A Year Into Gaming’s Biggest Nightmare

The Last Year

Last October, I posted an angry and generally not well-written rant on GamerGate and said it would be the last time I talked about it. So much for that. I am honestly astounded that this controversy is still going strong with no end in sight. A year in Internet terms equates to the heat death of the universe several times over. On the more or less anniversary of this sordid mess and as the movement starts to shift from a self-described focus on journalistic ethics and more into some kind of “gamer’s watchdog”, I wanted to comment on what the last year has yielded and where things might go from here.

I’ve been mulling this post for weeks. There’s so much that’s happened in the last year and I’m done caring what extremists I piss off by stating what I think but I needed to make sure I covered all bases. Then I re-read what I wrote last year and realised that by and large, most of what I said there still applies. If you haven’t seen that, you probably should before continuing on. Not that I still don’t have a lot to say here or that it won’t overlap somewhat. People who read this blog should know that brevity is not really among my skills.

Much as I tried to ignore the movement after my last post, its influence continued to shove itself in my face. I saw the press continue to insult their audience day after day, upping their level of arrogance and vitriol to the point of absurdity to get more clicks through controversy. I saw a lot of people I once called friends descending into bitter wars of childishness, ad hominem and shaming. I unfollowed or muted over 50 people on Twitter and to this day, I still ponder whether using that mismanged disaster of a service is worth it at all. I walked away from Gamers With Jobs, a community I practically considered part of my DNA for nearly a decade because a group of zealots were exerting control over every conversation, insulting and dogpiling those who disagreed with their particular world view even a little bit, while those in charge did nothing about it. I eventually realised it wasn’t the place I loved any more and I was being made more sad than happy by being there. I don’t regret leaving but it still pains me to think about. The GamerGate controversy’s role in all of this can’t be understated and that still makes me bitter. This whole situation has become an epic culture war. It seems everyone wants it to end but no one’s willing to do anything or concede a micron to make it happen, especially those who are profiting from it. It’s truly been one of the gaming industry’s biggest nightmares and no one side is free of blame.

The Movement

The one thing from that old post I no longer agree with is the need to abandon the GamerGate moniker. That’s not because I don’t think it’s a stupid name that many associate with the B-grade celebrity and generally despicable person who created it. It’s because changing it won’t matter. Those who oppose the movement would simply wait until the first troll comment appeared under the new name, point at it and go “See, it’s just more GamerGate!” The opposition are determined to paint the whole of it as one specific thing and they’ll do that regardless of what it calls itself.

I don’t and have never identified as part of GamerGate. I do however, share many of their concerns regarding press corruption and many who would call themselves journalists and creative professionals acting like anything but. The difference is that I’ve seen this happening for years now. I’ve been concerned about lack of ethics in the gaming press–indeed, the press at large–for way longer than most in GamerGate have ever thought about it. I’m old school when it comes to distrusting the press and with good reason. It wasn’t hard to see either.

So why don’t I consider myself one of the growing GamerGate legion? Firstly, I think for myself and don’t need to join a group for validation, especially one that proudly proclaims its leaderless status while also encouraging group think. Secondly, the group still holds too many bad people up on pedestals and they largely do so blindly. RogueStar and Internet Aristocrat were considered heroes by the movement at the beginning, despite being obviously scummy people who were running their own agendas. It was plain as day but it took months for most of the movement realise it and shun them, their stain already having soaked in. They rallied behind that moronic The Sarkeesian Effect “documentary”, something anyone with half a brain could have seen as the train wreck it was from minute one. Again, it took them far too long to wake up and stop supporting it. The movement still worships people like Milo Yiannopoulos, an ultra right-wing tabloid personality who is no more a journalist than your average writer from Gawker. He despised video games and gamers right up until it could benefit him and boy, has it. He’s an opportunistic leech, yet GamerGate still clings to him. I don’t want any association with those kinds of people. Lastly, like it or not, there’s a lot of hate and harassment that’s taken place in the movement’s name. It’s infested by chan culture and personally, I think chan culture is a blight. Many from the movement are quick to condemn this but far too many don’t and many more just scream “You can’t prove it was us!” at every accusation, while not applying the same benefit of the doubt to the other side. That’s a problem for me. I don’t care what side you’re on, engaging in harassment makes you an extremist and you should be excised from any civil discourse if you do.

