Alright, it’s time to address GamerGate. After hearing about this issue non-stop for the better part of two months now, I’ve had enough and I need to vent. I wrote about this in a pretty weak sauce way before because I was scared of being targeted but I’m done caring about that. There’s potential for good, meaningful discussion here that’s being completely choked and drowned out by people on both sides who have become little more than squabbling children. Writers and communities that should frankly know better have become little more than snark-ridden echo chambers. I’m now seriously questioning places I used to think of as Internet safe havens and that makes me both sad and angry.
I debated leaving GamerGate out of the title of this post because I didn’t want it to show up in Google searches and make me an easy target. I thought about it a lot and decided that would be a cowardly decision. If I’m going to post this, then I’m going to put it out there properly and take my lumps if they come. I will stand up for what I say. This post also assumes you’re up-to-date on what’s happened with GamerGate to time of writing. If you’re not, look it up elsewhere.
After this, I’m done with this bullshit. It has gone well beyond any realm of reason and it will never be solved until it gets a chance to cool down which has to happen eventually. This is my final peace on the topic as it is now. After today, I’ll be muting the hashtag, for my own sanity. I see valid points buried within the toxicity on both sides of this. If you’re someone who is going to read this and assume me as being with the extreme elements of either camp, you should stop now and unfollow me in whatever places you do. People who would do that are people I’m not interested in engaging any further.
My goal here is to speak to the more rational players on both sides of the debate. By and large, nothing I or anyone else says will sway any extremists. Yet there are still many who are open to alternative ideas, even in spite of being fairly locked in to what they think. My hope is to plant some seeds with those people. I probably won’t but I can at least say I tried.
The kernel of this issue is rooted in what I believe are valid concerns. There are major problems with the enthusiast press being too cozy to those they cover and I believe this is impacting the quality and neutrality of coverage in some places. I believe what games they choose to cover and how much coverage they give them shouldn’t be tied to relationships with and feelings toward their creators. I believe directly funding a creator you are responsible for covering is a patently obvious conflict of interest. I believe it’s actually OK if those conflicts exist and that recusal is not necessary but visible and plainly worded disclosure should be standard practice, as it is elsewhere. I believe that covering things based on personal preferences and desire/business need for controversial clicks instead of the consumer’s need to know isn’t journalism, it’s opinion and should be labelled as such. I believe a journalist’s role is to provide the info for people to think on, not to tell them how to think.
Many people still like to think that Zoe Quinn and her asshole ex’s selfish public outing of dirty laundry is what started GamerGate. They also think that this is still all about her. I don’t believe that, nor do I believe that Adam Baldwin is responsible for the momentum of the movement just because he was the first user of the hashtag. He may have spawned the moniker but if he didn’t, it just would have been called something else. Those events, along with the “Gamers Are Dead” articles were the catalysts that exploded an issue that had been simmering for years. Elements of the gaming press and gamers have had a cold war long brewing, this is simply what turned it into a hot war.
Since then, I have witnessed discourse sink to a level I’ve rarely ever seen, even for online discussions of gaming. The length it has persisted is incredible. I’ve seen otherwise mature people adopt the tactics of trolls and a level of organisation among opposition you don’t see that often over something like an entertainment medium. In Internet attention span time, that we’re two months into this with no end in sight is basically several eternities. In it’s horrible, depressing way, it’s fascinating.
At one time, there was potential to have some real discussions and debate about multiple serious issues in gaming, issues that should be discussed and that I think are important. Journalism, representation, curbing abuse, all these could have been talked about. That time passed a long time ago. The sides with the loudest voices have now dug trenches so deep, they’re halfway to the Earth’s core. No one cares about discussion, no one cares to try and learn more, or to empathise or to find solutions. It’s no longer about solutions, it’s just the need to be angry, outraged and to fight. It’s the personification of the worst elements of outrage culture from everywhere.
Many continue to insist this is a symptom of a larger problem in the gaming community but that’s crap. The gaming press had liked inflammatory narratives of late so perhaps it’s been more visible from that. Perhaps there’s also an argument to be made that since hardcore gamers tend to be more technologically savvy, it’s easier for a large number to get their bile out there. If you think this type of thing is strictly a gaming issue, then you should look at the social media and comment sections related to politics, or the NFL, or religion or whatever other contentious issue you can think of. This isn’t a gaming issue, it’s an Internet issue and to claim otherwise is a lie. It’s being used as one of many cheap ploys to dehumanise the other side to make it easier to hate them.
