TIME Video Games

Assassin’s Creed Unity Wants to Bodyslam Your PC

Ubisoft just unveiled the PC minimum and recommended specs for its upcoming open-world stealth game set during the French Revolution.

I noticed a rumor about this on Reddit earlier, and wondered if it might be someone trolling, but no: The minimum requirements to play Assassin’s Creed Unity on a PC are indeed going to cost a lot of PC owners a pile of cash paid in upgrades to play. The full list is below.

It’s mostly the required GPU spec that has heads turning: an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970. That’s the sort of thing you’d normally see (still, these days) listed as the recommended power level. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, by comparison, only required a GTX 260 and HD 4870, and even the recommended GPUs were a mere GTX 470 and HD 5850.

To play with everything turned up in Unity, Ubisoft’s recommending a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290X. Those cards aren’t first-timers in the recommended box; it’s the relative narrowness of the gap between minimum and recommended that’s unusual here. Ubisoft says it’s only supporting the GTX 680 or better, GTX 700 series, AMD Radeon HD 7970 or better and the Radeon R9 series. The company notes “Laptop versions of these cards may work but are NOT officially supported.”

I’m not surprised. Ubisoft can’t even get the game running at 1080p on Sony’s PlayStation 4 (it’ll be 900p on both current-gen consoles), so expecting the PC minimum specs to register at current averages was probably wishful thinking.

The upside, if you have the horsepower to make it happen, is that PC owners stand to have the best experience possible, since there’s no resolution ceiling on the PC version of the game.

If you want a reminder why the game’s putting crazy wrestling moves on your hardware (and wallet), here’s the latest “experience” trailer, highlighting Ubisoft’s open-world rendition of 18th century Paris.

Required

  • 64-bit Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8/8.1
  • Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz, AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0 GHz or AMD Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz
  • 6 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970 (2 GB VRAM)
  • DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card with latest drivers
  • 50GB storage space
  • Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse required, optional controller
  • 256 Kbps or faster broadband connection

Recommended

  • Intel Core I7-3770 @ 3.4 GHz or AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0 GHz or better
  • 8 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290X (3 GB VRAM)
TIME Video Games

In the Sunset Overdrive Launch Trailer, It’s Mostly Blue Skies

A corporate soda outfit releases an energy drink that turns its imbibers into mutants, and that's where you come in.

So here’s what I want to ask whoever put the Sunset Overdrive launch trailer together: where’s the sunset?

First it’s nighttime, then it’s daytime, then you get a few seconds of post-sunset skyline while the protagonist gets all motivational-speaky. But the action takes place midday. Look at that cerulean blue sky! Look at all those fat cottony clouds! ELO would approve!

But the overdrive angle…that’s hard to miss. This is a game about the opposite of narrative gravitas. You’re the former employee of a soda-maker that’s released an energy drink that turns people into slavering super-powered mutant bad guys. Your job is to grind around a carnivalesque sandbox and do goofy, epic battle with (flying?) worms, robots, sac-covered troll-things and giant floating dolls.

Sunset Overdrive is one of Microsoft’s two holiday Xbox One-exclusive pillars, the other being that thing about a military cipher who fights tittering aliens still, in 2014, more behaviorally interesting than the ones the studio that created said military fellow more recently introduced.

Studio Insomniac Games has a respectable design track record with this sort of thing. The ups and downs of the later Resistance games aside, the Ratchet & Clank series is terrific. Sunset Overdrive looks like a punk version of the latter, a third-person gonzo playscape: Tony Hawk meets Tank Girl meets Sam Raimi. (Is it me, or does the protagonist look a little like teenage Bruce Campbell?) If you’re a game aficionado, Insomniac’s also name-dropped Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio as inspirations.

Microsoft claims the game “rewrites the rules of traditional shooters.” We’ll see, when the game arrives next Tuesday, October 28.

TIME Video Games

Anyone Claiming There’s a Grand Theft Auto V Beta Is Still Lying

It's not clear when or where the scams are occurring, but they're scams, each and every one.

