Dispelling Notions about #Gamergate

This is a pretty complicated(and controversial topic), so let’s keep discussion here civil.

I’ve been working on this post for a long time but I didn’t have time to publish it until now(and it still feels very unfinished but I don’t have much longer to work on it). I’m hoping I can offer a less slanted summary of the movement. I am very passionate about this topic, so if you want to ask questions or (politely) discuss it, leave a comment.

1) What is #gamergate?

A consumer-movement created in reaction to years of abuses and ethical violations.

The movement launched after Eron Gonji published “The Zoe Post“, detailing an abusive relationship between him and videogame developer Zoe Quinn. In it, he discloses Quinn’s relationship with 5 men, one of which was her boss and another being journalist Nathan Grayson, who has given Quinn and her game positive press. For a good number of gamergaters, the post opened eyes to the unusually close relationship between journalists and the people they were covering without disclosure. Typical internet chaos ensued, causing Quinn, Grayson and Gonji to receive death threats and vitrol.

During the fallout, gaming sites initiated a blackout and refused to allow any sensible discussion. It is this action that drove the wedge between disappointed gamers and the media. Journalists rushed to defend Quinn in aggressive anti-gamer editorials without acknowledging the ethical violations, accusing gamers of being misogynistic and entirely responsible for  and a Reddit moderator revealed to be a friend of Quinn censored the Reddit #gamergate thread with over 25,000 comments. A journalist collusion group called gamejournospros released 8 articles across different sites proclaiming “Gamers are dead” starting with Leigh Alexander’s now infamous article. Having been attacked by the press that should have defended them, a large number of gamergaters took up the title #gamergate(thanks to Adam Baldwin’s coining of the term) to discuss gaming journalism ethics and violations.

2) Wait, isn’t it all about harassment?

No.

This is the biggest argument against #gamergate, and also the biggest lie. To claim that #gamergate is a hate group or hell-bent is to associate the worst side of a movement as representative of the entire group(a great comparison would be the negative portrayal of movements like Occupy Wallstreet or #blacklivesmatter).

Even some basic math can help disprove it. There are over 33,000 subscribers to r/KotakuinAction, one of two large #gamergate headquarters. Last week, Brianna Wu claimed she had over 90 individual threats from #gamergaters as well as the largest number between “primary targets” her, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. Multiplying her number by three and  assuming these threats all came from a different person completely associated from #gamergate(which is incredibly unlikely), they would represent  .006% of the group. Including the supporters of #gamergate in other forums, it would be even less.

It is entirely possible to be pro-#gamergate and support women in gaming. Almost all of us do (and many of the group are women in gaming). I can say I have personally never sent a threat to anyone, nor have I ever thought to do so. I’d also add that I am a staunch egalitarian and support both feminist and men’s right campaigns when I can.

3) So then why do most gaming sites say #gamergate is bad?

When a consumer revolt is going after the press, wouldn’t it make sense for the press to attack the consumer revolt as something else? Essentially, major press outlets have made it impossible to discuss the topic rationally. They censor discussion and attempt to brush anything that disagrees with their agenda as #gamergate and misogynistic.

Major non-gaming outlets(CNN, NBC etc) have been pushing anti-gaming messages for years because they grab attention easily.  Most of them have not researched the movement well and are simply skimming details off of sites that #gamergate is against. The Wikipedia article on #gamergate is also used for references and is incredibly biased against the movement.

4) Why are you pro-#gamergate?

I have over 10 years of experience in print journalism. I began writing for one of the nation’s most prominent newspapers at the age of 9, and was instilled with a love for free-expression. Even for a kid, the biggest rule of journalism was to be ethical. If you knew someone, got something from or were related to the topic you were writing about, you mentioned it in a disclaimer. It was better to simply be hands off, because the trust of viewership is always more important than pushing an agenda.

