When GamerGate supporters on /v/, 4chan’s video game forum, decided to sponsor The Fine Young Capitalists Game Jam, a crowd-funded project to develop video game ideas from women new to the industry, many saw the donations as a cynical attempt to rehabilitate GamerGate’s image.
Even the initial 4chan posts conceiving the donation drive acknowledged the potential benefits of such a contest.
“Can you imagine? 4chan attacks the cancer and simultaneously sponsors the chemo AT THE SAME TIME,” said one post archived in a history of the character. “We’d be PR-untouchable.”
But those following the GamerGate saga have seemed surprised to learn that a crowdsourced mascot and logo created during the donation drive included a color scheme linked to a cartoon rape meme, which has only given critics more ammunition.
“The purple/green colors of #GamerGate and their mascot is a reference to a 4chan rape joke,” media producer and critic Jonathan McIntosh wrote in a widely circulated tweet. “That’s all you need to know about these creeps.”
The GamerGate movement began with arguments video game critics and journalists covering the industry are corrupt and unethical, alleging that they accept what essentially amounts to bribes and favors from game developers in exchange for coverage. But the movement has since expanded to less well-defined claims about how women developers and perceived journalistic bias toward games about politically correct topics will transform the stereotypically male-dominated gamer culture.
Since its inception, when an ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn claimed Quinn slept with a journalist covering her work to secure favorable coverage, GamerGate has been dogged by allegations it’s little more than a misogynistic hate group. Self-proclaimed GamerGate affiliates have reportedly sent graphic threats of violence to Quinn and other women in the gaming world, driving some to cancel events, flee their homes, or seek police protection.
The GamerGate supporters raised enough money to create a mascot for their campaign, under the rules of the Fine Young Capitalists’ Indiegogo campaign, collectively designing a female gamer character who came to be called Vivian James–a pun on “video games.”
“Within like a day, there were at least a 150 different versions of her,” says the Fine Young Capitalists’ Matthew Rappard. “It’s not uncommon for advertisers to slightly change an image multiple times, but this one is really on a community level, and it’s really that they were excited about being given the opportunity and then they kind of all did it.”
As forum members suggested aspects of Vivian James’s appearance and personality and posted draft sketches, she took on aspects of a typical /v/ member and became a kind of mascot for the every-gamer.
“She has long auburn or red hair, green eyes, and freckles, with her eyes often depicted as having bags underneath them due to her inconsistent sleep schedule,” according to the quasi-official GamerGate Wiki. “Her skin is a pale white due to the large amount of time she spends indoors, and she is typically depicted as being slightly overweight due to a poor diet and lack of exercise.”
She also has a headband adorned with a four-leaf clover, 4chan’s logo, and a hoodie in purple and green stripes. The purple and green alludes to an animated GIF called “Piccolo Dick” which shows the Dragon Ball anime character Piccolo sodomizing Vegeta, another character from the series.
The image first appeared on 4chan in the 2000s and was frequently reposted by forum trolls, who spoke of giving a “daily dose” of the graphic to forum members, who’d then reply with the catchphrase “Thanks, doc,” according to the meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme. Soon, the image was banned, and users began to post other purple-and-green images understood to be a reference to the forbidden GIF.
The colors purple and green, taken together, came to be associated with the image on 4chan and other forums and used to troll users similarly to the once-popular links to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video or to more disturbing shock sites.
Driving home the subconscious nature of the meme, another forum post included “seeing green and purple together produces uncontrollable laughter” on a list of “ways 4chan has ruined your life.”
But GamerGate supporters have denied any connection between Vivian James’s image and the Piccolo meme. The Fine Young Capitalists, in particular, mocked the suggestion in a blog post, highlighting other unrelated images with similar colors.
“It doesn’t seem like a popular enough meme that 4chan actually knew it,” says Rappard, who acknowledges that some anonymous posts on the forum did contain deliberately obscene versions of the character but says the final consensus image was designed to be inoffensive.
Yet, in the initial forum discussion that led to the Vivian James design, a draft of the Vivian character with her distinctive color palette got plenty of “thanks, doc” replies, as did an anonymous illustrator who a few days later posted a first draft of the now standard GamerGate logo, showing a stylized video game controller with purple and green G’s.
“Yes the colors are based off of Vivian,” according to that post. One user replied with a censored clip of the Piccolo image.
Others have also argued that green and purple are simply colors associated with 4chan and the /v/ forum, not allusions to the meme.
“Why would you use a rape joke that’s more than 6 years old?” the creator of dontjudgemeimscared.tumblr.com, who is a GamerGate supporter, asked in all caps. “Hell, it’s been explicitly stated that Viv is just a normal girl, and intentionally so.”
The anonymous creator of the dontjudgemeimscared Tumblr, when reached via Skype, insists that meme has been distanced from the rape scene once that GIF was banned by forum moderators.
“This cause people to edit it heavily and post it anyway,” he says. “It’s more about stubborn annoyance than actual sexual imagery, since there is a porn board on 4chan.”
But if it’s just stubborn annoyance, why associate it with–of all things–GamerGate? Regardless of the meme’s evolution these visual branding elements are aimed “gamers,” who clearly can identify the significance of the colors. If nothing else, it taps into gaming’s male-dominated worldview, and certainly has not distanced GamerGate from the misogynist undertones associated with the movement. What may have been a trollish joke on GamerGate critics has only started to undermine the group’s stated goal of creating a deliberately non-sexualized, gamer-girl-next-door mascot.
“Certainly if I were a designer and people were saying you should make it these colors, it certainly wouldn’t occur to me that those colors were going to be shorthand for, basically, a rape joke,” says David Futrelle, who writes frequently about online misogyny and has critiqued GamerGate and the Vivian James image on his blog. “Then again, that’s something the designer should sort of investigate a little bit.”