For once, I’ve learned about a bizarre scam from the object of the scam instead of the scammers: Rockstar would like you to know that if you happen upon a site or person or email claiming there’s a Grand Theft Auto V beta, you risk being duped.

“Please note,” writes Rockstar in an undated web notice, “there is no pre-release ‘beta’ test for Grand Theft Auto V. If you see ads or solicitations to join a beta program, beware as this is likely some type of online phishing scam.”

If that parses a little weirdly to you, it’s because you’re probably thinking, “But Grand Theft Auto V’s already out, isn’t it?” Indeed, the game arrived last September for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This presumably relates to the upcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions due on November 18, followed by a Windows version on January 27, 2015. I’ll say again: presumably.

I’m assuming it’s not some kind of bizarre prerelease viral marketing thing, though it is a little odd-looking, poking around the echo chamber and finding no paper trails. No one seems to have evidence of the scam itself, and sites writing about supposed fake Steam betas and 19GB of virus-choked malware all seem to be linking to a site called Xboxer360, which hasn’t posted a news update in 10 months, and whose story about a Grand Theft Auto V beta scam is over a year old. Search on the phrase “GTA V PC torrent” and you’ll find a variety of links to obvious (well, obvious to me) shysters, but whose fake listings are pretty old.

I’ve asked my contact at Rockstar to verify this beta notice is indeed new. In any event, now that I’ve expended over 300 words writing about it, whether the scams are fresh or you’re a time traveler about to embark in your TARDIS on a trip to visit the nefarious corners of the interwebs circa late 2013, beware Grand Theft Auto V beta claims: they’re phony bologna.

[Update: I knew it. My Rockstar contact just confirmed the link up top is to an old 2013 warning. So consider yourself warned. Again.]

TIME Video Games

Is This Really the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Launch Trailer?

Activision's near-future military adventure starring Kevin Spacey as the head of a rogue private military company arrives in just a few more weeks.

I don’t see a lot of gameplay in this pithy less-than-a-minute trailer, so I’m not sure why Activision’s calling it a “gameplay” trailer. Just excise that word and it works: type “Official Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Launch Trailer” and you’re golden. But by using the designator “gameplay,” I’m betting it’s not the last “launch trailer” we’ll see.

When I first glimpsed it on Saturday, the trailer had 300+ views. Now it has over 5.3 million. It’ll doubtless double that in another 48 hours. That’s the power of a Call of Duty.

There’s a little more to see here, but it’s not much. The same clips already shown in previous trailers pop in, abridged. The new stuff–and is it all new stuff? I can’t tell–amounts to 1-2 second clips of people in EXO suits doing impossible things, each of which Call of Duty-philes will obsess over.

The game is out November 4 (November 3 for Day Zero edition buyers) for this- and last-gen PlayStation and Xbox systems as well as Windows. It looks terrific in this trailer, a collage of rainbow-plaited tracers and pluming squibs and mo-cap Kevin Spacey smirking in a suit. And I’m still hopeful that, though it’s clearly rooted in the ballistic-power-fantasy school of design, the game has some subversive fictive tricks up its sleeve.

It’s one of these what-games-can-be questions for me (and I include the storytelling angle in my definition of “game” here–it’s a holistic thing). I’m definitely not from the “Who cares about the narrative, does it shoot good?” school of thought. If Beau Willimon and David Fincher can use an actor like Kevin Spacey to tell a politically nuanced tale that slyly comments on current affairs, why can’t a piece of interactive entertainment starring Kevin Spacey do the same?

TIME

Here’s What’s Coming in PlayStation 4 System Software Version 2.0

Sony

Sony lays out a slew of new features in its upcoming overhaul of the PlayStation 4's dashboard.

Companies usually save their big guns for major number turnovers, because that’s what we’ve come to expect after a lot of this-point-that integer creep (unless you’re Apple, anyway, at which point you shift from subsets of the number 10 to big cats to surfer hangouts to national parks).

