Flaming Gamers

I recently mentioned the Kickstarter of FeministFrequency. Since then I noticed that the YouTube video for the project has been flooded with the most vile and aggressive comments. It seems like there were some campaigns on 4chan about it.


More examples on the Feminist Frequency Tumblr.

Frankly, this surprised me. I knew that sexism is an issue among gamers, but I was shocked by the sheer amount of prejudice and hatred displayed there. Sure, many of them were probably just 4chan trolls. But the huge response this one video was able to generate is not as easily explained.

Call me idealist and naive, but I generally believe that most people in the world actually mean well and that incidents like this come down to a misunderstanding caused by different perspectives clashing against each other. I spent an evening engaging some of the people posting there. I wanted to understand what perspective would lead somebody to argue this way. Here are some observations. I should state upfront that this is NOT a justification for this kind of behavior. It’s an effort to understand those people so we can approach them more effectively.

  • Cognitive Dissonance – Most people posting there would call themselves gamers and care about games deeply. They enjoy games a lot. In many ways, games define their very lifestyle. Also, it seems most people posting there don’t consider themselves sexist. A lot of the arguments are actually in favor of fairness as a principle. Being confronted with a video that labels their most beloved characters and the gamers themselves as sexist causes massive amounts of cognitive dissonance. The thought process goes like this

    1. “I don’t want to treat women badly.”
    2. “Yet this video says I do.”
    3. “Hence, this video must be wrong.”

    Starting from this premise, they continue arguing against the video. It’s important to understand that the posters here feel threatened and “against the wall”. If they would lose the argument, they would be forced to admit that they are sexist. That’s something they are deeply disturbed by and feel an urge to avoid at all costs.

  • Defending games – As gamers, many of the people posting there have been defending games against what they feel are similar accusations – against accusations of games causing violence or being stupid or a waste of time or inferior to books and movies. Additionally, gamer culture is full of their own issues to fight about like exploitative DLC, aggressive DRM, the influx of casual shovelware, console wars or simply regular trash talk and flaming. The posters here often come “fresh from the fight”. They are constantly in need to defend “their territory”. A video like this represents for them something they don’t need – yet another front to wage war on. They unquestionably feel like the feminist approach is something directed against what they want. They also feel like it’s coming “from the outside” of gaming. Many of the arguments seem to be aimed at exposing the video’s author as a non-gamer. Other arguments seem to suggest that there are more pressing matters to solve first.

  • A Teenager’s Perspective – One very important thing to keep in mind – especially on YouTube – is that the vast majority of people posting here are underage. A quick sampling of the poster’s favored videos or simply the spelling reveals that there are hardly any proper adults involved in those kinds of flame wars.

    This may explain the inflammatory language and the stubbornness. But there is more to it. Most of the posters are in High School right now and going through puberty. They are going trough a time of intense social pressure from all sides. There is hardly anybody, who manages to get trough High School without experiencing some kind of bullying and oppression. At the same time, engaging in first romantic encounters is often horribly awkward and frustrating. So in the midst of that, suddenly hearing that you are not the victim and it’s all your fault instead can feel like overwhelming injustice. It enhances the cognitive dissonance mentioned above even more.

  • How Do I Fit Into This? – Finally, I think there is a general impression of being left behind. The gamers posting here feel like the feminist cause is not about them, not for them and that there is nothing for them to do here except being the scape goat. They are perhaps even jealous. Here is somebody standing up for women. But if you are not a woman, who is standing up for the things you fight for? The gamers posting here feel like they are being upstaged by people, who have don’t have as much of a stake in this subjects as they do. They feel like the tables are being turned on them. They have been playing musical chairs for quite some time, the music is stopping and the only chair is taken by a newcomer that just came in. They want to still have a word on this, yet they feel the only role the feminist movement seem to offer them is being the villain.

Again, none of this is suppose to excuse hateful posts. The idea was to put myself in the shoes of those people. In fact, I often realized that I’m arguing with a teenage version of myself. Of course, there may be a great deal of my own projection going on here. But I noticed I was often able to diffuse the situation by appealing to the posters in the right way. In fact, many of the posters turned out to be quite reasonable and keen to discuss the subject on a more productive level. Here are some things I found out work well:

  • Avoid Generalization – Generalized arguments like Rape Culture or Patriarchal Society are highly problematic in establishing a discourse. They are perceived as unfair blanket statements that cause the cognitive dissonance mentioned above. Not that they are necessarily wrong. They just tend to push males “against the wall”. Once Patriarchal Society is mentioned, all males feel accused as oppressors. Once Rape Culture is mentioned, all males feel accused of being rapists. It’s important to be very precise about who is being accused of what.

