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Moral Combat

After enduring a vicious harassment campaign designed to chase women out of the video game industry, local female developers are trying to take back the art form from commercialization.



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Although the mainstream press usually leaves matters of the gaming world untouched, the level of harassment that Quinn and Sarkeesian were experiencing was too much to ignore. Publications nationwide erupted with coverage of the ways in which the gamer community was fervently attempting to chase women out of games, deeming the tactics misogynistic and unfair. The gaming press, meanwhile, largely avoided condemning the harassment that their readership has likely perpetrated.

Women from within the gaming industry who attempted to call out the misogyny in the situation were immediately added to the list of targets. Jenn Frank, an award-winning video game critic and journalist, was one of those women. On September 1, she published a piece in the Guardian called "How to Attack a Woman Who Works in Video Gaming," which outlined the specific ways in which online harassers had attempted to ruin Quinn and Sarkeesian's careers. "The endgame is to frighten all women out of the video games industry — no matter what they write, film, create, or produce — and to additionally frighten anyone who would support them," the piece read.

Frank's article resulted in an onslaught of the exact kind of harassment that she was condemning. Gamers accused her of being biased because she contributes to Quinn's Patreon account, and because she had once met Sarkeesian — details that she had initially disclosed in a footnote in her piece but were taken out by Guardian editors. Soon after, Frank announced that she had decided to quit video game journalism altogether.

When I contacted Frank via email to discuss her reasons for quitting, she said she has declined every interview request she has received but offered to briefly defend her decision to retire. For her, it was clear that the criticism she was receiving had nothing to with her journalistic ethics. "I have always willingly lived under a microscope," she wrote. "This new era is not a microscope; it's an excuse to Google anyone another person has ever known, and harass that person in turn. It's six degrees of Who Can I Harass."

By mid-September, most of the media commotion surrounding Gamergate had calmed down, but as I sat in an Oakland cafe with Anthropy, she was obviously still very frustrated. "This whole Gamergate bullshit has happened under the guise of journalistic integrity," she said. "But it's so clear that it's only about misogyny — only about punishing women for their sexuality."

Anthropy and many others believe that the attacks on the journalistic integrity of Frank (and other similarly minded writers) were merely an excuse by gamers to justify the harassment of all women in games. Just recently, someone published Anthropy's birth name, her partner's birth name, and the names and jobs of her family members online. Mattie Brice, a transwoman of color who has self-published video games and is a well-known, outspoken critic of the video game industry, said she is accustomed to receiving long emails detailing how the sender would like to mutilate her.

For them, the most frustrating issue is the extent to which they feel that the games industry is complicit in the harassment. "The Big Games industry, where people actually have money, will lavish games journalists with prizes and bribes for good reviews but the only cases that these gamers are prepared to call journalistic integrity about are cases of poor women who are struggling to get any press at all," said Anthropy. (At the beginning of the statement, Anthropy was referring to the common practice for big-budget video game companies to wine and dine press at fancy events and give away free products like new game consoles. At the end of it, she was also partially talking about herself.)

For instance, during the Gamergate outrage, a video game reporter named Patricia Hernandez was called out online for not fully disclosing that she was friends and former roommates with Anthropy despite having written about her work multiple times for the online video game publication Kotaku. Meanwhile, other accusations were being hurled at journalist Ben Kuchera claiming that he had an undisclosed conflict of interest when he reviewed Quinn's Depression Quest in March for the online publication Polygon because he contributes to her Patreon account. As a response to both debacles, Kotaku's editor Stephen Totilo declared that all of its writers should immediately cease contributing to all Patreon accounts in order to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest. Polygon editor Christopher Grant, meanwhile, published a blogpost reminding readers that "like Kickstarter, these contributions aren't investments. There is no equity to be gained, there is no market to capitalize on." Still, he ended with the declaration that henceforth all Polygon writers would disclose their Patreon contributions after their bylines.

For Anthropy, this reaction was a solid slap in the face. She was taken aback that Kotaku, which positions itself as a supporter of indie game developers and women in games, would opt for a solution that only hurts self-publishing game developers who are struggling to make a living. Most of all, she was disgusted by the fact that these publications were willing to even acknowledge the demands of the angry mob, thereby legitimizing their attacks, while never acknowledging that their female journalists need support for their health and safety.

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