Sony has a name for its upcoming major PlayStation 4 operating system overhaul. It’s called “Masamune,” after a widely acclaimed Japanese late 13th/early 14th century swordsmith. And yes, that is a little audacious, but then the update sounds fairly ambitious.

Version 2.0 will bring Themes, a dedicated YouTube app and something Sony calls “Share Play”: a way to play local co-op with friends on other systems, which sounds just like ordinary co-op, and is, except that you need only a single copy of the game between the two of you. The idea seems less about saving people money than creating quick-help scenarios, say you’re stuck and need a hand, or want someone to actually take over your controller and drive. Call it “Help Play.”

But we’ve known about that stuff since August. Yesterday, Sony announced a bunch of additional features, one of which involves rejiggering the way your console handles content in the menu, another that shows you “players you may know,” the option to listen to your music while playing a game (off a USB device, with support for MP3, MP4, M4A and 3GP formats), new voice commands, some new live broadcasting channels and filters, and the option to change the dash’s background color (weirdly absent at launch, so more of a catching-up thing ).

Of them all, I’m most intrigued by the content area change. Here’s Sony’s bulleted breakout:

PS4’s Content Area, which shows the latest games and apps a PS4 owner has used, has been redesigned to help make it easier to quickly find and access content. It now shows 15 of a player’s most used apps or games, and additional items will be added to a player’s Library. The Library on PS4 has improved filter and sort functions to help organize contented by type (game / app / TV & video), name (a – z or z – a), recently used, or install date.

That’s the one I’m most excited about, if I’m parsing what Sony’s saying correctly and it’s going to shorten the left-right scroll sprawl. I don’t mind the way content stacks now in one super-long line that grows with each new game you play, but I’d say I’ve visited the tail end of that line maybe a handful of times since the system launched. Not seeing stuff you’re not sure you need, or only rarely use, is roughly analogous to it not being there.

We’re still in the dark on Masamune’s release date, but it’s supposed to drop “later this fall,” technically giving Sony until December 21.

TIME Video Games

8 Takeaways From the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One September Sales

Some of the more interesting points plucked from NPD's September video game sales figures.

Continuing a long upward-downward trend that’s defined much of 2014, combined sales of video game hardware like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were up significantly year-on-year for September, while physical software sales were down, reports NPD.

Let’s step through the pullouts.

The Xbox One didn’t outsell the PlayStation 4 after all

Did anyone think it would? They did: Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter predicted earlier this week that the Xbox One would outsell the PlayStation 4 in September.

“We expect Xbox One sales to exceed those of the PS4 for only the second month since launch,” Pachter said, according to VentureBeat.

And yet Sony claims the PS4 “won the month of September, nearly tripling August sales” (it credits the limited-edition white Destiny PS4 bundle as a major factor).

Remember that we don’t know by how much the PS4 outsold the Xbox One (perhaps it was photo finish), and to be fair, analyst predictions are never guarantees.

New physical software sales are plummeting…

New physical software sales took another dive in September, dropping 36%, says NPD.

Save for May, which was basically “Mario Kart 8 month,” new physical software sales have been slightly to dramatically down every month through September. Bear in mind that NPD’s figures don’t take into account used retail game sales or digital software sales, and focus strictly on classic video game demographics (that is, not smartphones, tablets, other mobile devices or microconsoles and so forth).

…but new hardware sales have skyrocketed

Hardware sales were up 136% for September, year-on-year, says NPD. The lowest year-on-year month for hardware was January, just 17%, which makes sense because January 2013 was a five-week reporting period (whereas this year was just four), plus January’s the sales hangover after the holiday splurge.

Generally speaking, year-on-year hardware sales percent increases have been in the high double and occasionally low triple figures. Considered against the declining new physical software figure, and given that you can buy just about anything on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One digitally, well, let’s hope someone reputable’s conducting insightful surveys, so we can get a better sense for what the correlations are, and whether software sales are in fact up.

Destiny broke at least one record

Destiny was the top-selling video game for September, whether considered as a standalone SKU or against other multi-SKU competitors. NPD calls it “the most successful launch of the year so far,” then adds that “an even more prestigious feat was the fact that Destiny had the best launch month of all-time for any new IP in video game software.”

