I want to think through some thoughts about #GamerGate, and try to address the questions/accusations I receive the most often from those who identify as part of the movement. I also want to talk about my personal experience of it.
GamerGate (GG), since its beginnings, has unquestionably been a formless, undirected collection of people with wildly disparate aims and desires. To say, “GG thinks X” is a meaningless statement, since there are those who are participating who only want to know that the games journalism/criticism/coverage they read is not affected by corruption, all the way to those who are sending terrifying death and rape threats to women in the industry, with a wide spectrum between. While there are various attempts at grouping together specific aims or objectives, these again widely vary, from desires to see game sites publicise clear ethical guidelines, to the desire to “destroy” sites that do not adhere to particular standards/styles/beliefs. There are those who wish to see “politics left out of games coverage”, and those who wish to see writers with “SJW agendas” out of work. There are those who fear games themselves will be negatively affected by progressive criticism, and those who wish to scare female developers and writers until they are too afraid to participate in the industry.
Identify the group as one aspect of this, and other aspects will step forward in disappointment/fury/confusion in response to this understanding. It’s intangible. And I believe perhaps its greatest weakness is that it seems to have no idea that it is.
I absolutely believe that there are many who have been part of the million tweets made using this tag who are horrified by the horrendous abuse and criminal attacks that have come from within GG. I know that there are those who identify with GG who have benign aims, and are personally hurt or upset when they see people identifying GG as a misogynist cause, or a cruel, bullying agenda. I appeal to these people to consider whether GG is ever going to be a place that accurately reflects them or their desires.
My personal experience of GamerGate has been predominantly horrendous. I know, from experience of trying to communicate this to the more benign participants, that I need to repeat: my personal experience of it. Not my interpretation, or my parody, or my leaping to conclusions based on things I’ve read. But how it has reached me, entered my life. I have received abundant and appalling abuse from GG, that has been at times upsetting, infuriating, and frightening. I’ve received thousands of tweets that have been insulting, offensive, outrageously inaccurate, spiteful, cruel, or disturbing. Not one or two. Thousands. I’ve had boring, tiresome insults thrown at me in droves, and specific, distressing descriptions of how people would like me to be killed. I’ve been told so many times how people would like to see my business (Rock, Paper, Shotgun) destroyed, to see me bankrupted. And I have repeatedly been informed of the ways in which I should commit suicide. This has been in response to my stating how upset I have been by the treatment of women in the industry who have received rape and death threats, making snide remarks or jokes, or indeed simply because I’m an owner of and writer for RPS. I’ve had genuinely deranged MS Paint images made that purport to discredit my integrity/honesty, I’ve had videos watched by over a million people stating bemusing lies about me. My business has been the target of carefully coordinated (and wholly unsuccessful) attempts to reduce our advertising revenue, based on an imagined article we’ve never published, and targeted by GG to be boycotted because of our having once linked to articles not liked by the movement, despite our writing a lengthy piece explaining why we disagreed with said articles. No matter how at fault one might believe me to be, GamerGate has been, toward me, horrendous.
And I’ve had the easy ride. I’ve had as nothing compared to others I know, follow on Twitter, or read about. Those others are predominantly, although not exclusively, women. I have watched horrors happening to others that put the tedious, misery-inducing bullshit sent my way look like fun.
No matter how much someone may read this and want to scream, “BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT WE’RE ABOUT”, it remains true, no matter what else is true alongside it. No matter what calm, reasoned aims or attitudes may exist within it, it’s alongside the rest of it. It’s inseparable.
(“But we’re the subject of abuse too!” comes the more recent response. “The anti-GamerGate people are just as bad.” There are two issues here. Firstly, yes, it’s really bad if individuals are being harassed, and no one should tolerate it. That desire to condemn it, to address it – grab hold of that, and have the perspicacity and integrity to apply it to the harassment coming from GG as well. To not do so, to be tolerant of the harassment of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Jenn Frank, and so many others, defies all sense. Secondly, “anti-GamerGate” does not exist. There is no such movement, there is no such collective of people. It’s a construct of GG’s, an attempt to create a scarecrow. There are, undoubtedly, stupid, dangerous idiots who are responding to those within GG in awful ways. They are not an organised affiliation, with dedicated forums, coordinated attack mobs, and specifically expressed desires to “destroy”. And further, someone’s saying, “Everyone involved in GG is a dimwitted monster,” is not equivalent to thousands of people sending personalised, frightening abuse to one individual. The attempt to draw equivalence has been present in GG since it started, and it’s ludicrous.)
