Back in August, I wrote about the ongoing harassment against Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, the then-latest attempts by the would-be gatekeepers of gaming culture trying to evict women from their formerly1 exclusive clubhouse.
While it’s (depressingly) common to see outbursts like this bubble up from the underside of the Internet, it’s rare for it to last as long as the supposed Quinnspiracy has. These moments tend to be like the Internet equivalent of herpes – they flare up and make people miserable2 before fading away again – if only to erupt again later. Instead, it became an ideology. The supposed Quinspiracy morphed into GamerGate – a movement (or a “consumer revolution” – pick one) that supposedly is all about purging the nebulous idea of “corruption” from gaming journalism.
If only that was what GamerGate was really about.
Last week, game developer Brianna Wu was chased from her home after GamerGate-ers threatened to rape and kill her. Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University after another threatened to commit a “Montreal Massacre-style attack”.3
Even more people have found themselves subjected to relentless harassment and threats if they so much as even mention GamerGate online. It’s become the Internet equivalent of standing in front of a mirror and saying Beetlejuice three times – say the words and if you’re lucky, you’ll only be swarmed by sea lions. If not…
In fact, as of my writing this, Felicia Day wrote a powerful piece about GamerGate and why the fear of retribution has kept her silent. Within an hour, she was doxxed.
And yet, we are told over and over again that GamerGate is about ethics, not hate. So which is it?
Let’s talk about what we’re really talking about when we talk about GamerGate.
The Evolution of GamerGate
Despite having more supposed retconned origins than Hawkman, GamerGate started in August after Zoe Quinn’s ex, Eron Gjoni wrote a 10,000 word rant about their break-up. After first attempting to post it in the Penny-Arcade and Something Awful forums, Gjoni posted it to 4chan, where it found fertile ground. The Internet Hate Machine stirred to life to harass Quinn over her sex-life, including implications that Quinn cheated on Gjoni with Nathan Grayson in order to secure positive reviews for her game Depression Quest. The fact that the review didn’t actually exist was secondary to the proposed messaging: this wasn’t about Gjoni being unable to get over his break-up, this was about ethics. The spin was immediate: this was to be all about how Quinn used her sexuality to her advantage in the industry – an easy sell considering the number of people who already insisted that she was getting preferential treatment for a game that was more in keeping with Japanese visual novels than a retro-styled 8-bit shooter.
between attempts to dig up dirt on Quinn’s friends, we see first mention of a familiar message. This is on Day One. pic.twitter.com/adtckJ45VX
— Fuck NO Video Games (@EffNOVideoGames) October 16, 2014
From there, the rumors began to spiral outwards. Quinn was accused of having doxxed (that is, given out private information), sabotaged and/or hacked The Fine Young Capitalists over their American Idol-esque charity event for female game developers. Said sabotage was, in reality “asking pointed questions about their policy on trans women”, TFYC admitted that Quinn had nothing to do with the doxxing OR the hacking and presumably everyone decided to go their separate ways. Of course, once again, just because the accusations had been disproven didn’t mean that the issue was going to die.
Around this time, Anita Sarkeesian released the latest in the Tropes Vs. Women video series, which was starting to pick up significant attention from celebrities like Joss Whedon. Of course, this also led to a new round of threats and harassment for Sarkeesian, including threats that eventually chased her from her home. Naturally, many of Sarkeesian’s haters insisted that she had faked the threats and this was all some sort of false-flag (an accusation that you will hear a lot of in this article) in an attempt to drum up more attention. The fact that the FBI confirmed that they were actively investigating the threats did nothing to deter people from continuing to label Sarkeesian as “a professional victim”.
On August 28th, The Quinnspiracy – alternately called “5 Guys Burgers and Fries”4 – became #GamerGate, a term coined by Adam Baldwin when he linked to a pair of videos about Quinn produced by YouTube personality InternetAristocrat.
On August 29th, a number of websites – including mine – published similar articles about the treatment of women in gamer culture. To anyone who’s been in the blogging game for a while, this isn’t all that uncommon – GamerGate had already started trending and social media was abuzz about the treatment of both Quinn and Sarkeesian.
