Reflecting on the murder of Melissa Batten

Melissa BattenMelissa Batten was a Software Development Engineer for the XBox team. Before that she was a Harvard-educated lawyer who worked as a public defender, handling domestic violence cases, in North Carolina. She was also a victim of domestic violence (DV). Her abusive husband killed her a few weeks ago in a murder-suicide after she had moved out and taken out a restraining order on him.

Domestic violence is a pervasive, deadly problem that affects us all. This incident is not an isolated act, nor can it be viewed in a vacuum. We lost one of our own. But there is more to take from this tragedy than it simply being a woman in the industry who died. Batten’s murder wasn’t an outside incident; it was part of a greater pattern of violence against women. It was enabled by a culture of misogyny that all too often trivializes domestic violence and puts obstacles in the way of the victim who tries to protect herself. Even in this case, where Batten did everything she could to get out of her situation and stay safe, her abuser had no problem shooting her outside of her workplace.

As gamers and game industry professionals, it’s our responsibility to take a deep look at ourselves, and our industry, and think about the ways that we’ve enabled a culture where violence against women is not taken seriously. Many gamers think that greater societal problems such as domestic violence and violence against women has nothing to do with their beloved hobby, but they are wrong. For one, games like the GTA series rely on sexualized violence and otherwise reflect sexist dynamics in order to add to their realism. Tying it into an example closer to real life, consider the harassment of Jade Raymond. The violence may have been verbal rather than physical, but it was rooted in the same sense of ownership of women that was the root cause of Batten’s husband killing her before he killed himself.

One way that we can honor Batten’s memory is to get educated on issues such as DV and violence against women and stop denying that they have nothing to do with us and our hobbies/careers.

More on Melissa Batten

Domestic violence resources

X-posted: The Life and Times of a Video Game Design Student

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This entry was posted in Abuse, rape, and domestic violence, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Reflecting on the murder of Melissa Batten

  1. Pingback: The Life and Times of a Video Game Design Student » Reflecting on the murder of Melissa Batten

  2. Luke says:

    Very important post.

    Even in this case, where Batten did everything she could to get out of her situation and stay safe, her abuser had no problem shooting her outside of her workplace.

    Reminds me a lot of of this DV murder-suicide.

    I was working at my old job when news of that happened and i’ll never forget my boss, who had been a victim of domestic violence herself, said exactly what you said. The way our world is set up, you can do everything possible but that won’t be enough. I don’t know how many more DV related murders it’s going to take before our legal and police systems become harsher on abusive men.

    And I think, just as you did in the post, it’s important to consistently call this a DV/murder-suicide and not just a murder-suicide. It wasn’t just a random killing by a crazed man. I did a quick search just now of Batten and I checked Kotaku’s post on her murder and, shock of the century, nowhere in the entire post do they use the words “domestic violence” or even “batterer.” They do, however, talk about how one news source described Joseph Batten as “obsessive” and “verbally abusive.”

    Rebecca Griego, Batten, David Brame…if you don’t call it a domestic violence related murder, it just seems like a guy who was insane because he then turned the gun on himself. And that, is complete bullshit.

  3. habladora says:

    What a tragic story. Thank you for covering it, and for making it clear that DV is part of a larger societal context.

  4. Pingback: Jade Reporting » 23 August

  5. Dan says:

    English is not my first language, so please forgive me if I make some mistakes.

    I understand what you are saying, but in my opinion the impact of videogames in domestic violence is minimum compared to older, “venerable” traditions such as religion (in Christianity, for example, the Bible says that women must submit to men), family education, etc. The school system could also do much more to educate children on this issue. Not to mention that women such as Christine de Pizan never appear in history or literature classes. No politician mentions domestic violence in their campaigns either, including Hillary Clinton.

    I think that focusing so much in videogame culture we tend to forget what really has a profound impact in issues such as domestic violence. Videogames do not send direct messages. They are works of fiction. Religion, school and family education do send a direct message, and thus they are way more effective and detrimental to women. I am not saying that fiction works (in movies, videogames or novels) do not have an impact at all, but I do really believe that their influence is minimum compared to other issues.

    Moreover, someone could say that you are implying that Melissa Batten, as a game developer, was to some degree responsible of her own death for participating in videogame culture. I know that it is not what you meant, but if you and me are responsible of her assassination for enjoying videogame culture, someone could say that so was Melissa.

    Grand Theft Auto can have different readings, depending on who plays it. There is an article about this game that I think everyone should read:

    http://republic-news.org/archive/110-repub/110_lavigne.htm

  6. tekanji says:

    Dan: I’m giving you leeway because English is not your first language. But arguments like, “I understand what you are saying, but in my opinion the impact of videogames in domestic violence is minimum compared to older, “venerable” traditions such as religion (in Christianity, for example, the Bible says that women must submit to men), family education, etc.” are not accepted here. Oppression isn’t a zero sum game; the “little” things, the ones that by your reasoning we should ignore, are part of the cultural backdrop that allow the “big” things to continue going unchecked. A failure to acknowledge and address issues such as the part that video games play in perpetuating a culture where domestic violence thrives only serves to obscure the complex reality of how things like violent misogyny, racism, homophobia, and other oppressions operate.