When I’ve tried to hear what GG’s goals are, from those who do not wish it to be identified with the abuse, misogyny and cruelty, I’ve had (and again, this is my experience) very little coherent response. There is, without question, a desire to see corruption removed from games journalism. But when examples of what sort of corruption needs to be removed, I’ve (me, personally) yet to have anything either real, or demonstrable, offered. Even now, the myth that Zoe Quinn slept with Nathan Grayson for positive coverage of her (free) game gets put forward. Coverage that never happened. For a while there was a concerted effort to identify some manner of corruption within the IGF Awards, which not only was so confused as to require time travel to have been possible, also wasn’t in any sense about games journalism. There was something about how games critics shouldn’t support developers on Patreon, because by means never explained, it means they’re “friends”. (Until GG, the recurring complaint from the dissatisfied was that games critics didn’t pay for games. It was certainly odd to see this logic reversed.) Beyond this, and despite astonishing details of corruption or dubious practices being recently revealed between PR firms and YouTube gaming channels, no example of endemic corruption has ever been offered. Enormously spurious or downright fantastic individual examples or accusations get put forward, but nothing systematic is ever stated. This misunderstanding – that in any business with enough thousands of outlets, over enough decades, there will obviously be corrupt people doing corrupt things is not demonstrable of systematic, institutionalised corruption – is at the heart of GG’s confusion.
There is also the matter of a mailing list, to which a number of games critics subscribe. I had never heard of this mailing list until the “exposure” by the genuinely unsettling Breitbart site. From talking to people who were on it, it was just a mailing list for people with a similar job, on which they shared jokes, asked questions, and posted pictures of cats. At the start of the hideous abuse of Zoe Quinn, someone on this list upset by what they were seeing suggested buying a present for the developer, to show support in a difficult time. Others on the list pointed out this would be inappropriate, and the idea was muted. It is not quite the smoking gun some have purported it to be. People in the same profession talk to each other, no matter the profession. I really cannot offer any other comment on the mailing list, as I don’t know a single other thing about it. I suspect, since nothing genuinely contentious has been revealed by those with access to the list and an interest in exposing it, that there likely isn’t anything to support the notion of a conspiracy within. It’s just some dumb mailing list for games critics.
GG wants to see “transparency in games journalism”, but I’ve yet to see anyone elucidate on what is current opaque, and what it is they wish to see made clear. They wish to see a “code of ethics” in games journalism, despite many major sites they target having such codes, publicly stated, to which they adhere. They also want to see sites “apologise to gamers”, for having existed on the same internet as some nuanced articles that questioned the usefulness of the term “gamer” and suggested it has come to negatively represent those who play games. (An argument with which I do not entirely agree.) These demands are so ethereal, so unspecific, as to be meaningless, but until they’re met GG intends to destroy all who do not obey them. Announcing you’re going to start killing hostages until your demands are met is a whole lot more confusing when you’ve yet to make any tangible demands.
The issue is, it isn’t really about corruption at all. Believe me, there are few people who care about corruption in games journalism/criticism/coverage more than games journalists/critics. Take, well, me for example. I have, over the years, called out dreadful behaviour and deeply dubious practices I see in the industry, because it’s harming everyone. I am a vociferous objector to the Games Media Awards, and regularly make loud noise about sites or magazines attempting to trick new writers into working unpaid. When we see shitty stuff, we tend to scream. (Hilariously/depressingly, when some GGers discovered that I have a history of calling out what I perceive as corrupt or problematic, rather than respond to this by considering whether their targeting of me was somewhat misplaced, it was instead somehow interpreted as “proof” of how far I’d since fallen. Despite there being no “since” to apply.) The reason everyone in the gaming universe knows about “Doritogate” is because it was so loudly condemned by others in the industry, so offended to see their business so far off the rails. It is my contention that where the core of GG says “corruption”, it’s in fact repeating it’s other main agenda – the desire to see progressive politics removed from coverage.
Taking The Politics Out Of Gaming
GamerGate would like to see the politics taken out of games coverage. This statement deserves an essay of its own, but I want to try to address it quickly here. It is a fallacious statement, whether by design or misunderstanding. One cannot remove the “politics” from anything. Let’s take an imaginary example:
There’s a new game out, called Koala Fighters XVII. It’s a game about an elite squadron of fighter pilots, who are taking on the menace of the invading koala hordes. In it, throughout, are cutscenes showing bare-breasted women being kidnapped by the evil koalas, threatened with torture and death, to be rescued by the amazing gang of pilot men. The game is, obviously, brilliantly well made, featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game. However, when reviewing this game, gaming site Poltaku comments on how the nudity and sexual stereotypes are disappointing. Meanwhile, Sensible Gaming Reviews, leaving the politics out of games coverage, doesn’t say anything of the sort, not seeing the feature necessary to mention. GameBros4Ever, meanwhile, reviews the game and comments on how brilliantly the breasts are animated, and how great it was to feel like a powerful man in the cockpit of the plane.