When I first learned about #gamergate, I was neutral. I could see why people were upset towards Grayson, and why threats may be out of control. I published an editorial for the Amherst Student about my opinion. And the results were not pretty. Simply because I was willing to admit that the gaming press had a problem. Our newspaper was sent harassing emails, people were spreading rumours about me (a stupid first-year in college who is not important at all) online, and people over three times my age tried to tarnish my image. In this time, the only people who reached out to me for support were pro-#gamergate. Some wanted to make sure that I was safe, others to make sure my article was not in jeopardy. Some of these people did not agree with my editorial, but still wanted to let me know that I shouldn’t be intimidated by the anti-gg movement.

The events opened my eyes to the reality of the situation- most anti-gamergate supporters are not interested in dissenting opinions and preferred to silence anything that doesn’t fit their narrative. The people sending death threats were not just #gamergate, but also anti-gg trying to ruin the movement’s image. In contrast, most #gamergate supporters were eager to share their opinions and almost always hold a rational (albeit, sometimes rough) conversation. The loudest members of the anti-gg movement judged your opinion on the basis of the color of your skin and would decry you as a misogynist, racist or bigot without listening to what you said.

3) Really? What examples are there of harassment directed towards #gamergate?

During the height of the conflict, there was an entire tumblr blog dedicated to chronicle the everyday harassment of #gamergaters. Like I said, I have been the victim of this harassment and very passionate about exposing it. It goes unnoticed by the unsympathetic media.

This harassment spills over the real world. Journalist Milo Yiannopolous received a loaded syringe in the mail, as well as a dead animal. Mike Cernovich, a pro-freedom of speech lawyer, was SWATted (filing a false police report to cause them to send a SWAT team to a home, has a high risk of injury). A cosplayer dressed as a #gamergate mascot, Vivian James, faced both online and in-person harassment for her costume.

The Honey Badger Brigade, pro-gg and egalitarian group, was recently chased out of a con after spending $1000 for a vendor’s booth. One member was bullied into tears, and when the Honey Badgers held a gathering in a local park for their supporters, the police were called  by con organizers(the police claimed that the call was a waste of time over trivial political disagreements). Reasons for their expulsion have been inconsistent, but most stem from the group’s public support of #gamergate.

Even a few weeks ago, a #gamergate meetup with 2 prominent members and over 100 attendees had to face a bomb threat and let the police sweep the area for explosive devices. If anything, it proves that the violence cited as #gamergate cause is actually coming from every side.

5) Why should I care about this?

It’s a common argument that #gamergate is a waste of time. For that, I disagree. Gaming is a hobby with a revenue of over $70 billion. Our press should reflect the professionalism found in the rest of the hobby. As a gamer, you should also want a press that watches your back and protects you from the big business side of the industry.

For many gamergaters, it’s also a matter of representation and pride. We love our hobby, we love the people in it, and we want to break the illusion that gaming is accessible. When gaming sites like Polygon or Kotaku to attack us and call us dead, we are obviously offended. I don’t like it when my closest friends and I are likened to a “petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works…”(a quote directly from Alexander’s “Gamers are Dead” article.)

Likewise, the negative press associated to #gamergate is only going to scare women and minorities away from the hobby. It’s one thing to highlight a problem in gaming culture (even if this one is a smokescreen). It’s another to turn it into a witch hunt that attacks anyone for having a different opinion. Games were finally achieving a level of respect with the modern media, and we’ve returned to the era of Jack Thompson and the concerns that videogames cause violence and sexist attitudes. Worse yet, the dramatization of #gamergate by media is causing members of our own communities to make the unwarranted accusations. When we turn on what we love and try to censor or silence it, we only lose.

6) What good has #gamergate done?’

A lot, actually! #Gamergate has done quite a bit in multiple realms.

By far, our proudest work has been achieved through digging and unearthing cases of “games journalism.” The discovery of a private journalism collusion group featuring writers from Polygon, Kotaku and other sites, GameJournosPro. The online group was responsible for blacklisting a writer from the industry and initiating the Zoe Quinn blackout. Additionally, we have uncovered a large collection of conflicts of interest in games journalism(current count is at 120+).

