Last Saturday night I curled up on the couch with my husband and dog, ready to chip away at some of the DVR backlog that inevitably piles up when I’m away on business for a week. I picked Law & Order: SVU, the show that sits half in the “guilty pleasure” and “I still watch this out of some sort of weird ass loyalty” categories for me.
When I saw it was “Intimidation Game”, aka the infamous Gamergate episode, I turned to Mike and said “if we’re going to watch this, I’m going to need a drink.”
This blog isn’t going to be a rundown of everything stupid, inaccurate, or overblown in the episode. Yes, I cringed when Ice-T robotically started talking about Civilization V: Brave New World. Yes, I threw up my hands and exclaimed “how can you only livestream something in 18 countries?!” and snickered at the crazy bizarroland of a video game launch the show created in order to have a plausible reason for their main victim to get kidnapped. All of that was stupid. But if you have seen as much SVU as I have (or even a couple episodes, really, because this happens all the time) you’ll know that their formula requires an over-the-top situation, they don’t love in-depth research, and even if they did perfectly research their topics, they still need to make it palatable and understandable for their audience and their genre. It’s not perfect. At least in the case of this episode, they tried to use gamer lingo and Ice-T sometimes pulled off his translation efforts as he explained to his colleagues what everything meant (although I posit that FAL is not something anyone ever says, although I’m totally going to try and make it a thing. It means “failure at life” by the way. Seriously.)
There are two things I’m pissed off about.
About a third of the way through the episode, the day before the female game developer’s big launch, SVU pulls her into their precinct and beg her to take the threats against her seriously. Several detectives surround her, showing her the threatening messages and pictures people have posted about her online, and ask her to delay her launch or at least allow them to put significant police presence at her launch the next day. The female game dev, named Raina Punjabi, isn’t having any of it. She says that she’d rather be called a bitch than a coward and angrily tells the cops that she came to the precinct but she wanted, in no uncertain terms, for there to be any police presence at her event - certainly not a visible one. She even says she’s heard their warnings and assumes all the risk for herself - she can handle it on her own. She actively shuns the help of an entire police department.
I think this is around the point when I went and took a shot just so I didn’t throw something at my television. It wasn’t Samsung’s fault, after all.
Brianna Wu, a fucking amazing female game developer and one of the people who this SVU character was inspired by, just had to withdraw from PAX East because the organizers ignored her and would not take threats against her person seriously. Anita Sarkeesian, another inspiration for the show’s character, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State after someone threatened to shoot up the school if she continued with her appearance. She begged for police presence and a more active, aggressive presence to protect against this credible and detailed threat. The police told her no, and so to protect herself and the people she was speaking to, she was forced to cancel.
So you know what? Fuck you, Law & Order: SVU. Fuck you for bringing this topic into the spotlight and misrepresenting one of the biggest fucking problems. Zoe Quinn’s been driven from her home. Anita and Brianna both continue to operate with real and constant threats to their lives. This shit isn’t a joke, and yet no one has been brought to justice for it and the law enforcement agencies that are taking it serious are few and far between. If one of these women had been in that SVU precinct, they probably would have said something like “holy shit, thank you so much for finally listening to me. Let me help you. Here’s a huge fucking stack of documentation and evidence of what’s going on. I’m so glad you guys are finally fucking paying attention.” They would not have stomped out like petulant children.
Which brings me to the second thing that really pissed me off: Raina’s fiance.
This character was most likely inspired by Zoe Quinn’s batshit crazy ex-boyfriend who was the shitty spark that started the Gamergate fiasco. Except in SVU’s rendition of things, gamers were targeting Raina in part because she was marrying an investor in her business: gamers were accusing her of “sleeping her way to the top.” Okay, I get that: the shitty sexist gamers would actually probably say that. And while I’m irked that they turned the horrible asshole ex into a loving boyfriend, I’m okay with that as a plot point. You have to change fact into fiction to make a compelling story.
Here’s why I’m pissed about this male character: he didn’t need to exist. Taking out the plot point that Raina was “sleeping her way to the top” wouldn’t have demonstrably weakened the story: sexist gamers would still be attacking her for existing and for daring to make a video game that was not a shoot-em-up. On top of that, the male boyfriend always stood as a voice of reason: he’s the one who really wanted Raina to go to the police. He was the one urging her, even begging her, to take the threats against her seriously. He’s the one who sighed as she stomped out of that police station, refusing SVU’s help, clearly signalling to the police and the audience that he knew what was right and that she, the weak, naive, stupid woman, was wrong. He is, in a nutshell, the human embodiment of victim blaming. Mind you, I don’t think SVU did this on purpose: I think they are just shitty writers. That doesn’t negate the fact that he clearly and repeatedly blames Raina for what happens to her throughout the episode.
Even in the final scene, after Raina has been kidnapped and beaten brutally, he’s the one who speaks for her and says she wouldn’t be up to testifying against the man who assaulted her. She in turn stands by the window with her back to the police who so wanted to help her, a tear running down her cheek, and says “Women in gaming. What did I expect? I’m out.”
So here’s a pro-tip to future primetime shows that want to take on hot button current event issues around sexism: don’t further perpetuate the sexist stereotypes that we are fighting against. No one cares if you get the lingo wrong or make a sensational crazy kidnapping - this is TV after all, we know that you have to be over the top. But how about letting women stand on their own two feet, without a man to prop them up or speak for them or be the sane one, the right one? How about just not having a man there at all? And how about, when you want to address an issue as sensitive and ongoing as this one, you figure out the core of it and not completely fuck up representing it? You brought attention to the swaths of unprocessed rape kits around the country - a disgusting and true state of affairs - why could the SVU detectives have been sickened and appalled at all the law enforcement agencies that have come before and not taken threats against female gave devs seriously? No real woman facing these threats would ever treat the police as Raina Punjabi did. Why did you need to write it that way? Do you understand how fucking offensive and angering it was to every female in gaming? As someone who has had to deal with this shit before, I want to punch every single one of you in the face.
You didn’t help a single goddamned thing. If you’re going to try and show a cause, at least have the decency to portray the victims of the abuse in a way that is anywhere in the ballpark of reality. We don’t act like this. We never have, we never will. This is a real and terrifying problem, and we want help.
If only the actual police were as awesome as the ones that play them on TV, maybe we’d actually feel safer.
But this is the real world, where we’re pleading for help and no one is listening.
For a full list of the clips that made me snigger and the ones that really pissed me off, here’s the full episode. You’ll have to watch some ads but it’s good to see exactly what I’m talking about:
7:33 - Ice-T translates gamer speak for us (including “FAL” which is seriously not a thing.)
9:35 - Ice-T does not pull off being enthusiastic about Civ V
18:40 - Raina refuses help from the police in an infuriating bizarroland scene that would never happen in reality.
19:45 - Keep watching bizzaroland scene until here when Raina says she’s been “officially warned” and “accepting all liability” and “does not want a visible presence - no ESU, no bomb sniffing dogs” - you know, exactly the opposite of how Anita was when this happened in real life.
29:10 - A great example of the unnecessary boyfriend saying “I tried to tell her. I tried to tell her, she just wouldn’t listen” to the police after Raina is kidnapped and has already been publicly humiliated by being broadcast in a bra, clearly beaten and terrorized.
40:10 - The last scene of the show when the boyfriend again speaks for Raina and she utters the “women in gaming, what did I expect?” as a final slap to end the episode.
This is also a great supercut of the entire show in case you don't want to watch the whole thing. It doesn't focus on the boyfriend, which highlights my qualms with his existence in the show. He clearly does not need to exist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31_rYfITwb4