Last night, NBC aired a new episode of Law & Order SVU called “The Intimidation Game” which attempted to make entertainment out of the #GamerGate movement which has harassed women in the video game industry since August of last year.
Boy, there’s so much to take on here.
I’m a thirty year old dude who lives in Los Angeles. if there are two things that I love, it’s video games and episodes of SVU, so few things in the history of pop culture have triggered the parts of my brain like this has. Most of my friends have cats named either Benson or Stabler, but I’ve also been long time friends with so many people in the video game industry that it’s impossible to ignore the weird/awful place this brings me to. Specifically, this is the first episode of informative murder porn on television that specifically cast characters based on real people that I know. It’s hard to predict what “ripped from the headlines” story could ever intersect with your own life, and I’m so horrified that this became my battleground. The most frightening part is imagining how many years of weird TV crime episodes borrowed, not only from the nightmarish situations of real people, but the emotional horror of those on the periphery. At the same time, shows like this which have acquired a personal affinity feel like a step forward for all of us when they take on issues that slip from the front page to the second or third.
Unfortunately, a show I grew up watching has betrayed me so often in my adulthood. Last year, the “Comic Perversion” episode of SVU took on the idea of a standup comedian who makes rape jokes, and who may also be involved in the rape of his audience members. It remains, for all purposes, the most tone-deaf episode of television I’ve ever seen, especially considering that the only famous comedian to ever be convicted of multiple rapes was a comic who worked “clean” across the Midwest. The apoplectic reaction I had to this night filled me with an unbearable dread of how the same writers’ room would approach such a complicated issue as the current War on Feminist Identity in online culture.
“The Imitation Game” engages a familiar narrative about a well-known female game developer whose professional career is deemed illegitimate by Men’s Rights Activists. Horrifyingly, the mainstream TV episode which had the potential to take on something real, veers off at the last moment into the realm of “Boys can’t tell the difference between real and video games,” a subject more appropriately solved in the 2001 episode “Care” about a boy addicted to video games who murders a girl with a sword crated in software’s image. Surely, this misstep would be enough, but equally horrifying in the modern episode’s resolution, in which the gamer fanatics are gunned down in cold blood, as if that resolves any goddamned part of this nightmare scenario.
Perhaps the most egregious offense here is felt on a cultural level; Law & Order has always been about not just “ripping from the headlines” but rather empowering familiar characters above the complicated reality. No one comes out the victor here, and no greater understanding is gained. It’s a very American Psycho resolution to an already ethically ambiguous scenario. But even that framing feels like an embarrassing framing of the greater spectrum that could honestly serve as the foundation of its own spin-off series: “Law & Order: Boy, is it not fun to be a woman on the internet.” Which ties back in to the overly simplistic mustache-twirling of gun toting MRA’s gunned down in the final moments. What’s truly fear-worthy is a million dudes who believe freedom of speech and freedom of violent threats are synonyms, and the lack of a structure for even beginning to rehabilitate the unaware unwashed back into the fold.