Zoe Quinn is a video game designer, Anita Sarkisian is a feminist videographer and media critic. If not for the sexist riots that these two women got into in the summer of 2014, their names would probably never have made it to newspapers around the world. But at that time, the journalistic attitude towards video games was overshadowed by scandals, the players were wary of them.
Plus, when developer Eron Gjoni comes to accuse his ex Zoë Quinn of sleeping with a Kotaku trade magazine journalist to get positive reviews for her game, there’s no time to check the facts. A stream of insults and threats of rape and death falls on the girl, on Anita Sargsyan, who publicly defends her, and on others who support them.
Started on the forums Reddit and 4chan, the campaign soon spread to the more popular networks Twitter and YouTube. Here she finds the name by the hashtag: #GamerGate. More and more netizens unrelated to Gjoni and Quinn’s breakup are joining the movement, bombarding the developer with insults and judgments about her personal life, as well as a hypothetical lack of professional ethics. Are we worried about this crowd of sexist comments? Participants object that they are protecting their leisure time and the information they need. The personal addresses of Quinn and her loved ones, as well as nude photos, are soon revealed, analyzed, commented on. For several months, Zoe Quinn will not find peace.
Between video game mutation and far-right opportunism
While 1 in 4 Americans played regularly in 2013, and the proportion has steadily increased, video games remained relatively despised by the mainstream media at the time. However, in the trade press, “there were real nepotism issues,” recalls Anna Bressan, artistic director of RedStudio. The journalists honored their fellow developers, the prizes were given to the game friends of the organizers,” a product placement nicknamed Doritos Gate chronicles video games…
At the same time, controversy is flaring up about the place of women in the video game industry. In 2009, Anita Sargsyan launched the American channel Feminist Frequency, through which she pointed out the sexist clichés that filled the most popular titles. In 2012 in France, @Mar_Lard criticized “an apology for rape and machismo culture” published in an article in Joystick magazine, which earned him a harassment campaign. “Whether they come from 4chan, Reddit, Twitter or YouTube, the core of #GamerGate grew up with 1990s games built specifically for them,” Anne Bressan analyzes. They didn’t want to see this change. »
But the movement goes beyond video game controversy. Then all the mechanics of moral panic kick in to denounce the growing place of women in an industry that will destroy the world of video games… against feminists and what they call SJW (social justice warrior) social justice activists. Thus, the dedicated blogger notes the role of YouTuber “Internet Aristocrat” in expanding the wave, when it was usually illustrated with videos in favor of the National Front or the British party UKIP.
The future figure of the American alt-right, future Donald Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos shares his side of the volley of misogynistic articles on the ultra-conservative website Breitbart. While masculinist ideas and harassment already existed at GamerGate, Institute for Strategic Dialogue researcher Cecil Simmons believes that this case has a special place in recent history: “It became the starting point for the generalization of harassment and online intimidation as a political tactic. especially against women.
Digital methods of discord
That’s also what GamerGate is interesting for: Behind the video game controversy, it’s centered most of the issues that still haunt the digital discourse. All it took for actor Adam Baldwin was to post a #GamerGate hashtag message to spread like wildfire, illustrating the power of the most famous accounts. As criticism of the purely misogynistic aspect of the case grew, a second hashtag, #NotYourShield, appeared, supposedly proving that the debate was centered on media ethics.
This second wave was actually created from the ground up by the same contributors at GamerGate, each operating behind a series of social media accounts that they posed as legitimate. It was an astroturfing campaign, very similar to what activists, brands or politicians are now organizing to create the impression of popular enthusiasm and attract the attention of Internet users and traditional media.
First of all, a statistical analysis back in October 2014 confirmed that the majority of posts were used for sexist harassment, not debate. However, at the time, the platforms did nothing to protect the victims or keep the perpetrators away, leaving the latter to act and organize. Sociologists and linguists emphasize that the very architecture of the networks has allowed violence to escalate.
Researchers at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki have shown that Gamergate actors are less likely to be banned from Twitter than the average user. Bottom line, in 2016 after the election of Donald Trump, then in 2021 after the attack on the US Capitol, investigations and studies followed one after another that point to links between the most radical militants of the Alt Right and a horde of players theoretically concerned about the ethics of specialized journalism.
Behind the Video Game Panic, Lack of Response to Masculine Violence
In France, 73% of the population played it at least occasionally in 2021. Last year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Fifa 21 and Mario Kart 8 were at the top of the best-selling cultural goods in France. Like it or not for the pickiest of gamers, according to art and video game curator Isabelle Arvers, “This massiveness allowed us to introduce new characters, new stories, and show that this variety of games has its own audience.” . Take a look at the warm welcome Life is Strange received in 2015, or the success of wholesome games in total confinement.
In the industry, the expert continues, “everything is also changing a bit. #MeToo and the scandals that have affected Riot Games or Ubisoft have helped bring about change: CNC, for example, conditions its aid to training on sexism and sexual violence. From 10% in 2014, women have grown to 22% of studio employees in 2021. That being said, if they make up 45% of American players and 51% of French players, “women are only esports competition,” Anne Bressan announces. , also a member of the Women In Games association. The more problems, the less of them, which proves that there is still work to be done. »
In terms of digital dialogue, Cecile Simmons, for her part, highlights the resilience of the tactics tested during GamerGate and how her actors “co-opted cultural references to games to fuel resentment towards women and people from ethnic minorities.” When journalist Nadia Daam was harassed by users of the jeuxvideo.com forum in 2017, the same mechanics worked as in 2014 in the United States. Used by the Republican Spring and supporters of Eric Zemmour, astroturfing has also become a common practice for manipulating information. If it hasn’t been read this way since 2014, Cecil Simmons continues, GamerGate has over time demonstrated “the intersection of misogyny, right-wing extremist mobilization, and the ability of extremist communities to recruit across multiple platforms online.” He also showed the impact that online mobilization has on offline. »
So many phenomena still exist, eight years later, despite the moderation measures taken by the platforms over the years. That’s why the researcher calls for the creation of “platform regulation policies that don’t solely focus on taking down content, but take into account the actors, tactics, and ways in which that content is distributed.”