It is impossible to get too deeply into a discussion about online harassment without talking about the hashtag movement “GamerGate.” GamerGate, of course, began in its official capacity by targeting Zoë Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and other women in the video game industry via social media harassment and doxxing. The movement – which began in 2014 outwardly insisting that it was about “ethics in games journalism,” was about little more than identity policing and harassment. Personally, I got lightly sucked into the drama of GamerGate when several of us were accused of being part of a vast academic conspiracy to destroy the video game industry. The harassment endemic to GamerGate, however, had some positive outcomes: it forced people (academics, feminists, journalists, and industry professionals) to confront toxic behavior that had existed long before GamerGate.
For me, however, what was more jarring than GamerGate itself was a hashtag that developed in its wake: #NotYourShield. The conceit of NYS is that those posting under its label were typically not white, cis-, heterosexual, men but composed of those who have been theoretically “othered” by the politics and culture surrounding the video game industry. Women, people of color, and those who were non-binary, often posted images of themselves holding signs proclaiming that so called “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) could not use their bodies as an excuse to attack the patriarchal structure of the video game industry. The use of photos (as opposed to word-only tweets) announced a kind of authenticity: these were not sock puppets but real people.
As a scholar, it is difficult to sift through the rubble of NYS without emotion. This is the part of harassment that we don’t want to look at; that we don’t want to acknowledge. It is difficult to address this without sounding condescending and using well-worn terms like “false consciousness.” As an academic that has long studied the complex culture surrounding the video game industry I am generally at a loss when I talk about NYS. We need a more nuanced conversation if we want to understand the implications of people working against their own self-interests. Furthermore, how do we place our own bodies and baggage into this conversation full of war terminology: shields and warriors? If we are using other bodies as shields, it makes many of us unintentional aggressors.