  • Find Examples to Agree On – Male gamers sometimes feel that feminists want to make games worse. I noticed that focusing on positive examples everybody agrees on is a good way to introduce the idea that we are actually all on the same side. Mentioning games like Portal 2 or Quentin Tarantino movies or TV series like Firefly often has an amazing effect of completely turning people around. What also works is to agree on negative examples. Twilight has a way of galvanizing people.

  • Appeal to Their Love for Games – Gamers know very well that there is a lot wrong with games. They are constantly arguing for games to improve in one way or another. They are eager to learn what makes a good game. It can be effective to appeal to that passion and show that having female characters will make games better for everybody. I found posters often turned around when I said I want to use the videos to teach my students how to write better characters.

  • Give Credit – Many of the posters point out some valid arguments among all the flaming. For example, they often point out counter-examples of positive female characters in games. I found it’s important to give them credit for those arguments, even if they use them to discredit a feminist standpoint. It can help a great deal of taking away the pressure and leveling the playing field for a more productive discussion.

  • Offer Opportunities – It’s important not to just blindly shoot down all the arguments and accusations. If the posters were proven wrong, they would need to admit that they are sexist. As strange as it may seem, that’s the opposite of what they are trying to do. Instead, provide opportunities for them to prove that they mean well. At least provide them opportunities to explain and voice their concerns in a more productive and civilized manner. Encourage them to write blog posts and make their own videos. Make sure they don’t feel like their point of view is irrelevant. It’s the easiest way to escalate the flame war.

I don’t claim that the above ideas always work. Some of the posters are just trolls or simply sexist after all. It’s not an easy thing to pull off either. But I do believe it’s worth trying. It can be incredibly rewarding to be able to connect with those people. It can shed a completely different light on the discussion. After just a few interactions I am convinced that this is less an issue of fight against hatred. It is more an issue of misunderstanding.


This gamer was actually wondering about some of the paradoxes of gender representation himself.


This gamer apparently just wants games to improve.

So far this has been a fascinating project. I’m looking forward to see what the actual videos by FeministFrequency will bring. Despite of the apparent hatred they already summoned, I hope at least some gamers will take the chance to realize that we are all in the same boat.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “Flaming Gamers”

  1. Evilagram

    You know, I think you’re absolutely naive. You’re seeing the surface that’s presented to you instead of any of the actual details. Sure, there are a LOT of angry immature inflamatory comments, but amid them are legitimate criticisms of the entire project that anita sarkeesian is deliberately using the influx of hatemail to ignore. Notice how she is not moderating the comments of these videos promoting the tropes versus women in videogames, unlike most or all of her other ones, and how when she responded to the comments on her site, she did not acknowledge any of the legitimate criticisms or comments made against her. she knew that she would get a vicious backlash and used this to put a spin on things in order to draw sympathy and play the victim card.




    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbihPTgAql4 (watch with annotations, this video was removed from her channel for being so outrageously wrong)


    There are tons of videos and articles like this out there, but they are being drowned out by people getting mad, and they have a great reason to get mad. They’re being told to swallow shit that they don’t agree with and just accept that as a culture they’re bad people, sexist and discriminatory. She doesn’t even suggest any manner of action against these “issues”.

    On another note people are pissed off at her because she is pushing a whole ton of shit that no one agrees with about feminism. Anita is not supporting any type of empowerment of women, she’s supporting an abuse of victimhood to get more power for women and create a society that blames men for largely nonexistent or inconsequential “offenses”, while failing to blame women for very real offenses, such as domestic violence, rape, and assault.

    She has no defensible position, her entire platform is complaining about how media makes us do things that media does not actually do or suggest. She is reading and writing a narrative that does not exist, and people are not happy with her doing this, and she is using the irrational hatred as a means of portraying anyone who disagrees with her as backwards and misogynistic, something that none of the people angry at her would ever claim to be, picture themselves as, or could be construed as in their actions, except exclusively in opposition to her.

