After thousands of Gamergate participants (sometimes referred to as “Gators”) threatened to rape, kill or maim Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn were described by many as misogynistic hate campaigns, the Gators cried “but actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism!” There are still many who stand by this frankly pathetic excuse for a justification even today, though by all metrics their argument no longer holds ground.
In 2009, Sarkeesian released her first series of vlogs criticizing the portrayal of women in popular culture in various media, with a focus on movies rather than video games. The arguments she made there were characteristic of early feminist ideas. To some degree, she didn’t even have enough language at her disposal to make valid criticisms about the media she was inspecting. Even those that focused on women in games were far from flawless: her analyses weren’t always well-founded and often featured numerous incorrect assumptions about games or how they were played. At the time, there was not only a space but a need for intellectual discourse on her material. Simply put, Sarkeesian’s work needed to be questioned and, when required, shut down.
That all changed when the Gators reared their ugly heads. Jim Sterling, popular gaming critic put it best: “[T]here are some solid criticisms you can level at [Sarkeesian’s] work. I’m not 100 percent on her side, you know. She’s not perfect by a long shot and her video series seems already to be a little off base, with some of the examples she’s named as targets. But we can’t talk about that anymore, because the debate’s not about whether she’s right or wrong. The debate was invalidated when people tried to ruin her life en masse. The chance to debate her on merit was lost once people started threatening to rape her.”
Sterling’s statement displays what was wrong with the Gamergate knee-jerk reaction — the response was directly contradictory to the Gators’ supposed want for an intellectual discussion. Here, they were presented with a chance to call into question the methods of feminist analysis and criticize them, but elected instead to engage in borderline illegal actives that ruined the lives for many women involved in the gaming industry.
Given all that she’s gone through, it makes sense that the Canadian critic’s name is now borne by “Anita’s Law,” one of many feminist internet laws used to describe behavior frequently encountered by women online. The law reads as follows: “Online discussion of sexism or misogyny quickly results in disproportionate displays of sexism and misogyny.” Now that the smoke has cleared, one thing has become apparent — the fact that a rational conversation cannot even be held about feminism surrounding video games indicates that the Gator community is not interested in a rational conversation at all.