DISCLAIMER: This is written in reference to the state of GamerGate as I see it now. I recognize that it’s a complex and nuanced issue; even when it was happening, I found it extremely difficult to figure out what exactly was going on, what was done by whom, etc. I just hope that I don’t gloss over anything too important, but I’m sure that the internet in all its wisdom will let me know if I do.
Also, there is a general lack of specificity in this article; i.e. I’m not calling out names of websites, specific people, etc. The exceptions to this are the areas where I’m specifically quoting information or clarifying a point made in said quoted information. Otherwise, that would be plagiarism, or at the very least, misleading. I’m doing this because I’m not interested in dropping names that could potentially undermine the core conceit of this article. There’s no point in saying, “A bunch of harassment came from people on <insert site here>”, when doing so just makes it sound like I’m laying all the blame at one group’s feet. Plus, honestly, it opens me up to making silly mistakes regarding the origin of information. Things get parroted around the internet so much that I don’t really need to turn this into a debate of, “You said that Site A said this but it’s actually Site B that said that and how dare you use Site A as your scapegoat!”
GamerGate has developed something of an image problem. When the movement first came into the public eye in mid-2014, it was used to frame all manner of disparate narratives. If you go on any number of popular games journalism sites, it’s likely to be labelled as some sort of hate-fuelled rampage by a bunch of sadistic internet misogynists, primarily targeting women in the games industry. Other sources refute this, claiming that the whole thing is solely about promoting ethics in games journalism. Then, of course, there are all the people who fall somewhere other than these two bounds, muddying the waters even further.
Let’s take a step back, though. If – by some freakish twist of fate – you’ve been presented with this article without any prior knowledge of GamerGate, allow me to fill you in. Rather, allow me to pull some definitions in; if you want a history lesson, I’m afraid that’s on you.
“The Gamergate controversy concerns issues of sexism and progressivism in video game culture, stemming from a harassment campaign conducted primarily through the use of the hashtag #GamerGate. Gamergate is used as a blanket term for the controversy, the harassment campaign and actions of those participating in it, and the loosely organized movement that emerged around the hashtag.” ~Wikipedia
“A word used to describe the events surrounding the Zoe Quinn Scandal, when gaming journalists refused to cover the incident, and instead attacked and generalized their audience.” ~Urban Dictionary
“GamerGate occurred when the seedy antics of Zoe Quinn exposed wide scale collusion in the indie game industry, benefiting developers, reviewers, journalists, and everyone else involved. That is, everyone except for you, the gamer. The gaming media refused to apologize, accept accountability, or in any way commit to adherence to any kind of higher standard of journalism which would (at least) include not sleeping with the subjects of their articles. Instead, they placed all the blame on the gaming community, concluding that their audience is now their enemy.” ~Encyclopedia Dramatica
Right away, the aforementioned disparities in definition come into focus. Wikipedia’s definition is certainly the most condemning of the three, unequivocally labelling GamerGate (or at least, its origins) as a harassment campaign. It also acknowledges the manner in which it’s come to be used as a blanket term to lump all aspects of the controversy together. On the other hand, Urban and Dramatica place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the gaming press, be it their refusal to cover the “Zoe Quinn Scandal” (a controversy involving a game developer and games journalist who were in a relationship together), or their apparent eagerness to shift all the negative attention over to gamers (see any number of articles claiming that “gamers are dead”).
Obviously, this is just the story in broad strokes, potentially working with outdated information, right? Well, some recent tweets under the #GamerGate hashtag don’t really clarify things.
See what I mean? Now, full disclosure: I didn’t do a bunch of background research on these Twitter accounts. It’s entirely possible that some of them are satirical accounts that are deliberately drawing attention to the negative press GamerGate has received. It can be very difficult to distinguish between the legitimate tweets and the fake ones, forcing the situation to go a bit off the rails. Regardless, the fact that the movement has reached the point of satire is potentially a bad sign in and of itself.
