03 Jun

Gamergate: Mobilizing Misogyny to Defend Men’s Privilege

Posted By polity_admin_user

The Gamergate controversy refers to the online harassment of women in the gaming industry, especially if they are critical of the industry’s male-dominated institutions and its sexist portrayal of women. The controversy emerged during the second half of 2014 and has largely occurred online. The Gamergate harassment raises important issues pertaining to gender and sexuality in the world of gaming and online worlds. At its core, it is useful to think of Gamergate as a backlash against feminist gains (Faludi 1991), specifically as men resisting women attempting to enter into the masculinized world of gaming. Or, as one online journalist more pointedly describes it, “In simple terms, it’s best described as a long-simmering pot of male privilege, misogyny, and slut-shaming in the gamer community boiling over”(Tognotti 2014). 

Anita Sarkeesian is one woman associated with Gamergate who has received a lot of media coverage, including a feature on the NY Times Op Ed page (Sarkeesian 2014). Sarkeesian produces videos on her website, Feminist Frequency (feministfrequency.com),that criticize the portrayals of women in video games, Hollywood films, and other areas of popular culture. One important theme that Sarkeesian has focused on is the normalization of violence against women and girls in video games. The success of her initial efforts prompted her to launch a Kickstarter campaign to evaluate the roles of women in video games. The Kickstarter campaign prompted many to comment on Sarkeesian’s website, her YouTube page, and the Kickstarter page, with angry, sexist harassment, including threats of violence (Kolhatkar 2014). In a recent example of threats of violence, Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a talk at Utah State University, but there were threats of mass killing of event attendees. She requested that the university scan people with metal detectors so that no one could come to the event armed. Utah State refused to employ the metal detectors because Utah has legislation that allows people to carry concealed weapons, including on campus. Fearing for her own safety,Sarkeesian never arrived at the campus, opting to cancel the event. Despite the harassment, Sarkeesian continues to produce videos. As one reporter notes: 

“Each time a new video comes out, the harassment spikes. People impersonate Sarkeesian, creating fake accounts with her photo. Some spread false information. There was an effort to get the IRS to investigate the non-profit status of Feminist Frequency. She gets private messages and pictures showing her image being raped by video game characters, some with her face Photoshopped onto porn stills, in addition to the standard threats and insults.” (Kolhatkar 2014)

There are a number of other women who have suffered treatment similar to that of Sarkeesian, even though they weren’t engaged in feminist critiques of the gaming industry. The extent and degree of the threatened violence have been so severe that a number of women in the industry have opted to evacuate their homes. One example involves Zoe Quinn, an independent game developer best known for a free game she developed titled Depression Quest, which situates the player as struggling with the experience of depression, which Quinn herself has suffered (Dockterman 2014). When she and her game-programmer boyfriend broke up, he took to online forums to report the breakup and accuse Quinn of having asexual relationship with a video game critic in exchange for getting positive reviews of her game. There is no foundation for these claims, since the critic in question never reviewed Quinn’s game (Dockterman 2014). Nevertheless, Quinn has been the target of ongoing harassment and threats of violence, threats that became so severe that she was forced to flee her Boston home. Quinn is currently “working with criminal prosecutors and the FBI on some of the more serious threats, but she says that her life has been practically destroyed”(Kolhatkar 2014).

Gamergate has received coverage in a number of prominent media outlets, a testament to the severity of the harassment targeting the women. At the same time, the controversy has led prominent industry leaders to stand up in defense of the women who were targeted, leading the prominent figures to become targeted with threats of violence as well. 


The events related to the Gamergate controversy relate to a number of topics discussed in Investigating Gender. For example, in Chapter 7: Media, we discuss the control and content of Hollywood films, explaining how control is dominated by men and how the content of the films centers on men’s lives and experiences. Given what you’ve read in Chapter 7 and what you know about Gamergate, how would you imagine gender informs the control and content of the gaming industry? To what extent do you think the normalized portrayal of violence against women in video games is related to the harassment and threatened violence against women in the Gamergate controversy? 

