In an ABC News segment last week, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian again hit the media circuit with her crusade against “misogynist” video games. For many gamers, her appearance was reminiscent of odd-ball moral crusader Jack Thompson, who in the late 1990’s argued for regulation of violent games like Grand Theft Auto on the theory they were corrupting the youth of America. Thompson, who was ultimately disbarred for his abuse of the legal system, made numerous media appearances claiming teens used the games as “murder simulators” before committing school shootings and other acts of violence.
While there is some overlap between Thompson and Sarkeesian, their ideologies, support networks, and potentials for success couldn’t be more different. Conflating the two is dangerous because it underestimates the severe threat Sarkeesian poses to free expression in gaming culture, which until now has managed to remain relatively free of political hijackings.
The most fundamental difference between Thompson and Sarkeesian derives from political visions – Thompson being a Christian conservative, and Sarkeesian a progressive feminist. Thompson was clear throughout his campaign that he was trying to protect young children and took no issue with adults enjoying the content. Sarkeesian’s mandate is more sweeping, based on the notion that the culture itself is misogynist and that most popular games today are a problem. Thompson, for all his faults and fumbling, was guilty of taking an otherwise agreeable concept too far: that we have a responsibility to protect still-developing minds from harmful influences. Sarkeesian instead infantilizes all gamers and injects demonstrably effective victimhood messaging and identity politics into her arguments. As a self-anointed culture elite, progressives like her feel obligated to dictate acceptable content for the rest of us.
Another key difference is that while Thompson remained a buffoonish object of ridicule and never gained mainstream support for his beliefs, Sarkeesian is successfully waging a proxy battle in the larger culture war, tactfully exploiting political inroads with nearly the entire progressive and feminist movements backing her cause. Sarkeesian’s company, Feminist Frequency, has hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and has raised over $160,000 through sympathy donations in the past year alone. Unlike the skepticism Thompson often received from interviewers, The Colbert Report, ABC Nightline, and other programs have lent Sarkeesian a sympathetic ear and granted her free platforms to broadcast her propaganda wholesale. Thompson, an extremist within his own broader circle, never enjoyed the support of any significant number of conservatives, Christians, or any other movement. Sarkeesian cuts a clear contrast, being cheered on by progressives as the face of feminism in gaming, and the misrepresentations of game events in her videos mirror the “rape culture” hysteria and false statistics appearing on any mainstream feminist blog.
Most troubling of all is the 5th column element that has arisen within the gaming community itself, undermining the GamerGate backlash and opening the gates for social justice reformers. Geek celebrities Wil Wheaton, Chris Kluwe, and Seth Rogen have joined Sarkeesian in condemning “gamer” culture, as have some game developers like Tim Schafer. The same gaming publications that staunchly opposed Thompson have, for the most part, cast lot with Sarkeesian via the “Gamers Are Dead” articles and subsequent pieces tarring resistance as a misogynist hate mob – a standard Alinskyite smear tactic.
As TNV has pointed out before, gaming has a progressive problem that needs addressing. Sarkeesian and other “social justice warriors” aren’t going to abandon their endeavors until gaming is no longer a fertile ground for exploitation. Only when this threat is correctly identified, rejected, and marginalized through a united front will gamers again be able to enjoy their hobby free from the pernicious shaming and oppressiveness of political correctness culture.