Dear #Gamergate: You have fought hard, but your movement has failed you

Getting on for two months ago now, I went on The Escapist to do…something. Maybe watch the latest installment of Jimquisition. Truth be told it’s been so long I can’t remember what it was I wanted there. But that’s partly because my eye was caught by a new thread in their forums, which are given a presence on the main page. The thread was, as I remember, titled:

Zoe Quinn, or the exposure of gaming journalism as a pro-feminist hugbox

(the ‘pro-feminist hugbox’ bit I distinctly recall, the exact wording of the rest of the title may have been different. After a week or so a mod changed it to one with less anti-feminist slant)

I had no idea at the time, but this was the beginnings of the Quinnspiracy, as it (and Zoe Quinn’s Twitter account) was known – the sharing around and dissection of the blog post by Quinn’s ex Eron Gjoni, who alleged that: during their relationship, Zoe Quinn had cheated on him with no fewer than five men; that one of them was Nathan Grayson, journalist at Kotaku; and, therefore, she was not a woman to be trusted. Note: Gjoni’s blog post contained no actual allegations against Grayson. Those were exclusively construed by readers.

What exacerbated the issue was that none of the major websites ran a story about the blog post. In that Escapist thread, their editor Greg Tito pointed out that they had no reason not to run the story – Kotaku were their competitors. The reason they didn’t run the story was because much of it was hearsay and because journalists were afraid it could contribute to a climate of harassment against Quinn and Grayson, who had taken to Twitter to defend themselves. This, however, was seen as their being complicit and supporting the pair. Note that it was at this point that Adam Baldwin involved himself, tweeting allegations at Quinn and Grayson, under the early hashtag “Quinnspiracy”

Three days later, Kotaku’s editor Stephen Totilo released a statement. In the statement, Totilo stated that he and Grayson had discussed the allegations, and found them to be baseless – Grayson had not written about Zoe Quinn’s game Depression Quest for Kotaku while they were in a relationship. By this point, however, there were far grander theories at work, implicating multiple writers and websites. Many of these theories conflated “corruption” with a social justice agenda, which was perceived as infiltrating gaming journalism. (Many images were created – here is one that was particularly popular.)

The hashtag #Gamergate came into being as a direct result of the Quinnspiracy. Its first user was Adam Baldwin, linking to a video by the internet personality Internet_Aristocrat that detailed the “Five Guys” allegations against Quinn. (While we’re on the subject of people spreading misinformation, the video remains up and uncorrected despite its being debunked months ago) Another hashtag, #NotYourShield, was started by minorities and women who were angered by games journalists – perceived to mostly be white males – “using” allegations of misogyny and harassment to “shield” themselves from legitimate criticism.
Both hashtags received a boost in popularity following the release of several articles within a short period of time, around a week after Totilo’s statement, that speculated about the death of the “gamer” identity. By far the least popular was Leigh Alexander’s “Gamers are over” at Gamasutra, which saw her receive significant amounts of harassment and calls for other journalists to denounce her. Many felt insulted that after decades of fighting the mainstream media to defend gamers, people within the gaming community were now attempting to criticise gamers, calling them misogynists or neckbeards. I don’t have time to analyse these articles here, but this is a good breakdown. 

Another group that attached themselves to the hashtag was a journal called Breitbart, aided by the leader of their UK branch, Milo Yiannapoulos, who saw solidarity with gamers. Breitbart subsequently exposed the existence of a private mailing list: the GameJournoPros list, which involved gaming journalists discussing their work together, setting up multiplayer games, discussing publisher issues. One journalist had suggested sending a public letter of support to Quinn, but this idea was quickly rejected. The majority consensus was that this kind of list was fairly common in professional circles, but to an audience angered by the “gamers are over” articles appearing all at once (despite the fact that only two of those articles were written by people on the list. Incidentally that post, written by USgamer journalist M.H. Williams, is also a good breakdown of the articles) it was further proof that journalists were conspiring against them.

Gamergate has done good things. Gamergate supporters pushed to support a group called The Fine Young Capitalists, who ran a game jam to help women get into the industry, after TFYC had a public spat with Zoe Quinn. A handful of Gamergate supporters ran a drive to donate money to the Humble Leading Ladies bundle, which ran during the middle of September, pushing “#Gamergate” to the number one donors list. There have also been charity drives in favour of anti-bullying, suicide prevention, and Action Against Hunger.

