Watching Anita Sarkeesian at XOXO

I had one more experience at the XOXO Festival that I wanted to mention. I really enjoyed Anita Sarkeesian’s talk. You can watch it here:

Sarkeesian explained her experience with humor and grace, and that really resonated with me. I don’t want to join the tone police–passionate voices have a role in this discussion too, and passion may work well for others. But I know it can be hard to take abuse while making your case with civility, and I admired Sarkeesian’s ability to rise above the fray.

As part of my job, I’ve unfortunately become somewhat of a connoisseur of vitriol and threats. My first death threat was over a decade ago in a situation involving the DMCA and the Church of Scientology (before you jump to assumptions, the death threat came from the anti-Scientology side). I got a threat at a 2002 search conference that I considered credible enough that I started carrying a cell phone with me after that. I got an open-ended threat against my family just a couple weeks or so ago, even though I haven’t been working on webspam for months.

But here’s the thing: I’ve never received threats as pointed, menacing, or explicit as Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and others discussing GamerGate have. No one should face threats of physical harm for expressing their opinions. No one should be doxxed or have their personal information posted just for expressing their opinions. That should be the starting point and the bare minimum for any discussion. If you disagree with someone, win them over with your ideas, not with threats.

I should mention that I’m a big fan of clear disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, and I’ve posted my own disclosure page at the top of my blog for over five years. I’ve also been playing computer games since Pong in the 1970s. As a kid, I wrote a script to solve Colossal Cave Adventure on a local university’s PRIMOS system. I subscribed to Electronic Games magazine back when people called them “coin-op” games. By the way, check out that Electronic Games link to see how Nintendo tried to avoid sexist language in games back in 1993. Hell, I feel bad for people who never got to play Raiders of the Lost Ark on an Atari 2600, or Infocom games on a Commodore 64, or marvel the first time they saw the parallax effect in Moon Patrol:

Moon Patrol!

The gaming world is changing, and in my opinion for the better. We’ve got browser-based games like Kingdom of Loathing or Candybox2. We’ve got absurdist wonders like Progress Quest and games you play outside like Ingress. Playing Depression Quest was important for me, because I have friends who are deeply affected by depression. I can’t wait to see where gaming goes next–how about we make virtual and augmented reality work this time around! I hope that gaming can be even more welcoming to new ideas and experiences than it was when I was a kid. I also hope everyone can agree that doxxing and threats aren’t ever welcome.

7 Responses to Watching Anita Sarkeesian at XOXO (Leave a comment)

  1. Hi Matt,
    I always knew that being in your position would attract the attention of some people who have no “filter” for acceptable human behavior, but just can’t express how sick it makes me feel to think of you being in a position to write the words “my first death threat”.

    I can only hope those people and their nastiness are far outweighed by the many friendly faces and grateful comments that have and will come your way.

    I hope also that Anita and others who have become the target of such malicious focus will also meet and hear from many more genuine and reasonable people who can show them that such behavior is the aberration and not the norm.

    All the best to you and yours for a wonderful Thanksgiving week,


  2. Good post, Matt. GamerGate is stupid, because it started off being a reasonable discussion about how close reviewers are to publishers, and turned into a vitriolic mess, most of which was directed at women.

    The saddest part is that a lot of people involved still think they’re on the right side. It’s always good when reasonable voices stand up to calmly explain why something isn’t okay.

  3. Hi,

    Remember playing Moon Patrol it was nice change compared to popular game of the time digger…..

  4. Here is a very good article on TechCrunch, which gives a good 2 sided view on the issue.

    #GamerGate – An Issue With Two Sides

    Here is his summary

    Gaming has become pretty serious over the past few weeks.

    Two sides have emerged, which believe in completely different realities. If you are to listen to the extreme of one side, you will hear that gamers are reactionary right-wingers who excuse harassment. If you listen to the extreme of the other side, every critic of GamerGate is a brainwashed activist who thinks liking Hitman Absolution or GTAV makes you worse than Hitler.

    Holding up the extremes of both sides is a great way to avoid dialogue. It’s politics – not, as Tadhg Kelly suggests, in the sense of liberals versus conservatives, but in the more fundamental sense of “my side” versus “your side.”

    In this article, I’ve attempted to dispel some of the myths that one side has been able to successfully promote in the media, and outline some of the more moderate complaints of GamerGate. To briefly summarize, they are:

    – The rise of moral crusaders, with little to no opposition from the gaming media.
    – Accusations that gamers are “anti-inclusive,” despite ample evidence that this is not the case.
    – Demonization, mischaracterization, and abuse from members of the press.
    – An inability to discuss any of the above issues on many popular online communities.
    – A press that fails to report on both sides of a contentious story.

    TechCrunch, at least, can escape that last charge. But many publications can’t. If there is any way out of this mess, the gaming press has to acknowledge its mistakes.

    Gaming shouldn’t be about politics. But so long as it is, be aware that there will always be two stories, not one. At its core, politics is about competing narratives.

    If you want a full understanding of GamerGate, be sure to hear both of them.

  5. A great friend of mine once said, if you stick your head above the crowd people will shoot at it 🙂
    He stuck his head above the crowd and so have you.

    I personally know how much of your soul has been poured into what you have done.

    I also have a glimpse of the un-knowable amount of good that you have accomplished in your work. I am sure it is even unfathomable by you.

    I am so pleased that by whatever method it was you, who got to do what you did, and not someone with a more tarnished spirit.

    Doing good when it is easy is one thing, but continuing to do good when evil forces are working to stop you, is..well, the action of a super hero.

    Thank you. Gobble Gobble.

  6. I watched Anita Sarkeesian’s video and I must say, what a bright woman! I’m shocked at the responses she’s received regarding her ambitions to equalize the playing field for men and women in the video game industry! So she doesn’t want women ubiquitously objectified. What’s the harm in that? It’s not like she’s saying, “Get the pitchforks, we’re going for their heads!”

    The comments these male chauvinists are making are only proving her point. Cheer up fellas, let’s be nice and play fair!

  7. No one should be subjected to threats of physical harm for expressing their opinions. Everyone has a voice and nobody should be an echo. That’s how ideas are born and new innovations happen.

    There’s a place for all genders in today’s society. Male chauvinists, or any chauvinists for that matter, should go live on a different planet.