In developing your response, consider the assessment of the high-tech fields provided by Brianna Wu (2015), one of the women who has been targeted with threats of violence by Gamergate misogynists,explains:

“When Twitter is completely ineffectual at handling harassment – it’s because women don’t truly have a seat at the table in running it. We don’t have a voice. They tell usthey’re going to do better.

“When Wikipedia’s highest ruling board chooses to discipline only feminists – it’s because 9 out of 10 of its editors are men. They tell us they’re going to do better.

“When a Silicon Valley founder sends a woman reporter a gift basket with a dildo and K-Y jelly then doesn’t understand why it might be offensive, it’s because most of the venture capital system and the tech entrepreneurs are men. We don’t have a voice. They tell us they’re going to do better.

“Amazingly, the field of video games is the most misogynistic area in all of tech.”

In addition to the links to Chapter 7: Media, how do Wu’s comments on gender segregation in the high tech labor market relate to the discussion of the segregation in the labor market, a topic we discuss in Chapter 5: Work?  

Dennis Scimeca (2013) argues that the gaming industry is catering to “hardcore gamers,” whose average age is 24, who average 19 hours of gaming per week, and who are 82% male among the three most popular genres of games on game consoles: shooter, action, and sports. What do you think are the implications of these factors for the misogyny and violence in video games? Are your views altered by the fact that that in 2013, console-game revenue – which excludes revenue from gaming on all other devices, like smartphones, tablets, and personal computers – more than doubled the revenues of Hollywood films in the U.S. market? Hollywood revenue that year was $10.9 billion while console-gaming revenue was $25 billion (Kolhatkar 2014).

Despite what the above data suggest with regard to the gaming industry’s willingness to veer from its androcentrism and misogyny, there is reason to be hopeful for feminist-inspired positive change in the industry. First, there has been significant coverage of Gamergate in prominent media outlets, like the New York Times and The Huffington Post,and Time Magazine named Anita Sarkeesian one of “the most influential people of 2015.” Second, according to Scimeca(2013) there are significant shifts in the gaming marketplace, as games designed for mobile gaming devices (e.g. tablets and smartphones) are likely the future of gaming, and the gender ratios of mobile-device gamers are far more egalitarian. Scimeca also explains that this shift in the marketplace toward mobile-device gaming will likely spell the demise of gaming consoles, what could be understood as the last bastion of hardcore gamers and their androcentric attitudes and misogyny.


Dockterman, Eliana. 2014. “What Is #GamerGate and Why Are Women Being Threatened About Video Games?” Time (October 16). Retrieved 1/12/2015. (http://time.com/3510381/gamergate-faq/).

Faludi, Susan. 1991. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Crown.

Kolhatkar, Sheelah. 2014. “The Gaming Industry’s Biggest Adversary is Just Getting Started.” Bloomberg Businessweek (November 26). Retrieved 1/12/2015. (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-26/anita-sarkeesian-battles-sexism-in-games-gamergate-harassment)

Sarkeesian,  Anita. 2014. “It’s Game Over for ‘Gamers.’” New York Times (October 28). Retrieved 1/15/15. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/29/opinion/anita-sarkeesian-on-video-games-great-future.html)

Scimeca, Dennis. 2013. “The gender inequality in core gaming is worse than you think.”  Venturebeat (September 19). Retrieved 1/12/2015. (http://venturebeat.com/2013/09/19/gender-inequality/)

Tognotti, Chris. 2014.“What Is ‘#Gamer Gate’? It’s Misogyny, Under The Banner Of ‘JournalisticIntegrity.’” Bustle.com (September 5). Retrieved 2/12/15. (http://www.bustle.com/articles/38742-what-is-gamer-gate-its-misogyny-under-the-banner-of-journalistic-integrity)

Wu, Brianna. “I’m Brianna Wu, and I’m Risking My Life Standing Up to Gamergate.” Bustle.com (February 11). Retrieved 2/12/15.  (http://www.bustle.com/articles/63466-im-brianna-wu-and-im-risking-my-life-standing-up-to-gamergate)