The news: Just minutes after actress, nerd icon and self-described gamer Felicia Day opened up her worries about commenting on the ongoing GamerGate controversy, someone went and proved her fears were totally founded by posting her personal information in the comments section, violating her privacy and making her fear for her safety.
Writing on her Tumblr, Daywrote about her fears that speaking out about the GamerGate controversy would invite "a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline." She wrote that she had refrained from commenting on GamerGate because she was worried about being doxed — having information like her address, phone numbers or email addresses distributed over the Internet, usually for the purpose of encouraging anonymous harassment or retribution.
"I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I've seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words 'gamer gate,'" wrote Day. "I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was hard to get."
Day wasn't even taking a side in the debate, but rather commenting on the vitriol she's seen dominate the controversy. The swift and horrible invasion of her privacy — now, sadly, a common occurrence for women who comment on video games — only proves that the debate over gender, ethics, and journalism in the video game industry is destined for a disastrous end.
The background: GamerGate, which presents itself as a movement concerned about ethics in the game journalism industry, has rapidly spiraled into a ceaseless stream of vicious and misogynistic attacks on a number of prominent female gamers and advocates. The controversy originally formed after an ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn claimed she had slept with several game reviewers at websites like Kotaku in exchange for positive reviews of her game Depression Quest (a subsequent review by Kotaku found no inappropriate conduct, as it never reviewed her game, nor has any other evidence of impropriety with other reviewers emerged).
In the months since, what began with personal attacks against one developer has exploded into an angry witch hunt against perceived corruption in the gaming industry and attacks on voices for feminism and diversity in gaming, like Anita Sarkeesian, who has received countless death threats for her YouTube series investigating sexism in video games. A bomb threat sent to a university where she was to speak even made the front page of the New York Times.
Things like this prove critics right: Day wrote that she had hoped the "trolls will dissipate into the night like they always do, it will be fine ... but they have not dissipated," arguing that the extreme and misogynistic ways many in which gamers were lashing out had scared her into silence. Day has good reason to; social researcher Jennifer Allaway described how the movement has evolved into a distributed "hate group" far beyond its original intent:
As a movement, #Gamergate's first leader was Zoe Quinn's angry ex-boyfriend who posted allegations about her all over the internet in various formats. As IRC logs and video evidence show, he remained an active adviser and counselor for the group's activities in the weeks that followed. But after this initial spark, multiple figureheads (right-wing journalists, Twitter and YouTube "personalities") took up the charge and spun a single person's outrage into a solid movement. Eventually, as the movement gained its own momentum, it snowballed beyond the leaders. This leaderless quality what makes the message so hard to control, and so potentially terrifying to the targets they choose to harass.
GamerGate has unfortunately kept rolling right on through the video game industry, convincing Intel to pull ads from GamaSutra for posting feminist perspectives on gaming and inspiring countless headlines like this one:
In case anyone had doubts about GamerGate's implicit sexism, this incident is yet more proof that gamers who feel besieged by "social justice activists" and "PC demagogues" are indeed targeting women with grotesque violations of privacy and safety rather than simply making their case for a measured evaluation of ethics in the gaming industry. Former NFL player Chris Kluwe, a prominent figure in the gaming community, released a much more toxic rant about the "ignorant ... wannabe Wikipedia philosophers" and "angry neckbeards" harassing women under the banner of GamerGate and wasn't targeted for retribution in nearly the same way as Day.
It's this disparity, writes Kluwe, that is far more corrosive to the integrity of the gaming industry than ethical infraction:
We are winning the culture war. There are multiple TV shows about nerds as role models. For fuck's sake, in House of Cards, Kevin Spacey plays a goddamn U.S. Representative who relaxes by playing first-person shooters! The only danger to the things "gamers" enjoy doing (i.e. playing new games), is the threat YOU YOURSELF have created, because for some reason you think sharing your toys with others is going to make the world explode.
Kluwe and others have thoroughly documented the misogynist behavior of GamerGate trolls:
Why you should care: Whatever your feelings on GamerGate (and if you've never heard of it, you're lucky), it's not going away, and neither are the substantial number of angry trolls participating in it. The unfortunate result will likely be that a large portion of the gaming community is going to suffer in some fashion, whether it be by perpetuating stereotypes of gamers as vicious misanthropes or isolating themselves en masse from an emerging cultural discussion of gaming that will help determine the future of the medium.
But the real victims here are undoubtedly the women being harassed. And by all measurements, online trolling is a real problem that will keep growing. Some 28% of Americans admit to anonymously harassing someone via the Internet, while Pew polling has demonstrated that gaming specifically is the least welcoming environment for women out of all online spaces they considered by gigantic margins. It's disturbing and vile, but no one knows quite how to stop it.