Why Law &Order: SVU's terrible Gamergate episode should surprise no one
The “Intimidation Game” episode begins with a decent representation of a gaming expo. A female game exhibitor is harassed by two skinny white dudes, who follow her to a bathroom and assault her. When one of the SVU detectives asks her what happened, she tells the cop “they leveled up” before the trademark “Law and Order” theme music plays.They don't usually get more defeatist than this. Besides, there's been no examples of actual sexual violence taking place to date in the game industry, despite the writer's insistence on believing the movement is all scumbags across the board.
That’s when I threw a full carton of chow mein at the TV.
You’ve got to be kidding me. No one talks like that — ever — especially moments after being sexually assaulted. The episode — what I could see of it between the greasy noodles — then spirals into an out-of-control trainwreck of various stereotypes, misconceptions and outright lies about gamers and video game culture.
I can take all that. I’ve seen it before in primetime TV and beyond. But what I found truly heinous was the message it sends to women in the gaming industry that are already under constant attack.
In the episode, a young woman is developing a game. She faces a series of online threats and abuses clearly based on the GamerGate movement, which is a fairly large group of mostly young, white guys attempting to force outspoken women out of game development and journalism through horrible abuse campaigns.
The central character seems based on the two main GamerGate targets: independent game developer Zoe Quinn and media critic Anita Sarkeesian. The character is accused of sleeping her way to her position and is the victim of unending waves of cyber attacks.
The episode soon ratchets this scenario up for dramatic effect. The developer is kidnapped and tortured by gamers who “can’t tell the difference between a game and reality.” That is the laziest excuse for human behavior ever, by the way. I discussed it with a colleague at GamesBeat, and we, in our years of playing and writing about games, have never heard anyone say, or even imply, that they didn’t know a game from real life.
Eventually, the cops save the woman. And she quits. She gazes into the distance and utters something like, “Women in gaming — what did I expect?”
Right, because that’s a good message to send to millions of primetime viewers, many of whom probably love games. Women should know better than to design video games.
I spoke about the TV series several years ago, and noted a glaring example of the blame-victim/women tactics that have stuffed the series very disturbingly at various times. When the now defunct parent series was originally broadcast, I gave up watching it early on, because it was quite honestly irritating and too depressing for words, and even back then, there was some very awful scriptwriting involved, and it wasn't immune to being offensive on a racial level either. Years later, I decided to do a bit of research, and if there was something I noticed about nearly every episode, it's that they involved and/or were built around a murder. And if it wasn't that, then it was rape/child abuse. And I'm wondering, why must it be that way over 99 percent of the time? Are we as adults really so narrow, we can't take interest in a story involving simpler elements like robberies, assaults and carjackings? Why must it always be murder and rape these police dramas are about? We should be so ashamed if we can't appreciate some of the simpler things in the police procedural drama.
Here's more on Breitbart (via Ed Driscoll) about how the mainstream/gaming press reaped what it sowed:
The truth is, the gaming press gave the writers of Law & Order: SVU all the ammunition they needed and more, because they have spent the past six months whipping up the greatest pop-culture panic since Dungeons & Dragons was accused of spreading Satanism in the 1980s. And all because they were upset about a little professional scrutiny and calls for better standards. [...]Which only suggests that, despite their negative take on the episode of a "franchise" whose cancellation is long overdue, they have no regrets about blanket smearing a whole population you'd think they were in the business of representing. I've sometimes been skeptical they actually like the medium they're writing about, so why don't they try writing about an all but overlooked medium like theater plays instead?
Even journalists who previously went along with the anti-gamer narrative have baulked at defending this portrayal. With the exception of Polygon, a site that is rapidly becoming the epicenter of crazy in digital media, Law & Order received almost universal condemnation. Jason Schreier of Kotaku, Erik Kain of Forbes, and Chandra Steel of PC Mag all published damning verdicts on the episode. Even Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn couldn’t bring themselves to defend the show, despite the fact that it borrowed heavily from their own media narratives.
I suspect what really annoys them all about last week’s episode is that it unintentionally revealed the prevailing media narrative for what it is: a moral panic. As Kain and Schreier both note, it is impossible to watch the show without seeing the resemblance to the panics of times gone by. Comparisons to other famous exploitation films, like Reefer Madness (1936) and Mazes & Monsters (1982) are already being made.
With any luck, this latest catastrophe will convince more people that the time has come to put the whole L&O franchise to bed permanently, and not even bother watching a related miniseries NBC is said to be planning for broadcast soon. We do not need so much awful farrago littering up prime time. And this is coming from someone who doesn't care much about video games today as he once might've.