Last night’s Law and Order: SVU took a stab, so to speak, at the Gamergate controversy that has been brewing in the video game industry for the past six months. True to Law and Order’s ripped-from-the-headlines fashion, the writers and actors involved also ripped all subtlety and nuance away from the issue, which covers everything from perceived misogyny in the gaming business to online threats of sexual violence to, once upon a time, ethics in video game journalism.
SVU predictably ignored that last bit and focused on the sensational stuff in an over-the-top episode that played a lot of like Reefer Madness or a ‘90s after-school special. Its story of gamers as basement-dwelling psychopaths who threaten, kidnap, and torture a game designer (and stand-in for real-life Gamergate targets) was typical of other TV shows that misrepresent video games, in that it was a bizarre, clownish, and insulting depiction so bad that it boomeranged back to cheesy and entertaining. Though difficult to narrow down, here are the top five strangest moments of Law and Order: SVU’s Gamergate episode:
1. Kotaku is Now Part of the SVU Universe
Right out of the (gamer)gate, Ice-T mentions Kotaku, an actual video game blog that has been front-and-center throughout Gamergate as one of the outlets that published “Gamers are Dead” articles on the same day. Its readers weren’t thrilled with that. Now, oddly enough, the popular blog is part of the Law & Order universe. You can imagine ex-detective Stabler spending his waning days hitting F5 on its main page, waiting for any news on the next Grand Theft Auto (for research purposes, of course).
2. Gamergate Is As Bad As ISIS
Irate nerds tweeting threats from their comfortable bedrooms isn’t juicy enough for TV, so SVU spiced things up by equating gamers with ISIS, complete with face masks, torture and disturbing videos. Of course online threats should be taken seriously and the concerns of victims shouldn’t be downplayed -- Twitter itself admitted in an internal memo that it sucks at handling its problems with harassment -- but to draw equivalence between tweets and beheadings might be a tad much.
— Bonnie Burton (@bonniegrrl) February 9, 2015
SVU’s detectives namedropped something called “the Dark Net” several times during the show, a play on the Dark Web, a portion of the internet that is difficult to search for. SVU lumps forums like Reddit and 4chan, combined to form the fictional "RedChanIt", into the “Dark Net”, no doubt an insidious den of criminality. But in reality, 4chan and Reddit are public forums easily found in search engines like Yahoo or Google. Anyone can go to them to post, lurk and share silly images. The most popular memes and image macros hail from there, so there’s very little "dark" about them. Tumblr was spared from this indignity.
During the episode’s climax, the insanely aggressive GamerISIS leader ambushed two cops at gunpoint. Because nothing is ever too-on-the-nose for Law and Order, the camera switched to a first-person-shooter perspective right out of Doom. We were staring down the sights of his gun. Then, Ice-T, camping in a corner ("Bad form, but effective", he said) swooped in to save the day as the first-person camera switched to his perspective. We were now staring down his gun. Was this repetition of shots a symbolic way to visualize the similarity between cop and criminal? Nah, it just looks cool. Wait, do we want this to look cool?
5. Moral of the Story
At the end, the terrorized game developer drops out of the industry, lamenting “they [the gamers] won.” SVU’s message is that Gamergate hurts real people – a depressing and sour, yet unfortunately accurate, note to go out on. But no one in real life was ever beaten and bloodied or kidnapped. A "this could happen to you" message could just as easily scare women from entering the video game industry, a place where luminaries such as Jade Raymond, Jane Jepsen, Amy Hennig, Yoko Shimomura, Rieko Kodama and many others have enjoyed great success.
It would be so much better to celebrate their contributions, but perhaps, that wouldn’t make for such cracking television. In the end, Ice-T reminds us that video games aren’t real; hopefully everyone remembers lowbrow, schlocky TV isn’t either. You can watch the full episode for free at NBC’s web site.