Reflections on #GamerGate

· Films & Video Games, Political

GamerGate

This must be my third attempt to reflect comprehensively on GamerGate, and I’m still not sure I should do it. While I’ve been toiling and slaving away, a month and a half into my first semester of law school, the gaming medium’s culture has entrenched itself in turmoil with no end in sight. Had this meltdown occurred earlier, I probably would have been neck deep in it, by my own fault. Instead, I have watched from what feels like space as friends, fellow gamers, and passionate enthusiasts of the gaming and geeky mediums of all stripes turned against each other in all manner of ugliness.

I initially shrugged the scandal off, certain that it would boil over in a week or two, given the 1st World’s nature of amnesic outrage. Even after GamerGate continued, I felt that unless I picked a “side” and argued for it the way I argued for, say, Mitt Romney back in 2012, there is little that an egotistical nobody like me could add to it. But I can’t do that.

The reason is simple. GamerGate is not a war. It is a misunderstanding. Yet we have two factions, both implausible to one another, fighting it with all the militancy of a war. Each believes itself the righteous campaign in an uphill battle, the other a villainous parasite with all the power. Each sees the other as threat to their way; worse, each sees the other as just that – an other. Like ships passing in the night, there has been little effort on anyone’s part to reconcile, resulting either in muddled dialogue or no dialogue.

But I’m not here to put anyone down or assert some superiority for staying neutral. I mean to be amicable, civil, and constructive. I am a gamer. I love video games. I love gaming with my friends and colleagues. My purpose here is not to cast blame or denigrate, but just to make sense of GamerGate overall.

The Internet is a double-edged sword like none other. On the one hand, it’s easier than ever to reach out, make friends, and share cultures with people you might never have known otherwise. Thanks to the Internet, I have stayed in touch with friends I haven’t seen in almost a decade. Thanks to the Internet, I have good friends in countries I’ve never been to, some of whom I have yet to meet in person. My life is enriched by their company beyond calculation.

On the other hand, the Internet squeezes your human individuality and uniqueness of character into a name, thumbnail (if even that), and a comment. It’s easier than ever to just write people off as such. And if you have a voice or presence that attracts attention, you have an even bigger incentive to do that. I have no such voice, but I ask you: Does a tweet, Facebook status, picture, or a snarky response encapsulate you? Are you not more than what you reveal about yourself online?

Gaming as a medium is a manifestation of all that is great with the Internet Age. GamerGate is a manifestation of the Internet’s capacity to dehumanize. The fact that this conflict cuts straight through the medium’s politics wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the flaws of the forum we’re having it on.

Here’s a raw political example. We all had a good laugh recently at that embarrassing Republicans are People Too video. As much as I love the GOP, the only time we’ve ever been hip was when it was hip to be square. We’re far from perfect, not particularly well-organized or led, and we’ve never had a knack for PR. The first rule of politics is that perception is reality. Pretty much every conservative learns that lesson the hard way, forced to watch helplessly as their ideas and attitudes are characterized with straw and then savaged accordingly, not because they’re necessarily bad, but because they appear conservative, which today is (in effect) synonymous with “antiquated,” “atrophic,” “pro-status quo,” “regressive,” and “bad.” And online, it’s easier than ever to just tether your impression of a person to an idea they support or oppose. So if you were curious as to why that stupid video was made at all, there’s your answer.

The Progressive Left denies this, of course, and would have you believe that conservatives are just idiots who have done it all to themselves. It’s a fiction spawned from Alinsky’s playbook, but that narrative is vindicated every time someone like Todd Akin sticks his foot in his mouth on the airwaves. I don’t say any of this to plea for sympathy for conservatives, or to debunk that aspect of conservative politics – only to illustrate a point. In this day and age, the worst thing that someone can do to an idea or a coalition of people is to brand it as conservative.