    I’ve already debunked your argument in my Debunking the Myth of Frivolity post. I would also suggest that you read Why are you concentrating on X when Y is so much more important?.

    And, for the record, going onto someone else’s blog post and telling them, in so many words, that you think they wasted their time in writing the post is pretty rude. It makes you look like a concern troll and is generally considered to be bad form. If you choose to post here again, please make sure that you read and understand the discussion rules (in this case, your comment broke the “Don’t Dismiss the Author’s Point” rule). Thanks.

  7. Dan says:

    Now that I read my post again, yes, it was pretty rude. I apologize.

    I have a question which is related (although not directly) to this topic. Feel free to delete it if you think it is not appropriate, but I have to state that it is a sincere question.

    I have been visiting sites like cerise magazine, feminist gamers and others that deal with oppression and videogames. I have read how the industry and the consumers are to blame for producing and consuming videogames which contain sexism, racism and homophobic stereotypes. Nevertheless, I have yet to read a proposition to teach deconstructionism in schools. If we live in a digital era, full of images, maybe we should teach children and teenagers to read images too.
    Would not be more effective to put pressure on public institutions like schools, instead of private companies, in order to equip the people with necessary tools to fight sexism, racism and other forms of oppression that appear in the media? Why nobody has proposed that yet? Have I looked in the wrong places?

  8. tekanji says:

    Dan said:

    Would not be more effective to put pressure on public institutions like schools, instead of private companies, in order to equip the people with necessary tools to fight sexism, racism and other forms of oppression that appear in the media? Why nobody has proposed that yet? Have I looked in the wrong places?

    You’re still trying to force things into an either/or proposition, when the reality is that the best thing to do is to both push for better education and hold people (including ourselves) responsible for the media that we produce/consume.

    For my part, I do stress the importance of teaching/learning critical thinking in most of my blog posts. I don’t think I’ve ever written a post entirely focused on education reform, but I do tend to do a lot of offline ranting to friends and family about it. Part of the reason why I focus on the gaming industry, though, is because I’m more likely to be able to actually have an impact there (being on track to design games myself).

  9. Sostenuto says:

    Dan, I agree that schools are important. However, schools are not as easy to change as they might seem.

    In my country the high school syllabus does call for deconstruction of traditional and contemporary texts, including mass media and games. However, there are a few of difficulties with this educational plan.

    1. Teachers trained in Cognitive Development theories (most Maths or Science teachers) do not expect children to cope with metacognition (thinking about how they think) until well into teenage.

    2. Teachers who use Social Constructivist techniques (most Primary teachers) struggle to convince parents that the classroom has enough structure and enough content.

    3. Half of the school-teachers are middle-aged or older and are themselves stretched by the culture gap between their generation and the Net generation, and by the expectations that they will radically adopt technology-based methods in which they cannot lead, cannot even equal some of their pupils.

    4. School students largely do not have the skills or status at home to defend the views they might form through deconstruction of texts at school. The press derides the discovery of new meanings in traditional texts (Shakespeare) and the displacement of traditional curricula by contemporary media.

    5. There is enormous difference between the academic respect of post-graduate professional parents of private school pupils and the cynical functionalism of the permanently unemployed families who are mainly sequestered in our most disadvantaged public schools. The common forms of violence and exploitation are different, so the syllabus has different meanings, according to locale.

    Without giving up in schools, I think that it is worth campaigning to bring increasing diversity into other shared social experiences. Movies, music and games are very important.

  10. Janice says:

    You are so right that domestic violence effects us all. My 19 year old friend Yasmin is charged with killing her boyfriend in a struggle over a gun. She has been charged with second degree murder. I have known her since kindergarten. No matter who you ask, all of this is shocking. She was always such a nice person. A lot of people remember her as smart and she was smart. But I remember her as a nice sweet person. She was laid back and just never bothered anybody. She was funny. I took pride in seeing my girl do her thing. She got As, played basketball, was class president, got all kinds of awards and didn’t get the big head. She is not in jail now. The judge let her out without even having to pay bail. Some folks who went to the hearing said the lawyers showed pictures of fist holes in the walls and marks from her head on the walls because she was dying her hair when all this broke out. It was his gun. I wondered why her hair was such a mess. I don’t know what happened that day. I just believe my girl was fighting for her life. I guess if her face had been blown away or if she had been killed then people would understand that. It seems that everyday I am watching a news story about a woman who did not make it out. But because she is one of the few who made it people think she has to be guilty. I know she is innocent. Falling for the wrong guy does not make you a murderer. Her family is running out of money because people are hurting financially now and some are judging her by what they have read and not the person they have known. It really doesn’t bother me that people don’t think like I do because everybody doesn’t know her. What bothers me is that some have found her guilty already. They are not even giving her a chance to be proven innocent. If you are able then please help her at http://www.ylldf.org.

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