Gamergate has achieved other things as well – directly, indirectly, or otherwise. Phil Fish quit the gaming industry (again) after his company Polytron was doxxed – in one of the most brutal doxxes I have ever seen – for his support of Quinn. Gamergate supporters convinced Intel to pull an advertising campaign from Gamasutra, the website on which Leigh Alexander’s “gamers are over” article ran, in a failed bid to get her fired. Writer Jenn Frank announced she was no longer going to write about games, after being repeatedly harassed over a lack of disclosure (which, incidentally, was bullshit). Mattie Brice and other writers did the same. Moreover, a general climate of fear has descended on the games industry to the point where major gaming websites only ran tentative stories about ‘harassment’ months after Gamergate began, and long after mainstream outlets had picked up on it.

Having followed this entire mess from the start – every single peak, trough, ‘victory’, ‘defeat’, I feel comfortable saying this: Gamergate has succeeded for precisely one group – the group who dislike feminism and want it out of discussions of videogames. It is no secret that popular figures within the movement (I am told that Gamergate rejects the term ‘leader’) are frequently anti-feminist, not just Baldwin and Aristocrat but figures like SargonOfAkkad, MundaneMatt, thunderf00t and the aforementioned Yiannapoulos. It is my belief that there is a significant group who felt personally affronted by the presence of critics such as Anita Sarkeesian but felt they lacked a voice with which to speak up. Now, they have one – #Gamergate.

For everyone else – whatever you got into this movement for – Gamergate has failed you. Let me explain why.

If you joined in because you were outraged at Zoe Quinn’s sexual impropriety, she and her current boyfriend continue, by all accounts, to be happy together. She is continuing to make games, with her Patreon page receiving over $3,000 a month. Meanwhile, her opponents now attempt to pull advertisers from radio stations just for granting interviews with her. This further contributes to the narrative that she is playing up her harassment for attention that you so despise. It is perfectly possible to just not play Quinn’s games without supporting a movement that has become inextricably linked with attempts to force her from her home.

If you joined in Gamergate because you were fed up of the ‘politicisation’ of game reviews, Gamergate has failed you because it has actively discouraged people from thinking critically. (Note: the following is paraphrasing to an extent; there is a much larger discussion to be had about reviews and ‘what they’re for’) A popular example – as in, Adam Baldwin linked it on Twitter as ‘this is why Gamergate started’ – is Polygon’s review of Bayonetta 2. Reviewer Arthur Gies ‘only’ gave it a 7.5/10 because he found the sexualisation of the game’s main character off-putting. Regardless of your views on female sexuality, it has been said, but bears repeating: if you don’t like Polygon’s reviews, you do not have to read them. There are loads of highly positive reviews of Bayonetta 2. In fact, Gies’ review was positive – just not as positive as others. If a reviewer doesn’t help you, you can find a different one. You don’t need to encourage Nintendo to blacklist publications who give ‘the wrong reviews’. This sort of behaviour makes it harder for journalists to assess games on their merit – not the inverse. If you want a different voice, support those that are there – don’t silence people.

If you joined in Gamergate because you wanted to fight genuine corruption in games journalism – payola, the presence of journalists at major industry events, and conflicts of interest – Gamergate has failed because it has encouraged games journalists to become more cautious about their jobs. Prominent consumer advocates like Jim Sterling and Jeff Gerstmann have, starting from a fairly neutral position, felt forced to condemn Gamergate because demands were repeatedly madefrequently using emotional blackmail – for them to denounce the “other side”, and they were criticised for not doing so in the “right way”. This is what Gamergate has consistently done, not only to its critics, but to its potential allies as well. Crucially, however, both Gerstmann and Sterling have pledged to continue the good fight for consumers on their own terms. I will join them. You can do so too.

This links with another point: if you joined in Gamergate because you want to have more avenues with which to have a civil conversation with journalists, your movement has failed you because many people within the movement have persistently, aggressively, demanded journalists step in line, then resorted to insults when they do not get it, forcing journalists to shut down the few remaining avenues they have. This is not helped by Twitter’s appalling reporting system, which has done nothing to stop the use of anonymous “burner” accounts and, among other things, refused to remove accounts that send death and rape threats. This is not a “false narrative”, or “media spin”, this is the reality of these people. Twitter was supposed to help them connect with their audience. Instead it’s allowed their critics an easy road to abuse them. It may not be your fault, but this is what has happened.

