On GamerGate

Note: I had drafted this piece for publication to be alongside that of my colleagues; however, they couldn't make it to publication. Because this is important, I want to post it here. I wanted to do it sooner while doing the "will they or won't they?" dance. If it has to be here, then at least that's somewhere. I have made some minor edits to make it more of a standalone piece. If you're somehow new to discussion on GamerGate (as it's received national media attention since my initial writing of this), I have also written an article for Indiewire's Women and Hollywood blog explaining GamerGate is a hate campaign as well as discussing sexism in the games industry.


As I read the statements in The Escapist's "What Male Game Developers Think of GamerGate" article, the same knot in my stomach appeared as the time a group of anonymous men called me a c*nt for daring to criticize a Soul Calibur V advertisement. The same knot from when I found out a bunch of men said behind my back I couldn’t possibly good at Super Smash Bros because I was “a girl.” It’s the very same knot that I haven’t been unable to unravel before GamerGate even started as I’ve watched more and more women leave the industry because it does not deserve them.

Undoubtedly, many of the views expressed by different developers in The Escapist's article hurt me. What I found even more distressing than the responses was how this article was presented and researched. With extremely edge case hypothetical questions, leading questions, and a selective round of interviews, the presentation of the article was inaccurate. I’m glad the initial title was quickly changed from the initial "What Game Developers Think of GamerGate" to adding the adjective "male" to avoid presentation of male game developers as the “default” while women must be “female game developers” (in this Escapist article). Still, I’m shocked such an obvious thing slipped through in the first place. Furthermore, the opening paragraph, now redacted, slipped into revisionism territory, giving an alternate timeline of events instead of addressing GamerGate’s roots: ones that began with the sole intention of attacking a female game developer. I am not against the idea of asking various game developers for their opposing opinions on things happening around the industry and culture, but all too often people ask men what they think of women’s issues, and the men try to explain the problems away. I saw a lot of that in the article, and some of the men interviewed were harassers (note: their interviews have been removed). I do not think it is ever the duty of journalists to give a platform to harassers. Objectivity doesn’t mean handing a microphone to people whose words enable harassment and death threats; that would be anything but minimizing harm. Objectivity is not always in the middle of “two extremes.”

A lot of people in GamerGate keep pointing to the Society of Professional Journalist’s ethics code. SPJ’s code of ethics, which I was asked to memorize in college, has four tenets: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. I’m sure we can all agree that these are things journalists should abide by. I agree with a lot of people in GamerGate that we need to critically examine the relationship between press and developers and publishers, but I am never going to be willing to do it while risking the physical and emotional safety of the women being targeted by certain members using GamerGate for momentum.

When women talk about abuse, the default reaction in GamerGate has been to doubt them. The concept of us needing to talk about our abuse in order for some men to listen to us is absurd in the first place. We shouldn’t need to talk about how we’ve been hurt in order for you to stop talking and actually listen. When women speak about diversity, there’s a large segment of people who make dealing with harassment a necessary step in order to call for safe spaces for all people. An article in Jezebel breaks down better than I can why GamerGate is a hate group in terms of dehumanization, techniques, recruitment, and a leader (notable right-wing celebrities and journalists, as well as YouTube personalities).

GamerGate isn’t as much about ethics as it is about silencing feminist criticism of video games and the game industry. Of course, this isn’t evident in only games circles. Comments on Escapist articles about the portrayal of female characters in comics earn very similar remarks, claiming gender-inclusivity is just “political correctness.” To that I ask you to actively listen to women speaking about the problems in STEM, in games, in comics, and in the world.

This is why I urge anyone who wants to start a conversation about ethics in games journalism and the game industry to divorce themselves from #GamerGate. You may not have gone into the hashtag with ill intentions, but people are using it to coordinate attacks on women. By using that hashtag in this climate, you are condoning the behavior that has sent three women running from their homes in two months. We’ll be ready to have that ethics conversation once we feel safe.

I also urge for more coverage of this issue and everything surrounding it. GamerGate didn’t pop up out of thin air. Women have been harassed in gaming for as long as I’ve been alive. It is our responsibility as journalists to cover this with empathy for those being attacked, along with fair reporting that isn’t afraid to point out the problems in this industry and in the press.

I sat here at my desk wondering whether to issue this statement anonymously. GamerGate has made it clear that women are targets of much more severe harassment than men are. Women walk around with targets on their backs, and becoming vocal makes the target easier to spot. I am tired of keeping quiet due to fear. I know many will tell me to shut up, that I’m mistaken, or that my experiences are invalid – all things I am used to hearing because I am not a man – but I will not stand by as I watch this community and this industry run women into the ground.

Highway to Hell

An elderly woman crashed her car into mine as she backed out of a driveway, and I went without a car for 35 days. It was the longest I haven't been behind the wheel since I got my own car two years ago.

Previously, the longest I hadn't been behind a wheel was my time studying abroad for a semester. Once I returned home, I bought my first car. It had a very distinct smell of cleanliness when leaving my local dealership. The first time I drove on the highway in my baby, I cranked up the music, rolled up the windows and belted out songs, singing along to mixed CDs I had made for road trips. I felt like a rockstar singing along to Florence + the Machine power ballads, matching the drum beat of "Cosmic Love" with my fingers against the wheel. I loved driving on the highway because it meant not stopping at traffic lights, blasting my music without feeling like a bother to people around me, and no one paying attention to me. When you get your driver's license, you feel free -- free to drive where you choose, no longer relying on friends and family members to shuttle you places. For me, being able to play my music loudly and sing along with all my heart, which is something I can only manage to do in the car alone or occasionally while playing Rockband, was freedom.

