The biggest tech controversy you've never heard of has actually driven people from their homes in fear for their lives. It involves people from the darkest corners of the Internet, those desperately seeking attention, and others who are trying to make the Internet a better community.
This isn't a PC versus Mac debate, or even which Internet Service Provider has aired more dirty laundry. This is about an industry that has been raking in more than $5.9 billion annually since 2012.
I'm talking about #GamerGate. Hold on to your hats, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
First, what is #GamerGate? Let me break it down for you.
#GamerGate is a hashtag that's been attached to attacks on people online, mostly women, who have either been making strides for females in the gaming industry or have been pointing out the massive problem of misogyny, objectification and domination of women in the geek and gaming culture.
Try saying that three times fast!
But seriously, this is a real problem. Have you ever looked at the games your kids and grandkids play? Many of them feature scantily-clad women, or women being harassed and treated as objects. The "Grand Theft Auto" (GTA) games, "Red Dead" games, "Saints Row" games, "Watch Dogs," and other "Teen and up" rated games come to mind.
The gaming industry has evolved to this narrow portrayal of women, power and money to the point where it basically dominates nearly every top-selling game today. But it's not just the digital women that are being disparaged.
The whole #GamerGate problem started with a lover's spat that quickly spiraled out of control. A woman named Zoe Quinn, a game developer who designed the game "Depression Quest," was given a scathing review by a jilted ex-boyfriend who had a popular blog.
The review was more of an open letter that attacked her character and accused her of sleeping with game review writers to boost good publicity for her games. There were also several screenshots of private conversations and personal details revealed about her life to the Internet that had nothing to do with her game or her professional life.
The one gaming reviewer in question had dated Quinn once but had never covered her game or wrote reviews about her company. He quoted her once in an unrelated article months before they dated and never wrote about her again.
The initial post was discovered by 4chan users, who are widely regarded as the most troublesome scum on the Internet, and they began attacking Quinn. Her accounts were hacked, and she began receiving death threats, rape threats, and threats against her family. Personal information was discovered and leaked online in an attack called "doxxing" and Quinn was ultimately driven offline and out of her home to an anonymous location for safety.
Perhaps the worst part about these attacks is not just that they happened, but that many people online accused Quinn of lying and making up the abuse to gain popularity and get donations for her (free) game. They also accused her of using her "womanly wiles" to sleep her way up the ladder in the gaming industry.
Quinn's opponents and attackers created the hashtag #GamerGate and tried to claim that the reason they were disparaging her was because it "an ethical debate about the relationship between gaming press and game developers."
Once the hashtag began to go viral on Twitter, the next victim in the #GamerGate crosshairs was a woman named Anita Sarkeesian who was similarly attacked for the website that she founded called Feminist Frequency: Conversations with Pop Culture. The website is aimed at taking a long look at all kinds of games and movies, including blockbuster titles, and how they display women.
Her videos are very insightful and well-researched, but because Sarkeesian denounced the anti-women bias that's deep-seated in the geek and gaming cultures, she was the next victim of the #GamerGate campaign. It seems a bit ironic that because Sarkeesian called out game developers and game players because of their treatment of women, she became the victim of hacking, doxxing, rape and death threats through social media.
Sarkeesian was eventually driven from her home for fear of her own safety, even after notifying police of the harassment and campaigning Twitter and other social media to disable the attacking accounts. The attacks on Quinn and Sarkeesian happened in August of 2014.
Sadly, this was not the end of the #GamerGate attacks. Brianna Wu, a game developer who created Giant Spacekat, an indie gaming company that is made up entirely of women, was next on the list of targets. She also fled her home with her husband to an anonymous location for their own safety.
Still, people are saying Wu is blowing things out of proportion or waving a "false flag" to get attention. Wu responded to a Guardian writer:
"I’d like to think I’m a respected developer in this field," she says. "At this point the FBI is involved. My local police department is involved, the Massachusetts cybercrime division is involved. If I made this up, I’ll be going to jail. I can think of no quicker way to destroy my career than doing something stupid like that."
4chan has since shut down all pages and comment threads in support of #GamerGate. Now, these despicable users have created a new base of operations called "8chan."
Now, big-name tech companies are getting involved in the fight. Both Intel and Adobe have pulled their ads from sites that have an increasing number of controversial articles about #GamerGate.
However, Intel claims that the pulling of ads off of the gaming website Gamasutra was merely a coincidence and not a direct response to the #GamerGate situation.
Adobe, meanwhile, has pulled its ads off of the gossip site Gawker after nasty messages from the Gawker Editor-in-Chief were displayed on Twitter. The messages claimed that he was going to bring back bullying, and that he supported #GamerGate.
Adobe has since released a tweet from the company's official Twitter account saying "We are vehemently opposed to bullying of any kind and would never support any group that bullies."
So, what does this mean for you? It may not seem like a big impact on your life, but I can promise you, it's bigger than you think.
As a woman who works in a traditionally male-dominated field, I can relate to these women. I've been harassed online and I know how scary it can be.
Games like "Red Dead," "GTA," "Watch Dogs," etc., might not seem like a big deal, but they're symptoms of a larger problem. I'm proof that women can succeed in technology, and if there are kids or grandkids in your family, you should encourage them to stay strong and pursue their dreams.
Men and women need to stand up to this kind of bullying together. Have you had an experience with #GamerGate or online bullying? Let me know in the comments.
I also have plenty of resources to help if you or your kids have been the victim of online bullying. There are resources for what to do after you've been attacked online, how to fight back against cyberbullying and basic steps to keep yourself and your kids safe online.