GUEST EDITORIAL by Hayley Conway (@haylenore)
Hi #GamerGate! The media tells us it’s about misogyny, in video games. My story is a little bit different from their narrative, which is probably why you won’t hear about it on Kotaku, Polygon, or Gamasutra.
In the summer of 2012, GamerGate had not occurred, and Mass Effect 3 had just been released. I pre-ordered it and couldn’t wait to flip over the cover for a red haired FemShep. Games journalism itself had always been pretty terrible. I was able to get more use out of a physical copy of Game Informer by tightly rolling it up and smashing the bejeezus out of palmetto bugs with it. You thought Lord of the Rings: War in the North was crap? Well, I loved it. *smash*
My interest in GamerGate grew for two reasons. The first reason was because I discovered Feminist Frequency a few years ago. I was a self-identified feminist in the way that I’m glad I have the right to vote and I’m glad my gender doesn’t keep me from doing what I want to do with my life. When Anita Sarkeesian began her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series, I was on board with it. I want strong female protagonists! Why do these women have to dress like skanks to fight crime? I even donated to Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter. When my cis white neckbearded basement dwelling shitlord husband showed me that Ms. Sarkeesian was misrepresenting facts and plagiarizing her “research,” I felt as though I had been betrayed. In hindsight, I should have bought a pizza with that money, as I would have gotten far more use out of it. Because of her, I will never wear purple plaid or hoop earrings. Ever.
My second reason for embracing GamerGate is because I don’t like being demonized by people who have never met me and know nothing of my life. Nobody likes it; nobody deserves a gas chamber. When I found out about Eron Gjoni, what he’d been through with his abusive girlfriend, his struggle resonated with mine. Because of Eron and GamerGate, the realization that I am an abuse survivor was akin to experiencing an epiphany.
I needed that.
Here I want to discuss a little about my background so this story makes more sense. I was the victim of severe mental and emotional abuse for more than 25 years. I was abused by my family, by the people who were supposed to love me the most. But they were also the ones who hurt me the worst. When I left home and pursued my dream of going to graduate school to get an M.F.A. in writing, I was a total fucking mess. I went to counseling each week, I saw a psychologist, and I took medicine to help me get through what amounted to severe depression and post traumatic stress.
Gaming distracted me from doing horrible things to myself. Raiding tombs kept me from doing something self-destructive and permanent. Video games have helped many people survive tough situations that seemed hopeless. How could gaming possibly be as evil as some people want to make it out to be?
But in the summer of 2012, I was chosen to participate in a collaborative learning project run by my school and Microsoft Game Studios. A few other people from different departments participated in the project, but the bulk of the students were game designers. The class was made up of mostly guys, with a handful of girls, but if I had an idea, they listened. If I wore a dorky game shirt to class, they were all like, “I love that game!” I felt like I belonged, a girl in a “man’s world.” I talked to other folks in the class; they were so welcoming and accepting of me as a girl gamer. These guys (and gals!) were going to impress Microsoft with their incredible talents and move on to a job creating their own games. They valued what I had to say even though I wasn’t from their department, even though I had a pair of breasts and XX chromosomes.
My partner from the Writing department was a girl, and both of us were huge into video games and its “toxic culture.” My fellow writer, Lex, loved MMOs and bro shooters, while I’m a fan of single-player RPGs and retro games. Lex never talked to me in our writing classes, and I never spoke up because I was trying to keep myself from mentally unraveling. I knew about Lex from a mutual friend and from all the things Lex said about herself, whether verbally or through her writing: she was from Singapore, her parents are filthy fucking rich, she went to boarding school in Australia, she was dating a Christian guy, and when she finished grad school, she was going to move to the West Coast. When I found out that she would be in the collaborative learning class, I was a little apprehensive, but I figured this would be a good time for us to get to know each other better and discuss our love of vidya. After all, we had to work together. When you get a chance to put a line on your résumé that you worked with Microsoft(!), you’re going to want to do the best you can.
The first week of class, Lex totally ignored me. By the end of the second week, I was so distraught that we weren’t collaborating I sent her a carefully worded email asking her if we were going to work together or if it was going to be every writer for herself. A few hours later, she replied. She also CC’ed the class professor and both of the team leads and proceeded to talk about how “professional” she was. Oh, it was MY problem. Whoops.
So that was me, under a bus. Any chance of Lex and me working together was pretty much ruined. At the beginning of the third week, I spoke to my professor and explained to him what was happening. He was kind enough to let me work on other tasks away from Lex and her passive aggression, but our main goal was to create a coherent, thorough game design document. Fine. I had a job to do, and I did it. That game design doc had to be perfect because on the final day of class, the Microsoft devs would fly into town for our presentation.
Five weeks passed. Lex and I did our own thing. We emailed back and forth, but when I would try to speak to her in class, the expression on her face made it abundantly clear that she had no time for me or anything I had to say. I lost count of how many instances where I tried to initiate something myself, and Lex immediately tore it down or tried to take credit for it.
It’s about men harassing women in video games? Really?
Let’s take a moment and bend our brains. If I were to use Alex Lifschitz’ logic that even though he fetched coffee for real devs at a AAA studio he’s a “game producer,” then I can say a similar thing about myself. I worked as a writer for a AAA studio. I am a “game dev.” A female game dev. The only harassment I ever received was from ANOTHER WOMAN in the industry. This is only my story, but when all you read is one-sided tripe from the gaming media, I felt like it was important to offer another perspective.