It’s been impossible to ignore this so instead, I’ve attempted to take in information and arguments from both sides in order to formulate a viewpoint as I almost always tend to end up somewhere in between both extremes. True enough, that happened here too. I’ve read and watched a lot of stuff that I found informative and much more that either made me angry, sad or just caused me to roll my eyes. Both sides feel they’re fighting for a medium and a hobby they love and that they have good and noble intentions. Different methods are being used and some of them are unsavoury but everyone thinks they’re fighting the good fight. I don’t question the belief but I absolutely question how both sides are going about it. They’re insisting on sticking to points and methods that are often intellectually dishonest and are not attacking points but the people making them. Everyone wants change to come from this but no one’s willing to change how they approach it to make things better.
I’ve no doubt many of you who read this will find many things to disagree with. Cool! If so, please let me know what you think and let’s talk about it. Unlike some, I’m fully open to changing my mind. I’m not going to bemoan the lack of discussion and then turn off my comments like others have. Just act like an adult please. Comments are held for moderation but I’ll let anything through that’s intelligently written. I’m not having an argument over Twitter though. That service is a terrible place for real discourse. If you tweet at me looking to start a discussion, I’ll be directing you back here to do it.
Lastly, this should go without saying but harassment of any kind from is fucking wrong, always. Both sides have engaged in this and those people are scum. Period. If you think otherwise, even a little bit, you’re a bad person and you should be fucking ashamed of yourself. I have nothing further to say on that aspect.
I think many of the people involved in GamerGate have valid points regarding recent demonstrations of journalistic integrity, or lack thereof. I also think consumers have every right and even the responsibility to speak out against what they perceive as unjust or unfair. In an era where it’s almost impossible to get consumers to do anything en masse, GamerGate represents one of the largest sustained consumer movements I’ve seen in recent memory and it’s done so devoid of declared leadership which is frankly astounding. That said, the group has a major image problem and a lot of that (though not all of it) is their own fault. This is the flip side of having no leadership. For the rational side of this movement to be heard in the way it should, some hard steps need to be taken. Many would call these admissions of defeat but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. These are evolutionary steps and ones I think are vital for real change.
Firstly, the GamerGate moniker needs to be dropped. I know I’ve used the term several times already to identify the group but I seriously think this is the most important thing that can be done for the sake of the non-extremist side that’s fighting for real change and discussion. The name has become synonymous with hatred, harassment and bigotry. I can already hear people screaming that extremists don’t represent all of GamerGate but that doesn’t matter. Seriously, it doesn’t. Go look up the hashtag and see how much bile is in there. The movement would say that the press shouldn’t be telling people that’s all it is and to a point, I agree but that’s already happening. Perception is more important than anything right now. That you don’t like that reality doesn’t change anything. You can either try to fix the unfixable or move on and maybe be heard. Let the extremists cling to their old identity while you build a new one that represents the real discussion many of us want. Again, it’s not defeat, it’s evolution and it will ultimately be better for it. GamerGate is just a word and frankly, it’s a dumb one, just like all the other -Gates over the years. Pick something better and build on that.
Secondly, the movement needs to self-police better. Defenders say it is actually inclusive at its core and wants a wide range of voices. In my observation, I can certainly see places where that’s true. However, if you claim the trolls don’t represent you, then you need to work harder to stop them. Call out abuse and harassment publicly and loudly. Don’t downplay it and don’t tolerate it, even a little bit. People say 4chan/8chan/whateverchan aren’t responsible for this and as entities, they aren’t but it can’t be denied that the staging for some fucking nasty stuff takes place there. You can’t stop them from doing it but you can divorce yourselves from it as a group and declare publicly that they don’t represent you. You have to make it as clear as possible that the bad players don’t represent everyone. Be loud, be bold, be ruthless in stamping out abuse. If you believe yourselves to be inclusive, then be the change you want to see and be unrelenting in that goal. When the press says that the movement is just about harassing women, you can’t just say “No it isn’t!”, you have to be able to point to your efforts to curtail those people and show the press how they’re wrong.