Let me be clear about this however: GamerGate is not a hate group. I’ve been observing all sides of it for a year, I feel I’m more qualified than many to say that. I’ve seen far more organised hate, harassment and disinformation coming from opposition hubs like the GamerGhazi subreddit than I ever have from “official” GamerGate places. I do think the movement keeps too close ties to some whose views that could be considered hateful but hatred is not why the movement began and at its core, is not what it’s about. You’re simply ignoring reality–or more likely trusting untrustworthy sources–if you think otherwise. It was created to fight journalistic corruption–albeit with an unfortunate catalyst–yet everyone writing about it and communicating with the mainstream media are the same people the movement was fighting against. You seriously expect fair and balanced coverage on journalistic ethics from people accused–and often proven–of ethical breaches? Frankly, the response from the gaming press in the last year has all but confirmed what I’d already suspected for a long time. I am much more disappointed in how many people swallowed their cherry-picked bullshit hook, line and sinker without even bothering to verify it first. There are still some that insist the “Gamers Are Dead” articles were actually some kind of celebration of gaming culture. Those people clearly either never read the articles or if they did, they need glasses. I’m glad to see that in the last little while, more and more people from the games industry are actually seeing the truth, not the propaganda being fed to them by much of the press.

Now that I just spent several paragraphs talking about why I don’t consider myself a GamerGater, this will probably shock you: I read the KotakuInAction subreddit, considered by many to be GamerGate’s main staging ground. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I skim it. Why would I possibly do that you ask? Truth be told, I don’t care for it. However, it’s one of the only places online where open discussions about the elements of the movement I do agree with are allowed to take place. Most other sites have banned and censored discussion of anything that can even be remotely considered relevant to GamerGate (including most of Reddit) and finding some place where multiple viewpoints are permitted is distressingly rare. Like most subreddits, KiA has plenty of problems. Dissenting opinions are often downvoted, group think is rampant and far too much of the top posts these days focus on “Look at what this SJW said on Twitter!” instead of actual important issues. Simply put, it’s just like the rest of Reddit which is why I generally don’t like that site. You have to dig to see all the viewpoints there but I do so because where else am I going to see them? I would happily go somewhere else if I could expect a fair discussion but I haven’t found that place yet. If you know of such a place, please feel free to leave it in the comments but know that I’ve probably already checked it. Say what you will about KiA but if you come in there with a dissenting opinion, you may be called out but you’ll also get discussion. At GamerGhazi, you’ll just get banned and that’s if you’re lucky.

The Media

But one small example of the problem.

Giving undisclosed positive coverage to friends. Elevating and cultivating appeal of specific developers. Financially backing developers whose games they cover. Ignoring more important games to focus on tiny art titles with ultra niche appeal. Reviewing games not on whether or not they’re actually good games but only on whether they send the “right” social message. Questioning the motives of developers because their titles don’t adhere to Americentric, imperialist cultural values. Straight up saying that some games they dislike shouldn’t exist. Censoring comments and discussion when people don’t just smile and nod. Viciously attacking, shaming and bullying anyone who disagrees, whether from the audience or the industry, lumping them in with trolls. Using social media and their followers as weapons, mass blocking dissenters while continuing to attack them when they can’t respond. Creating a culture of fear in the industry, where people who actually make games are scared to talk about them. Seeing themselves as above those they are supposed to work for and acting as agents of those whose work they are supposed to critique. Spreading lies, misinformation and slander about others in the industry who don’t follow their group think.

Crazy list isn’t it? Pretty much everything in it is a violation of the most basic journalistic best practices. The worst part is that all of them were and are continuing to be done on a daily basis by a large group of people who would call themselves professional journalists. Since I first wrote about it last year, the frequency has only intensified. Despite GamerGate pointing it out when it happens, little has changed for the better and the bigger sites and personalities have largely doubled down on collusion, cronyism and clickbait. It is simply undeniable and confirmed with only the most basic of research. With few exceptions, none have taken this as an opportunity for self-reflection on whether this approach is best for the audience or the industry they are supposed to serve, they have just pushed ahead, using the demonstrably false “hate group” excuse as justification for why they couldn’t possibly be wrong. It’s unprofessional and unethical at best, deplorable and shameful at worst.

These people decry GamerGate and how it’s destroying the industry while at the same time, feeding trolls and profiting off it. They turned it into a mainstream media catch-all term that’s frequently shoehorned into otherwise unrelated stories that a writer wants to connect–in even the flimsiest way–to harassment of women or minorities. It’s often referred to as “GameDropping” and I see it everywhere now.