For the last five weeks, I have relied on others to drive me places. For one, it's a nuisance to rearrange your schedule around others' free time, and I'd had enough of that when I was working at 16 and without a driver's license. There's also something relaxing about driving 60 miles per hour, passing people you will probably never meet, and rhythmically shouting, "You left me in the daaaAAaaaAAARK!"

I left the auto repair shop with a car that looks as good as new and hit the road. It smells just like it did two years ago from my old local dealership in Maryland. I was giddy -- settling into the seat felt like it did when I had purchased the car. Getting onto the Hutch to head home, I switched from the radio to my CD player. I had forgotten to take out a couple CDs when my car was towed weeks ago, and while Florence + the Machine was no longer there, I pressed play on the first CD. Strings and a man's voice singing, "Woooooooooah" crooned. The bass kicked in, and I turned the volume from 8 to 15 and knew the next words: "I'm waking up to ash and dust. I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust."

This is it. This is my freedom, I thought.

Then I missed a turn, woefully doubled back to make a left turn, and got stuck in the middle of an intersection with "friendly" New Yorkers reminding everyone else how much they hate them.

"Fuck, I hate driving."

Gone Home: Sibling Love

In lieu of Gone Home's many, many awards and nominations, I feel it's a good time to present my view on Gone Home.

Gone Home is a love story, but not just between two girls who are romantically interested in each other. As one-sided as it's presented (through a silent first-person protagonist controlled by the player), sibling love also came into play strongly. As an older sister, I related to Katie, the player-controlled character. I also left the United States for some time as I explored Europe. At least I didn't come home to an abandoned house with notes from my sister left behind.

The house in Gone Home immediately felt eerie. I heard Katie leave a voicemail for her family announcing when she would be returning home. So why was the house empty? Some lights flickered, and a couple TVs were left on as if something terrible had happened. The tone of the game never let me feel at ease despite how much I loved exploring the empty house. This is Katie's first time in this large house as her family acquired it from her uncle; it was both of our first experiences trying to find clues in various rooms. A lot of it felt familiar, though -- notes from the parents to Katie's sister, Sam, calling out her behavior, reminders for calendar events, entries from diaries. In the time Katie was away, Sam has been attending high school, meeting new people, falling in love, and had to deal with her parents' disapproval. She keeps a diary the whole time, writing directly to Katie. The player isn't given much information to go on concerning their relationship before Katie left home, but judging by Sam's frankness through her writing to Katie, I can only imagine they trusted each other even if they weren't spilling out their feelings in person.

Seeing Sam grapple with her classmates' comments made me want to pummel them for picking on my sister. Seeing the first sparks of attraction and admiration for her crush brought a smile to my face. Hearing her talk about the person she kept falling harder for had me rooting for her all the way. And more than anything getting to be her confidant made me feel special. You have a kind of history with a sibling that you don't get with anyone else, and in some ways they know you better than anyone else. (They certainly know your faults better than anyone else -- and they won't let you forget it.)

My sister and I are three years apart. Three years feels colossal when you're young, but by the time you're both in college, three years seems so minimal. We've both had some similar experiences that most people around the world have -- struggling in school, finding our own talents, making friends, losing friends, developing crushes on people, confessing and getting shot down. Sometimes I don't know what she's been up to in her personal life until a year has passed and it just comes up in conversation. More often than not, we talk about personal things through texts or online conversations. There's something weird about doing it in person, face-to-face. And that's why I can see Sam easily writing a diary to Katie rather than telling Katie all about it in person. We never see the two interact face-to-face in the game, but Sam seems like the kind of person who's unlikely to tell her big sister about this girl she fell in love with -- at least not in person.

After having spent two hours in the game learning all about what Sam's been up to, I was clearly going to be apprehensive upon reaching the end of the game. Many of Sam's notes were happy, but there was this nagging sensation that lingered in the back of my mind when I first encountered the locked attic. Sam's bolded instructions were for no one to come into the attic as this was her space. The closer I got to finding the key to the attic, the more desperate Sam sounded in her notes to Katie. She was likely never going to see her girlfriend again, and she felt lonely elsewhere. She was still developing an identity, and for the time it was undeniably linked to this woman she was dating, a woman who had shown her new kinds of music and played video games with her. Red marks in the bathtub turned out to be red hair dye and a funny momentary misdirection in how the player would receive the game's tone, but what if it was a warning for what could be waiting in the attic? Along with the ghost story vibe still in the background of the story, I was worried about what would be waiting for me.

So as I ascended the attic stairs, I was prepared for the worst, and I was terrified.

After I did a quick look around in the small space, I was relieved to see nothing ghastly about. It was just a few developed photographs hanging to dry. Sam's diary lay at the end of the hall. The credits ran shortly afterward. In this time, I imagined Katie sitting down with the diary, reading everything that Sam wanted to tell her sister, and upon reaching the end and reading that Sam was running away to be with her girlfriend, Lonnie, I wasn't happy. "What the hell are you thinking?" I wanted to yell. "You can't just run off and survive on junk food and pawn off VCRs to get some spare cash and then just drive around until you two have nowhere safe to go!" I imagined Katie running out the door in the middle of the night to find Sam before something terrible happened.

Gone Home isn't a game for everybody. It takes no more than two hours to complete, and it's much more about exploration than influencing the direction of a story. More than anything else, it's about emotion. Any game that makes me feel something beyond what was presented in the game is a piece of art.