Traditional sports games ruled the roost

While Destiny took the top sales slot, Madden NFL 15, FIFA 15 and NHL 15 (all thee with cross-generation versions) each placed in the top 10. On current-gen consoles, Sony says those three game sold the most on the PS4.

Super Smash Bros. can still do big business for Nintendo

September was all about the 3DS, from Nintendo’s vantage anyway. Even if the game was only available for the last two days of the month, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS easily placed in the top 10, competing with multi-platform SKUs to snatch the fourth slot, beating Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, NHL 15, Minecraft, The Sims 4, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Diablo III.

Nintendo’s pocket-brawler sold 705,000 units in all, with over 135,000 of those as digital downloads. The game bolstered 3DS sales, too, helping Nintendo to 140,000 units, a 55% increase over August sales.

Where’s the Wii U in all of this?

Up 50% in unit sales over August, says Nintendo, helped along by sales of it Zelda brawler Hyrule Warriors (190,000 units), and sustained sales of racer Mario Kart 8 (60,000 units, for a lifetime total of nearly 1.2 million units).

Pay no attention to the noise

Sony’s September sales breakdown has a bunch of stuff in it that you might call “infometrics,” not to be confused with the science of informetrics (note the “r”). Infometrics is a buzzword I used to hear a decade or so ago from “data intelligence” companies trying to up-sell their analysis services. It’s basically a fancy neologistic way of saying “look, some numbers!”

So we have Sony’s claim, for instance, about “social sharing” amounting to 450,000 hours of live gameplay. Trouble is, we have no idea what that number actually means or what to stack it against in the press release. It sounds impressive–nearly half a million hours of stream sharing!–but consider that game streamer Twitch alone does something like 15 billion minutes a month, or 250 million hours, total.

On the other hand, this is interesting and tangible: Sony says Destiny is the most-played PS4 game, with “total gameplay hours” five times higher than the next-most-played game.

TIME Video Games

The 5 iPhone Games You Should Play This Week

Give these games a shot

Looking for a new iPhone game for your commute to work or lunch break at school? TIME rounded up some recent favorites that are worth a try.

  • War of Ages

    App Store

    It’s hardly a surprise that War of Ages is in the top 100 apps in the App Store. For those of us who played games like Age of Empires in the late 90s and early 2000’s, everything from the similar title, to building a nation, to developing a reliable army makes War of Ages feel like a throwback to these original strategy games. But War of Ages allows you to play online against millions of players, which adds a fascinating dimension to the classic medieval strategy genre.

    War of Ages is available free in the App Store.

  • Goat Simulator

    App Store

    When Goat Simulator was announced earlier this year, it was given web-wide attention due to its premise: a surreal Grand Theft Auto-type game involving a goat. Some believed it was an absurdist work of art; others called it a glitch-ridden disaster. Either way, Goat Simulator allows players to control a third person goat and explore the animal’s world, slingshotting the goat from object to object using its extremely elastic tongue while destroying everything in its path.

    Goat Simulator is available for $4.99 in the App Store.

     

  • Banner Saga

    App Store

    While many game developers have started using the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus’ larger screen sizes as a way to explore three dimensions, Banner Saga still delivers a stunning 2D landscape. Players choose their own characters and can follow any number of paths in this role-playing game that feels more like a Norse epic than a game one might plan on a phone. The art itself looks a lot like a detailed cartoon, which seems all the more appropriate when you take your Vikings into battle or sneak through a dark forest to avoid being seen by an enemy patrol.

    Banner Saga is available for $9.99 in the App Store

  • Daddy Long Legs

    App Store

    Daddy Long Legs is as hypnotic as it is simple. The premise sounds almost like a bad joke: successfully tap your screen to guide a hairy black cube with two gigantic legs down a track. Every time the cube falls, it splatters on the ground and the player starts over. For the cube, the road is endless. The only limit is how many hours a player is willing to spend trying to beat a shamefully low high score.