In my opinion, therein lies the main problem with GamerGate: it’s a noble enough concept at its core that’s been perverted by vocal minorities to become something that can be easily demonized by those that disagree. For my part, I would say that I support the GamerGate movement at its core. I firmly believe that an industry that lacks ethics is an industry that can’t last. Media thrives on its audience, and that audience will rapidly dissipate if it comes to see such information outlets as untrustworthy. However, let’s be honest: nobody likes being condemned for things that they’ve done, and as a journalist myself, I know that I’m no exception.
Failing to acknowledge such condemnation only allows the Streisand Effect to kick in, though. If everyone’s yelling at you to fix something and you try to ignore them, most people will just yell louder. Some might start throwing things to get your attention. Personally, I think that it’s an overly aggressive attempt at effecting change, at best. At worst, it devolves into outright abuse, such as the countless disgusting death and rape threats that were sent to several members of the games industry during the height of GamerGate’s popularity. As far as the mainstream media was concerned, such displays only served to devalue the cause, making it that much easier to sweep GamerGate under the rug as a “despicable harassment movement”. Of course, that only caused the Streisand Effect to rear its head once more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to frame this as a, “journalists brought this on themselves” piece. However, I do think that it’s important to address the concerns of one’s audience instead of attempting to shut them out. Critics, developers, and news editors are all people, with strengths, weaknesses, and biases. I don’t think that any of those should be used to exclude from the industry, but rather to diversify it. It’s good to know if a review’s been written by someone who’s experienced in a particular genre; if I’m not experienced in that same genre, I may have to take their opinion with a grain of salt. Likewise, sometimes people like to read reviews from critics who are inexperienced with a genre. Of course, this raises questions about who should review which games, because it clearly isn’t feasible to have every game reviewed by five different critics, each from a different walk of life. However, I’m sure that there are ways to compromise in a way that doesn’t sacrifice informativeness or integrity.
I love writing about games and want to be able to do it for a living. However, traditional media is slowly becoming the punching bag of various online communities due to countless complaints of corruption, pandering, and more. Clickbait titles run rampant, attempting to squeeze every last drop out of the SEO algorithms. Journalists need to be better, and sometimes the only way to do that is with some pressure from the community. However, when that pressure comes in the form of death threats, trolling, and more, the message gets lost. It’s pretty hard to take advice from someone who’s pointing a metaphorical gun at your head; even if you hear what they’re saying, all you really want to do is get the hell out of there. Whether it’s a lack of proper disclosure from journalists, perceived censorship from developers and publishers, or something else, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the industry. I think that it is important to discuss these issues, but doing so in a volatile fashion (on either side of the aisle) just lets the other side deflect the issues as little more than pointless internet hate.
So, as far as I’m concerned, GamerGate shouldn’t cease to exist, but it should rebrand. As it stands, the term “GamerGate” has – in many circles – become synonymous with doxxing, threats, and abuse. Any claims of “it’s about journalistic ethics” often come across more as the desperate defenses of zealots rather than a reasonable justification for the cause. This has caused many to distance themselves from the movement simply to avoid being conflated with the abusive side of GamerGate. Hell, even Encyclopedia Dramatica’s page on GamerGate lists the first thing that “YOU can do about it” as “Stop and find something better to do” (paraphrased). Even amongst those that view the movement as a net positive, it’s still seen as something that’s effectively dead in the water.
With that in mind, I think that there ought to be a new unifying cause for gamers to promote a higher standard of integrity in the industry. I’m not here to make some cringe-worthy attempt at starting a new hashtag; that’s for, you know, the important people to do. There should be something, though. Something to make the cause once called GamerGate into a movement that can’t be brushed off as a harassment campaign, but rather into something that brings a critical eye to the potential biases in the industry. Obviously, there will likely still be “bad eggs” in the bunch: those that take it too far. Then again, there will probably always be journalists and developers who don’t properly disclose information, condemn criticism, and so on. It’s not a perfect situation by any means, but all I can hope for is that it’ll be better than what we have right now. At the very least, it might lend a bit of consistency to the cause.