulos. He was recently sent an unlabled syringe with the likely intention that he should shoot himself up with whatever the contents were.
Setting aside GamerGate related harassment for a moment, another form of harassment that is particularly disgusting and particularly deadly, is the rise of SWATting, or calling police and telling them there is an active shooter at a residence or business. Why is this dangerous and disgusting? Because this action can result in the death of innocent people. This particular action is essentially attempted murder. If you do not believe me, do some Google searching for deadly SWAT raids. The SWAT has been heavily overused in recent years and has resulted in a number of wrong door raids that end with the resident or officers killed in the action. Is that really the kind of result you are willing to accept if you call the SWAT on someone as a “prank”? Do you truly and honestly think that attempted murder is funny?
But what really troubles me, beyond the campaigns themselves, is the apologists who excuse the behavior of those who are doing the harassment. These people play lip service to the idea that harassment is wrong, but then immediately start ranting about how the target somehow deserved it because they hold a different opinion than their own. Or perhaps they dismiss the harassment of someone they don’t like because they heard that someone they like was also harassed. Kind of like an eye for an eye type scenario. Other justifications simply include the idea that these harassing comments and actions are merely empty, there is no intention of following through with them. This attitude is sometimes supported by mentioning the harassment campaigns against video game detractors like Jack Thompson and Leland Yee. The problem with this line of thinking is that no one other than the person doing the harassing knows this for sure if the threats are real or not. Which means the target must assume that the threats are real.
I am lucky that no one in the community of game developers, gamers and other industry folk I associate with have been on either end of such harassment. Unfortunately, others cannot say the same. Perhaps it is because my associations are with people who are relatively low key in the overall scheme of things. Most of the harassment I have seen is against people who are in the public eye, either by choice or the actions of someone else. Which is sad really. Such action against public figures has a chilling effect on others forcing them to avoid anything that would put a public spotlight, or target sight, on them. Is that really what we want, a games industry filled with people who don’t want to make waves and affect the industry?
Which I guess is kind of the point. The ultimate goal of those doing the harassing and those complicit in it, is the silencing of voices they don’t support. They don’t like what someone says, or what they think someone says. Instead of responding to speech they don’t like with more speech, they resort to bullying and threats. In reality, this is the last bastion of those who know they have no valid response. They know that no matter what they say or do, they are wrong. So they lash out and pretend that doing so justifies their position. If they can silence a critic or a voice of reason, they can safely hold firm to their outdated beliefs for just a little longer. They can enjoy their close-mindedness without worry of being exposed for the shallowness of it all. It is all about joy in ignorance. They simply can’t stand for someone trying to take away their bliss. So they lash out.
I am speaking out about harassment and firmly planting my feet on the side of ending it. It is counter productive and ultimately destructive to the gaming community and the industry as a whole. I don’t care who you are, what you believe or what your grievance is with the person you disagree with, harassing and threatening them is not the answer. So to those who are doing the harassing, Stop It. To those who are complicit in it, Stand up against it.
I will have more to say on other aspects of GamerGate and related topics at a later time.