“Game Over” Talk Could be the Beginning

    Pablo Medina

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    William Castro

    From Left to Right: Keisha Howard, Fruzsina Eördögh, Margaret M. Ogarek and Adam M. Messinger. Howard answers a question during the “Game Over?” panel.

    One hundred and fifty-five million Americans play video games, 44 percent of them are female, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Yet, female gamers are often the targets of brutal harassment and bullying and even excluded from the video game industry itself.

    On Nov. 24, a group of experts on digital culture and justice studies discussed the roles gender and misogyny play in the video game industry and community at the “Game Over?” panel hosted in the Angelina Pedroso Center.

    #Gamergate — as it is referred to — is a single smear campaign that brought a dark perspective that would highlight the degradation and alienation of one gender in the history of video games. Within the panel, instances of insulting posts and dark imagery were displayed about the treatment of women in video games through slides.

    The event was organized by Adam Messinger, an assistant professor of justice studies and of women’s and gender studies at NEIU. The panel was co-sponsored by the Justice Studies Department and Women’s Resource Center.

    Other speakers included Keisha Howard, founder of female pro-gamers community website Sugar Gamers; Fruzsina Eördögh, a digital culture journalist; and Margaret M. Ogarek, Cook County deputy supervisor for the Division of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

    Messinger started the panel discussion with a talk on the disparity between the demographics of women in the video game community and within the industry itself.

    “Nearly half of all gamers are women,” Messinger said. “It’s a different story though, when we ask the question of who makes the games.”

    According to Messinger, the CEOs of various video gaming companies are male, as are 75 percent of video game designers. In addition, he pointed to a study showing that 79 percent of video game box art displays men and that the majority of video game protagonists in single-player games are male.

    He moved on to describe how the objectification of female video game characters resulted in them being less represented as strong and independent protagonists.

    “Often times, they are highly sexualized,” Messinger said. “The most common images are of women as prostitutes and as strippers. One study suggests that women who play video games regularly are much more likely to accept what are sometimes referred to as ‘rape myths,’ or beliefs that if you believe in them strong enough, you start to think rape is acceptable in some cases.”

    Messinger showed how game designers use violent acts towards women as a method of darkening the mood of an event or even as a choice for the player to progress through the plot in such games as Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto V and God of War.

    Eördögh, a digital culture journalist, described the events surrounding #Gamergate and the results of the controversial harassment campaign.

    She started her talk explaining the harassment of Zoe Quinn, a video game developer who was targeted in an online smear campaign by her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. He wrote at length in a blog post — in which he quoted numerous personal details and private communications about his relationship with Quinn and falsely accused her of engaging in a relationship with a video game journalist in exchange for a positive review of her game, Depression Quest.

    “The thing that happens a lot with men on the internet is they love coming up with conspiracy theories, and this conspiracy theory was that there are all these feminists that infiltrated the media and they were promoting this feminine agenda,” Eördögh said.

    Beyond that post, Eördögh said Gjoni proceeded to go on 4chan Internet Relay Chat rooms and convinced others to harass Quinn by spreading her personal information and lewd photos of her.

    “Just to be clear, this all started with trolls,” Eördögh said.

    The microphone turned over to Howard, who spoke of her experience playing online in a negative environment.

    “One of the things that occurred when #Gamergate happened is that all the girls were figuring out how to respond to it,” Howard said. “Because we all play online and we get all sorts of profanities when they find out you’re a girl playing Call of Duty or Gears of War.”

    Howard stood against the harassment and through her following and gaming, sought to empower women and discredit the immature responses from gaming.

    Ogarek spoke of her experience in helping victims of internet bullying.

    “A victim is a victim,” Ogarek said. “If you’re getting that kind of talk and if you’re the recipient of that hate, you deserve protection. There is no normalizing of rape talk or threat talk.”

    The most extreme of harassment explained from Ogarek’s cases is “swatting,” an online prank in which the perpetrator falsely informs the police in the victim’s area of a crime occurring at the victim’s address.

    “Basically, you’re doing something that requires a SWAT team to come to your house and bust open your door,” Ogarek said. “Gamers also do this to male gamers on Twitch, which is a funny thing to them.”

    Messinger continued on the topic of harassment toward another popular video game analyst named Anita Sarkeesian. Messinger showed examples in which Sarkeesian was taunted online with photoshopped images of violence toward her, sexist remarks and even a take on the video game medium itself.

    “Someone created a video game where every time you click the mouse, she becomes more bruised and beaten until the screen turns red,” Messinger said. “So you too can engage in attacking Anita Sarkeesian.”

    Messinger also explained the pattern in which men bring up questionable arguments for why females would be socially inferior, with references to the male-dominated military conscription, the lack of paternal rights to child custody and the supposed gender gap in college graduation, among other topics of discussion.

    Ogarek saw the experiences of female gamers and the harassment as a chance for women to change the culture of video gaming.

    “It all comes back to this fundamental change that has got to start,” Ogarek said. “Perhaps this is going to inspire young women to create new games and new stories, but I also hope this will educate some of the people out there playing the games.”