All three reviews are inherently political. Choosing to mention this specific feature of the game is a political decision, whether to condemn or celebrate. And crucially, choosing not to mention it is a political decision too. Not thinking it worth mentioning, also, is born of a political position on the matter. Indifference to something of importance to others is, of course, a political position. You cannot “leave the politics out of games coverage”. Politics are inherent. What is instead meant by this demand is, by its nature, “Leave politics I don’t adhere to out of games coverage.”
Wanting games coverage that doesn’t take issue with, for example, sexualised images of women (or men) is wanting coverage of a specific political leaning. It’s a desire for a specific political position to be taken in games coverage. Which is fine! But it’s not, in any way, leaving politics out of it.
The Myth Of Neutrality
There is an attempt to avoid this reality from GG by attempts to invoke the even deeper fallacy of “objectivity”. I’ve written at length on why objectivity is literally impossible for a human being, and further how deeply unhelpful it would be in games coverage. It’s immediately obvious that one cannot review a game objectively – one can only attempt to describe a game’s intended features while unavoidably infecting such an attempt with conscious or unconscious subjectivity. And describing a game’s intended features is the job of the publisher, and is already taken care of in descriptions of games on any gaming store. Objectivity is obviously not desired, but instead the term is used to suggest a politically “neutral” position on very specific subject areas. Attempts at neutral politics are obviously impossible, but more to the point, remains political.
And of course the pretence that it’s about neutrality is patent nonsense. By requiring neutrality on those specific subjects, such as anything regarding the representation of any group of people, it is a tacit endorsement of the opposing political position. The desire to mute criticism of the representation of women in a game is a tacit endorsement of the representation of women in the game. And again, of course, anyone is absolutely entitled to endorse that representation if it is their position. But it’s a position.
GG is, in its suggestion of wanting to leave the politics out of games coverage, arguing for the continuation of the current politics represented in the games. Arguing for the continuation of the current politics is obviously fine! People want to see their own politics reflected, because it contextualises the game within their own worldview, and is therefore more useful. Wanting games coverage that comes from this same worldview makes complete sense, and finding that the majority of coverage does not is obviously frustrating, or simply unhelpful. The rational response to this is to call for games coverage that represents you. It is not to call for the destruction of games coverage that does not. And that is precisely what is at the core of GG’s aims. The desire to destroy, to remove the advertising from, to financially cripple, gaming sites that write from within an opposing worldview is abhorrent! It’s genuine censorship (as opposed to someone closing a comments thread, say, which is in no meaningful way censorship). It’s chilling.
But GG has dressed this goal up as a desire for neutrality, for apolitical coverage, despite the utter impossibility of any such thing, and despite the obvious cover this is for wanting bias that favours their own. (Which, I stress again, would not be a bad thing to call for. And indeed it would make sense to establish such sites and create sustaining businesses with them, rather than destroy others and achieve nothing.) In doing so, it’s found a comfortable way to call for censorship of opinions with which they do not agree.
Those within GG who passionately want to see gaming coverage improved, in whatever ways, can now only be heard by distancing themselves from the hashtag. As pure as intentions may be, it is simply the case that people within GG are responsible for the death and rape threats sent to so many female writers and developers. It is simply the case that GG’s stated goals and organised behaviour is to attempt to destroy businesses (and therefore the personal livelihoods of many people (and, good grief, charity Child’s Play)) because they don’t agree with what they write. It is simply the case that whenever I’ve had someone tweet at me, and include the hashtag, I’ve then had a few hours of abuse and libellous statements sent my way. This may not be what someone wants, or what someone thinks represents them, but they must know that it is what is happening, and it is not a “few bad apples”. It’s endemic. Because I’ve written this, I will be subjected to goodness knows how much tedious crap now, and it will get me down. The reason of course being to put me, or anyone else, off trying. To silence, through fear. I’m stubborn, but it has a cost for me. Obviously many others aren’t willing to put themselves through it. Do people really want to be part of a movement that behaves this way, and has this effect on people? Let alone one that drives people from their homes, after deliberate, organised campaigns of hate?
The good thing for me is that I’m not corrupt. I am proud of my integrity. I am aware of it, and confident in it. Seeing people attempting to damage my name and reputation is deeply distressing for me, because it’s quite so unjust. It’s distressing for those who care about me, because they can’t stop it or fix it. But when the dust settles, I still know the truth, and I believe my work exemplifies this truth. I’m biased – ho BOY, I’m biased. Biased in favour of progressive attitudes, of equality, of fairness and representation. I’m also biased in favour of games being good, rather than rubbish. And my interpretation of which is which is, like every other human, rooted in my bias. I wear my bias in the open, for reasons of integrity. I’m proud of myself. I want everybody to be able to say the same.