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.