One of our primary methods of pressure is writing to advertisers to express dissatisfaction that they are buying adspace from publications that are unethical and attack their audience. Gawker lost over 7 figures because of this technique alone and no longer qualifies for Google AdSense thanks to the work done by #gamergaters.

Since #gamergate arose, PCGamer has created an ethics policy. Other sites, like eurogamer, have updated and revised their policies as well. Most Gawker subsidiaries have started putting disclaimers in their articles(although they have not admitted it was #gamergate’s pressure, it’s fairly obvious that they started doing so right after the movement gained traction).  Numerous sites with undisclosed affiliate links have also been forced to change their policies.

#Gamergate has held  fundraisers and charities to support different causes. One of the most successful fundraisers helped The Fine Young Capitalists,a  feminist media production group, raise over $65,000 for a kickstarter. Other fundraisers include Child’s Play, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the PACER Center of National Bully Prevention. As the group began to expand to cover freedom of speech and anti-bullying, it has also helped house a safe space for victims of harassment and social censorship.

7) Where does #gamergate fall politcally?

We don’t have an exact statistic, but according to poll given to over 1500 gamegaters,  the largest portion identify as left liberal. About half identify as libertarians, 24% specifically as left-libertarian. I identify as left-libertarian as well.

Opponents have labeled #gamergate as a conservative movement, but that is false and mostly used as an attack on the people supporting #gamergate. Certainly, we have our share of right wingers, but we are not inherently right wing(nor is there anything wrong with being right wing). We simply want a media that protects the audience it claims to represent.

8) And in terms of diversity?

#Gamergate is incredibly diverse. We boast a large number of supporters from all over the world, with people of different races, sexualities and backgrounds.

Sometimes, people identify #gamergate as a collection of white, straight men against minorities. In response, minority gamergaters created the hashtag #notyourshield, arguing that they didn’t like anti-gg trying to speak for them (literally not the shield of anti-gg who would dismiss opinions on the assumption that the speaker is a white male.)

9) Who represents #gamergate?

The movement is mostly a consumer revolt and has no true head. There are some figures that are highly regarded in the #gamergate community.

  • Totalbiscuit, a youtube game reviewer, has been one of the most outspoken proponents of #gamergate.
  • “Factual Feminist” Christina Hoff Summers, who produces videos discussing the pros and cons of modern feminism, also supports #gamergate.
  • Journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, who writes for Breitbart and has switched to specifically covering #gamegate issues.
  • Boogie2988, a borderline neutral/pro-Gamergate youtuber who makes both serious and comedic videos relating to consumer protection.

Because we have no leader, the group can be chaotic and sometimes difficult to understand. But the structure has worked thus far, and makes most gamergaters feel they have an opinion that matters. Many gamergaters will disagree on certain movements/topics and feel safe that they won’t be ostracized from the group.

10) Is #gamergate aligned with anyone?

For the most part, no. You may find an overlap between members of #gamergate and other groups, but we pretty much stick to games journalism and anti-censorship discussion. It’s a trend of the media to associate us with other groups (shirtgate, sad puppies, metalgate, etc), but those are attempts to drag us through the mud with guilt by association.

Two groups that are seen consistently in the history of #gamergate are the Fine Young Capitalists, a feminist production studio and Honey Badger Radio, a anti-censorship and egalitarian group. I won’t get into the details too much here, but they are worth exploring on your own time, if you are interested.

10) Where can I learn more?

Great! That’s the first step to forming an educated opinion.

Recommended Sources

knowyourmeme: Has a pretty objective writeup of the events that caused #gamergate.

kotakuinaction: One of two primary hubs for #gamergate discussion and planning. A very rational area of discourse.

against-gamergate: Essentially the anti-gamergate version of KiA, good for looking at the counter-opinion.

gamergatewiki: Tells the side from perspective of #gamergate, but does not deny it’s intentions. Good for finding pro-#gamergate sources that typically fall through the cracks.

