By the time Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency and one of the main voices victimized in the Gamergate issue, made it to an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times entitled, It’s Game Over for ‘Gamers’: Anita Sarkeesian on Video Games’ Great Future on October 28th, 2014, it seemed as though everyone had weighed in to the controversy. Gamers, video game journalists, industry leaders, advertisers, and the victims had all seemed to have said something and made their statements since the whites of Zoe Quinn’s eyes were seen back in August of this year as a threat to gaming. Everyone, that is, except God. When you search “Gamergate God” on Google, there are 1.2 million hits, but the first page is lousy with “Oh God…” and “god damn” with the top two hits from Mr. Fart on Twitter. God needs to be more than an epithet or invisible commiserator in this issue, but followers who are vessels and conduits of Her word can only bear witness if they are in the game or at least have their quarter on the machine.
Though with fewer hits, “Gamergate Christ” on Google is much more sinister as top hits show Christ is used as a puppet for posers who treat Christianity as the butt of a joke and a means through which a troubling agenda of misogyny and anti-feminism (to name a few) is spewed.
Cheryl Gress of christcenteredgamer.com remarked on October 28th, “If GamerGate brings integrity back into journalism, I'm all for it as long as the methods used are nonviolent” even though at that point it was clear that the loudest and most overwhelming voices in Gamergate were using digitally violent means to harrass and intimidate the proponents of positive change. Richard Clark, the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Christ and Pop Culture, began his piece about Gamergate with the lie that Zoe Quinn had in fact slept with a game journalist. He did a thorough job of relating the story, the background, and even ended with an admonition that gamers who enjoyed their violence and misogyny might have to one day give it all up, but there was no trace of theological reflection there either.
It is then no surprise that many seminarians and faith leaders I talked to about Gamergate in its first months had not heard about the women in the tech and gaming industries like Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian suffering death, rape, massacre threats, weaponized pornography, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and general gendered online harassment. The issue, however, is not that there was yet another news story of social injustice that was not on people’s radar. What is more sinister is that this particular kind of story steeped in the culture of gamers is divorced from faith communities in the same dangerous way that violence to black and brown bodies is seen by many non-blacks as a black issue (#handsup).
The overwhelming silence of voices of faith weighing in on the issue is disconcerting for a number of reasons. The first of which is a lack of messages rooted in love and justice which can work against the online harassment and with those trying to make a difference. Instead of having the hundreds of thousands of trained seminarians, ordained faith leaders, and theologians responding online with the ideologies of Delores Williams or Rosemary Reuther, the “Christian” response comes from platforms like Geeks Under Grace by founder and writer Drew Koehler who make statements such as:
“There have also been some unfortunate things said in the feminine movement against Christianity which are unwarranted and unfair. If you take issue with the way women are treated, that is one thing, but do not allow your agenda to attack a religion. It’s not Christian men who are oppressing women in the videogame industry; it’s mostly non-religious men doing so.
In fact, I think it’s important to note that women are absolutely elevated to a position of equality in Christianity. Most of the misunderstanding comes from the verse in which Paul says “women ought not to speak” and the very misquoted “wives, submit to your husbands.” Both verses have been used out of context to further an agenda that is just plain un-biblical. Most Christians recognize and honor the importance of women as a role that is crucial to the family unit.”
The second, and more weighty reason faith voices are needed in tech issues is the lack of progressive and holistic theology available to the hoi polloi. The dominant viewpoints within the hallowed halls of Union Theological Seminary and the amazing life saving and world changing ideologies that remain locked inside will be so academically minded that they will prove no earthly good. It is well known that the credibility of the church has long since waned in many public spheres as a voice of influence. Having limited exposure to social justice issues in the digital space keeps much of God’s messages of love, justice, inclusivity, and morality on dial up, no, smoke signals while the world moves into super high speed broadband.
To begin the arduous task of entering the digital dialogue tardy and a newb, faith communities can do three things to catch up for the win. First, faith leaders need to know what the issues are in the virtual world. The great theologian Karl Barth is quoted as saying a seminarian should always have a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but faith leaders may be skimming or skipping entirely the tech and video game news. The second change would actually be to add a device to that scriptural text and newspaper. It is no surprise that technology is ubiquitous, but faith communities are notorious for being behind the times. Tech adoption does not mean exclusion. As a Computer Chaplain, I advocate tech literacy with a pastoral care perspective that encourages spirits of balance and empowerment in place of timidity and fear. Because of anxiety held by individuals in power, the deterrent to embracing and claiming space digitally really only lies within. Finally, I challenge faith leaders and their communities to come out. I don’t just mean as open and inclusive, which is an amazing and wonderful thing to do. I also mean as nerds, geeks, and techies. When our communities and the world around us witness our authentic expressions of faith wrapped in black speculative fiction, gadget speak, or any number of trekkie-isms, everyone will recognize that God loves and needs all of who we are in order to share messages of love, hope, joy, and justice everywhere.