It’s hard enough to describe to people exactly what GamerGate was sometimes without delving into the harder question of why it was. Ian Danskin of Innuendo Studios has put out a six-part video essay series on that very subject called Why Are You So Angry? that explores the rage at the heart of the internet’s most infamous harassment storm; that of privileged reactionary gamers.
The series focuses on a boy called Jack who Danskin remembers from high school. Every day Danskin and his friends would walk home from school, and pass Jack in his baby-blue Beetle sitting in the backed up traffic waiting to get through the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Jack always glared at Danskin and his friends and pretty much everyone else passing him with open contempt.
“He was the angriest stranger I ever met,” narrates Danskin. They would call after him, “Why are you so angry?” Later, when one of his friends met Jack outside of school at a party they found out Jack was an all right guy, but at 2:45 stuck in traffic he was just frustrated and unpleasant. Danskin says that whenever he meets random people being terrible on the Internet he thinks of Angry Jack.
Angry Jack becomes the archetype for a certain kind of gamer. As Danskin points out Jack is often male, cis, straight, white and raised middle class. In short, he’s the sort of person that gaming and indeed the world has catered to his entire life. For Jack the world is just and fine because in general he has not had to examine the sort of representational questions about gender and sexual objectification that are brought up in places like the work of Anita Sarkeesian, who serves as Patient Zero for Danskin’s dissection of Internet harassment.
Over the course of the last three years Sarkeesian’s feminist critiques of the video game industry as a whole have drawn tens of thousands of angry tweets, death threats, and even school shooting and bomb scares regarding events she was scheduled to attend. As he points out her detractors think she is a fraud, a liar, a scam artist and someone who wants to destroy gaming, but that just explains that they are angry, not why.
“Anita’s rightness or wrongness is immaterial to what I’m doing about her harassment,” said Danskin when we interviewed him via phone. “But if you’re not saying she’s bad you must be saying she’s good in their eyes. I by and large agree with her, but I don’t think disagreeing with her would make my points any more valid.”
Drawing heavily on both established feminist writings like that of Susan Faludi as well as more game culture-centric scholarship like Jay Allen’s brilliant exploration of Chan culture, Why Are You So Angry? uses a mixture of anecdotal warmth and razor-sharp observation to look at how people react when they are confronted with possible problems in their media from a societal perspective. He uses the analogy of a discolored spot of skin that someone might ignore because they fear hearing it’s cancer. In many ways a desire not to address sexism, racism and other problems in games is the same thing; a way to remain ignorant and maintain the illusion of health.
As the series puts it, Angry Jack is not a person; he’s a condition like getting drunk. All of us, especially those of us who enjoy the cis straight white male collections of privileges, have been Angry Jack at times in our lives. What causes the anger is that being forced to examine how we view the problems with diversity in gaming as a judgement of ourselves. If I like a game with a sexist trope, it means I am sexist and since someone in a privileged bubble’s understanding of sexism is often as simplistic as wife beaters and rapists in the bushes that means that someone like Sarkeesian is calling them a bad person.
“It’s a thought I’ve had in my head for months that wouldn’t leave me alone,” says Danskin. “Once GamerGate happened and I saw all this stuff in regards to Anita and Zoe Quinn I really felt frustrated that not more privileged people were speaking up. We were leaving the people being harassed to carry the conversation.”
A good deal of Why Are You So Angry? references Faludi’s book Backlash, which talks about how in the 1980s women were driven out of many industries they had previously begun to approach parity with men in, including computer programming. The importance of these backlashes is that they were not in response to change, but in anticipation of it. Danskin draws parallels with how the harassment of Sarkeesian started in a big way before she had made even a single video about video games. Angry Jack wasn’t worried about what she said, but what she might say and how that might make him feel.
“If you look at the history of how operations start on 4chan, GamerGate was pretty standard,” Danskin told us. “This one caught traction in a way most the other ones don’t, but I feel I made it very clear there was a lot of misdirected anger in the gaming space. It brought a lot of conversation on the subject. I do wish that conversations had not had as many casualties. I feel like when there is a push on behalf of marginalized groups the deciding factor seems to be who has the power at the time. Are they going to listen, even begrudgingly, or are they going to pushback? People in GamerGate tried to take hold, but the industry is listening more to Sarkeesian than to them now. People who actually have the ability to set the tone in the gaming industry are not generally siding with the reactionaries.”
Why Are You So Angry? goes to great lengths to describe the mindset of Angry Jack, though it ultimately despairs of any hope in convincing him that discussions about gender in gaming are not about making him feel bad. Instead, the series ends with a call to talk to the Angry Jacks of the internet not because Jack can be convinced, but because watching the discussion are a host of people who could become Angry Jack. As Danskin lays out in the series, reactionary movements like GamerGate that seek to push back the cause of social justice require true believers and discontents to serve as shock troops and an umbrella of legitimacy in order to flourish. Jack will be needed when the next GamerGate happens.
Danskin plans to work on less hot topics for the next several videos, including a series on the death of adventure games. Why Are You So Angry? though is probably the deepest and most accurate work on white male privilege and anger in gaming thus written, and coming from one of their own lends Danskin’s work more credibility in those circles. Upon releasing the last video on Saturday Sarkeesian herself shared the series, opening up Danskin up to the typical floodgate of attention on social media that being acknowledged by her usually brings. He notes with chagrin that though he gets a lot of hateful messages, nearly all of it is directed not at him but at her, calling it gross.
The need to examine privilege and not treat the conversation as a judgment of ourselves is the key to opening more doors to more people in gaming and the world in general. Even Danskin isn’t immune. The whole series was partially motivated by criticism he got regarding a previous video exploring the internet’s hate of Fez-creator Phil Fish, and how here was yet another 20-minute YouTube video dedicated to defending a white male in the game industry while women were being hounded out of their homes. Even in Why Are You So Angry? Danskin eats crow regarding a mention of GamerGate comments seeming like psychopaths.
“The closest I come to doing armchair psychology is when I say they come close to psychopathy,”Danskin told us. “I’m starting to regret using a mental illness designation to describe jerks. It was kind of ableist.”
Realizing that is the antidote for Angry Jack. Check it out below
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.