Forbes Writer Eric Kain’s Articles: Offers very objective write-ups of the event and is generally respected by both sides of the debate.

David Pakman: Very neutral reporter who covers the issue from both sides with great interviews and knowledge.

More biased sources

Milo on Breitbart: A pro-gamergate site that can sometimes stray into over-conservatism. Usually a reliable source, just be careful.

Ralph Retort: An extremely pro-gg site that most Gamergaters have disowned as being too radical for it’s own good.

gamerghazi: the radical sect of anti-gg, a subreddit specifically made to attack and make fun of #gamergate

The Mary Sue: Sharply anti-gg news source, responsible for some of the biggest lies about the movement. Still, worth looking into.

Jezebel: Same as above, particularly for being a Gawker subsidiary(Gawker being the umbrella corporation that owns repeat offender Kotaku)

4 thoughts on “Dispelling Notions about #Gamergate

  1. To preface my comment, I want to first say that being harassed online is terrible and not excusable in any way, shape, or form. None of what I’m saying is meant to invalidate those experiences.

    There’s a lot in your post, which I won’t get into now (I may follow up with another comment on your more specific research-based points once exams have calmed down). But, I do have a few more general questions:

    1. How can the reaction to “The Zoe Post” be justified? If we’re talking about ethical journalistic practices, I’m pretty sure that posting personal messages online without the person’s consent (and then continuing to stalk them in real life, despite legal action taken to prevent that) should raise some huge red flags.

    Even under the assumption the post is accurate, how is one female sleeping with other men (who weren’t even the journalists who reviewed Depression Quest) a signal of corrupt journalistic integrity throughout an entire medium? Especially when compared to the plethora of other, far more legitimate, reasons to be concerned about ethics in gaming journalism?

    Also, if we’re talking about unethical journalism, why is it Zoe Quinn the blame is put on, and not the male journalist that supposedly accepted sexual favors to write a good review? I reject that narrative in the first place, but even if it’s true, the burden should be on the journalist to have the moral fiber to write an honest review, not on the game developer if the journalist fails to do so.

    2. Why does GamerGate so consistently criticize Anita Sarkeesian and Briana Wu, among others? I don’t mean only in terms of direct harassment, I also mean in terms of “well reasoned” criticism. I’ve spent some time on Kotaku in Action, and places like it, and find overwhelming negative sentiments about these specific individuals, often in more frequency than about gaming journalism. Why them? I find it hard to believe that an independent game developer and a YouTube feminist critic are at the heart of gaming journalism’s problems.

    3. Why do the “ethical battles” that GamerGate fight so often present themselves as “anti-social justice”? Why is it The Mary Sue that’s considered unethical, and not IGN? Or YouTube reviewers literally being paid by Shadow of Mordor’s creators to make good reviews? Why does GamerGate target indie developers like Brianna Wu instead of criticizing the AAA titles that make tons of money year after year doing the same thing, and still getting great reviews?

    The reason I find it hard to believe GamerGate is really about ethics in gaming journalism is because so much of what they do is inherently gendered. And, no, not because of the perceptions furthered by the media, but by what the movement itself claims to be doing. They vilify outspoken females in the industry, talk about how terrible “social justice warriors” are (a term which IS a slur, something I want to write more about later), and essentially argue that we shouldn’t have feminist ideas in our media, or that these values are not a basis upon which to give a game praise or criticism.

    4. Final question! Sorry, these turned out to be way larger than intended. Did your thoughts on the movement at all shift after our last few days of classes, when students shared their experiences of harassment online, and even the discomfort they felt within our own classroom? Or, for that matter, during Brianna Wu’s talk? This isn’t meant in a mean way, and feel free not to answer as it is more personal. I guess I just hope that seeing the affects the movement has had (whether or not these effects were intended by all members) on individuals such as our classmates and in environments such as our classroom will cause people to re-consider how damaging GamerGate really is.