    Furthermore her actions severely harm the rights of men. I’m not an MRA, I’m not going to talk to you about men’s rights, girlwriteswhat does it better anyway.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Sure, there are a LOT of angry immature inflamatory comments, but amid them are legitimate criticisms of the entire project

      You think it’s in the details why she deserves that kind of hate? If that was the case, that would have toe be ONE HELL of a detail, don’t you think? At this point, she would need to be committing some kind of genocide. Who’s the one being naive here? This is nowhere near “legitimate criticisms”. Don’t fool yourself.

      that anita sarkeesian is deliberately using the influx of hatemail to ignore.

      I’ve seen this argument before numerous times. Here is a thought experiment to do. A pretty rational one. You know Science, right? There is something called “falsification”. In order to check if a certain theory can be maintained, you check for way of how this theory could be disproved. If it can’t be disproved, it’s not a theory, it’s “like, just your opinion, man”.

      Applied to this situation: how should Anita behave in this situation? If she moderates the comments she’s being slammed for silencing “valid criticism”. If she doesn’t moderate the comments she told she’s playing the victim card. What do you think would be the right way for her to react? How would you react if you were in her place?

      As for the videos you posted:

      nstig8iveJournalism – clearly has no idea how academic writing actually works. Even without going into his fallacious statements – Is he seriously doubting the decision of the Professors, who deemed her work worthy of a degree? Isn’t that a criticism of the Professors and not of Anita? And even if Anita didn’t have a degree – why is that a reason she shouldn’t be posting videos on YouTube or doing Kickstarter projects? He’s not really making any sense there.

      foreverpandering – clearly has no idea how documentaries work. He advocates this weird assumption that all documentaries must show an unbiased view of all parties involved. That’s an well-known fallacy called “view from nowhere”.
      In fact, no documentary is an objective one. The ones that claim they are, are the most manipulative ones… and also the most boring ones as well. That being said, Anita hasn’t actually released a documentary about games yet. He may accuse her of being biased, but only after the video has been actually made.

      And even if the above videos were right and Anita was actually a bad academic or a bad filmmaker – this would be still no justification for silencing her and insulting her.
      I do applaud efforts of actually expressing criticism in a more civilized way. However, so far I found only petty and ill-informed attempts at Ad Hominem attacks.

      There are tons of videos and articles like this out there, but they are being drowned out by people getting mad, and they have a great reason to get mad.

      Read the above sentence carefully. What you are doing here is condemning the hatred and justifying it at the same time. No, nobody has a good reason to wish her cancer or call her a “FAT JEW” or silence her.

      They’re being told to swallow shit that they don’t agree with and just accept that as a culture they’re bad people, sexist and discriminatory.

      Woah, wait a second here. This is a key point right here and something I mentioned my article.

      If she criticizes some games for being sexist, that doesn’t mean that everybody, who likes the games or even made the games is being sexist. She doesn’t call anybody bad people, especially not gamers. That’s projection caused by “Cognitive Dissonance”. In fact, on Twitter she admitted that she herself enjoyed Rayman Origins even though she thought some parts were sexist. No game is perfect. Not every game must be a paragon of gender equality. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a game even though it’s sexist or faulty in some other way. A game’s quality is determined by gender equality alone. And guess what – some people don’t even care that much. But it should be obvious that it would be a deal-breaker for others.

      I find it hard not to agree that she has a point in there somewhere. She might be over-reacting in some cases. She might be glossing over some details in other cases. I certainly disagreed with her in the past myself. But there is no denying that she does have a point and she is far from the only to make it: Gaming is a male-dominated industry. And while it works fine, it’s not a healthy way for this medium to develop in the long run. As more and more female gamers and game developers are coming in, we must look for ways to make games acknowledge that kind of responsibility. That’s just a reasonable pro-games stance, even if you don’t consider yourself a Feminist. Hell, it’s even financially reasonable.

      Nobody wants to censor or ban anything. Nobody is calling anybody a bad person for playing games. Nobody wants to even prevent games like Bayonetta from being made. In fact, I claim that Bayonetta’s qualities would have been recognized better if it wasn’t being released in an environment where sexism is so common. I consider the game a clever joke that just hit too close home for people to “get it”. We, as gamers, just need to acknowledge that this just MIGHT be one of your problems. You don’t have to agree with Anita. Just keep playing games and look for examples that prove or disprove her. Or just don’t and ignore her.

      But don’t insult her and for the love of god, let her make her videos. You know there are certainly worse people uploading videos as we speak.

      And since you apparently love watching videos, I’m gonna leave Movie Bob’s take on this. It pretty much sums up my stance on this:


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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