It was only natural that we would talk about it. It’s no different than when newspapers and run op-eds about religious extremism after an abortion clinic bombing or another ISIS beheading video. Major events prompt responses and everyone will want to have their say. Many sites used a variation of the headline “Gamers Are Dead/Over/Undesirable” as a way of expressing frustration with the continual hostility women, trans and queer people have faced within gaming culture – small wonder considering that this had become yet one more example of people suffering from the crime of being The Other. To those assembling under the banner of GamerGate, however, this wasn’t coincidence – this was collusion. The gaming press was already ignoring Gjoni’s accusations of Quinn (except for when they weren’t) – clearly having closed ranks around her rather than deciding that an ex-boyfriend’s rant and a woman’s sex life wasn’t news; this was merely confirmation that the all the major gaming sites were in the pocket of Quinn and the Social Justice Warriors5. By writing similar articles, games journalism had aligned against against gamers because FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY! Sure, there’s no logical reason why gaming bloggers would all decide to coordinate a character assassination against the gamer identity, but it fit in nicely with the web of conspiracy theories and red-arrow-adorned imgur’s that purported to pick apart the spider-web of corruption in gaming. But to give you an example of what this collusion really looked like:
And lo did a great cry go up that GamerGate was all about ethics in journalism and they did stride forth in order to do battle with the evil besetting their beloved industry.
Of course, the great irony is that while GamerGate-rs were accusing the gaming press of collusion, GamerGate and its attendent “ops” like #notyourshield was being stage-managed via IRC.
Over the following months, GamerGate has continually positioned itself as a leaderless, organization-free movement (and/or consumer revolt) with an eye towards cleaning corruption out of gaming journalism.
But is it really?
What Does GamerGate Stand For?
GamerGate as a movement/revolution is almost impossible to pin down. You see, when there is no leadership – and GG claims to be leaderless – and no organization – and GG claims to not have any – then it quite literally can’t stand for anything. There is no “official” GamerGate headquarters. The KotakuInAction subreddit is simultaneously the official and unofficial home, as is 8Chan’s /gg/ board. There is no statement of GamerGate’s values or goals – nothing that they can point to as a whole and say “this is us”. Because of the decentralized nature of GamerGate, there is no official policy; instead, any and every policy is valid and official. They can say that GamerGate isn’t “about” Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian or Brianna Wu, but merely mentioning their names is enough to light up Twitter or the GamerGate boards with hate. There are the occasional nods to “clever” rhetorical flourishes – re-labeling them as Literally Who 1, 2 and 3 respectively, but they come up in conversation constantly.
The closest thing that any of these officially unofficial forums can agree on is that GamerGate is anti-progressiveism – a push back against the Social Justice Warriors that have been “infiltrating” gaming and somehow controlling it through means that nobody can quite explain except through dark inferences of “influence” or “coercion”.
In fact, someone posing as me did an AMA on 4Chan’s /pol/ board, insisting that the reason why I had written anti-GamerGate posts was because Anita laid the law down from on high – conform or be punished. Apparently if I didn’t give in, she’d cancel my book deal and get me fired. From the blog I own. Somehow.
But as many people have pointed out, openly saying that you’re against making games less sexist and more inclusive is bad PR, so it’s important to have a more attractive official goal… like cleaning up gaming journalism.
Meanwhile, the stated purpose, what GamerGate is really about – and what it isn’t – continues to be a moving target, and one that is continually belied by GamerGate’s own actions.