    But Daddy Long Legs also inadvertently delivers a disturbingly poignant message to its players: sometimes baby steps and persistence and a little luck yield greater results than big strides.

    Daddy Long Legs is available free in the App Store.

  • Jack B. Nimble

    App Store

    The first thing one notices about Jack B. Nimble is that it looks almost exactly like an original Game Boy game. With hints of Mario and Sonic and obvious traces of Indiana Jones, Jack B. Nimble is an endearingly old-fashioned monochrome game that lends a dash of eeriness to this hand-held style game. But Jack B. Nimble moves at a decidedly faster pace than its predecessors, and developers didn’t forget that players would be using a tool far more powerful than an old-school Game Boy. Somehow it’s as much at home on the iPhone than it would have been on a Christmas wish list in 1992.

    Jack B. Nimble is available for $1.99 in the App Store.

TIME Video Games

What Is #GamerGate and Why Are Women Being Threatened About Video Games?

What is #GamerGate?

Correction appended: Oct. 17, 2014.

The online movement #GamerGate, which has been brewing since August, took a frightening turn this week when feminist commentator Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech at a Utah college following a threat against her life. Sarkeesian chose to bow out after Utah State University officials decided to go forward with the event but couldn’t promise Sarkeesian they would be able to keep legally-carried guns off campus.

The anonymous threat warned the school’s administrators of a brutal assault on the campus if Sarkeesian’s talk was allowed to proceed.

“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” the email said. “She is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU….I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.”

The threats are familiar ones for Sarkeesian, whose positions have made her a target for those who feel threatened by feminists, particularly in the gaming community. But the people attacking Sarkeesian have been emboldened lately by #GamerGate, an online movement whose participants say they are targeting corruption in gaming journalism. The campaign has roots in hate speech towards women who make and talk about video games.

How did #GamerGate begin?

In August, a programmer named Eron Gjoni wrote a series of blog posts about the end of his relationship with indie game developer Zoe Quinn. Gjoni accused Quinn of sleeping with a video game journalist named Nathan Grayson, who at the time was freelancing for gaming sites Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun, allegedly in exchange for positive reviews of her game Depression Quest.

Depression Quest was already a controversial game. Released in early 2013, the indie game simulates the experience of having depression and is played entirely by choosing multiple-choice text options. Many gaming outlets applauded the unique game and its exploration of a serious subject in a brave way. However, the game also diverged from the kinds of content and gameplay found in most mainstream games. Some observers argued it wasn’t actually a good game in terms of the experience, but it was instead merely an intellectual exercise, and the articles praising it were puff pieces that caved to P.C. pressure.

When Gjoni publicized the personal details of his relationship with Quinn, certain gamers—who had already criticized the initial coverage of the game—became even more vehement in their vitriol towards Quinn. Stories of Quinn’s sexual history along with nude photos of her soon appeared on online message boards and chat programs like 4chan and IRC. Harassers went so far as to talk about whether they could get Quinn to commit suicide, with one participant saying that wouldn’t be a smart “PR” move.

It’s important to note here that the charges against Quinn and Grayson hold little water. Neither Grayson nor anyone else at Kotaku even reviewed Quinn’s game. Grayson briefly mention the game once in a March post about a completely different subject, but that was before they began their relationship, according to all parties involved. Kotaku has since conducted an investigation into the matter and said it found no ethical violations.

Nonetheless, some gamers were angry that the press didn’t report more on Gjoni’s accusations. Frustrated, the already-angry gamers continued to levy personal attacks against Quinn in reaction to what they perceived as the media’s silence on the matter.

Who is Anita Sarkeesian, and why did someone threaten to shoot up a school if she visited?

Around the same time Quinn came under attack, #GamerGate participants began harassing Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic who speaks about women’s roles in video game plots and game development. Sarkeesian hosts a show called “Feminist Frequency” on YouTube. Last year, she launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for a new series exploring what she considers harmful, sexist tropes in video games:

Anonymous Internet users began threatening Sarkeesian’s life in August after she posted a new video on the sexualization of women in video games. One person even created a game in which players were invited to abuse her. Sarkeesian eventually filed a report with the San Francisco police department and was forced to leave her home for fear of her personal safety. The FBI is investigating the death threats made against her.

