06 November 2014

#GamerGate and Masculinity

I’ll admit, I played a ton of video games as a kid. I got the Super Nintendo one Christmas and some of my fondest memories have been around those experiences. And maybe some of my most shameful. I remember turning the game off on my friend because he was about to beat me in Tecmo Super Bowl. Not cool…

Either way, I understand how video games can become part of our identity. When we pour a bunch of hours into anything and feel a sense of accomplishment, it’s impossible to deny that video games have some level of influence over who we are.

And since video games are also a form of media, it warrants just as much critique and examination as our favorite TV shows and movies. One of the most well-known critiques comes from feminist
Anita Sarkeesian on her YouTube channel Feminist Frequency. I’m not totally sure if her videos were what sparked #GamerGate, but that’s not the point.

#GamerGate has evolved over the last couple months. For a decently comprehensive overview, check THIS out. Currently #GamerGate is attempting to clarify that they are fighting for ethics in game journalism. This means they want fair and unbiased reviews of video games so they can make well informed decisions for what games to purchase. That is awesome and gamers certainly deserve such a system. However, whenever someone refers to #GamerGate, they will hear about men who do things like this. Threatening the women of a University campus with the “deadliest school shooting in American history” is not normal and can be seen as extremist, but the fundamentals of #GamerGate’s core is about misogyny, power, and control.

It’s no secret that a large majority of gamers are men. And the fact that Sarkeesian is the target of rape and death threats from men on such a regular basis speaks to how out of touch these men are with their humanity. This needs to inspire us men to really examine why violence against women is the reaction when they (and we) ask for equal representation and equitable treatment.

Many men have also spoke against the despicable behavior that gamers have towards women in the industry. Two of the more famous people are Chris Kluwe (former NFL player) and Wil Wheaton (actor, Star Trek and Big Bang Theory). The reason why this matters is because these two men (and others) do not get threatened and do not fear for their lives like women do when they say the same things.

Kluwe’s rant is problematic because it reinforces violent hyper masculine behavior and is riddled with cheap insults toward the #GamerGate community. But he essentially aligns with Sarkeesian's feminist critique of video games. And yet he is on record saying he doesn’t receive any backlash. This contrast between the treatment of men and women over the same issue is a key insight into some of the foundational properties of masculinity, which includes power, violence, and control over women. Even though many gamers are thought to be men who don’t fit the stereotype of what it means to be a man, #GamerGate shows that the socialization of masculinity is something that we all need to be conscious of. I feel like some men are able to filter many messages of masculinity, and perhaps men who feel inclined to make rape and death threats toward women are not as adept at critically consuming images in media.

But this highlights why redefining masculinity is such an important process. Acting to change the current form of masculinity being about power and control will foster a world where more people of all genders feel safe. In the meantime, it’s important to develop and teach skills to critically consume the millions of messages we receive on a daily basis, especially for mediums like video games where we tend to “shut off”. And on a more compelling note, imagine video games if they were infused with inclusive ideas and work environments. The creative potential is infinite. #GamerGate could usher in a golden era for video games and gaming, but discrimination and hate prevents this evolution. But the hate and misogyny is what holds us back. It’s what holds men back. It keeps us from being human.

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