That’s what I think is happening with the pro-GG group. It may get support from some high-profile firebrands on the Right who like to stir the pot and direct where its energy goes, but by and large, it’s not a conservative body. I’m not saying it isn’t political, but I am saying that it doesn’t fit the mold of a movement that is exclusively political, and it exists in a culture that often serves as an escape from politics. I’m as skeptical of the pro side as you are but GamerGate would not have exploded the way it did if it was just another right wing hate movement. Opponents do it and the people within it a disservice by simply sticking it with the false label “conservative” and then maligning it accordingly.

Unfortunately, the immediate reaction against the “social justice” group that caused this mess was more venomous and outlandish than almost anything else we’d seen from the gaming world recently. So some amount of broad brushing on their part may have been justified. Let’s not mince words here; what happened to Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and the dozens of people who stood up for them was way over the line. Nothing justifies that level of harassment, least of all a core difference in outlook. These people had their privacy breached, and not just online. The abuse and harassment leveled at them is unbecoming of whom we should be as a community of people who are brought together by our shared love of art.

That doesn’t justify the hyperbole of the “Gamers Are Over” retaliation phase, but it certainly explains it. Unconvinced as I am that the bottom line of GamerGate is just to purify the medium and excoriate Progressivism at large, I empathize with those who feel it. Most advocates of LGBT equality/feminism/Progressivism etc. are well meaning people who genuinely believe that gaming needs to be more inclusive. However productive or damaging you think their discourse is to the medium is a topic for another discussion. But when these people get the kind of reaction they got at the start of this scandal, you can hardly blame them for thinking that these gamers must oppose inclusivity, even if that doesn’t logically follow.

The conflation of perception and reality cuts both ways. When people in media (a sensationalist practice long before the Internet came along) with large traffic on their site or many followers on Twitter are bombarded with so much negativity, you can’t blame them for ignoring or forgetting the nice response that you wrote to them.

GamerGate has thousands of anonymous and known faces everywhere on the Internet pissed off because of how it escalated. One group feels misunderstood and alienated, another feels victimized, but everyone feels unheard. It all goes back to the double edge of the Internet. We have lost the ability to interact civilly because the Internet reduced our discourse to character-limited snark, buzzwords, hashtags, memes, and identity boxes.

It’s easy to just disconnect and hope that evolution weeds out the undesirables. GamerGate is what happens when everyone does that, and picking one side or the other doesn’t help. The only thing you can do is consider how you would operate in this environment.

Most importantly, remember that behind every account and computer screen is a person. Consider that this person shares your love of gaming and by all accounts might be your friend. Consider your friends who rage with greater toxicity at others and ask yourself, even if you agree with his/her message, if that tone is as it should be.

Fifty percent of success is attitude. It’s time we as gamers fixed ours.

  • Vivek

8 Comments

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  1. Irridium

    GG as a whole gives me… many mixed feelings. Short(ish) version: When I was younger, I had a friend in an abusive relationship. He got out of it, but it cost me pretty much all his friends (he came forward, nobody believed him except two, I’m one of them) and I’m pretty sure is the root cause for his anxiety and current trust issues. Maybe depression too, dunno. Anyway, fast forward a good few years as a guy posts up a big ol’ post detailing him being abused/manipulated by Zoe Quinn. Most of what he describes my friend went through (plus he had the chat logs), so I’m inclined to believe him. After it was posted I had hoped it would turn into a big discussion about abuse in relationships and how victims have no good way of outing their abusers. The choices are stay silent and the abuse continues uninhibited, go to the police which it’ll only get anywhere if you’re a woman and if it’s physical abuse, and even then there’s a good chance the abuser won’t get in trouble, or publicly out the abuser, which risks the victim becoming known as the “jilted ex” who’s just crazy and then everyone will shame them for putting their relationship in the open because it’s “private stuff”. And in that situation the abuser usually gets away with it and is free to abuse more people.