    Thanks for reading through the comment, I know it’s a lot! I know a lot of the questions seem leading and aggressive, and certainly biased, and I apologize for that. But they address some of the pieces I just can’t understand of being pro-GamerGate. I think you’re a really awesome guy, and I know you wouldn’t want to actively harm anyone else or any other community, which is why I’m honestly so perplexed by the support of GamerGate from you and other people I know personally, at Amherst and beyond. I guess I want to understand the logic by which pro-GamerGater’s come to support something that causes such negative affects that I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be a part of inflicting otherwise.

    1. No problem, I’ll go through these one by one to make it a little easier! I’ll mostly be talking from personal experiences so take this with a side of subjectivity.

      1) We can’t justify the reaction to the Zoe Post. I agree with you there. However, I make a critical distinction between #gamergate and the events that transpired after the Zoe Post. Originally, there was a hashtag to discuss the event called #fiveguys (an idiot pun on Quinn’s sleeping with 5 supposed men). That is where the real harassment took place, which made discussion of the event in relation to the industry difficult. People who actually cared about game journalism fled to the #gamergate hashtag in hopes of starting legitimate discussion, but the media tried to make the two synonymous. I think most #gamergaters agree that Quinn deserved none of the abuse.

      The reason why the Zoe Post caused #gamergate is not so much in the corruption itself, but how the media and places of internet discussion reacted. Like you say, the press has made plenty of dumb mistakes before, but they have usually apologized or have a competitor site hold them responsible for their actions. With #gamergate, we saw a full frontal assault of anyone who disagreed with Grayson’s actions through editorials, forum censorship and twitter witchhunting. When #gamergate discovered the GameJournosPro group, which was responsible for colluding and making sure sites reacted the same way, it made a great deal of sense. I think the censorship is what caused #gamergate to grow so quickly. We were never given a chance to see how Kotaku’s supposed ethic guidelines worked or why Grayson wasn’t punished. Kotaku never really apologized and instead had friends of other sites staffs write content defending them. Instead of mending the bridge, the press furthered the gap between itself and its readership.

      Some clarification, there was no review that Grayson wrote of Depression Quest. He did, however, feature it prominently in multiple articles and wrote about Quinn at least 2 times. #gamergate as a movement isn’t accusing Quinn of sleeping with a reviewer (although I’m going to say that some of our members do think she did) for good press. It is trying to hold Kotaku and Grayson responsible for knowing that Grayson was in a relation with Quinn during a period that he wrote about her. The problem is that they did not disclose the relationship in his articles at the time of publishing and caused their reliability to be damaged. A press’ power relies on how they stand in the eyes of the people, and Kotaku dropped the ball on this one.

      I’ll also say here that Quinn stood out as the victim of the abuse because Grayson is not active on twitter. He never published his threats or tweets, nor did he try to get sympathetic coverage. For Grayson, this was an embarrassing slash to his credibility and he wanted to keep his head down. For Quinn, it was not just a scary moment but a way to capitalize on press and get her name a little more out there (I’m not trying to insinuate that Quinn is a professional victim here, but we can’t deny that before #gamergate she was not well known nor was her game popular).

      2) I think the problem with Sarkeesian and Wu as a whole is that they really were not part of the conflict to begin with. Sarkeesian was being attacked before #gamergate and then tried to say #gamergate was similar to what she was experiencing, which funneled in a lot of abuse from trolls and supposed #gamergaters. Wu self-inserted herself into the narrative with her claims that #gamergate chased her out of her house despite her never having anything to do with the movement (and a lot of evidence proves she may have fabricated the claim). Wu has been caught multiple times trying to incite abuse so she could get news coverage both before and after #gamergate’s big uproar, which is why most #gamergaters have trouble believing her.

