Sex & Gender

op-ed: according to the internet, women of color don’t have an opinion about gamergate

November 14, 2014

Gamergate has become a major thing in the last few months. Women have been coming forward to share their stories of harassment and terrifying death threats, simply because they decided they wanted to have fun by playing video games (more about the Gamergate controversy here). However, there is one voice that seems to be missing – that of women of color.

By CJ Dermody-Williams, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Just to get people to knock off their criticism at the very beginning, I know that Gamergate traipses through the interwebs under the flag of questioning unethical journalism in the gaming industry. There has been a rather interesting relationship between gaming publications and the game developers that would almost be considered racketeering or something if this were a badass gangster movie set in Depression-era New York.

But it’s not. It’s definitely real.

For a brief recap of this royal clusterfuck, Gamergate started in August 2014 when Zoe Quinn, developer behind Depression Quest, was accused of infidelity by her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. Crap really hit the fan when it was discovered that the “other man,” Nathan Grayson, was a game journalist. Although it has since been cleared up that these were the words of a jilted ex, this did not stop the stampede of angry MRA gamers from sharpening their flame hatchets and campaigning for her blood.

Her ex basically sic’ed the internet on her because she was no longer in the relationship, using the animosity against women that was already present in gaming as a means of stalking-by-proxy. The “game journalism ethics!” banner they are marching under spontaneously combusts when you consider that Quinn was able to release pages of chat logs, revealing that they mentioned her name thousands of times. Journalism in gaming? Comparably, nothing. So clearly, it’s not about the art of gonzo news reporting in gaming.

Simply put, Zoe Quinn is being harassed because she’s a woman in the gaming industry. Even when her game was released, people were attacking her because “it wasn’t a real game.” There is no fancy way of arguing about Gamergate without being upfront about this. Women are not welcome in many mainstream positions of power in the gaming industry and, if they decide to just come barreling through the glass ceiling, she may have to make sure that she is prepared for a virulent and violent backlash.

Gamergate would be a compelling discussion about how much advertising game companies do with the review websites for good feedback or how we really need to consider the idea that domestic abuse is evolving right along with technology. Unfortunately, it has deteriorated into a rather frightening display of MRA fanaticism that would even make the Westboro Baptist Church tell them to maybe take a knee on this one.

On October 16, Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel her lecture at Utah State University because of three death threats against her. For anyone not familiar with Sarkeesian, she offers some pretty awesome criticism about how the gaming industry treats women, both in development and in-game, on her web series, Feminist Frequency. I’m not saying you should stop reading this first to go watch at least one of them, but if you have twenty minutes to spare, it’s worth every second.

As you might expect, there were a lot of guys who weren’t too happy with her pointing out the sexualization of violence against women. Despite Sarkeesian’s disclaimer at the very beginning of her videos assuring viewers that it’s okay to like these games, but it is harmful to ignore the problematic nature of such a prevalent and engaging media. Most of the comments have not been really pertinent to the content of her videos – aside from people calling her out of her name and making horrible threats against her and her associates when she describes a game level wrong in one of her videos. The commenters seem more concerned with the fact that someone with boobs and a vagina would dare criticize a clearly male subject. Because eff her, right?

But you know who we don’t hear from? Like, at all? Women of color, or WOC. I mean, I think that there are black women and Latinas and Asian women and so many more who have an opinion about it. It’s just that the spotlight isn’t on it. For some reason, if you want to know what women of color think about it, you have to find the niche websites that will let you watch a few videos or read an article or two on it. The WOC voice is definitely not part of the overall discussion about Gamergate, that’s for damn sure.

And who’s to blame women of color from speaking up? Based on behavior that has already been exhibited within the gaming industry, it’s clearly not built with women’s safety in mind. If this is how the gamers treat white women based on hearsay, what would be the response to a black, Latina, Asian, or Middle Eastern woman? I think one of my friends’ statuses really helps to give some context on it:

Now, this isn’t to say that it’s impossible to find remarkable women of color who talk about gaming and have something to say about Gamergate. It’s just dangerous that the women of color in gaming rhetoric, which is close to nonexistent, has to be categorized to such a drastic level. What ends up happening is, instead of steering a new dialogue around the issue, the whole problem ends up getting buried under the more dominant voice within gaming, which focuses almost entirely on its white customers. Again, despite the fact that black and Latino gamers log more hours than white consumers.

