Why “Nerd Culture” As It Is Now Is Hurting Us

Anita Sarkeesian, author of blog Feminist Frequency, won't be speaking at Utah State University anymore because somebody threatened to kill everyone if she did, and Utah University didn't care.

If you're horrified (rightfully), but don't know who that is (it happens), here's some history: Sarkeesian isn't a favourite of certain gamers, and has repeatedly been the victim of threats of violence in response to her feminist views on gaming and gaming culture. In 2012, the blogger "came under fire" (read: was harassed and threatened) in response to a Kickstarter for her video series, "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games," and she then became the subject of an online game called "Beat Up Anita Sarkessian" which should absolutley be making you feel as sick as you probably do.

So yeah, when a call came through to shoot up Utah Statue University in a "Montreal Massacre style attack," she bowed out. But not because of the threats — which she receives on a regular basis — but because the school still chose to allow concealed weapons at an event in which an anonymous source threatened mass murder at the hands of a firearm. (Cool, Utah. Very daring.)

"To be clear," she tweeted last night. "I didn't cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats, I cancelled because I felt the security measures were inadequate."

And hey, I think we can all agree that we owe Sarkeesian about 4924824 words on bravery, because damn: she is tough, and strong, and we are all very right to feel inspired by her. But right now we're going to talk about the knee-jerk reaction gaming and "nerd" culture seem to have in response to seeing women as equal beings, and that the response to a woman saying, "Hey — women aren't depicted well in video games" calls for threats of murder. How fucked up is that?! Answer: Very.

We're currently living in a time in which, thanks to the Internet, space is unlimited. There is room for everyone in gaming, in nerd culture, in whatever. I promise you: there is room. But by differentiating themelves between "us" and "them," members of the above communities turn their subcultures into a real-life "you can't sit with us situation." And then they wonder why their table is empty, and why the rest of us are having a good time.

I understand how wonderful it is to have a thing. I also, as someone who grew up not fitting in, understand what it's like to find a community or a subculture in which you feel truly understood and liked and valued. That feeling is amazing. What is less amazing is when those groups feed off things like "nice guy" myths and bitterness and misogyny; when it becomes everybody else's fault that they are the way they are, like they had no control over becoming the person they grew into being. (Spoiler alert: we are all in control.) So then they sit, playing out their anger and harbouring resentment, and when a woman comes in to say, "Hey — this isn't very fair," they lash out because how dare she. How dare she not date them in high school, how dare she infringe on this sacred space where women are objects and objects alone, and how dare she stoop to even trying to understand their world. (Which is what you'll see when a woman dresses up Comic-Con and comes under fire for "not being a real fan." And, well, fuck that.)

First, women don't owe anybody anything. Second, these sad, sick, hateful people are ruining communities that weren't supposed to be this way. Exclusion is exclusion, and if you're looking at women and the rest of the world and saying, "No — you're not good enough," it's no different then when you weren't invited to that thing you wanted to go to a long time ago. These mindsets also exclude the gamers who first showed up because they didn't subscribe to the myth of male macsulinity; who weren't interested in the patriarchy, and just wanted to play their fucking games. What gaming and nerd culture has evolved into is a boys' club that rivals UFC night at a Chili's on a Saturday. Which is unfair to people who just want to game, people who make games, and anyone who just really loved feeling like they belong. None of those people signed up to hurl hate and threats to a smart, intelligent woman trying to do her job.

And I know not all gamers are this way; not all nerds (we're all nerds, right?) are this way. A small, very vocal part of those worlds are. But that small, very vocal part is painting gaming and nerd culture with hatred and sexism and poisoning what was otherwise a safe space. But like I said, there is endless space. Make room. Let ideas in, and other people, and differing views in. Or, at the very least, choose not to subscribe to mandates that justify making video games that encourage violence towards women, or threatening to kill a woman who is simply bringing to attention serious issues plaguing pop culture. It's the least any of us can do.

Tags: Anita Sarkeesian, gaming culture, Utah State University

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  1. Avatar
    • Anne K
    • October 15, 2014
    Thank you. As a female gamer, I often avoid online multiplayer formats in which I don’t know anyone because of the vitriol and downright shitty behavior exhibited by this small, sad group of people.

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