If you joined in Gamergate because you wanted to stick the boot in to a dying industry, the movement has failed you because, well, the games journalism industry isn’t dying. Kotaku and Polygon have both reported increased traffic – during a time when people were calling for a boycott of both. Meanwhile, the people that have claimed to replace them – Youtubers and Twitch streamers – have come under scrutiny of their own following the exposure of the Shadows of Mordor brand deal and borderline illegal efforts to hide the fact that their content is bought and paid for by companies, disclosure of which often results in the content not being watched. If anything, a discussion of ethics in Youtube videos would be extremely pertinent – but it has become subsumed amidst a whole load of people arguing that that is not what the movement should be fighting against. If you prefer to get your game reviews from Youtubers and streamers, feel free – that’s the beauty of the free market – but do remain vigilant. They are not necessarily bold freedom fighters against evil journalists by their very existence.

If you joined in because you felt insulted by games journalists, your movement has failed you because Gamergate is responsible for more damage against the image of gamers than any article that claimed gamers were dead. The most prominence any of those articles got was being quoted in weekly round-ups by Polygon and Rock, Paper, Shotgun – Gamasutra is aimed at developers, it is not a website a significant number of consumers were reading in the first place. Meanwhile, threats that started on a board dedicated to Gamergate, and threats by a terrorist who claimed affiliation with Gamergate have not only made the front page of the New York Times but had articles written about them all over the media, both inside and outside the gaming press. The Gamergate movement is far more linked with the death of “gamers” than any op-ed musing about the increasing diversification of the gaming audience. You can be a proud gamer without supporting Gamergate. In fact, I heartily encourage you to do so.

But most of all, I implore the people who I honestly believe make up the majority of Gamergate: the people who want to defend it, who cling to the identity it has given them, be it under #NotYourShield or the cry of “Gamergate does not condone harassment”. Gamergate has failed you because in three months it has consistently failed to prove your points. I truly feel sorry for the people in #NYS who felt that games journalists tried to speak *for* them rather than *to* them. I believe that’s a real problem in the industry. But the people who tweet under #NYS have themselves become a shield, as Gamergate supporters attempt to paint all of their opponents as white hipsters while claiming they cannot be ‘anti-diversity’. It is literally the ‘I have black friends’ argument. As for the people who do not condone harassment, your argument is admirable but it has not managed to stop the doxxing and harassment which has now been going on for two whole months. What it has done – all it has done – is allowed other moderate supporters to use that chant like a crutch. The movement is using your moderate involvement to defend itself from accusations about people like these – who, to put it bluntly have *FAR* more reach and visibility than you do – and have consistently failed to back down when their views are questioned. For three months I have consistently come across Gamergate supporters who are more concerned with how harassment makes their hashtag look than empathy for their victims. This is not a PR exercise. If you truly condemn harassment, then take up the call with someone who will help you – because the Gamergate movement as a whole is no longer concerned with what you want, only how you can help it.

(I had hoped to avoid the subject of harassment but it bears mentioning: I know that people attached to the Gamergate movement have been threatened. I know that Milo Yiannapoulos was sent a syringe and heavily implied it was by anti-Gamergate persons. But I also know that Milo later tweeted – without irony – multiple tweets claiming that people who get and talk about death threats are more likely to be just making it up for attention – note the number of retweets and favourites on those. Many Gamergate supporters have dismissed the death threats made against their opponents with the ‘professional victim’ argument or accusing them of ‘doxxing themselves’ which directly contributes to harassment by minimising the impact or implying that victims shouldn’t be trusted. So if it seems like I’m suggesting there’s no harassment against Gamergate, I’m not. I’m simply suggesting that many people online, but especially those within Gamergate, contribute to an environment where death threats on the internet aren’t taken seriously – and that has to stop. This man used to babysit me when I was younger. He was killed because someone wasn’t able to differentiate between the internet and reality. And when people continue to claim that death threats on the internet are meaningless, eventually the wrong sort of people start to believe them.)

I would love it if this post convinced someone – anyone – to reconsider their position – but I don’t think it will. I have very little reach and I fear that people are too entrenched in their beliefs. Which is fair enough – this whole business has now lasted nearly two months, which is quite long enough for people to form beliefs, especially when it’s about something people feel strongly about. So I will simply end with this: If you are here to tell me that I’m wrong, and that Gamergate is really about X, Y, or Z, don’t discuss it with me, discuss it with the others who associate with the hashtag. Because you’re going to find an awful lot of people who disagree with you. And when a consumer movement can’t even work out what it stands for – how can it possibly succeed in any meaningful way?

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