On February 11th, 2015, Law and Order, Special Victims Unit (SVU) aired their highly anticipated episode about #GamerGate. Unsurprisingly, the episode was full of gaming cliches and phrases that were often either misused or clumsily delivered. What is surprising is the mainstream gaming media’s reaction to the episode, ranging from commenting on its plausibility to feigning shock concerning the portrayal of gamers. Of course, it’s apparent that the writers of Law and Order took their cues from narratives pushed by the mainstream gaming media.
Cringeworthy even by Law and Order’s standards
I don’t think any of us managed to make through the latest episode of Law and Order: SVU without cringing. The entirety of the episode was rife with gaming cliches—the best examples occur while Ice-T (real character name unknown, Ice-T will always be referred to as Ice-T no matter what he’s in) plays a first-person shooter at a gaming convention. The rapper-turned-actor manages to fit gamer rage via death threats, griping about “campers” and the commonality of slur usage while playing an FPS into the same scene, and with that many things requiring explanation for the general public, you know the dialogue is going to be unnecessarily explanatory.
Ice-T later stops a perpetrator and advises him that there is “no reset button in the real world.”
I would have had an easier time believing Ice-T had dealt with “campers” in real life than I did watching him deal with them in a game.
As for the plot, it’s as bad as you imagined. A female developer named Raina Punjabi, who is supposed to be a representation of Anita Sarkeesian, is receiving harassing tweets from the untraceable “dark web” (thank you Ice-T) and threats about what will happen if she attends a gaming convention where her game will be unveiled. This representation of Anita is actually flattering in that Raina has managed to create a game, not merely tape herself talking about them. Predictably, even though the titular Special Victims Unit was aware of the threat, Raina still manages to be kidnapped and sexually assaulted.
Since the show is Special Victims Unit, described on IMDB as “a new elite squad of NYPD detectives who investigate sexually related crimes,” the sexual assault part of this equation was predictable. Gamers have never gotten a fair shake by the entertainment industry so even the cringeworthy dialogue and stereotypical villains portrayed (anyone what to guess the gender and race of Raina’s assailants?) are par for the course. What is truly amazing is the mainstream gaming media’s reaction to the episode.
A complete lack of self-awareness
All your typical websites weighed in, each less aware of their own part in driving the SVU narrative than the next.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier described the SVU episode as:
It’s corny, terrifying shlock that demonizes hardcore gamers and turns complicated conversations over misogyny in gaming into a cartoon caricature of good vs. evil. Even as SVU’s writers imagined up a terrifying, totally feasible kidnapping scenario, they just couldn’t help but pepper it with cartoon villains (who frequently talk about how they don’t want women in video games, because of course) and painful one-liners.
ArsTechnica’s Sam Machkovich weighs in:
True to form, SVU didn’t raise the gaming-culture-on-TV bar in the slightest with its take on Chan culture, video games, and the most abusive users of the GamerGate hashtag. The results were laughable, but not just because of stilted acting and awkward attempts at being “down” with gaming culture…In the case of that conference, Punjabi’s situation had plenty in common with real-life threats Sarkeesian faced regarding public appearances. “If I [cancel], they’ve won,” Punjabi says. “I’m showing the world I’m intimidated by cyber terrorists. I won’t make the same mistake Sony did. Better to be called a bitch than a coward.”
In his quickness to praise the correlation between Raina and Anita Sarkessian, Sam must have forgetten that Anita did indeed cancel her speech at the University of Utah over a threat the local police force did not believe was credible.
Let us not forget Polygon. Colin Campbell manages some faint praise for the SVU episode:
It’s worth noting that if this show had aired a year ago, we’d have all thought it preposterous. Sadly, it’s based on horrible things that have actually happened…The show’s researchers, helped by Ice-T, an avid gamer, did their work well in covering the main story beats of the past year, without getting bogged down in extraneous detail.
Extraneous detail… you mean like the fact that none of the women (in Brianna Wu’s case, I use the term “woman” sarcastically) Raina is based on have been kidnapped, sexually assaulted or tortured? Extraneous detail like that?!?
All the above articles make two critical mistakes worth noting. First, they approach the content of the SVU episode from the assumption that the villains’ actions against Raina, which (again) include kidnapping, sexual assualt, and torture, are realistic. They are not realistic. No one on the anti-#GamerGate side is even claiming that any of this has happened to them. Harassment (including misogyny) and death threats are all anti-#GamerGate has claimed thus far, and even those claims are highly suspect. To my knowledge, no one is claiming a physical attack of any kind has occurred—mainstream gaming media, how is the SVU episode realistic again? You’d have to be as dumb as Graham Linehan to think this was a realistic scenario.
The second mistake they make is not recognizing that they have contributed to the demonization of gamers. ChaoGuy2006 sums it up nicely:
Speaking of Oliver Campbell, he has been on point lately. Normally a very calm (online, at least) individual, Oliver went off on the anti-#GamerGate press in heroic fashion. Below is just one of his recent tweets.
And that’s the real crime here. You see, Oliver is right—no one who doesn’t know the truth about gamers and #GamerGate is going to make a distinction between pro-#GamerGate and anti-#GamerGate. The word “GamerGate” does not appear in the SVU episode. The real crime is that Law and Order: SVU made that episode about gamers. No distinction was made. No side was chosen.
The mainstream gaming media does not understand this. They do not understand that the narrative they have been pushing, that gamers are “dead,” or “terrorists,” or “worse than ISIS,” has been adopted. They did their job too well, and did not realize that no one would make the distinction between these gamers and those gamers. The chickens have come home to roost. Mainstream gaming media, you are guilty of characterizing ALL gaming enthusiasts (not just the ones you don’t like) as potential kidnappers, rapers, and torturers.
Your sentence? It’s already happening—a slow death. Your readership will dwindle. Your advertisers will flee. Your Alexa ratings will plummet. Your parent companies will pull you offline. Your Patreons will dry up. And when you ask why this happened to you, watch the Law and Order: SVU episode. Then watch it again. And realize that you are responsible for destroying the hobby you claimed to love.