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#GamerGate: Why a fight over video games, feminism and journalism ethics should matter for parents

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

When fighting within the gaming community trickles down to impact our children

For the past few weeks, the online video community has been embroiled in #GamerGate, a hashtag created to discuss both the treatment of women in the gaming community and the ethics of journalism in gaming.

As a writer, I’m interested in the journalism ethics aspect, but as a parent, I’ve been more drawn to what I feel is the crux of it all — the role of women in gaming. #GamerGate was born after game developer Zoe Quinn and media critic Anita Sarkeesian were horrifically harassed and abused online just because they were women. Sarkeesian was most recently dragged through the mud for calling out the game "Mafia II: Joe’s Adventures," which has a section that takes place in a strip club where bullets fly over a dead and scantily clad exotic dancer. Her critique of the game really pissed off some dudebros who felt the best way to respond was to tweet direct threats to Sarkeesian and her family, causing her to contact authorities.

Unfortunately, #GamerGate is just the newest iteration of the crappy way women are treated when it comes to gaming. From the way women are actually represented within video games, to the disrespect actual women are shown when they write for and about games, it’s clear that the gaming community has a vocal men’s club who aren't afraid of looking like ugly, sexist trolls when it comes to women. While it may just seem like harmless “fun” to those who are harassing women online in the gaming world, it can have real-world consequences, especially when it comes to our kids.

I have a 7-1/2-year-old son who is just starting to get into video games. For now we keep a fairly tight rein on what he’s exposed to, and limit games that are too violent or are clearly sexist in the way they portray female characters. It’s tough. But, it makes it worth it when he’s playing the LEGO Movie game and purposefully changes his character so he can play as Wildstyle. According to my son, "She’s just really awesome." I hope he takes this way of thinking with him throughout his video game playing, but he’s going to come up against some real challenges. Unfortunately, there aren’t many "awesome" roles for female characters in a lot of video games, and there is definitely an impact to seeing women being treated as window dressing, as disposable or as something to save or win.

While the hate toward women within the gaming community doesn’t extend to everyone, it’s still real and vocal and something my son may come across as he gets older. My hope is that he will be the one calling out the injustices and inequalities he sees within games and the way women gamers are treated, but the repercussions of that can be just as challenging. Two video game journalists, Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice, said they would no longer be writing about video games due to being harassed as well.

Video games should be an escape from the real world — sure. But they shouldn’t be an escape from the responsibility of acting like a good person. I’m happy for my son to play video games, but I will do my damndest to prevent him from getting sucked into the dark side of the online gaming community, and I’m not talking about fire-breathing dragons and warlords.

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