Is it about ethics in journalism? Then why are the individuals targeted directly by GamerGate – Literally Whos 1 – 3 – not journalists? Why was Rebecca Watson – who’s not even involved in gaming, never mind a journalist – singled out for attention by GamerGate? Similarly, why was Anil Dash – an entrepreneur and occasional blogger who has nothing to do with gaming – mobbed by GamerGate? Why is there no war against payola in the world of YouTube celebrities? For that matter, why is there not more talk about gaming publishers exerting influence on game reviewers – holding review code hostage to promises of favorable coverage? After all, the Society for Professional Journalism states that it is unethical to give a subject preferential treatment, especially in exchange for access. Is it ethical to punish gaming journalism sites (including the New Yorker and, er, me, apparently)6 by forcing the game developers to quit sending them review code, as proposed in Operation Krampus? How exactly would, say, encouraging Nintendo to punish Polygon for a low (7.5) review score for Bayonetta 2 be in any way compatible with ethical journalism rather than the exact opposite?
The demands for “objective reviews” are quite literally impossible; reviews by their nature are subjective. Many of my friends are professional movie critics who will be happy to tell you that the idea that criticism and opinion are separate beasts is laughable on its face. At most, an “objective” review would be “This is a game. Here are its specs. You play it on these consoles and on the PCs.”
You can’t – literally can not – have a review without opinion. To suggest otherwise is laughable.
Is GamerGate about being “against bullying” as prominent GamerGate-r Mark Cernovich has been inferring? If so, then it’s rather surprising, considering his own actions…
— Khaleesi of SJWs (@TheQuinnspiracy) October 19, 2014
For that matter, how is doxxing women for mentioning GamerGate not bullying? How is attempting to threaten the livelihood of Gawker or Polygon or Gamasutra or individuals like Zoe Quinn not bullying? If GamerGate isn’t about being anti-feminist (and anti-trans and anti-queer), then it’s hard to understand why they are so quick to align themselves with so many people who are explicitly, even proudly misogynistic and anti-feminist? Both Return of Kings (an MRA site that’s explicitly anti-feminst) and A Voice For Men (ditto) were very quick to cozy up to GamerGate. Meanwhile, prominent and influential GamerGater-s and supporters include YouTube vlogger Thunderf00t (noted anti-feminist with a grudge against Anita Sarkeesian), Jordan Owen (ditto), Davis Aurini (ditto), Christina Hoff Summers (also anti-feminist), Milo Yiannopolis (anti-feminist and also, ironically, anti-gamer) and the aformentioned Mark Cernovich (MRA, anti-gamer and rape apologist). Why is it any mention of Quinn or Sarkeesian on 8chan or KotakuInAction inevitably followed by someone calling them a cunt or a slut or a whore? Even the way that GamerGate attempts to prove it’s “moved past” Quinn and Wu and Sarkeesian belies its claims to not be anti-feminist; by renaming them Literally Who, they’re effectively de-feminizing them, making them un-persons rather than women. And then of course, there’s the harassment issue…
A Few Bad Apples…
GamerGate-rs are very quick to insist that it’s anti-harassment.
Well, unless of course, the harassment is coming from one of their more prominent members like CameraGirl anyway…
But hey, apparently harassment is in the eye of the beholder, so as long as you don’t think it’s harassment, there’s no reason to call it out.
— Liquidzer0 (@liquidzer0) October 22, 2014
GamerGate polices its own. At least until it doesn’t. And even when harassment does occur, it’s not GamerGate’s fault. No matter how many examples that are presented – from Brianna Wu’s threats to the hordes who attacked an English teacher for writing an open letter on his personal blog about not harassing women, we are told over and over again that these are just some rogue elements and that GamerGate is firmly anti-harassment in all forms. This, of course, is the classic No True Scotsman fallacy – GamerGate is anti-harassment by definition, therefore anyone who harasses other people in the name of GamerGate can’t possibly be a GamerGate-r. QED. But this is precisely where GamerGate trips itself up. You see, because there is no (official) GamerGate leadership and because it’s a decentralized, disorganized movement, all GamerGate-rs are true GamerGate-rs by definition. If there is no standard of membership or official rolls to refer to, then anyone who claims to be a member of GamerGate is a genuine member. It’s nice to be able to disclaim those “rogue elements”, those “bad apples” when it’s convenient, but when you’ve set yourself up as being without central leadership, then you’ve left yourself to the mercy of anyone who chooses to align themselves with you and take up your banner. Easier then, to claim that these incidents are self-inflicted. Yes, the go-to response by GamerGate to accusations of doxxing, hacking and death threats is to literally say “she was asking for it.”
