I had a day off this weekend from shooting Supernatural, and I was walking around downtown Vancouver on Saturday, sampling all the artisan coffee I could get my throat around. At one point I saw a pair of guys walking towards me wearing gamer shirts. Black short-sleeved, one Halo and one Call of Duty.
Now in my life up until this point, that kind of outfit has meant one thing: Potential comrades. I love games, I love gaming. If it’s Friday night, I’m not out hanging at a club, I’m diving into a new game I downloaded on Steam. And I am blessed with the fact that my career is largely built upon that love, which I channeled into fiction so many years ago with “The Guild”. If there’s anything I’m proud of in this world, it’s the fact that I’ve had people come up to me on the street and at conventions over the years to tell me that they feel confident to call themselves a gamer because of my work, where before they were ashamed. Hearing that kind of stuff has kept me going, against the mainstream, against all odds.
So seeing another gamer on the street used to be an auto-smile opportunity, or an entry into a conversation starting with, “Hey, dude! I love that game too!” Me and that stranger automatically had something in common: A love for something unconventional. Outsiders in arms. We had an auto-stepping stone to hurtle over human-introduction-awkwardness, into talking about something we loved together. Instant connection!
But for the first time maybe in my life, on that Saturday afternoon, I walked towards that pair of gamers and I didn’t smile. I didn’t say hello. In fact, I crossed the street so I wouldn’t walk by them. Because after all the years of gamer love and inclusiveness, something had changed in me. A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that those guys and I might not be comrades after all. That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.
I went home and was totally, utterly depressed.
I have not said many public things about Gamer Gate. I have tried to leave it alone, aside from a few @ replies on Twitter that journalists have decided to use in their articles, siding me against the hashtag. Why have I remained mostly silent?
Self-protection and fear.
I have been through a lot in my years on the internet. I have encountered a small fraction of the attacks from people like the ones who currently represent the worst of this “movement”. In the past, I worked through it alone because I felt shining a light on their words gave them exactly what they wanted: Attention and credibility. To say that their attacks and contempt didn’t set me back creatively would be a lie, but overall I got through the twists and turns, emotionally battered, but alright. My philosophy has always been, “Exist and represent yourself the way you want to exist as a woman who loves games, not as a reflection of what other people think or want of you. You will change minds by BEING. Show, don’t tell.” The attacks I experienced over the years were NOTHING compared to people who are the victims of these attacks now, but I still thought early on during the Gamer Gate phenomenon, “These trolls will dissipate into the night like they always do, it will be fine.”
But they have not dissipated. And because of the frightening emotions and actions attached to what has happened over the last month, the events are sure to have a long-lasting affect on gaming as a culture. The fact that it has affected me, to the point where I decided to cross the street last weekend away from those gamers, was heartbreaking. Because I realized my silence on the issue was not motivated by some grand strategy, but out of fear that the issue has created about speaking out.
I have been terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline. I did one simple @ reply to one of the main victims several weeks back, and got a flood of things I simply couldn’t stand to read directed at me. I had to log offline for a few days until it went away. I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words “Gamer Gate”. I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was HARD to get. To have my location revealed to the world would give a entry point for any mentally ill person who has fixated on me, and allow them to show up and make good on the kind of threats I’ve received that make me paranoid to walk around a convention alone. I haven’t been able to stomach the risk of being afraid to get out of my car in my own driveway because I’ve expressed an opinion that someone on the internet didn’t agree with.
HOW SICK IS THAT?
I have allowed a handful of anonymous people censor me. They have forced me, out of fear, into seeing myself a potential victim.
And that makes me loathe not THEM, but MYSELF.
So I write this to urge any person, male or female, who now has the impulse to do what I did, to walk away from something they loved before, to NOT.
Don’t let other people drive you away from gaming.
Games are beautiful, they are creative, they are worlds to immerse yourself in. They are art. And they are worth fighting for, even if the atmosphere is ugly right now. A small minority are putting up barbed wire walls between us who love games. And that is sad. Because odds are 99% certain that those guys on the street who I avoided would have been awesome to talk to. I realize that letting the actions of a few hateful people influence my behavior is the absolutely worst thing I could do in life. And not an example I want to set, ever.
So to myself and to everyone else who operates out of love not vengeance: Don’t abandon games. Don’t cross the street. Gaming needs you. To create, to play, to connect.
I know this entry will probably draw contempt from people in the Gamer Gate movement. Something to scorn, something to rile them up against me and everything I’ve ever made. Especially, and most hurtfully, to mock my vulnerability. I just have one thing to say to you who do that: I’m genuinely sorry you are so angry.
I have lived a large part of my life ruled by negative emotions, mainly fear and anxiety. From my experience of working through those issues, I have this to say: Steeping yourself in the emotions that you’re surrounding yourself with, of hatred and bile and contempt, is ultimately not destructive to others like you want it to be. It’s destructive to yourself.
I know it feels good to belong to a group, to feel righteous in belonging to a cause, but causing fear and pushing people away from gaming is not the way to go about doing it. Think through the repercussions of your actions and the people you are aligning yourself with. And think honestly about whether your actions are genuinely going to change gaming life for the better. Or whether they’re just going to make someone cross the street away from you. And away from something, ironically, that we both love.