It’s at this point in August that Firefly actor Adam Baldwin coined the term #GamerGate on Twitter. Using the hashtag, a group of #GamerGate participants began harassing writers who have supported Quinn and Sarkeesian. Other women in the gaming industry, like Brianna Wu, also received threats against their lives. (Wu has since had to leave her home and go into hiding.)

Fast forward to this week, when someone again threatened to take Sarkeesian’s life.

Why does #GamerGate think feminist criticism of gaming will lead to the “death of the gamer?”

Some of those involved in #GamerGate consider women, minorities and others’ calls for wider representation in gaming as an attack on gamers, who are predominantly young, white and male. Some believe feminists like Sarkeesian are trying to force them out of gaming — online news site Breitbart published an article entitled “Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart.” Not all gamers and not even all those who support #GamerGate attack women or support misogynist views, however. Some participants view the movement as an inquisition into corrupt practices among gaming journalists.

Still, following the harassment against Sarkeesian, Quinn and others, a number of journalists and editors published articles condemning gamers who participated in harassment against women. Among the most aggressive of these criticisms came from Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra, who wrote an op-ed titled “‘Gamers’ don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers are over'” at the end of August. That article and similar ones which followed were not well received by many in the gamer community. (Alexander also wrote a related piece for TIME.)

What does Intel have to do with #GamerGate?

Intel was a sponsor of Gamasutra until #GamerGate participants pressured the $158 billion company over Alexander’s article, resulting in Intel pulling its ad dollars from the site, according to re/code.

Intel has since claimed that it was unaware of #GamerGate when it made that decision, but it didn’t return to posting ads on Gamasutra. #GamerGate has gone on to harass several companies into taking similar actions by sending emails at specific times to flood target companies’ inboxes.

What do participants in #GamerGate want now?

Some claim that the gaming industry and the journalists who cover it have grown too close. Several gaming sites have started changing their policies to prevent possible conflicts of interest: Kotaku, for example, now forbids its writers from donating money to indie designers on Patreon, a Kickstarter for indie games.

These complaints are joined by louder, more hate-filled voices making violent threats against women simply for talking about or working in the field of video games. The group has also largely attacked independent gaming developers like the one that released Depression Quest, which typically get little attention from journalists, not the large companies who many say share a quid pro quo relationship with some writers.

Read next: Fixing What’s Wrong With Gamergate Starts With You

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the parent company of the web site Kotaku. It is Gawker Media.

TIME Video Games

Fixing What’s Wrong With Gamergate Starts With You

Whatever you think about games, game journalism or recent critiques of the way video games treat women, you have an obligation to be respectful in debates, and it's a shame we still have to say that.

This is how far we have to go: the Entertainment Software Association, a U.S. video game trade association and sometime D.C. lobbyist group, is now having to remind us that threatening to do violent harm to someone is the opposite of okay.

“Threats of violence and harassment are wrong,” an ESA spokesperson told the Washington Post Wednesday. “They have to stop. There is no place in the video game community—or our society—for personal attacks and threats.”

Read those words again, slowly, because they are a measure of the distance that remains between right here and now, and the point at which our species practices general civility in all its forms of communication, where human beings can depend on each other not to be cruel, condescending, vicious and in some instances even homicidally hostile over cultural disagreements. It should be as shocking as some of these threats that in 2014, someone has to utter the words “harassment is wrong.”

And yet at least three women who work in the games industry have had to temporarily leave their homes after being threatened with horrific acts of violence, simply because they said something someone else found disagreeable. Critic Anita Sarkeesian, known for her video series deconstructing female tropes in video games, just canceled her appearance at Utah State University after someone threatened “the deadliest shooting in American history” if she was allowed to speak. (The university deemed the presentation safe to proceed after consulting with local law enforcement, but can you blame anyone so threatened?)

