In 2014, a sexist campaign known as “Gamergate” – which was primarily fueled by anonymous internet users – plagued the internet with hate. Why? That part is not as clear, but the campaign mostly reflected the wishes of those opposed to gender diversity within gaming. Gamergate had no designated leader and only operated with a mob-mentality set on harassing women in the gaming world. Users rallied on sites like Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan with the intent to trash talk and bash female gamers all over the internet. Pretty soon, Gamergate swelled into a super surge of misogyny and hatred targeting several women involved in media and the video game industry.
Now, three years later, the movement has come to represent the pushback of conservatives against progressivism. Many supporters of Gamergate say that it got out of control so quickly due to strong opposition against emerging feminism in video game culture. Thankfully, responses to this movement have been mostly negative, and it now serves as an example of online harassment; however, it also proves that misogyny exists in every community and can have drastic effects, turning women into targets.
Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist critic and blogger, but many know her as the woman who survived Gamergate. The attackers, hiding behind their screens and pseudonyms, came to her pretending to be an advocacy group for ethics in video game journalism, when their real goal was to torment her. Now, she is speaking out against sexism both in and out of the gaming world.
The level of harassment she received was extensive, including a number of rape and death threats, a bomb scare, and a video game created in which players could attack an image of her face. In regards to what has changed in her life since this outbreak, she says, “The biggest difference is that I don’t monitor our social media any more.”
Sarkeesian is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a non-profit, pro-education organization that analyzes media trends and their connections with social prejudices like race, gender, and sexuality. They encourage their viewers to consume modern media with a critical eye, understanding how stereotypes and online portrayals affect real life. Feminist Frequency tweeted in June of this year, “Gamergate still exists, still harasses marginalised voices and still affects our daily lives. The abuse has never stopped.” But Sarkeesian still feels lucky to have a community behind her. “I’ve gotten really fortunate that Feminist Frequency now has staff, and there are people who will look at it,” she says.
“Social media companies need to change the ways in which their platforms operate. Online harassment is very easily done and there are very few consequences for it,” Sarkeesian adds. “We’re seeing some of that happening, but it really feels like Band-Aids on a fundamentally flawed structure.”
There’s no way to repair past damages. Sarkeesian, and the other women in her community affected by this, will hold their experiences of Gamergate with them forever. While she finds it discouraging to be labeled as “the woman who survived harassment,” perhaps her experience will serve as a cautionary tale against extremism and cyberbullying. What needs to happen now is the implementation of preventative structures against online harassment of women. It’s a serious issue that will not disappear on its own.
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