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How to make gamers look bad

There has been a massive internet brouhaha simmering away for the past month, building up and up. I had expected it to erupt by now, and in a way it has, but instead of simmering out, the anger just keeps building.

There has been a massive internet brouhaha simmering away for the past month, building up and up. I had expected it to erupt by now, and in a way it has, but instead of simmering out, the anger just keeps building.

(Credit: Feminist Frequency)

I'm referring, of course, to the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency over her Tropes vs. Women video series — analyses of the portrayal of women in pop culture.

It all started (insert wavy time-warp lines here) back on 17 May, when Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her new video series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Kickstarter, as we know, lets creators ask for volunteers to fund their projects. Sarkeesian was asking for US$6000. Is that too high? Who cares? It's completely voluntary. Usually, the best way to respond to a project in which you are disinterested is to choose not to donate money, the added benefit of which is that you never have to look at it again.

But then some Angry People got wind of the campaign. It started on YouTube, and rapidly spread to Wikipedia vandalism. Sarkeesian responded, and then the mess went viral, her Kickstarter campaign went through the roof (maxing out at US$158,922), and the Angry People got even angrier.

The harassment of Sarkeesian has been — well, "absolutely disgusting" is a phrase that springs to mind. It has included the linked items above, of course; as well as an insulting Advice Animal meme, images depicting Sarkeesian being raped, hate sites, doxxing and a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack.

The Advice Animal meme (Credit: Conservativerevolution)

And one enterprising Angry Person, Canadian Ben Spurr, who goes by the handle "Bendilin", made a charming Flash game on Newgrounds, in which the user clicked to punch her in the face. (The game has since been removed from the site.)

This is what Spurr had to say on the game:

Anita Sarkeesian has not only scammed thousands of people out of over $160,000, but also uses the excuse that she is a woman to get away with whatever she damn well pleases. Any form of constructive criticism, even from fellow women, is either ignored or labelled to be sexist against her.

She claims to want gender equality in video games, but, in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path.

(Credit: Newgrounds)

Interesting choice of words there — "scammed" — considering that Sarkeesian stated up-front what the money would be used for, and that on Kickstarter, any voluntary donations are exactly that.

When asked what this would accomplish, Spurr replied that Sarkeesian refused to engage with him, and that he was trying to get her to listen and respond. To be fair, Spurr also created, at some point, a game that encourages the user to punch Jack Thompson in the face — but it's rather intriguing that his method of trying to get someone to listen to him is to punch them in the face at all.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

It's a little unfair, perhaps, to single out Spurr, but he's easy to talk about because he's not anonymous, he shared his motives and his game is a deplorable way to go about anything; however, he's not the first, last or even most egregious.

Programmer Kathy Sierra withdrew from speaking engagements and blogging after death threats. ZDNet US blogger Violet Blue has written about threats of violence. Feminist bloggers Kate Harding and Sadie Doyle have written about death and rape threats, as has atheist Rebecca Watson — and sex-positive blogger Laci Green went on hiatus yesterday, when someone emailed her pictures of her home, accompanied with threats; for no other reason than that some Angry Person somewhere didn't like their opinions.

I've not watched any of Sarkeesian's videos. I've heard plenty of criticism, which is fine — that's a good way to voice disagreement with an argument. And apparently Sarkeesian views her website as a feminist safe space, deleting comments that don't toe the line.

It doesn't matter. What her opinion is doesn't matter; whether her videos are good or bad doesn't matter; whether she deleted comments willy-nilly doesn't matter — while these things may be frustrating to her detractors, they should never, ever be used as an excuse for the brutish, savage behaviour and harassment to which Sarkeesian has been subjected — harassment which, I might add, is illegal in Australia.

These Angry People are not doing gamers any favours. They're not making any point; they're not showing the world that they're strong and brave. What they are doing is demonstrating that they're ill-equipped to enter into any kind of debate, have any kind of mature conversation or deal with their disagreements in a rational manner.

And they're making gamers look bad. That it has happened to other bloggers doesn't signify at this point: this is happening here and now, about something to do with video games, and those who wish to demonise gamers will leap on it as an example of bad gamer behaviour. Anyone who thinks that Sarkeesian deserves any of this for making videos and refusing to back down in the face of threats needs to have a long, hard think about anger-management classes — because if nothing else, at the end of the day, perpetuating this hatred is only showing to the world that gamers are incapable of civility — whether or not it's true.