You want to know how GamerGate could have been killed within days? If the press didn’t constantly write about it! Make no mistake, this movement started because of the press, it grew because of them and every time they write about it, they give it a boost. Every time there’s a mass shooting, the media takes stick for glorifying the shooter, something which has been demonstrated to inspire others. GamerGate has never killed anyone but it’s the same principle: You do not kill any movement by feeding it eyeballs. They gave it all the attention it could ever want and then wonder why it’s still going strong a year later. You can’t have it both ways, claiming the movement had no validity while also writing articles on a near daily basis about it, driving ad revenue all the while. If it’s not relevant, then it’s not worth talking about.

This is all symptomatic of the online outrage culture epidemic we are now in, a culture the press fuels. Screaming about how much something offended you–even if it did no actual harm–has become a passion and indeed, a lucrative profession, often among people who don’t even consume the content they complain about. No longer is it the norm that you just stop consuming that which you don’t like. Now your disgust has to be shouted from the rooftops, the creators shamed and the content has to be changed to suit your sensitivities because you are special and your comfort is more important than creative freedom. It’s the entitlement complex that has come as a result of a generation that is not allowed to lose or be told they’re wrong because society forfend them from having their feelings hurt.

I say freedom is more important than feelings, always.

The press should be critical, as should everyone. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pointing out something you dislike for whatever reason that may be. I do it all the time. Where the line is crossed is when creators are attacked for making something someone doesn’t like and demands are made for them to make things differently or censor themselves to avoid offending the perpetually offended. My anxiety is triggered by seeing animals harmed but I’ve never called for movies or games containing that to be altered or removed. I just won’t consume that content again and I use Does the Dog Die to try to avoid it in the future. There is plenty of other content I don’t like, some of which I even find offensive but I defy you to find a single time I’ve said a piece of content shouldn’t exist or should be altered in order to suit me or a group I have appointed myself to represent. It’s a slippery slope because everything offends someone and when you start catering to the unreasonable demands of a few, the rest suddenly realise they wield unearned power as well.

The current crop of “enthusiast” press is perpetuating this culture and it can and will have dire consequences for the future of a medium that’s only scratched the surface of its creative potential. Worse still is that they feel this should only go one way and criticism of their criticism is now often met with some form of “How dare you!”, frequently followed by baseless character attacks, followed by self-pity and crying about how hard everyone makes their jobs. They might even “quit Twitter” to drum up sympathy, before returning shortly thereafter, possibly even with an appended appeal for crowdfunding. This isn’t an isolated thing, I see it all the time and it’s become commonplace. So many in the press don’t seem to understand that if you don’t want feedback of all kinds, don’t put stuff out for public consumption, especially when it’s purposefully antagonising.

All of this shows a group that’s failing its audience. The “Gamers Are Dead” articles are what turned GamerGate from a small campaign into the phenomena it is now and the people who wrote those articles in near unison have no one but themselves to blame. They could have called out the rotten elements without condemning an entire identity, one I proudly share. They didn’t and that’s their fault and their arrogance. Gamers are why the “enthusiast” press exists at all. If they start treating us as the enemy, they are a snake that’s eating its own tail. The niche clique of friends they defend and promote at the expense of everything else isn’t enough to sustain them, yet they are Hell bent on doing it anyway. I am a gamer, I have been for longer than many of you have been alive and fuck you for calling me dead.

Does gaming have problems with inclusivity, representation and equality? It definitely does. I’ve never denied that. I am for equality of all people, always, without exception. Is progress being made on these fronts? Most certainly. Not as fast as some would like but large cultural shifts take time. That’s the way it is and yelling about it impotently only slows it down. The way they’re approaching these problems now is the worst way to handle it. By lumping in everyone who disagrees or even asks questions with the worst elements of the opposition or worse yet, trolls with no loyalty at all, far more harm than good is being done to any otherwise noble cause.

The arrogance of those most prominent in the games press will be their undoing. It already has been for some and make no mistake, it’s coming for the rest of them and they need to be kept honest. Written games coverage is fighting for its life against YouTube and streaming personalities who are eating their lunch. I don’t want to see it go away and I think there needs to be a balance of both. Constantly shitting on what audience you have left is not how you’ll stay relevant. A niche group of developers and friends won’t sustain an industry. The press needs to remember who it is working for.

The Figureheads

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about GamerGate and the lax standards of the games press without talking about those individuals they put on pedestals and use as examples for why gamers are so evil. I wish I could just ignore them but they are too intertwined with this controversy to not talk about. Fair warning, these people may be popular but I don’t care for any of them. This is based largely on the things they’ve said and done directly when representing themselves in the industry. It’s all demonstrably true and digging into rumours and speculation isn’t necessary. This isn’t “victim blaming”, it’s fact and facts are impartial. I think they are awful to put up as examples of people who just want to do good but that the horrible gamers are keeping down. I talked above how GamerGate has hitched its wagon to some pretty awful people and this is the equivalent for the “other side.”

