GamerGate: The Reckoning

Over the past several weeks a dedicated group of individuals have taken to Twitter to voice their outrage and frustration over current trends in the video game industry and journalism.

Some say they are simply a misogynist group of harassers hell-bent on pushing those who disagree with them out of the industry. People in the movement themselves claim they are fighting against corruption in the industry. Just like every story, there is some grain of truth to both sides.

In my last post, it was a call of peace. Our love of games and the industry should be enough to stop all of this gamer vs. gamer in fighting. Both sides of this issue have stooped to baseless name-calling and irrational anger that goes beyond simple trolls.

Total Biscuit, famous YouTuber and game blogger, stated that Twitter is a terrible way to communicate these messages. The standard 140 character limit only allows you to take a very specific stance, which is what sparked a lot of this Us vs. Them mentality. I am inclined to agree with that. However, there is a lot more going on here so let’s jump in and see if I can unravel this some.

Harassment

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Harassment and misogyny are very real things that happen.  Anita Sarkeesian was one of the more famous examples. More recently it has taken on other forms. Several journalists, many women, have been harassed to the point of them leaving game journalism. That is a problem. That is a kind of mob censorship and bullying that should never take place.

Professional journalists are people too. They have feelings, families, careers, and colleagues. When someone they know, trust, or care about is being attacked regardless of the reason, people will get defensive.

The form of harassment I see happening more publicly is simply spamming Twitter feeds. I have made public statements on this issue only to have my notifications spammed by dozens of people claiming I was wrong and demanding my time. Remember some professional courtesy here, you are not entitled to anyone’s time.

I have tried to cut off these conversations due simply to not achieving anything and being stuck in circular arguments, but often the desire to get in the final word has made it difficult and often there are replies long after I disengaged from the conversation.

I could mention things about Zoe Quinn, but honestly I do not have an opinion on her or her work. I am simply not very familiar. I never played her game “Depression Quest” and I have never met her nor have I had any conversations with her so anything I would add here would be hearsay and that is not fair to her or anyone else.

Gamers Are Dead

There have been a number of articles on this topic. Due to the very obvious demographic shifts and the very vocal members of the community fighting those changes, the term gamer is an evolving definition.

I had a conversation with a person on GamerGate who claimed that this was a form of harassment and the vilification of an entire group of people. I have also heard this called hate speech and calls for boycotts of websites running that content.

I can say it is none of those things. Gamers exist. They have since games existed, and likely will continue to exist. However, the culture that surrounds those gamers will change and hence the definition of what a gamer is will shift along with it.

Any technology industry is in a constant cycle of changes. Changes in technology and accessibility will change the demographics and ultimately change the user base.

I am a devout PC gamer. A few years ago when consoles were dominating retail sales and it looked like consoles were receiving more AAA games than PC coupled with the rise of the tablet a common view a few years ago was that PCs were going to die. Industry trends supported it so it was a logical conclusion. Again, this is a technology industry and it changes fast.

I certainly disagreed, which is one reason why I started blogging. There was a consensus that I disagreed with and I wanted to share my voice and opinion on the matter and so did many others.  CNN, Kotaku, The Escapist, Forbes, Gamespot, and N4G all ran articles claiming PC gaming or the PC in general was dead.

Fast forward a few years, not only is the PC not dead but are in fact thriving. New data suggests the tablet sales are decreasing and PC sales have been going up.

Saying “gamers are dead” is not harassment but rather that author’s opinion based on current trends. The culture surrounding it is changing. Maybe it will evolve into a new term or take on a new meaning that is hard to say. It is not hate speech. If you read my last post you will see how my love of games evolved.

I do not think anyone truly thinks that this will be the death of an industry or really the death of gamers. The phrase has been used, in general, as allegory for the culture and demographic shifts. I would say that the language is inflammatory and does not help an already volatile situation, but it is a valid stance even if I do not entirely agree with its use.

The Straw Man Cometh

My immediate problem with what has been going on is how often straw man arguments come up, on both sides. A straw man argument is as follows: The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.

This is what I see happening time and time again. Let’s take the gamers are dead example:

Person A: Gamers are dead
Person B: That is harassment and a form of abuse
Person B: Gamers are not dead and are thriving
Therefore: Clearly you hate games and gamers

This is basically how all of these arguments have gone down. It ends with attacking the person not the position, which is why this fallacy is in particularly destructive and unproductive. This has been happening on both sides of this so please note this is not one sided.

It misrepresents or oversimplifies the argument and it always ends in personal attacks. No serious discussions can take place if this is the discourse people always fall back on.

