Death and rape threats are nothing new to female gamers. Women in the entertainment industry are often caught between suffering harassment and ineffective legal options, and end up with no choice but to share their stories through the media to seek justice and garner support.
One of the first mainstream stories is that of game developer Zoë Quinn. In August 2013, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend published a series of online posts that vividly chronicled the two’s tumultuous relationship and accused Quinn of having an unethical relationship with a gaming journalist. This released a barrage of horrific and constant threats to Quinn, and sparked the development of a group that calls themselves “GamerGate.”
Quinn did what you’re “supposed” to do when you get harassed, and started to collect evidence and called a lawyer. Despite a restraining order with a specialized addendum to prevent her ex from publishing any new material against Quinn, he continued to publish false, graphic material. Eventually, after a year of attempts to rally the legal system and press criminal charges failed, Quinn went public with her story and became one of the first female gamers to use media as a tool to fight discrimination in the gaming world.
Even that was a dangerous move. Alternative journalism graduate student Ever Figueroa says that while it was effective to garner support for Quinn, it also led to more attacks.
“It’s a double edged sword — she received more support from the public but it also opened herself up to more of this backlash.” Figueroa explained. “It was the only thing that she could do about [the harassment].”
Zoë Quinn isn’t the only woman who’s been forced to turn to media when the law failed. Buzzfeed’s Katie Baker revealed how female comedians in Los Angeles have started using social media to call out their harassers when comedy houses and police detectives fail to respond adequately.
These women also land on a double edged sword. Critics say that their use of social media to publicly condemn individuals could lead to “witch hunts” where innocent men are found guilty in the eyes of the public, effectively ruining their careers. What these critics fail to account for is the place women are put in between ineffective police and unresponsive comedy houses.
It’s a dangerous precedent being set. These women are being boxed in so that they have no legitimate way to protect themselves and must turn to the media to have their stories heard.
By making this the only option our legal system shoots itself in the foot, encouraging women to go beyond the system for solutions. GamerGaters and ineffective law enforcement are creating a system that is driven by ever-fluctuating public opinion rather than rule of law, and public opinion changes almost as fast as technology.
We need to have a conversation about what legislation is necessary to protect people online while still maintaining their privacy. We are also waiting for gaming culture to catch up. The upside is that these discussion are on their way.
Maclean is an advertising freshman from Austin.