    My hope was that it would be a discussion about that and hopefully something good could come of it. Hell I would have been happy with more people becoming aware of emotional abuse in relationships. I get why it happened, because so many people think “it’s not my business” or it’s a private matter or whatever. But what so many people don’t know is that that’s literally how 99% of ALL abuse flourishes. That’s how my friend’s abuser got away with it, it’s how everyone’s abuser gets away with it, by having everyone ignore it because it’s “private business”. There is no clean way to do it. At all. Again, this is what I wanted the outcome to be about, awareness for emotional abuse.

    But instead it all turned into… well, GamerGate. And trying to talk about this aspect has proven fruitless because nearly everyone’s response is to point out the harassment Quinn got (which is obviously unacceptable and horrid) and whether intentional or not end any greater talk of emotional abuse and how the victims end up being painted as the bullies for exposing what their abusers do.

    • Flying V

      Very interesting. Also tragic. It’s unfortunate that you went through that and that the fallout from your friend’s abusive relationship spilled over into your own life. When I first read the post from ZQ’s ex, I believed him too. And I think it’s healthier and better as a policy to (for now) give that person the benefit of the doubt and believe that he’s speaking innocently and credibly, unless given persuasive evidence otherwise. That person really is the true victim of this debacle, because not only did all that happen to him, but he likely didn’t intend for ZQ to get the kind of harassment she got and for her friends/colleagues/advocates to fight back so vigorously against that, to no shortage of harassment their way as well. Now his woes have been forgotten and his action scapegoated.

  2. Nemo

    Thank you for your perspective. I would very much like to think that any sensible person can come to these conclusions through simple common decency, but… As much as I have seen people on every stretch of the spectrum of opinions try to show it, basic decency seems to be the first casualty when it is so easy to reduce someone to a handle, thumbnail and tweet. Or, and this is the part where I admit to be part of the consumer protest, a generic anonymous pseudonym.

    Toxicity has been flung about every which way in ways that have me *livid* and steadily eroded my hope to find a peaceful and constructive resolution to what I have come to construe as a clash of modern and postmodern ideologies. I am glad to say I have seen GamerGate people disown, report and even seek prosecution against those they catch committing harassment – And it’s pleased me to see people on the fence provide a bridge for debate when they can, as well as people opposing the protest reach out in a reasonable manner.

    But I fear that no amount of positivity from anyone is enough as long as this continues to be treated like a war, and am at a loss for ways to help steer it away from that course – Attempts at public dialogue have either been called off or turned into exchanges of accusations, and what other way to find a calm medium is there if not dialogue? That’s not to say, of course, that anyone on either side (I hate to even have to put it that way) who is trying to reach across the aisle and talk like human bloody beings should give up.

    What I find most disheartening is what I notice when entirely abstracting myself from the cause, the content and the clashing sentiments to focus on the structure of how these people are engaging each other.

    Looking a the #GamerGate tag, I see so much focus on reactionary defense that I can hardly blame people for thinking this isn’t about journalistic ethics. Many people are spreading themselves thinly trying to explain this revolt in the ridiculous constraint of 140 characters, rarely ever engaging in dialogue for varying reasons – Sometimes it’s being met with hostility and dismissal, sometimes it’s coming in too dismissively, others seek out accusations to debunk and others are on the lookout for harassment to stamp down on.

    While I can only laud that last part, it’s actually gotten extremely difficult to find /discussions/ on journalistic ethics, corruption, cronyism and inclusion. I see a distressing amount of people painting with brush strokes and reacting to a series of attacks by treating any opposition that’s not explicitly stated to be open for dialogue as something to defend oneself from.

    Looking at #StopGamerGate2014 tag… I am swiftly greeted with accusations of misogyny, hatred, toxic exclusivity, and applying extremely broad strokes to demonize a collective for the actions of a few, comparisons to terrorism, Ebola of all things.

    But worst of all, I’m seeing outliers engage in what I can only call wartime tactics. Trying to infiltrate the hangouts of either side and spreading the attitude that the other vilifies it for.

