One of the weekend's huge draws was “Internetting While Female,” with powerhouse panelists Anita Sarkeesian (Feminist Frequency), Katherine Cross (Nuclear Unicorn), and Carolyn Petit (GameSpot). The blend of the presenters' backgrounds lent for a rich, multifaceted discussion, as an independent cultural critic, an academic, and a mainstream game reviewer, respectively. As a direct result of their critiques of video games, all three women have borne the brunt of some of the choicest vitriolic misogynist rage the internet has to offer. Links to examples are not necessary, just know that it's worse than you could possibly imagine (unless you've experienced it yourself, in which case, you know just how horrific it can get). Given the dark reality of the subject matter, this could have easily been a depressing recollection of the ugliest manifestations of human behavior on the internet. Instead, the panel struck an abidingly hopeful note and left quite a few people inspired to collectively work toward an ever-better future in gaming.
Pictured (L to R): Carolyn Petit, Katherine Cross, and Anita Sarkeesian
As a writer for a mainstream gaming site, Petit noted how any critique of sexism in her game reviews is seen as an “imbalance in the natural order” of things, reflecting the entitlement that the catered-to demographic of white, straight male gamers exert around video games. Cross provided historical context for this entitlement. Anti-video game crusaders like Jack Thompson, Joe Lieberman, and Jack Chick (of the infamous anti-D&D Chick tract) fostered the creation of the overreactive “male gamer terror dream,” as Cross so eloquently named it. Young male gamers have a legitimate, but misplaced, fear of having their favorite medium taken away from them and therefore lash out at any critique of video games. It is also within this framework, Cross noted, that disappointing endings to games like Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 evoke hyperbolic responses (like complaints to the FTC) that are, as the infinitely-quotable Cross put it, “worse than a reaper invasion.”
It is within the context of this “background radiation” that the panelists experience such violent and irrational responses to their work. Petit's now-infamous GTA V review (which dared to point out the game's glaring misogyny) resulted in petitions to get her fired even though, as Sarkeesian noted, she gave the game a 9 out of 10 rating! Sarkeesian lamented that for all her carefully considered language (“I spend hours crafting one tweet!”) and well-researched positions (“We sit around and think, what are all of the counter arguments that can be made here?”), the video responses to her work often ignore its content in favor of some “chemtrails level bullshit,” as Petit put it. Sarkeesian noted that the response is much more often, “You said words, how dare you,” than legitimate criticism of her critique. This experience is not unique to the gaming world, with Cross citing examples of women-silencing stretching back to antiquity (involving cut-out tongues, literally).
The panelists' answers to the obvious question about burn-out and cynicism were enough to swell the stoniest hearts. Touching on the theme of GaymerX2 (#everybodygames), Petit expressed the reverberating sentiment that “games are for everyone” and “worth fighting for.” Sarkeesian owned her self-proclaimed cynicism as “an appropriate response to how awful things are” in the gaming industry. Noting the transphobic and misogynist reactions she's received, Cross expressed a profound sadness at the fact that “at the end of the day, every single person who has attacked me has been malformed by society.” She lamented the waste of potentially productive creative energies funneled into destructive attacks on them.
The panelists exhorted to the audience to “step up” in support of feminist, trans-positive commentary and content. Addressing the “valuable and essential role” of allies, Cross noted the “core to being an ally is to see us as people.” Sarkeesian noted, “if you're being called a white knight, you're probably doing something right.” Cross' Freaks reference (“Become one of us!”) got a warm reception. Not to get too rose-colored-glasses about the whole thing, but the talk ended on an unabashedly hopeful note. Sarkeesian, Petit and Cross conveyed a sense that the rigidly policed boundaries of gaming are, in fact, permeable and flexible enough to expand to accommodate all of us.