So how come we have to go to #BlackTwitter to find out what people think about Gamergate or research the exact websites and forums that cater to our interests? Sure, we like to build a community around our commonalities. That doesn’t mean we want to be completely excluded from the conversation though and whoever suggests as such needs to just take a moment to check their privilege. Having a close-knit community that converges on being an outsider does not equate to wanting to continue to be excluded from the general conversation. If anything, it’s an attempt to form a collective stance to stand on in that convo. How come we can’t join in?

Having voices like Aisha Tyler or Shonda Rhimes is super helpful because they legitimize the fact that, not only do black people like to game, write, and be in positions of power, but they can also be female sometimes and be just as nerdy. It gives people the chance to see black women outside of the strict stereotypes that have been prevailing in overall media. I want to meet both of them, shake their hands, and ask them ALL of the questions about their career trajectories so that I can do the same thing in those industries.

Hopefully, it will also allow us to break down the barriers that are in media from a position of power and influence. And not just black women. I speak from a black woman’s point of view, so that’s what I know, but I also know many other women of color whose opinions about the gaming industry gets quashed because of racialized sexism.

So yeah. I have an opinion about Gamergate. If they were being honest about their attacks, then that would be awesome. However, it started off icky and then slowly degenerated until it became a shriveled husk of the greatness it could have been. It should be about responsibility in media and became about why women need to shut up about media. Somehow. Seriously. Who can pinpoint exactly when someone decided that women specifically needed to suffer for gaming sites not being objective? It doesn’t really make sense to me.

Gamergate, in all of its dung heap glory, has uncovered a rather interesting problem in American media consumption and production. Women’s realistic consumption patterns and perception have less respect in most media, but it seems like women of color REALLY have to mean business if they want to be heard. So I guess I’ll start yelling because I just want to be able to play my game or read about a journalism scandal without getting cussed out or completely ignored. Like our voices don’t matter.

Perhaps the bigger issue stems from the fact that many games do not allow for people of color to really grapple with it in terms of including themselves. I mean, we know that women have an issue with games because of how they are shown as sexualized and victimized objects in many games. Or a number of tropes that could be used to make interesting or completely background female characters, but still ring starkly formulaic (like Borderlands 2 and Heavy Rain and Watch Dogs and Wet and L.A. Noire). However, what about characters who aren’t white women? What about black or Asian or Latina or anything else but white women? Unfortunately, there is a dearth of examples for an interesting female character in many games and so the discourse around sexism is very limited to the only female characters that seem to get a large amount of screen time.

It’s this same lack of exposure that seems to make it completely okay to ignore the opinion as though it isn’t bringing up valid arguments for better treatment in the gaming arena. The amount of gamers of color who’ve had to make interesting adjustments to reflect their gaming styles (Animal Crossing, apparently, doesn’t let people be anything other than white during character creation. I’m just going to come straight out and say it) is actually truly discouraging.

So maybe it is really hard for those involved in the Gamergate tragedy to understand that gamers of color, specifically WOC, have an opinion about this. I volunteer as tribute to shed some light on how we might see the whole argument. It doesn’t just affect white women. It’s just that WOC have been so successfully shut out of the gaming conversation that it seems like many people seem to think so.

The thing is that you can’t always see what color someone is when you’re playing with them online. However, based on their avatar or username, you can guess their gender. For once, gender is more apparent than race in a context that makes that worse than race almost. As such, WOC have it pretty hard in many gaming circles. Definitely not all of them, but a fair few. I’ve had my own war stories. I’m sure others have as well that they’ve just learned to ignore it or they’ve been convinced to try another hobby for fun. But why should they? Gaming should be over the “White Guys Only” club mentality. Right?

Which brings us back to the Gamergate issue. It’s horrible what is happening to Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. I honestly wouldn’t wish that on someone else just for more exposure for every gamer demographic, but it’s important to remember in our activism that feminism is not just about making sure that white women have the same rights as white men. Oddly enough, there are quite a few people of other ethnicities and racial backgrounds that are women and enjoy gaming. We should have just as much representation.


Anita Sarkeesian link:

Animal Cross link:

Wet Action Girl:

L.A. Noire Drop Dead Gorgeous:

Borderlands 2 Cute and Psycho:

Heavy Rain Ms. Fanservice:

Zoe Quinn releases 4chan chat logs:

Depression Quest:

Gamers of color log more hours:

Oh Crap! A Black Girl Gamer!:

Pictured: AishaTyler

* CJ Dermody-Williams’ blog: