GamerGate, Parenting, and a Return to Console Gaming

I’ve always loved video games, but I’ve never been someone that always had a console. From birth to present day, I’ve had NES > Game Gear > N64 > Gamecube > Wii > Xbox 360 > Xbox One.

With each console, there was a significant break in between purchases, and how much I could play. With the most recent Xbox purchases, there was a long gap between owning the 360 and the One (I sold my 360 within a year or so of owning it).

Last fall, my gaming interest piqued again. So, after a break of not having a console for a while, I got an Xbox One over Christmas.

There were three interrelated reasons I wanted to get a console again: Feminist Frequency, GamerGate, and my young daughter.

Last fall, GamerGate coverage exploded across gaming and tech sites. Feminist critics like Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and others were being targeted because of their critiques of misogynist tropes in video games. When I say “targeted,” I mean their lives were repeatedly threatened, and they experienced devastating amounts of bullying/threatening on Twitter.

I started watching Feminist Frequency to see why people were attacking Ms. Sarkeesian so viciously. It opened my eyes to the types of (often unconscious) stereotypes found in video games and other media.

Now, I’m not the person that has claim to social prejudice or stereotype. I’m a white, married, middle-class man (and if you want to get really personal — straight, cisgender, and Protestant Christian). But being in a place of privilege, even if it is one that I had little part in constructing, does not excuse me from uncovering my own unconscious biases. In fact, it obliges me to uncover them.

Sometimes I’ve struggled with what my particular role in discussions like these should be. I don’t want to perpetuate the struggles people without my privileged background have faced. I don’t even want to be perceived as perpetuating them. I also don’t know how much my own voice would matter. After all, I can’t speak for anyone: I can’t speak for women, for people of other races, for people of other classes. (And white men assuming they can speak on behalf of others has been the problem for a very long time.)

I can speak in support of others, however. I can be an ally. I can express my own point of view, no matter how out of place that may be, and describe why these things matter to me. I can explain why it’s important to me that nobody will disadvantage my daughter simply because she is a girl, and will one day be a woman, and that same concern extends to everyone.

This is a broad societal concern. But back to why this matters for games.

I believe that games are incredibly personal narratives. They require action on the part of the participant. You are not asked to sit back and absorb an artifact; instead, you are asked to sit forward and interact with an environment. You participate with the game makers in creating an experience.

I also believe that the level of interactivity in entertainment (and in developed society overall) will only increase in the coming years. I want to understand the pressures and realities my daughter will face.

If those two things are true — games are personal, and the interactive nature of our communication technologies will continue to increase— then it becomes all the more important to understand and participate in them.

Yes, I also play games because they are fun. Killing orcs in Shadow of Mordor and playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection with my buddies has absolutely nothing to do with my role as a parent. But I also want to know how to parent my daughter the best I possibly can, and knowing the sort of media messaging she will receive — as well as the type of culture that surrounds them — is essential to that effort.

I’m not seeking to mansplain to her. I’m seeking to guide her and prepare her, as well as any parent can, for a future that will be unfamiliar to me, and for struggles I will not know or understand.

And I get to play video games along the way.