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Gamergate is in crisis. A new feminist enemy has emerged, a villain even more diabolical than women with opinions in the game industry: Now, females are busting ghosts! The social justice warriors (SJWs) are at it again, and frothing anger has consumed Gamergate for months.
On a normal day, Gamergate headquarters on Reddit is filled with thoughtful topics like, “I Lost Several Friends over my Comments on ‘Reverse-Racism!’” Or, “Blackface in Cosplay – is it okay?!” But lately, stamping out the plague of women Ghostbusters is job number one. “Melissa McCarthy thinks Ghostbuster haters don’t have friends!” exclaims one Gamergate topic. “Sony’s getting desperate to get people to see the new Ghostbusters!” exclaims another. “My mom hated the trailer!” says yet another.
If you’re fortunate enough not to know, Gamergate is the misogynist hate group of the video game world. For much of 2014 and 2015, women like myself who make video games were barraged with rape threats, death threats, and targeted doxing—so much so in my case that I was forced to leave my house. It’s the newest frontier of the culture wars. While some fight for social change by protesting police killings in Baton Rouge or founding websites where transgender people can find health care, Gamergate has weaponized the internet comment, sending waves of angry Reddit users at any SJW they disagree with.
This last week has been tough for Gamergate. As overwhelmingly positive reviews for the Ghostbusters reboot come out, Gamergate knows who’s to blame: Corrupt journalists, just like the last time. “Sony has been accused of astroturfing and paying for good reviews!” exclaims one Gamergater. “Ideology over honesty. The Polygon story,” complains another.
For a hate group originally focused on video games, anger over a comedy movie for starring women might seem ridiculous. But at its core, Gamergate is about a toxic male sense of ownership over geek culture. Any reasonable person can look at video games and see that we don’t represent women well. As the majority of gamers are now women, according to a 2014 study, games are changing to be more inclusive and less overtly sexist. That’s a problem for Gamergate, because they base their identity in the games they consume. There’s a sense that gamer culture belongs to them.
It wouldn’t be Gamergate without a woman with an opinion being subject to harassment. Independent filmmaker and editor Ashley Lynch has been the latest target of the shopworn set of Gamergate retaliation tools. Her crime? Tweeting a screenshot from a Reddit user rooting for the new Ghostbuster film to fail.
“The screencap became super popular,” Lynch told me. “I think it got around 1,300 retweets. At the tail end of it came the harassment.” It’s not Lynch’s first time being targeted by Gamergate. In January, as reported by the CBC, Gamergate’s 8chan branch “Baphomet” sent a SWAT team to her house with false police reports claiming she had firearms and explosives.
This time, along with the unpleasantness of being called a “smug cunt” and an “indignant twat” by the tireless proponents of journalistic ethics, Lynch was subjected to a Gamergate investigation of her financial donations to various artists on the crowdfunding platform Patreon in an attempt to find dirt. It’s a predictable step in the Gamergate playbook of smearing women’s reputations. It’s a bullying tactic that’s happened to far too many women in 2016, including former Nintendo employee Alison Rapp.
Despite this experience, Lynch was undeterred. “My solution after getting doxed was to get really loud,” Lynch said. “I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but it was the answer I could live with.”
As we near Ghostbusters’ release on Thursday, we can expect attacks on the film to continue. As Film Journal associate editor Rebecca Pahle recently noted, the film has been attacked on IMDb, despite the fact that it hasn’t even been released. Over 50 percent of voters have savaged the film with one-star reviews.
Gamergate remains hopeful that the film will financially fail. One of the few bad reviews, from Chicago Sun Times critic Richard Roeper, has led to a thread that has dominated Gamergate discussion. To Gamergate, it’s evidence that everyone else is afraid to tell the truth. “You could just feel the palpable fear of any critics who don’t want to give it a negative score lest they are called intolerant,” said a top-voted Gamergater. ”Virtue signaling ruining movies and critics alike. We live in the darkest timeline.”
As a film critic herself, Lynch is frustrated the film has become such a lightning rod for critique. In an essay on the film that went viral, “Bustin’ Makes Boys Feel Sad,” she laments that the controversy created by anti-feminists makes the artistic merits of the film hard to judge. “It will be years until any meaningful, objective critique of the film can happen, if ever,” Lynch writes.
The stakes are high with the new Ghostbusters. As geek culture has become mainstream, many women feel an increasing sense of frustration at the lack of women leads. Succeed or fail, this film will inevitably set expectations for how a sci-fi movie starring women can do financially. With major films costing hundreds of millions of dollars to make, Hollywood is an industry that tends to repeat patterns when they make money.
One thing is for certain: The men who have serious issues with lady Ghostbusters will not be in your local theater this weekend. For me, that might make the company pleasant enough to see the movie twice.
BONUS: I watched the original ‘Ghostbusters’ for the first time
Brianna Wu is a notable video game developer and computer programmer, as well as the co-founder of Giant Spacekat, an indie gaming studio, in Boston. A primary target of Gamergate-related harassment, Wu was inspired by her experiences online to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts District 8 in 2018.