Next, the movement needs to stop associating with toxic people. Of all those providing commentary in written and video form, certain ones are being held up as the unofficial spokepeople of the movement, the ones that are speaking from the heart of what gamers supposedly want. Yet some of these people are using the immature, ad hominem methods of argument that get cited again and again as why the movement is intolerant. Internet Aristocrat can’t make an otherwise valid argument without resorting to cheap personal attacks and accusations, often based on incorrect information he never corrects. Thunderf00t can’t just say why he disagrees with someone, he has to paint them as liars and scam artists. Adam Baldwin didn’t care about gaming at all until he started #GamerGate for self-promotion of his frankly hateful views. And come on, fucking Breitbart? An ultra right-wing, often hateful commentary site that makes Fox News look journalistically respectable? This place used to insult the gaming community but is suddenly on our side when it gives them a new conspiracy theory to ride? Give me a break. They’re playing you for traffic. Anyone who knows what that site is and doesn’t already follow it will see anything posted there as devoid of value. These kinds of people don’t know how to make an argument without slander and they’re not who you want representing your side. Putting them on pedestals is only harmful and damaging. You can’t say you want mature discussion while holding up those kinds of people as your representatives. That they’re willing to stand with you in some way doesn’t mean you owe them a voice. You can’t say your movement isn’t about toxicity and then point to people whose work says otherwise.
Lastly, you have to always take the higher ground when addressing the opposition. That means drop the fucking Social Justice Warrior bullshit. I’ve seen a staggering number of otherwise rational and intelligent people discussing this and using that to brand the other side, then wondering why no one listens to them. Nothing immediately turns someone from the other side off talking to you more than hearing that tired old chestnut. It’s a dehumanising move that instantly tells the other person you think they’re lesser than you. That’s not how civil discourse works. It doesn’t matter how much the other side pisses you off. If you truly want a real discussion, you need to be the better people and talk to those you disagree with like it’s a debate, not a fight. The people you call SJWs may infuriate you but they share the same passion for their side of the argument that you do for yours. If you don’t want to be insulted by them, you can’t throw insults yourself and make no mistake, your side did that first.
I don’t think GamerGate needs leadership but I do think it needs a code by which it operates. I think with a new identity centered around rational discussion and a community enforced code that keeps out the toxic elements and demands better from its participants, it could have a much more positive impact. There are real concerns at the heart of the movement that are being overshadowed by all the other bullshit. Cut that out, give it time and I think good can come from it. The problem with a leaderless movement is someone has to lead the charge. I hope one of the influential people in the ranks tries to do that.
The press end of the spectrum is a whole other ball of wax, yet it has more in common with GamerGate than it wants to admit. Frankly, people who consider themselves professional journalists should have standards far above what I’ve seen lately. Some very childish, insulting vitriol has been penned, always directed not at the small subset who may deserve it but indiscriminately broadsided to anyone who disagrees with them. We have a group who insist there is no collusion publish several vitriolic screeds within hours of each other, declaring dead an identity that many have proudly worn for 30+ years because of a minority of bad apples (and yes, it’s a vast minority.) It takes a special kind of arrogance to think people shouldn’t be upset about that. That many writers and game developers don’t dare come out contradicting some of these writers for fear of career damaging reprisal shows just how much undeserved influence some of them have.
I don’t understand how people like Alexander, Kuchera, Chipman, Allen, Faraci, just to name a few, think declaring that your view is the one true view and anyone who disagrees with it should be vilified and treated as an enemy is how you’re going to win both readers and arguments. They don’t want discussion or debate, they want compliance and obedience. You’re with them or you’re with the trolls and abusers. It’s bullying tactics 101. Don’t believe me? Follow them on Twitter for a couple of days, especially their replies to others. I did, I saw it myself. A large segment of an industry that’s already operating on razor thin ice has decided to lump anyone who disagrees with them in with the worst elements of the opposition. They are using an ICBM to take out a tent city and it makes no sense to me. This has gone beyond strong debate and into fear mongering. They claim they GamerGate isn’t policing itself sufficiently, yet they circle the wagons around writers who declare gamers to be worse than a barbaric terrorist group, or use childish terms like misogynerd. Calling someone a Social Justice Warrior is immature and stupid but calling someone worse than ISIS? How do you tolerate that?! It’s disgusting, it’s unprofessional and these people should know better. When you defend this kind of behaviour, be it from another writer or a darling indie developer like Phil Fish, you send a clear signal to people in GamerGate and people just observing that you can’t or won’t hold yourselves to the standards you demand from others. Yet you wonder why a growing number of people are upset? No industry can survive being in active opposition to its customers.