The other common accusation is to say that it was faked – a false-flag operation designed in order to make GamerGate look bad. In fact, you’ll see false-flag accusations fly repeatedly in conversations about GamerGate. Zoe Quinn getting doxxed and having nude photos spread? She did it to herself. Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu were chased from their homes by death threats? They faked it for the attention in order to discredit GamerGate.
If you were to listen to GamerGate, you would end up seeing more false flags than Alex Jones at a military parade in Tiananmen Square. Of course, this ends up biting GamerGate in the ass as well, as I’ll cover later on.
But more to the point: the actions of the so-called “rogue elements” of GamerGate benefit GamerGate as a whole. Even those who don’t take part – and I firmly believe that there are people of good intent who are involved in GamerGate – reap the rewards. Each person silenced by the attacks, each person who becomes afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation only serves to advance the GamerGate cause further; a net gain for the movement when they move on from individuals to larger targets like the Gawker network
It’s also fairly significant to note just how many of those aforementioned “bad apples” seem to be the movers and shakers of GamerGate. RogueStar and CameraGirl – both from the #burgersandfries IRC channel that coordinated the harassment of Zoe Quinn. Ben Spruill, who created the Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game. Todd Kincannon, former director of the South Carolina Republican party and serial sexual harasser. Davis Aurini, of The Sarkeesian Effect and “race realist”7 and many more. There may be no official leadership, but in the words of Orwell, “some people are more equal than others”.
And when those “bad apples'” hatred for The Literally Whos predates the existence of GamerGate… well, it’s harder and harder to deny the origins. Of course, no examination about the harassment of women by GamerGate would be complete without looking at the “good” that GamerGate does. After all, they’ll be very quick to complain that we’re ignoring it all, such as the money raised for The Fine Young Capitalist’s charity event or the way that GamerGate-rs flocked to give support to a suicidal female game developer. Of course, it’d be more impressive if that support of TFYC’s event hadn’t been all about PR and optics and the GamerGate mascot of Vivian James wasn’t a coded rape joke.
Similarly, it’d be nice if the support of Chloe Sagal hadn’t come after a solid hour of unrelenting harassment that drove her to become suicidal in the first place. The “good deeds” of GamerGate are all about the optics, a culture-jamming PR move that seeks to serve as a carbon-offset for all the harassment and threats that can be laid at GamerGate’s door. Like an ailing Medici, GamerGate is eager to buy indulgences in order to gain forgiveness for their previous misdeeds – as if destroying several women’s lives can be made better by throwing money at someone else.
The Fallacy of “Two Sides”
Whenever the topic of GamerGate’s misdeeds comes up, you will almost always hear that “there have been people on both sides who’ve done unpleasant things”. In fact, this is part of the genius of GamerGate – it’s a way of exploiting the blind spot of so many journalists who believe that objectivity means acting as if there are two sides to every story and their job is to present them uncritically. Except there aren’t two sides to GamerGate; it’s a false equivalence. There isn’t GamerGate and anti Gamer-Gate. There’s GamerGate – unified by their common cause and hashtag – and literally everyone else. There isn’t any organized or semi-organized “resistance” to GamerGate, no cabal of SJWs working together with militaristic jargon and cartoonishly-named “ops” coordinating efforts to push GamerGate back to the sea. There’s simply the multitude of independent voices shouting back, from gaming media to mainstream media. To anyone outside of the gaming community, GamerGate isn’t some noble cause or an understandable movement; it looks like a bunch of angry geeks shouting at women to get out of their clubhouse.
