This post is about a controversy in video games identified by the Twitter hashtag GamerGate that has been taking place online since August. To read background information, click here for articles chronicling GamerGate.
The controversies surrounding the ‘gamer’ identity undergirding GamerGate are reminiscent of the 1990s culture wars in the US, when the politicization of identity made social hierarchies domains of conflict. Now, like then, the politics of representation have been seized upon as the principal tool for policing acceptable social participation, are wielded to construct power blocs, and used to brand actors as either aggressors or victims. It is not surprising that American Enterprise Institute commentator Christina Hoff Sommers has reprised her role as the “factual feminist” darling of conservative voices by jumping into the GamerGate fray to denounce growing criticism of the image of women in games. Following the publication of her 1994 book, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women, Sommers rose to fame for condemning “gender feminists” whom she claimed had abandoned the civil and legal equality rights goals of First Wave “equity feminists” in favor of a social and cultural agenda set to challenge gender roles and dismantle patriarchy at the expense of boys and men.
Just a few weeks into GamerGate, Sommers posted this video, which is, principally, a retort to feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” video series. Despite no previous affiliation with gamers, Sommers’ entry into the controversy was enthusiastically received and widely shared among GamerGate supporters. She was crowned the “Based Mom” of GamerGate, a title of affection and esteem.
Sommers does not care about video games; she admits having not played a game since the 1980s. Nevertheless, she crashed GamerGate in order to trumpet “equity feminism” by simplifying positions on both sides of the controversy, and simultaneously praising the diversity of gamers while also collapsing players into a stereotype-driven market segment. Her comments in this video are drawn from the same playbook she outlined 20 years ago: She reifies gender essentialism in order to argue for the protection of the status quo, and she reframes calls for inclusivity and diversity as the hysterics of “gender activists” hell bent on the destruction of heterosexual male culture. It's a retro game she is playing that has found willing players in GamerGate.