Zoë Quinn is the one many would was the catalyst for this whole thing and despite the movement having long since moved on from her, she and the press continue to ensure she’s in the limelight. I’m not going to talk about “The Zoë Post” as I largely think it doesn’t matter and it was the worst possible way for the discussion of press ethics to have started. I will just say that I’ve seen what happens to people on the end of the kind of things that post documents her doing and it did not endear her to me.

Her claim to fame prior to GamerGate was Depression Quest, a Twine game that I not only thought was of poor quality but as a lifelong sufferer of depression and anxiety, I think did a terrible job of representing the realities of the disorder. I fear for anyone who tries to use it to self-diagnose. After the famous meltdown of the Polaris Game_Jam show, she said she was going to hold her own event called Rebel Jam and started taking donations for it. Game jams are often organised over a weekend but more than 18 months later, not a word has been heard about this. Meanwhile, she started a feud with The Fine Young Capitalists, who despite being vilified in the press based purely on her false accusations, have just released their first game. She is supposedly developing a new game of her own called Camp’s Not Dead which no one has heard about in over a year. She and her boyfriend got tons of press about Crash Override Network, a organisation built to help sufferers of online harassment, though they never actually said how. It was supposed to launch over a week ago at time of writing and even had a countdown timer, which has since looped around. There’s been no news, no updates on their official Twitter and not a single story has been written asking why, though the organisation has been dogged by accusations of ignoring requests from people who don’t have large followings. Quinn claims to be under constant harassment and living in fear, yet she’s frequently seen antagonising GamerGate directly on social media, the last thing anyone with a brain would tell you to do to a movement you are supposedly terrorised by. She is pulling in nearly $4,000 a month through Patreon, all for the promises of things that never come to fruition and no press outlet questions it.

I don’t see how a reasonable person can look at this and not as least be suspicious. The fact that she has been harassed online is deplorable but isn’t a justification to gloss over everything she has received attention for starting and never finishing. Lots of people have been harassed online and still regularly have things to show for themselves.

Brianna Wu falls into a similar camp. Her only major known work is an iOS game that I would charitably describe as awful, full of many of the character tropes she regularly rails against. She ran a Kickstarter to port it to PC and Mac that more than doubled its goal, yet it’s a full year past its delivery date with no word in sight. She was caught trolling her own Steam Greenlight comments, forgetting she was logged in under her main account when she did it. Few knew or cared who she was until GamerGate, when she purposefully inserted herself into the controversy in a very public, incendiary way and then used the obvious response she got as proof of how evil gamers were and how big of a misogyny problem both the games and indeed, tech industries have. Just like Quinn, she has continued to antagonise the movement at every turn, while claiming to be living in fear. This keeps her in the limelight and turned her failed game into a success. She has no relevance or credibility beyond simply existing and using GamerGate as a promotional tool while doing little else. She pulls in hefty Patreon money as well, despite owning a commercial games studio that has a product for sale. As least Quinn has promised her products will be free, if she ever releases another one.

Last but not least, there’s Anita Sarkeesian. If you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you about about her and what she espouses. I have questioned her credibility from day one with good reason, something I have taken a lot of heat for but as time has gone on, I’ve only been proven right. She is on record saying that she does not care for video games, though she continues to tell the press she’s loved them her whole life. She is years late on delivering her promised video series to her Kickstarter backers, despite Feminist Frequency being a recognised non-profit and pulling in huge money and while still finding time to do tons of paid speaking gigs. She has used stolen assets in her monetised productions. Her work is full of errors and bad researchwhen she’s just not lying outright. She only goes after popular games that will get her attention and when she can’t find a reason to say they’re making people sexist, she pulls out the long debunked Jack Thompson-esque argument that games cause violence. She has consistently refused to engage any critics in real debate and always relies on scripted talking points. She has no academic credentials, experience or peer reviewed work. Her only qualifications for anything she does is her own say-so. This is a terrible representative for the legitimate cause of furthering representation and equality in the video game industry, yet she is held up as a paragon and never questioned. Indeed, as I have found out, questioning her at all is tantamount to heresy to a great many people.