Try explaining GamerGate to someone who isn’t part of the gaming community. See how long it takes before you have to say “No, I’m being completely serious.” More to the point, however, is that the “both sides” argument is what’s known as the Tu Quoque fallacy. It’s about turning the argument around and accusing the other side of doing exactly what you are doing; this derails the conversation by putting the accuser on the defensive. Whether the other side is indeed equally as guilty or not has nothing to do with the validity of the original accusation. Whether people who oppose GamerGate are insulting members of GamerGate or not has no bearing on the fact that GamerGate-rs (who I will remind you, are anyone who identifies with the movement) are doxxing, gaslighting and harassing women, chasing them from their homes and threatening to kill them and others in order to silence them. I’ve seen people who oppose GamerGate call GamerGate-rs assholes. I’ve seen accusations of GamerGate-rs having been doxxed (which turned out to be exposing someone lying about their identity in order to avoid blame). I have yet to see someone who opposes GamerGate decide to sic a private investigator on a GamerGate supporter.
The closest I’ve seen to anything amounting to more than being rude to a GamerGate-r is Milo Yiannopoulos claiming to have received a syringe in the mail, presumably from someone who opposes GamerGate. But hey, how do we know it actually happened? How do we know he didn’t send it to himself in an attempt to discredit the anti-GamerGate movement? It’s clearly a false flag, because nobody who opposes GamerGate would do such a thing – therefore it’s clearly the work of a troll. Do I really think such things? Honestly no, despite my disinclination to trust Yiannopoulos to tell the truth if his life depended on it. But considering the alacrity with which GamerGate is willing to insist that the victims are lying, I’m unsure why, exactly, we’re expected to believe them when they say it happens to them as well. But then, GamerGate seems to disproportionately believe that what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander. One of the chief accusations against Anita Sarkeesian is that she’s a Fake Gamer Girl – apparently having said in 2010 that she wasn’t deeply into video games. Amusingly however, two of GamerGate’s current idols – Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich – have been explicitly disdainful about gaming… and a lot more recently than 2010.
I had never heard of “gaming media” until recently. Jesus Christ, guys, put down the fucking video games and stop reading retarded sites. — Mike Cernovich (@PlayDangerously) August 28, 2014
— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) October 20, 2014
Yiannopoulous, at least, has recognized the bad PR that his previous stances have taken and has gone out of his way to try to delete his anti-gamer tweets, including the ones where he accused Roger Elliot of having been motivated by games.
GamerGate-rs claim that Yiannopoulos and Cernovich had their “road to Damascus” moments and now are true believers… an impressive conversion considering how recent many of their comments were. Yet somehow, there is no world in which Anita Sarkeesian could have turned around and learned to love the artform of gaming because she dares to apply basic social and artistic criticism to them – in other words, treating them like the artform gamers have always claimed gaming could be.
There’s a quote here about motes and beams that comes to mind…
But in the end the idea that there are two sides to this is critical to GamerGate. After all, what good is a revolution when you don’t have anyone to revolt against? And you see, that’s where we come to the ultimate truth about GamerGate.
The (Non) Revolution Will Be Live-Tweeted
The truth about GamerGate is that, at its core, it’s a lie. There is no revolution. Revolutions are about change… and GamerGate is explicitly against change. GamerGate is about maintaining the status quo at all costs, even when natural market forces are prompting game developers to adjust and change.
When you dig through the arguments and multiple positions GamerGate has employed, you are left with the core beliefs: that gaming was fine as it was, that there was no sexism, politics or issues with representation, that any that did exist were the results of marketing to the base and therefore any change was an artificial disruption of the natural order of things.
The irony, of course, is that what GamerGate sees as an invasion – women, LGBTQ people and those Social Justice Warriors exerting influence over gaming – is in fact those same market economics adjusting to the natural and inevitable change in market demographics. Women now represent nearly half of the entire gaming market and, in fact, eclipse boys 18 years old and younger as gamers and consumers. By rights, those in GamerGate who wish to see game developers allowed to do their own thing and cater to the majority of players should be willing to accede to the wishes of the invisible hand of the free market. But they don’t. Women are seen as invaders and are treated as such. By terming GamerGate as a revolution against an outside force – one that has not only always existed but has always been part of gaming – it becomes a way of justifying the outsized levels of hostility women face in gaming culture simply because they are women. Extremisim in the defense of gaming is no vice, after all; it’s under the banner of a pseudo-revolution that people are able to excuse the horrible things being done in the name of GamerGate.