Corruption

This is where I will have to take a stronger stance. I come from a journalism background. I know very well the uneasy relationship between advertisers and the media. If you want to maintain a long term publication they are a necessary evil. This does not make an organization corrupt.

However, obviously these websites often advertise products that they review. It is hard to say whether or not that has an impact on the final scores but in some cases it very well may. That is something worth examining. There is also always a push for publications and advertisers to keep advertising relevant to the audience of that site, which means generally most ads you see will be game related.

If the New York Times for example runs ads for Ford, and refuses to run stories on Ford recalls, that would be a problem. (Not saying this happened it is just an example) In that same vein, this is also why some Newspapers or publications rely on third parties (freelancers) for reviews to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

Game journalism though is a different entity. Unlike news journalists at major publications, game journalism is an enthusiast press. Therefore knowing people in the industry is often imperative to getting information before other outlets. It allows for exclusive coverage of events and interviews.

There does exist a potential that coverage will be altered or influenced to maintain that access, that is why some care does need to be taken. Bad press can alter and dissolve those relationships, and is something Jim Sterling admitted happened when his review of “Colonial Marines” went live.

I have heard also a lot of talk of disclosure. Some even suggesting that writers disclose their previous affiliations and organizations they worked for, but taking it further and claiming they reveal all sources, professional relationships, and industry contacts. This is somewhat unreasonable.

Writers will not post their resume and contacts most of the time. There are even laws called shield laws that allow journalists to keep contacts they have confidential.  Most organizations though will disclose this on bio pages.

I do not believe game journalism is inherently corrupt. There are obviously some areas that do need to be addressed that are very industry specific.

I am sure there are some journalists who know game developers they have backed on Kickstarter or backed other writers or projects on Patreon, this can create a potential conflict of interest if they have to write a piece on it later. I think there is room for some improvement in regards to projects like this.

There are very real and legitimate discussions to be had here. The hashtag #gameethics that has had a lot of great discussion on the issues and you should definitely give it a look.

Not Corruption

One distinction I will make though is some on GamerGate what they say is that they wish to control the narrative of game journalism. They just want to “vidya” and do not want politics or gender studies to be a factor. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Anyone is free to indulge or ignore whatever content they wish. This sentiment came from a few conversations I personally had with several people on #GamerGate.

It seems what these people want is to control the general narrative of game journalism and efforts have been taken to push those out who do not adhere to that narrative. That is wrong. Pushing creative people out of the industry is a form of bullying, something people on GamerGate claim to deny.

Writers themselves are a very diverse group with different opinions. I personally find cultural studies of games interesting. It opens up an entire venue for real academic study of games outside of those who produce and consume them. This is an absolute must if we ever want the industry to improve and grow and be taken seriously as an art form.

Stifling someone’s right to talk and resorting to personal attacks is harmful to the industry and everyone in it. No one wins.

You can however have a dissenting opinion. If you do, share it with others. Focus on the issue and the arguments and why you feel that interpretation is wrong.

No two people will like the same film for the same reasons. Same applies to games. If you want to turn your brain off then no one is stopping you from seeing the next Roland Emmerich movie over a narrative piece like “The King’s Speech.”

Someone writing something you disagree with or something you feel is even inherently inflammatory or “click bait” is not a sign or corruption. It is a sign that we are all unique individuals with different thoughts.

Conclusions

The reality of what is going on here is hard to pin point because the opinions within that group can vary drastically. This makes real analysis of these groups even more problematic. A lot of care has should be taken to not lump anyone into groups, sadly that is what has happened.

Terms like “Social Justice Warrior” or “Men’s Rights Activist” are commonplace. To me these are rather ambiguous terms that lump people into categories that I feel over simplifies the whole argument and discussion.

I do not believe the whole of the GamerGate movement are misogynists. That would be generalizing. I do think there is a lot of misunderstanding going on.

Saying some games are misogynist does not mean gamers themselves are. Story tropes in video games do exist and even has resulted into self-referential humor in some titles.

Video games do not exist in a vacuum. That means that games are pieces of culture and are representative of the society that produced them. It also means that games are not limited to influencing only gamer culture. Games as a cultural force are spreading way beyond the core group of gamers and the game industry. That is what happens when a medium becomes a mass medium.

Much of this can be summed up by saying that games and gamers are having some growing pains. People who have been here all along need to find their place and indeed their voice among a new more diverse generation of gamers.

Some people are fighting to maintain the status quo; some are fighting to change the status quo. What I see happening is people drawing lines in the sand forcing others to take a stance. We are all autonomous people capable of making up our own minds.

We will not think the same, act the same, or like the same things for the same reasons, regardless of your individual stance, we are all gamers. We all love games. We need to nourish that fact instead of forcing divisive community in-fighting.

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