As a gamer, philosopher and human being, I was morally outraged when I learned of the latest death threats against Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian, who is well known as a moral critic of the misogynistic rot defiling gaming, was scheduled to speak at Utah State University. Emails were sent that threatened a mass shooting if her talk was not cancelled. For legal reasons, the University was not able to prevent people from being weapons to the talk, so Sarkeesian elected to cancel her talk because of concerns for the safety of the audience.
This incident is just the latest in an ongoing outpouring of threats against women involved in gaming and those who are willing to openly oppose sexism and misogyny in the gaming world (and in the real world). Sadly, this sort of behavior is not surprising and it is part of two larger problems: internet trolling and misogyny.
As a philosopher, I am in the habit of arguing for claims. However, there seems to be no need to argue that threatening women with violence, rape or death because they are opposed to misogyny in gaming and favor more inclusivity in gaming is morally wicked. It is also base cowardice in many cases: those making the threats often hide behind anonymity and spew their vile secretions from the shadows of the internet. That such people are cowards is not a shock: courage is a virtue and these are clearly people who are strangers to virtue. When they engage in such behavior on the internet, they are aptly named trolls. Gamers know the classic troll as a chaotic evil creature of great rage and little intellect, which tends to fit the internet troll reasonable well. But, the internet troll can often be a person who is not actually committed to the claims he is making. Rather, his goal is typically to goad others and get emotional responses. As such, the troll will pick his tools with a calculation to the strongest emotional impact and these tools will thus include racism, sexism and threats. There are those who go beyond mere trolling—they are the people who truly believe in the racist and sexist claims they make. They are not using misogynist and racist claims as tools—they are speaking from their rotten souls. Perhaps these creatures should be called demons rather than trolls.
While the moral right to free expression does include the saying of awful and evil things, a person should not say such things. This should not be punishable by the law (in most cases), but should be regarded as immoral actions. Matters change when threats are involved. Good sense should be used when assessing threats. After all, people Tweet and post from unthinking anger and without true intent. There are also plenty of expressions that seem to promise violence, but are also used as expressions of anger. For example, people say “I could kill you” even when they actually have no intent of doing so. However, people do make threats that have real intent behind them. While the person might not actually intend to commit the threatened act (such as murder or rape), there can be an intent to psychologically harm and harass the target and this can do real harm. When I contributed my work on fallacies to a site devoted to responding to holocaust deniers I received a few random threats. I was not too worried, but did have a feeling of cold anger when I read the emails. My ex-wife, who was a feminist philosopher, received the occasional threats and I was certainly worried for her. As such, I have some very limited understanding of what it would be like receiving threats and how this can impact a person’s life. Inflicting such a harm on an individual is wrong and legal sanctions should be taken in such cases. There is a right to express ideas, but not a right to threaten, abuse and harass. Especially in a cowardly manner from the shadows.
As might be suspected, I am in support of increasing the involvement of women in gaming and I favor removing sexism from games. My main reason for supporting more involvement of women in gaming is the same reason I would encourage anyone to game: I think it is fun and I want to share my beloved hobby with people. There is also the moral motivation: such exclusion is morally repugnant and unjustified. If there are any good arguments against women being more involved in playing and creating games, I would certainly be interested in seeing them. But, I am quite sure there are none—if there were, people would be presenting those rather than screeching hateful threats from their shadowed caves.
As far as removing sexism from video games, the argument for that is easy and obvious. Sexism is morally wrong and games that include it would thus be morally wrong. Considering the matter as a gamer and an author of tabletop RPG adventures, I would contend that the removal of sexist elements would improve games and certainly not diminish their quality. True, doing so might rob the sexists and misogynists of whatever enjoyment they get from such things, but this is not a loss that is even worthy of consideration. In this regard, it is analogous to removing racist elements from games—the racist has no moral grounds to complain that he has been wronged by the denial of his opportunity to enjoy his racism.
I do, of course, want to distinguish between sexual elements and sexism. A game can have sexual elements without being sexist—although there can be a fine line between the two. I am also quite aware that games set in sexist times might require sexist elements when recreating those times. So, for example, a WWII game that has just male generals need not be sexist (although it would be reflecting the sexism of the time). Also, games can legitimately feature sexist non-player characters, just as they can legitimately include racist characters and other sorts of evil traits. After all, villains need to be, well, villains.
T. J. Babson says
“As might be suspected, I am in support of increasing the involvement of women in gaming…”
Mike, women are *not* underrepresented in gaming.
Congratulations, gamer girls—you’re officially at the top of the food chain when it comes to games. A new study released by the Entertainment Software Association has revealed that adult women now occupy the largest demographic in the gaming industry. Women over 18 made up a whopping 36 percent of the gaming population, followed by adult men at 35 percent.
Teenage boys, who are often stereotyped as the biggest gamers, now lag far behind their older female counterparts, making up just 17 percent of the gaming demographic.
Michael LaBossiere says
Problem solved, then. But, I am still in support of more women being involved in gaming. And men as well. All shall be gamers.
Thanks for writing a post on this subject. I think there’s a lot of psychology involved in this subject. I think confident, mature, intelligent, good looking, older, professional, and moral gamers like yourself are the exception, whereas the rule would be confidence lacking, immature, unintelligent, unattractive, nonprofessional, and amoral (if not immoral) younger men who have an axe to grind against the women who reject them. The fantasy gamer world allows these men to act out their revenge fantasies. Sometime these sorts of men will act out these fantasies in real life, but they are, in general, too cowardly to do so, as you point out. Instead they will lash out online with vile threats (via a false identity) against an intelligent, beautiful, and brave women who criticizes their misogynistic games and gaming culture. Antia shines the light of truth on their disgusting habit and they hate her 1) because she’s right; and 2) because she represents the women who reject them.
Michael LaBossiere says
I have met misogynist gamers. Some are as you describe-their rage against women is very personal and based on past rejections. Others have considerable success with women, but see them (and people in general) just as means to their own ends. Most male gamers I know well are in relationships and not maladjusted, but my sample set is biased-it is composed of people I like.
T. J. Babson says
“…whereas the rule would be confidence lacking, immature, unintelligent, unattractive, nonprofessional, and amoral (if not immoral) younger men who have an axe to grind against the women who reject them.”
Stereotyping and bigotry. But of course it is PC to dump on men.
Michael LaBossiere says
That is a good point. Men are stereotyped, too.