And like all revolutions (even mistaken ones), GamerGate has fallen prey to one of the oldest tropes – it has ceased to be about its stated goals (all of them) and has become about self-perpetuation and ideological purity.
No compromise. No negotiations. #GamerGate will not stop for anything less than what we’ve been asking for. YOU need US, not vice versa.
— randomfox (@randomfox) September 20, 2014
Moderates are being silenced because one doesn’t risk being insufficiently for GamerGate – not when this is about the soul of the status-quo. The only acceptable replies in the face of challenges are the pre-scripted ones. The enemies list only continues to grow, incorporating just about every major newspaper and news agency save Fox and Breitbart (convenient, seeing as Milo Yannopoulus is a Breitbart writer). Sites like Gamasutra and Gawker must be punished for their crimes of speaking out. Enemies must be revealed and castigated – even for the most specious and patently absurd of reasons. Anything that even hints about diversity must be drowned out with gish-galloping and vulgarity – even something as simple as an academic study.
And here’s the thing that makes GamerGate a tragedy: it had potential to be a force for good in gaming if it could have risen above and beyond its birth as a way of punishing Zoe Quinn for dumping Eron Gjoni. There are legitimate ethical concerns in gaming – in fact, here’s a convenient if incomplete list of them. But GamerGate can never rise above its core. The very logo is designed to be a reference to forcible rape. For all that moderates and people of good intent – and I firmly believe that there are many of them associating with GamerGate – may have legitimate concerns and truly abhor the threats and harassment from other GamerGate-rs, there is no getting around the fact that its origins are rotten and that the loudest voices have been raised in hate. You can’t declaim the harassers and misogynists when GamerGate has no leaders and no organization. It leaves you at the mercy of the ugliest among you and vulnerable to the vultures and grifters who have clearly been coopting GamerGate to their own ends. There are the “bad apples” and then there are the useful idiots who provide them cover.
The frustrating thing is, there’s so much more to talk about – the perils of identifying yourself by what you consume, the nonsensical aims of a consumer revolution targeting the enthusiast press instead of the ones who create and manipulate the consumerist culture, the misreading of the text, the misunderstanding of ethics and more. But in the end it comes down to this.
GamerGate is poison, from root to fruit. It can never succeed because there are no end goals, only shifting goal-posts that are as official as whomever happens to be using the hashtag wishes it to be. Its accomplishments have been driving women from their homes and bullying others into silence. For those who stand opposed to the vitriol and hatred… well, the only thing I can say is to stand strong and lend your voices to those who’ve been pushing back. This is an extinction burst, the last gasp as gaming changes and grows beyond its artificial boundaries.
Gamers could be more. Gamers could be better. If you truly wish to see gaming improve, then it’s time to leave GamerGate behind as the mistake it always has been. You need to form a new, organized group, one that’s truly opposed to harassment and is able to drive out the supposed rogue elements – not a movement with one face for PR and a dozen others in private. As long as GamerGate exists, it does more damage to gamers and gaming culture than any op-ed ever could.
It’s time to close the gate.
- Except it never has been… [↩]
- Yes, it’s an awkward metaphor. But like herpes, in the real world, people getting butthurt over, say, cultural criticism of video games would be a minor inconvenience instead of something capable of ruining people’s lives… [↩]
- The Montreal Massacre refers to Marc Lepine shooting 28 people at École Polytechnique, targeting women specifically. [↩]
- Because Quinn was accused of sleeping with 5 guys y’see and this is the level of creativity we’re dealing with… [↩]
- Which, incidentally, is my new 80s Saturday morning cartoon series [↩]
- Hey, this is the only time I’m going to be mentioned in the same breath as The New Yorker, let me savor it. [↩]
- which is code for “racist, but don’t want to call myself that” [↩]