Put the Hammer Down

On October 19, 2014, an advertisement ran in the Los Angeles Times (on pg. A4). It stated that an “apparition” of the Virgin Mary had revealed that Pope Paul VI was replaced with “an impostor pope” leading to the “destructive Vatican II reforms.” The ad then showed two pictures of Pope Paul, one labeled “Pope Paul VI,” the other “The impostor (1975-1978) created by highly skilled plastic surgeons.” Never mind the fact that Vatican II ended in 1965, and never mind the fact that the pictures are obviously of the same man, just at different ages. It’s a ludicrous story—but one that someone clearly believes, whole-heartedly, as it gives them a reason to avoid change.

I wouldn’t mention this at all, except that the ad struck me as remarkably parallel to something else going on right now: “GamerGate.”

If you’re unfamiliar with GamerGate, you’re a fortunate soul, but it’s a real problem that needs attention, because it shows how determined people are to Keep Things The Same, and how willing they are to threaten people to get their way.

The extremely-abbreviated version of “GamerGate” is this: for some years, people have criticized the patterns of sexism in video games, and some gamers have responded to the critics by threatening the critics with violations of privacy, violence, rape, and death. The most recent flare-up came when a video-game developer, Zoe Quinn, broke up with her boyfriend, who took vengeance by accusing her of trading sexual favors for favorable reviews for her games. This absurdly tenuous charge (the website in question never actually ran such a favorable review) has led those who dislike criticism of video games to claim they are merely defending the industry against corruption; it’s really about keeping journalists honest, they say, and focused on games rather than “other issues” like feminism.

Noted Internet filmmaker, blogger, and gamer Felicia Day announced she’d been keeping quiet about GamerGate for fear of people “doxxing” her—that is, releasing her private information on the internet, which would allow internet harassment to step up to real-world, in-person harassment. Minutes later, her address was indeed released. This is no small thing—Anita Sarkeesian, who has been in the sights of these anti-feminists for several years now, just had to cancel an appearance at a university in Utah after being threatened with a “Montreal Massacre.” We can’t forget that there are plenty of men who will literally kill women for being feminist.

The long and the short of it is that some women are being targeted, their bodies and their lives threatened, for speaking their minds. The flimsiest of evidence is offered as justification to do so. It makes no more sense than a plastic-surgery pope.

There might be a kernel of truth to the idea of “rooting out corruption in gaming journalism.” But it can be no more than a kernel, and it certainly seems like this is all much more of a front for misogyny in action—whether the GamerGaters realize it or not.

Let’s say I saw a nail had come loose in the wall of my house, and so I went to get my hammer. Then on my way back, I stopped to talk to a friend, and we got to talking, and then we got to arguing, and as I argued I started waving my hammer around, gesticulating with it, etc. If my friend felt threatened by that—say, because their abusive former lover used to routinely beat them with a hammer—then they’d have a perfect right to ask me to set the hammer down, even if the nail still needs to be dealt with. The nail can wait. My friend’s safety, and our friendship, matters more.

It seems unlikely that GamerGate was ever truly about journalism; that strikes me as a smokescreen, a pope made of plastic that allows people to avoid change. Regardless, now it definitely isn’t. Now it’s about people fearing for their lives, as Day and Sarkeesian show us. Even if some GamerGaters never meant them any harm, even if they’ve got some entirely reasonable points, that label scares Day, Sarkeesian, and others, with absolute justification. Moreover, GamerGaters are scaring people who have historically been beaten down and stepped on, using tools that have always been used to do that beating.

And yes, I have no doubt that anti-GamerGate folks have gone too far, too. That ain’t right either. But it’s a whole different level of a problem. Threatening to beat or rape or kill women who speak their minds is an old problem. Threatening people who are associated with GamerGate is rather less so, historically. It’s still a problem! But it’s like comparing Ebola, which is a new and limited problem that kills hundreds, to cancer, which is an old and much more deadly problem that kills millions. So saying, “Look, we’ve been hurt too” is a valid point to make, if proven, but it does not carry as much weight as systematic silencing of women. It is not, and cannot possibly be, on the same level as threatening women for speaking their minds. To claim otherwise is, again, a ridiculous, tissue-thin theory offered as a reason why men shouldn’t have to change.

There may indeed be a loose nail somewhere in all this, and that’s something that should be mended in time. But right now the GamerGaters, whether they mean to or not, are waving hammers at people’s heads. At Day’s head. At Quinn’s and Sarkeesian’s heads.

So I’m calling GamerGaters out right now: set the hammer down. Drop this battle, now. If you don’t, you’ll show the world who you really wanted to hit all along.

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