      It is also worth mentioning that Sarkeesian and Wu were very active attacking the group on major press outlets. Sarkeesian talked about the movement in the Colbert Report; Wu was on NBC multiple times. They may have had nothing to do with #gamergate to begin with, but then they entered it and started attacking us. I think it is safe to say that we have the right to challenge their claims because they have become opponents to the movement. For Gamergaters, Sarkeesian and Wu are overly-outspoken critics who have tried to boost their image by calling out #gamergate. They claim they are not involved, yet won’t stop trying to entwine themselves in the conflict.

      On r/KotakuInAction, there is a rule that we do not “touch the poop”. We avoid discussing the three women because they are very unimportant. They certainly come up often, but usually because they are part of the discussion at this point. A lot of us are just tired of them obstructing our goal of a better press as well.

      3) Like I’ve said in the article, most Gamergaters are libertarian. I think for a lot of us, the “Social Justice” movement presents itself not as something progressive but something so far left it reaches the same authoritarianism as the far right (horseshoe theory). We really want women to feel welcome in gaming and for the hobby to be more inclusive. At the same time, we don’t want a “cult” controlling what content gets coverage or greenlit for production. It’s not that we go out of our way to attack internet feminists, it’s that our views are usually opposite of theirs. We are against censorship, they want regulation. We want equal coverage to show that women are treated the same as men, they want emphasis on female developers to show that women can thrive in the field. In the end, I think it’s important to have a balance between our ideas and theirs.

      Furthering the problem, a lot of Gamergaters see the “Social Justice” movement as a close-knit group that cares more about supporting each other’s ideas and work than building a better industry. They’ve made it clear you are in the circle or out, and that being in the circle has very intense benefits. Anyone outside the circle is ignored or attacked. The controversies that #gamergate has uncovered are against “Social Justice Warriors” because “SJWs” have built a private web of connections that favors their in-group(see GameJournosPro again). Leigh Alexander, a social justice blogger and games writer has said “My ethics policy is this: get money, fight bullshit, and make sure that those I love stand the longest.” That’s not an ethics policy- that’s outright favoritism and against the founding tenants of journalism. Looking at controversies in the IGDA and other indie game fests, we see games chosen based on the content of their messages rather than how skillfully the messages are portrayed.

      I don’t see any inherent problem with feminist views in games. I do see a problem with criticizing games like Bayonetta for not being feminist enough, when that kind of thing is incredibly subjective. You can never please everyone. Petitions to ban games from sale or kicked off Steam don’t help us move forward. If certain radical groups had their way, BioShock Infinite would not be sold because it was supposedly racist. Just because one group finds something offensive does not mean everyone else should feel the same way.That’s the same logic for banning gay marriage, for goodness sake. I don’t believe any content creator should support censoring art, because that’s a slippery slope that ends up hurting us all.

      4) I can’t say that last class changed my views on #gamergate because I don’t think it had anything to do with it. We discussed something that was beyond #gamergate and deeper, that there is a sex split in gaming. To blame #gamergate as the boogey man chasing women out is wrong because the issue is older and lies elsewhere. I was saddened that the women of our class thought #gamergate was the problem because Gamergaters helped me when I was abused. In the end, nothing was accomplished. Most people walked away from the class still believing that we were a hate group. I walked away understanding why they thought that, but irritated they didn’t want to look further and see beyond it.

      Brianna Wu’s talk only made me more upset. To me, she always seemed the most reasonable out of the three women who claim they were harassed by #gamergate. But listening to her speech, I didn’t feel like she wanted to fix games. She wanted to give speeches and reaffirm her own voice. I think change comes with positivity. Wu’s message was one of negativity and I think it only scares people away.

  2. I really appreciated this detailed post about lots of the gamergate topics and rebuttals we unfortunately did not have enough time to touch upon in class. Good jorb.

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