Cheerleaders and Martyrs


The 2014 GG movement brought the toxicity, misogyny, racism, and homophobia of mainstream gamer culture to the fore. The organized harassment of women, LGBTQI communities, and SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) in the gaming industry blurred the lines between online hostility and offline violence. Tracing various industrial responses to feminist critics and queer developers in the wake of GG elucidates the complex, and often contradictory, ways that diversity is marginalized, negotiated, and integrated into the indie industry.

In November 2014, after receiving significant amounts of online harassment, Mattie Brice, a queer game critic, indie game designer, and IGF juror, made sarcastic tweets about “downvoting” white male festival entrants to increase gender parity in the festival. She was immediately dismissed by the IGF as a judge. That same year, Anita Sarkeesian was awarded the Ambassador Award at the 2014 GDC Choice Awards for her work with Feminist Frequency. During the ceremony, the hostility toward Sarkeesian was addressed by asking, “And, why does she keep doing this? … She loves games. She thinks they’re worth fighting for.”

Drawing on a media industries approach, this project analyzes the ways in which the indie industry has responded to the presence of “diverse Others” in indie game development and criticism. Using the IGF and IndieCade as case studies, this research reveals that feminist and queer women are generally framed as martyrs or cheerleaders. Those that are most celebrated are martyred cheerleaders: feminist and queer women that face horrific abuse and continue to champion the importance and relevance of games and gaming culture.

Highlighting martyred cheerleaders allows the industry to reinforce the legitimation of games and gaming culture, while relegating instances of abuse and harassment to individual instances and “personal problems.” Similar to dynamics of post-racial ideologies, the martyred cheerleader frames trends of violence, exclusion, and hostility as unique problems rather than systemically perpetuated policies, culturally bound value systems, or structurally informed practices. Analyzing feminists and queer women in the indie industry following #GamerGate reveals a posture of distanced recognition rather than active intervention.



Aleah Kiley is a graduate student at the University of California Santa Barbara Film and Media Studies Program. From a critical vantage, her research engages with media histories, media industries, cultural analysis, critical race theory, feminist studies, queer theory, and digital humanities to place the intersections of identity in popular media in structural and historical contexts.