Let’s get a few things straight here. People can be in favour of equality for women without subscribing to your particular subset of feminism. People can criticise a female writer and not be misogynists. People can point out factual distortions in Feminist Frequency videos and not automatically hate Anita Sarkeesian. People can dislike Gone Home (like I did) and not be homophobic dudebros. People liking a game you think poorly represents women doesn’t make them all bad people, nor does it make the people who made it bad. A game that doesn’t represent women the way you want isn’t teaching everyone who plays it to hate women, just like video game violence doesn’t cause real violence. People pointing out blatant conflicts of interest in the press and a lack of willingness to do anything about it doesn’t mean the sentiment is based in hate. That an extremist, hateful, minority sect of a group exists doesn’t mean the whole group agrees with that sect.
Demonising anyone who has a different point of view is the same thing Fox News and Jack Thompson do. Are those the kind of people you want to stand next to when trying to fight for a just cause? Equality on your terms alone is not equality at all and a different opinion is not automatically hateful. To say otherwise is dangerously close to thought policing. I am a gamer and have been for 30 years. I support this industry financially and with passion. I and many others raise thousands of dollars for charity using my gaming hobby. I am not a bigot, I am not a misogynist, I am not hateful of people who are different from me. I welcome everyone who wants to play games and I will play with any of them. I don’t harass anyone ever and call out people I know who do so. Yet, your “Gamers Are Dead” editorials said I am no better than the evil minority for no other reason than I don’t think every person approaches these issues in the way that stands to best further those issues. It’s incredibly arrogant and it’s the same logic you say GamerGate uses, you just happen to have editors and a better grasp of writing than most of them. You speak with one voice and refuse to hear alternative viewpoints while saying GamerGate is wrong for the same reasons.
I’ve said it before of the press, of YouTubers and of gamers, you don’t get to jump into the sewers and then whine that it stinks down there. Insulting a group of people and then crying when you get insulted back is schoolyard bullshit, whatever side you fall on. If you think yourselves better than the opposition, then you need to actually be better. Just as I said of GamerGate, you need to stomp out hate when you see it. When Devin Faraci said gamers were worse than ISIS, you should have been publicly rebuking him for it. Yet you were silent. When supposed professionals called the opposition misogynerds, you should have told them to stop. Yet you were silent. Those of you who didn’t think that “Gamers Are Dead” (and I know there were several of you at least) should have written counterpoints. Yet you were silent. When people were spreading the idiocy that Intel, a massive company with hundreds of PR and marketing staff, pulled advertising from Gamasutra because of a few e-mails from GamerGate supporters, you should have pointed out how ridiculous a notion that was. Yet you were silent. Some of your sites that rightfully refused to cover Zoe Quinn’s sex life had no problem writing about Max Temkin being accused (not charged, merely accused over Facebook) of rape, a disgusting distortion of your mandate. Yet you were silent. But you wonder why people think there’s nepotism in your ranks and that you aren’t serving the consumers you’re supposed to be advocates for? An echo chamber is not going to get you more readers and the ones who are already in the chamber won’t grow your businesses. When you’re gone, what are you leaving for the people who are supposed to take your place?
I really don’t care to figure out which side is worse in this conflict. It’s pointless and aids nothing. There’s plenty of dirt on both and what’s most frustrating to me is that no one seems to care to make things better. No one wants to move on from tainted identities, stop the name calling, accept the Internet Reality and try to have real discussion. Instead we have snark on top of insults on top of hate on top of anger and an addiction to fighting that just makes things perpetually worse. If I could do one thing right now, it would be to press a button that forces everyone involved in GamerGate to not talk about it for several months and just let everything cool off. Maybe then, we could try again and get somewhere. For now, we just have people digging in harder, the smallest, most insignificant things are pointed to as the new thing to war over and nothing changes, there’s just more victims and more people who start to question if gaming is really for them any more. We used to be a community united against those who would try to tear us apart. Now, without a common enemy, we just kill ourselves from within. As someone who lives and breathes video games and has since I was old enough to read, this kills me. The community, the journalists, we can all be better than this. Why can’t we all just fucking grow up and do it?
That’s it, I’m done. I’m going to actually go find something to play now because I still remember when gaming was about fun, not fighting. War never changes.