It's been hard to miss the current dustup on twitter where women in the gaming industry and press have been harassed for speaking up on the topic of misogyny in the game industry. Their harassers, a small splinter of 4chan, accused these women of being corrupt for events in their personal lives or for simply expressing their informed—both by personal experience and data—opinion. The violent and threatening harassment targeted multiple women including independent developers Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and critic Anita Sarkeesian. In multiple cases these threats, both physical and sexual in nature, have been specific enough to force these women and their families to flee their home and go into hiding.
This harassment is inexcusable and criminal behavior.
Good sources have written about and reported on the details of this situation, and the larger issues at play in the gaming industry. Ultimately it was something else that caught my attention however, something that feels like a very dangerous trend overall: the open and free access to an unstable reserve of anger via internet communities. This anger reserve acts as an escalation of force making situations much more dangerous and in the aforementioned case resulted in the FBI getting involved. The worst part about it is it only takes a bit of catalyst to get this chain reaction started.
These reactions can start many ways, but the most disturbing dust-ups can stem from sharing legitimate criticism, such as Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency videos. Her videos, calmly state a point of view, but can explode when respondents demonstrate a lack of critical intelligence and, in lieu of civil discourse, begin to engage in the lowest level of arguing that embraces a dangerous level of binary thinking and anger.
Before I go further I'd like to establish a bit of my perspective here as it relates to the situation at hand.
- The harassment of and the attempt to purge the gaming industry of women is unequivocally despicable and abhorrent.
- Women are underrepresented in the video game industry, and while there are plenty of well-intentioned men in the industry who would prefer to make the media more inclusive for gamers of all genders, being primarily a "boy's club" has an undeniable effect.
- Those doing the harassment are a small group that do not reflect the opinions the industry as a whole.
- Those who have come to the support of the women being harassed are almost universally doing so in a way that shows incredible amounts of eloquence, tenacity, and restraint.
But, all of that said, this is just one example of a larger problem.
Its deeply concerning that people respond emotionally and continue to add rage to the system creating a feedback loop, that encourages responses to be more and more black and white and extreme until it reaches a peak level where there is a truly abhorrent level of rage filled and sometimes threatening comments. Worst of all, in a scenario where one side is just being picked on like the one above, this rage cycle can happen with very little input from the side of those who are victimized.
And this is dangerous. Extremely dangerous. Operating at peak outrage is a mob mentality that has lead to some of the worst incidents in history, and even at a small scale this can be extremely dangerous and destabilizing to our society through cumulative effect.
And this is happening, on a smaller scale, on countless Facebook posts and in Twitter conversations right this second. It's ruining relationships between friends and acquaintances, and worst of all its locking everything in an us vs them context that is beginning to wear thin the threads of society. There is outrage, blame, and politics now in every issue, even those that demonstrably have no politics in them.
This is not a new phenomenon. The media—meaning the methods of delivery, not just the news—is different and increases the rate of reaction, but the effect is demonstrably the same. We build up topics and political figures to be the apotheosis of our hate. For example think of how many people do you know that would regard something that Presidents Obama or Bush said with outrage just because of the politician saying it. Black and white thinking and systematically entrenching that rigid thought system by making every action or statement of one to be worthy of public outrage.
How can we mitigate these destructive group thought patterns? I don't know. But I do believe that we can, if so motivated, mitigate the individual thought patterns that contribute to the mob mentality. I attempt to do this by staying out of arguments that are being argued in a negative fashion. An example being: "I'm tired of people who say that..." or "I can't believe that there are people who still think..." or something similar. Additionally, I find it to be extremely useful to step away from the problem and compose your thoughts, and not responding from a place of outrage, but a place of thought. Being cautious about when to speak out is important, but saying something about things you deeply care about is important, because we must communicate to solve these issues.