The regressive norms of gamer culture are no secret. Despite recent efforts to create socially responsible games, troubling levels of sexism, racism, and homophobia persist – both among player groups and in many games themselves. A welcome new online place to find intelligent discussion of these issues is ADA: Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. Below is a short excerpt from a recent piece by Mia Consalvo entitled “Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Game Studies Scholars.”
“With increasing frequency the ugliness of gamer culture is being put on display for the wider world to see. While I was writing this piece, for example, a Canadian blogger created a game where one can punch and bruise the face of Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the popular website Feminist Frequency: Conversations with Pop Culture (Spurr, 2012). The game was in response to news of her Kickstarter campaign, where she proposed investigating portrayals of women in videogames over the past few decades. The game was only the latest in a string of attacks on Sarkeesian for her proposed project: she also received death threats, had her Wikipedia page defaced with pornographic imagery, and was repeatedly harassed on the Kickstarter page and elsewhere. About a month prior to that, in June 2012 a controversy erupted about Lara Croft’s alleged past in the latest Tomb Raider game, where sexual assault had helped form her character according to one of the game’s developers (Schreier, 2012). In May, the annual videogame expo E3 became the topic of controversy when multiple sources declared it a space hostile to women and juvenile in its approach to games (Alexander, 2012; Williams, 2012). Brenda Brathwaite tweeted while at the event about feeling harassed simply by walking the show floor, and games journalist Katie Williams related stories of industry PR reps that immediately discounted her ability to play their games, saying to her “I think I better play it for you,” and then “prying my hands away and turning the keyboard towards himself” (Williams, 2012).
“And we can keep going back. Earlier this year, Jennifer Hepler, a writer for BioWare titles like Dragon Age and Star Wars: The Old Republic, had sexist assaults launched at her for daring to suggest games might allow players to press a button to skip combat, much like some games allow players to press a button to skip cut-scenes. Around the same time the fighting game community became embroiled in a controversy about its history of sexist language and practices. During a reality television show about competitions, one team’s coach proclaimed that sexual harassment is an “important part” of the fighting game community and it needs to continue (Hamilton, 2012). And over the span of many months beginning in August 2010 Penny Arcade became embroiled in a wide-ranging debate centering on a comic featuring a joke about dickwolves and rape. The initial strip led to protests by upset readers, followed by indifferent responses by the creators, real life threats of rape against some women who dared to speak out, and the creation by Penny Arcade authors of “team dickwolves” t-shirts that were going to be on sale at PAX East, but were later removed from circulation.”