Like the two people above, she has received plenty of harassment and while that’s never acceptable, she has also used it with precision to generate sympathy for herself, her agenda and plenty of financial support. There’s a good, legitimate fight to be made and I’m not saying it wouldn’t be one, regardless of who took it up. This is however, a person with at best, flawed credibility and she is not just “fighting the good fight.”

These are only the three most prominent examples out of many more that are available. As I said, these are all demonstrable facts that they have shown in their public presences. I don’t judge them on how they think but on what they’ve done. It is not wrong or bigoted to examine the motives of popular people, especially when they’ve shown to have so many suspicious elements. They purposefully put themselves out in the public, make inflammatory statements not backed up by facts, get near constant attention and support from the press and yet they all produce very little of substance. Criticism is not harassment and if the press will continue to tout how important they are, I will continue to point out what I believe are legitimate flaws in their methods and theories. All they have to do is answer people’s questions and perhaps many of these could be put to rest. They keep refusing to do so and that should make people wonder why not.

These are the people “anti-GamerGate” holds up as examples of why “gamers are dead” and why the industry needs to change. Personally, I see no reason why any of them should be taken seriously. That people with more educated viewpoints, actual credentials and who actually produce things are left waving their hands on the sidelines while these people are put on pedestals is as sad and disheartening as it is frustrating.

The Future

Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds for this whole mess. GamerGate is a year old and still trucking along, defying all laws of physics for Internet controversies. Both sides are entrenched deeper than ever and no one is willing to budge an inch. They’re both willing to burn the industry to the ground before admitting the opposition might have so much as a single point worth discussing. Nothing is going to get accomplished this way. As a movement, GamerGate has made it clear that it’s not going away until some change is enacted but what change would truly satisfy them now? The distrust has grown to such a ludicrous size that save firing just about every gaming journalist in the industry, I’m not sure they could ever be satiated. That’s not going to happen and even if it did, that’s not a solution.

I know what would satisfy me. Disclosing friendships, not covering games you have financial interest in, realising that the entire world doesn’t think like the American cultural left (said by someone who is very socially liberal), that disagreement is not harassment and questioning someone’s position is not an act of hate. Most of all, not feeding trolls and not seeing those who simply disagree with you as enemies to be attacked. Ignore the trolls and they will go away, not overnight but it will happen. Embrace criticism and accept negative feedback. No one is entitled to have their work universally praised and if that’s what you want, you shouldn’t be putting it out for public consumption. Remember why you’re writing about games in the first place, because you’re supposed to love them. If you don’t, step aside for someone who does.

None of this is a lot to ask of professionals, yet so many have failed to do this for years now. GamerGate may have had less than ideal beginnings but the distrust and anger towards the press has been brewing for years and it’s largely their own doing. Gamers are your customers and when you declare your customers dead, who is left to provide you a living?

I am so sick of hearing about GamerGate and want it to not exist any more but I want it to be because solutions and peace have been found. If it just blinked out of existence and nothing else changed, we’d be no better off. Both sides have valid points and major flaws and they all need to be acknowledged and there has to be compromise. No one’s wholly right and we need to get over that assumption.

What I do know is that I’m done hiding what I really think because I’m scared of who is going to get angry with me. I’m not wrong for saying there are valid points in the mess of GamerGate. I’m not a misogynist for questioning Quinn, Wu, Sarkeesian and others based on factual information. I’m not a bad person for pointing out clickbait and lies from the press that’s inconvenient to some people’s agenda. I’m not evil for calling out bullshit outrage when I see it. I’m not harming the game industry by saying I enjoy games that some deemed “problematic” or that I disliked games others loved. If that’s a problem for anyone, they can fucking deal with it and those who can’t won’t be missed. I’ve let both sides of GamerGate make me fear speaking my mind and I think people being afraid to do that is the greatest tragedy of this whole nightmare. I refuse to bow to that any more. I’ve already lost some friends because of that and maybe I’ll lose more. Such is the price of having principals and sticking to them around those who demand compliance.

I know this post was huge even by my standards but I needed to say all this. Maybe nothing will come from it, maybe I’ll have to deal with some hate for a few days. Whatever happens will happen and I’ll manage. Video games are not only my main hobby and a huge part of my life, they’re one of the only things that truly quells my depression and anxiety without chemicals. To see the industry and community I love ripping itself apart from the inside has broken my heart many times over in the last year and it’s horrible to know that for all the blog posts I write and videos I make, there’s nothing I can truly do about it. One day, this will end, I just hope we all end up coming out of it for the better.

Go play some games. More of us need to do that these days.

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3 Responses to A Year Into Gaming’s Biggest Nightmare

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