Effects of GamerGate controversy felt in Austin City Council race

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Annie Ly, 16, took a class in San Jose, Calif., with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that is partnering with Google to prepare young women for futures in computing-related fields. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It’s a puzzling day when video game culture and politics intersect. So when I caught wind of an Austin politician whose city council platform was largely about the gaming industry, I knew something was amiss. Could this strange combination be chalked up to eccentric politicians, targeting what is perhaps their oddest and most specific subculture yet? Or has something lurking in the video game culture become so dark that our candidates risk delving into a trivially politicized industry by taking a stand? 

The latter, it seems, is what many believe, and is likely what prompted Mackenzie Kelly, a candidate from District 6, to risk her entire candidacy on highlighting the flaws within a sexist video game industry as part of a widespread movement that has come to be known as “GamerGate.”

Kelly, an energetic, personable candidate who models in her spare time, has quickly become a prolific and passionate advocate for #GamerGate. When followers learned the candidate was an avid gamer, they urged her to take a stand to promote ethical treatment of women within the admittedly eccentric culture of “gaming journalism.” A curious cause that has never before received political discourse, Kelly knew that choosing to speak up would be a risky political move. 

“I know no one in Austin is going to vote for me based on how I believe in ethics in gaming,” admitted Kelly. “But I do what I feel is right. I stick to the facts and the truth of the situation … I want to see the right things done.”

GamerGate is an odd movement of consumer revolt-turned-viral-Twitter hashtag, a controversy borne in response to the misogyny that some believe riddles the video game culture. When a video game developer took to the web to publicly accuse his video game journalist girlfriend of cheating on him with other developers, diehard gaming groupies everywhere went berserk. They organized a conspiracy against her, with recurrent death threats and even the public release of her address and phone number. A term first coined by actor Adam Baldwin, GamerGate’s broader goal seeks to combat the marginalization of women in gaming.

And while some have dismissed the ongoing controversy as a “tone deaf rabble of angry obsessives,” the problems it seeks to remedy — violent harassment and sexual threats against women — are certainly worth redress.

“GamerGate has been diluted quite a bit from what its base value was,” said Kelley, addressing the distortion that occurred when the movement went viral. “But at its core, I still believe that there’s a group of people that believe it’s about ethics.”

While Kelly was admittedly a far cry from winning office — her campaign ranked dead last in spending in District 6 with a mere $300, and she earned a mere 9 percent of the vote — her future political efforts have certainly not been thwarted. And most of all, she is proud to embrace her passionate, pro-gaming identity.

“There’s no reason not to be proud of being a gamer,” laughed Kelly. “I’m not in my mom’s house eating Cheetos. I’m in real life, making a positive influence on society, and I play video games.”

An unexpected candidate seeking to champion a little-known cause; a social movement with only a hashtag as its manifesto, it seems that for both Kelly and GamerGaters everywhere, their promising futures have only just begun.

Deppisch is a government senior from League City. Follow her on Twitter @b_deppy.