The locus of all this animus in recent months is a so-called movement known as “Gamergate,” another neologistic slogan born of the infamous 1970s political scandal whose tendrils have circumnavigated space-time to motivate people to lazily append and then rally behind an egress descriptor glommed onto a vague reference label. Like the Tea Party, Gamergate may have been forged with something like an original central purpose: in its case, ostensibly reforming perceived corruption in “games journalism.” But as some of its supporters began violently threatening women who wrote about the topic, it quickly snowballed into something far messier and treacherous, a perplexing mass of conflicting idea-vectors, vitriol-filled social media assaults and online forum-filled cascades of general thuggery.

In a recent Salon article celebrating Richard Dawkins’ slight backpedaling on religion, the site references an interview with the evolutionary biologist, in which Dawkins says “There is a kind of pseudo-tribalism which uses religion as a label.” He’s talking about The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), reacting to a question about what could motivate a group to acts of utter barbarism like the beheadings for which ISIS is now infamous.

“Pseudo-tribalism” summarizes nicely. Swap “religion” for “Gamergate,” specifically for those using the term to denigrate and terrorize women, and you have the analogue. That well-meaning proponents of Gamergate have utterly failed to wrangle the slogan back from these bomb-throwers means it’s time to abandon it, to find a better way to prosecute concerns about journalistic corruption, and to wade civilly into the intellectual debate about female tropes in games.

Whatever you think of Sarkeesian’s thoughts on games and those tropes—and it should go without saying that there is room for civil debate about any critic’s thoughts on anything—there’s no room in such a debate for harassment, libel, slander, rape threats, death threats, posting intimate photos of someone without consent, outing their geographic location to intimidate them and so forth. Harassment is not debate. Harassment ends debates. It’s antithetical to dialogue, and, assuming you’re not so aberrant or sociopathic that you can’t tell the difference, isn’t meaningful dialogue what you’re after?

This is how you change the debate, and it has to happen before dialogue starts, before you even get to the level of worrying about semantic contentiousness over whether the label “gamer” is forever or forever stultified. In logic debates, there’s a thing known as the ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem is Latin for “to the person.” It means to attack someone personally–and irrelevantly–instead of debating the actual idea or claim or argument. The litmus test is this: after you’ve typed out your comment or message board post or social media screed, does it violate this fallacy? If so, that’s what the delete button’s for.

If you don’t care about respecting someone else’s right to disagree with you, if all you want is to cause harm for some twisted sense of catharsis, what can I say but that you’re doing something that’s the opposite of noble, the opposite of productive, the opposite of moving the ball down the field in whatever direction you think is important–and when you escalate harassment to the level of violence, it’s the very definition of psychopathic.

What I find most depressing about any of this isn’t the state of journalism (it’s hardly just “games journalism,” folks) or what men think about women and women about men. It’s that as human beings in 2014, we still think it’s okay to pick up a keyboard or tablet or phone, venture to someone else’s online space, pull out our weaponized words, and open fire.

TIME Media

Misogynist Online Abuse Is Everyone’s Problem — Men Included

The harassment against feminist #Gamergate critics is getting attention now. But the toxicity goes much farther in our culture.

I wasn’t going to write about #Gamergate. Most of the video gaming world is outside my experience. I used to play more, when I had more time and hair, but now I only play a few tablet or iPhone games, and badly. (I get a 384 on Threes, it’s basically a national holiday.) Not my issue, I figured.

Weeks went on, and I kept seeing references to a culture war between gamers and gaming journalists, especially feminist critics of the industry, that had devolved into vile sexist harassment and death and rape threats. So I started reading, and to an outsider anyway, Gamergate led to a vast tangle of ancient grievances and offenses that seemed about as easy to unravel as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For those interested, Todd Van Der Werff’s explainer at Vox is one of the better I’ve read.) That sounds awful, I thought. But again, not my area. Not my problem.