    I’m trying to force myself to not give in to the easy dehumanization facilitated (But neither started not justified) by pseudonymity and anonymity. I’ll be the first to admit that I have failed in the past, and perhaps I’ve failed badly enough at abstracting myself from my personal opinions to commit that fault in this very response. But how I hate from the bottom of my heart that we can’t seem to just treat this as responsible adults should – Talking WITH, not AT, each other.

    I particularly loathe, although I understand that this is a worldwide debacle and nowadays we do have such things as Skype, that the majority of the time – At least from the narrow sample I’ve gotten to see – the closest thing to an offer to discuss things personally is not exactly suggesting having a debate over a cup of coffee (Even misanthropes can dream, I suppose), but threats of physical violence and Internet Tough Guys reacting to either insults or genuine discourse with “Say that to my face” or some variant thereof.

    But what I hate the most? That would be that things have gotten to the point where I am ranting about hatred and not about a common love of the medium.

    I apologize if this seems like an undue wall of text that strays from the topic a little. Understand that while I have seen great people all over the spectrum of opinions, finding a rational, calm neutral perspective feels a little like stumbling into solace and getting a chance for release.

  3. Though shouldn’t it be a requirement of the so called games journalists to engage with “gamergate”?

    I’ll give an example. In the beginning we complained about lack of journalistic ethics. Polygon/Kotaku made minor fixes and threw updates into their articles when they didn’t give disclosure. While the site Escapist said they basically overhauled their ethics and they were sorry for lapse they created.

    Perhaps it can be argued that Polygon/Kotaku already had a robust enough ethics policy, that it is fine the way it is. Nonetheless GamerGate was super happy about the Escapist (even tho 3 prominent figures i’d argue are the Social Justice type). Kotaku and Polygon who ran the gamers are dead article never recognized our offense and their lapse of integrity. The never made the attempt to make bridges.

    The bigger problem at lot of us notice was how games journalist sites where never in competition. Shouldn’t it be in their best interest to see another site perform badly? Isn’t that healthy in a competitive environment? It seems like most of these journalist rather ignore/berate us rather than engage us. And they do it together, they are mostly seemly aligned (yes professional relationships are important, but a lot of them are self-confessed friends of each other). Even people on the Escapists defend poor behavior by certain journalists. They never call each other out. On top of this publishers have no desire to change press because most of the press is just a hype machine.

    A lot of us feel for so long that we are berated by the industry that delivers our content.

  4. I think the thing that hurts GG the most is the tag and no I don’t mean it’s a toxic so we need to get rid of it. It’s that we see everyone involved as pro or anti GG when we need to stop and realize that it’s a person not a label we are taking to or about. As long as all we see are the labels this is never going to end and I want this to end. We need to find common ground and talk to instead of over each other.

    I consider myself pro-GG but I also want a lot of the same things the anti-GG woman I talked to today wants. I want gaming to be more inclusive, both for people that play and make games, and I don’t want to see people that want nothing more than to express their passion for their hobby or job have to deal with harassment.

    I don’t know what the answer is but you’ve given me a lot to think about.

  5. AlphaPlus

    One of the best articles I’ve read about GG and “anti-GG.” Damn, do I wish we could clasp hands and sing kumbaya again. I miss when the gaming crowd wasn’t so fuckin’ hostile toward everything. It makes sense though, one feels alienated, and the other feels victimized. The defensiveness is real, and I hope it eventually stops. For sanity’s sake.

  6. Nemo

    I don’t find this to be a simple matter at all, but I certainly wish it was. Because it certainly should be simple to sit the hell down and converse. Many of us are trying to do just that, while not letting up with the protest.

    It’s something that *should* call massive bull on the wild accusations being spun against us. You saw the civilized, rather held back (Out of respect for this post, Vivek has been rational and does not deserve to have me vent at the site) account of how infuriating I find this.

    You definitely have my agreement that it should be the media’s duty to open the engagement, but there has been massive dereliction of duty in almost the entire scene of videogame coverage, where there hasn’t been outright collusion and corruption.

    But it erodes at sanity to constantly try to perform the abandoned duty of others and be dubbed so many things because of it.

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