One of pop culture’s more indelible images is of the pimply basement-dwelling male so obsessed with video games that he lacks the social skills required to navigate real world relationships. As outdated as that stereotype is, such social awkwardness is still played for laughs in popular media, like in The Big Bang Theory. But over the past few weeks, the darker side of this image of the typical gamer has overtaken more benign interpretations. The sexism and misogyny so embedded within the gaming community has been illuminated by the vitriolic attacks on women who have dared venture into this male-dominated field.
Last month, Zoe Quinn, an American game developer, was accused by her ex-boyfriend of allegedly dispensing favours for positive reviews of her game. Soon after, cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian uploaded a video highlighting how often games objectify female bodies, both sexually and as victims of male violence. She became the target of such poisonous abuse that the US FBI has taken note. “Gamergate”, as this ongoing war across the internet is being called, has created a schism within the community, between those angry with so-called social justice warriors who are perceived to be ruining gamer culture and those who question the sociopolitical frame of popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.
Despite being a bigger industry than Hollywood, gaming was derided, until recently, by an aggressively ignorant mainstream. Now, as that isolation has waned and audiences have broadened, games are increasingly subjected to the same analytical lenses as those applied to films and books. Given that a new study finds that more adult women play video games than teenage boys, “gamergate” could be the sign of a sexist pop cultural bastion being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.