And then I read this terrific column by the Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan that made me realize that it is totally my problem, and everyone’s. The abuse that female game critics and journalists and developers have been receiving has been extreme–specific threats to friends and family online, bomb threats, people hoping to drive women to suicide, the threat of a mass shooting at a talk video game critic Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to give. But it’s not unparalleled.

In TV criticism–in any cultural criticism now–the price of having a female byline and an opinion is getting subjected to torrents of gender-specific, grotesque, sometimes frightening and threatening abuse, which men like me, in general, do not deal with to nearly the same degree. I panned CBS’s Stalker. Mo Ryan panned CBS’s Stalker. But only she received the e-mail, quoted in her column, that told her to “shut the fuck up” because “MEN WE PREVAIL.” (Disclosure, I guess: I’m friendly with Ryan, as I am with a lot of TV critics, and I will confess to being biased against someone calling a friend a “fucking misandry freak.”)

And what’s the offense here, in each case? What were the fighting words? Somebody made some videos criticizing gaming tropes as sexist. Someone said that a TV crime show was exploitative and abhorrent. Someone said, maybe don’t harass women in the video game industry. This is the threat. This is the crisis.

It’s the “War on Christmas,” essentially. (There’s an excellent piece in Deadspin drawing out the parallels between the political and the entertainment-industry culture wars.) It’s the grievance of an identity group, already superserved by the larger culture, outraged that its service has become slightly less super. Their thing used to be the main thing, the default thing, the assumption. And now, if you point out that it is no longer the only thing–as is the case, both in American society and in entertainment–why, you’re persecuting them.

I have to assume that the people making death and bomb threats are, as the saying goes, a “small but vocal minority.” But this sense of disproportionate grievance is not so small. Put simply: someone saying mean things about a thing you like is not an assault on your liberties.

So someone made you feel bad for playing a video game that you like? I’m sorry. Maybe there are valid arguments against them. Maybe you could make those arguments! But nobody is about to haul you off to the Misandrist Re-Education Camps because they caught you playing Assassin’s Creed.

Someone got all righteous about the TV shows you like? Maybe they asked why there aren’t more well-rounded women in True Detective or why there are so many dramas about brooding male antiheroes and serial killers or they said something was a rape scene that you didn’t think was a rape scene? That’s unfortunate. But guess what? HBO’s still making the second season of True Detective! Networks are still going to make all those antihero and serial killer shows! You’re still going to be on the receiving end of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline full of product tailored to your specific tastes. I think you’ll be OK!

But as a larger group, we have a problem–all of us. It’s women, online and in real life, who have to deal with the fear and the abuse and the is-it-worth-it-to-say-this, in far greater numbers. People tweet horrible things at me sometimes, but I don’t pretend writing a post like this is any kind of brave act on my part. I’ll publish it and go on my merry way. I have the Guy Shield, or maybe the Dude Invisibility Cloak. (It’s +3 against trolls!)

It’s still my problem, though. There’s a whole genre of men saying that they’ve become feminist because they have daughters. I don’t; I have two sons. Which is exactly why this kind of toxic crap in the culture is my problem, because they play games and they live in the world, and I want them to grow up to be decent guys with healthy human relationships. I don’t want them immersed in a mindset that says that throwing anonymous abuse at women is somehow retaliation in kind.

It’s my problem because I may not be a big gamer, but no part of the culture is an island. The dudebro attitude is manifest in TV comments sections and movie discussions and literary arguments–the puffing out of chests, the casual gendered insults–and it’s stifling, and it’s depressing, and it makes too many people decide it’s not worth engaging anymore.

It’s my problem because I love ideas and innovative culture and smart conversation. And every time a woman decides she needs to cancel a speech, or decides it’s not worth the risk to keep working in the creative field she loves, or decides, you know what, not today, it’s just not worth it to publish this column on this subject–it costs me and everyone else (even if it costs the women affected much more). It’s my problem if anyone’s engaging in a concerted effort to shut someone up, because I’m a writer and I’m a person and I live in a society.

This toxicity that we’re stewing in may not be All Men or All Gamers or All Anyone. That’s obvious. And it’s besides the point. What matters is that it’s all our problem.

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