If you read or discuss video games online, you almost certainly brushed up against Gamergate: a loosely organized group of online avatars on Reddit and Twitter with a bone to pick with game developers and critics pushing for what are ostensibly admirable goals like “more diversity” and “less sexism.” Gamergate proponents also claim to be Burdened With Glorious Purpose, and have taken it upon themselves to clean up Ethics in Video Game Journalism—but unfortunately for the people who actually believe that’s what Gamergate is about, the “consumer revolt” has already become synonymous with something else entirely: Internet trolls and online harassment.
At least, that’s what the folks behind Law & Order: SVU seem to think based on the previews for next week’s episode, “Intimidation Game.” I can’t imagine why they’d think that. Everyone on the Internet is wonderful all the time.
We should also take some time to note that while it is funny to see Ice T talk about doxxing or just make fun of Law & Order in general, online harassment is a very real and serious thing that happens every day in overwhelming numbers. Just this week, leaked memos that reportedly came from Twitter CEO Dick Costelo acknowledged that the social media platform is terrible at dealing with harassment. Just a few days before that, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian shared the absolutely astounding amount of abuse she recieves on Twitter in an average week.
We’re only just now learning how to deal with this. Last month, game developer (and frequent Gamergate target) Zoe Quinn launched Crash Override, a support network designed to help targets of online harassement. Some of the tactics used by harassers—like swatting, where anonymous and fraudulent calls are placed to police departments in the hopes of getting a SWAT team sent to the targets house—are dangerous, life-threatening actions. There is a problem here, and it needs to be addressed.
It’s unfortunate that online harassment, whether or not it stems from Gamergate or garden-variety trolls, has gotten far enough to merit a Law & Order: SVU episode. And what’s more, one that involves video games.
We need to do better. Video games are better, brighter, and more brilliant than they’ve ever been. They were so close to breaking past regressive stereotypes that cast it as the pastime of outcasts and recluses.
Things like this drag the entire medium backwards.