At this point I’ve mostly stepped back from the “GamerGate” stuff, content to watch this thing unfold on its own. I’m still rooting for them, though, and I think many of the critics don’t quite understand the personal significance it has come to carry for a lot of people.
The way I see it, you basically have three groups here: minorities who are being silenced by people purporting to speak in their defense, independent creators whose abuse is being hidden because they don’t fit the narrative of “scared but brave hipster underdog who needs you donations to prevail”, and gamers who are just really confused about how Gone Home can get a 9/10 for its artistic value despite having less literary depth than a mediocre fanfic. With GamerGate, all of these people have suddenly come forward and realized that they are not alone - that there are others out there who feel the exact same way and have the exact same criticisms. And the dangerous part of this is, these people have started connecting. They’re building a niche.
Looking from the outside, you don’t really see this. You see all these articles about how GamerGate is a bunch of misogynists trying to remove women from gaming, or how they’ve weaponized minorities by getting them to stand up in support, or how this is all some ploy started by 4chan to troll an indie developer. But that’s kind of the point: you’re only hearing from the people who “fit the narrative” - the brave white men and women sticking up their clueless minority friends, true-arteest developers who take a noble stand against these aged ideas that games are nothing more than a fun distraction, and sophisticated interactive media enthusiasts. These people benefit from this strange narrative they have created, and they’re all scared, because we’re talking. When you’re trying to hold together a fragile structure with you on top, people talking is the worst thing that can happen.
And what can they do in response? Erase us? Slander us? We were used to that shit before this even started. The only difference is that now we’re not alone.
Of all the GamerGate things I’ve seen, this article by Brad Wardell is the one I’d say I connect to most strongly. The whole piece is worth a read, but this is the part I want to talk about in particular:
I always wanted to write a book and I did. It’s a fantasy novel. I.e. Humans, Orcs, Elves, etc. type stuff. Random House even published it. Pretty cool eh? WRONG: My book was nothing but a thinly disguised racist screed on the need for building a border fence to keep the darkies out. At least, that’s what I’m told.
So the wife of one of the people who [disagreed with me on a forum] (who was, btw, the original editor-in-chief of Kotaku – I must have missed the article with the headline “Former Kotaku editor banned for stalking, harassing game developer”), wrote a fake review of my book which claimed that it was a racist book in which the heroes were building a fence to keep dark-skinned people out.
Only one problem: My book has no fence and there are no dark-skinned people in the book. They made it up. Completely.
If you read my blog, you know that I talk about slander a lot. It’s kind of a big deal! There comes a point in every creator’s career where you have to make a choice: remain quiet and mysterious like a silent black box that prints out artwork, or speak your mind and deal with slander from cult-like idealogical groups that disapprove of your statements. My dedication to documenting my experiences pretty much consigned me to the latter option from the get-go; ideological groups have a strange problem with people speaking from personal experience.
However, Wardell’s article struck a chord with me, because all of a sudden I was hearing someone else describe almost my exact same experiences. I mean, yeah, I’m typically slandered for different things than he was - the most common (and funniest) piece of misinformation being this idea that I pay collaborators in restaurant gift cards. But as ridiculous as they are, these ideas still spread. They originate with someone who has beef with me, they shift and grow over time as their source is forgotten, and eventually they reach the point where they can cause actual harm. Here’s a screencap of a programmer from Bethesda Softworks believing that rumor. That’s disappointing! I like Beth.
Look at the comments on Wardell’s article, though. There are a lot of people shocked, saying “I totally believed that stuff about your story being racist!”. They didn’t believe these things because they came from a trusted source, but rather because they never fathomed they might be untrue. There’s a similar piece out there from the creator of Orion: Dino Horde. I admit I legitimately believed those stories about him failing to pay his employees - I read them on Kotaku, why wouldn’t I? Looking back at it now, I feel terrible for giving that site the benefit of the doubt.
This is what I see in GamerGate, and why I continue to support it. It’s bringing these people together - the Brad Wardells and the David Prassels and all their fans who follow their work - and making them realize that, yeah, they have a common enemy. It’s making me realize that, yeah, I have a common enemy with the two of them. And it’s making others see the same.
Part of the reason I write so much on Tumblr about manipulation and social tactics is because it’s my personal response to the inevitable slander I know I will face my entire career. I want you to be able to think critically, check sources, and question rumors you hear, because I know I’m not really harboring any horrible wrongdoings. I could lay all my darkest secrets on the table, and all you’d be left with are some serious and valid questions about my taste in literature. But if I can increase your critical thinking ability - if I can get you to question the things you hear - then slander will be powerless against me. And you. And all of us.
So if I’m proposing this idea that GamerGate is a fundamentally good thing where lots of gamers and devs are connecting over their collective silencing, how do I explain this continually reinforced idea that it’s some misogynistic 4chan scheme to keep gaming limited to straight white males? Why would I continue to support this when there are so many flagrant misogynists and homophobes who seem to be doing the same?
Bear in mind, I consider myself a scientist. Part of that is that I read journal articles about studies and stuff, but the bigger part is that I have to go on to bear witness to this data horribly represented in popular media that barely understands it. As a consumer of popular media, it’s important for you to understand that information follows a pattern:
You start out with one claim. Maybe a small study, or a piece of slander, or even just an opinion someone puts forth. People report on this or spread it. People report on the articles reporting on this. People spread it without checking the original source. And eventually, someone comes along to make a claim similar to the original idea that started it all, but now they have a ton of references to support them. The average reader doesn’t trace this back and discover that it all comes down to a game of telephone originating with one undergraduate student’s experiment - they just see ten sources listed at the end of an article. They believe it.
This isn’t some hypothetical scenario; this is something that happens all the time and is super annoying. It can be scary, too, when you find something like a stable loop in article references - that is to say, you find a complete circle of articles referencing eachother such that there literally is no original claim. One of our greatest failings as a culture is that we’ve come to value the idea of sources without actually checking the sources. It’s a playground for harmful manipulators.
Think, for a moment, about the articles you’ve seen in favor of and against GamerGate. When you see something defending GamerGate, it tends to bring in diversity. It talks about #NotYourShield - this idea that people from all walks of life are standing up together in defense of their shared “Gamer” identity. It brings up the number of developers who have spoken out in the movement’s defense, the variety of people who have gotten Doxx’d for supporting it, and how many news outlets seem to be colluding to keep a negative image of this.
And what do you hear about from GamerGate opposition? Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.
Like, really think about this for a moment. When people are attacking GamerGate, how often do they bring up the number of people on their “side” who are negatively effected? How often do you hear about “social justice warriors” getting harassed for speaking out? The focus remains solely on this small group of Damsels In Distress and all the harassment they are getting, with countless news sources reporting on this horrible wrongdoing, referencing eachother’s articles about it, and creating this huge, incestuous tangle almost entirely derived from two people’s experiences.
Meanwhile, creators like Devi Ever just don’t get mentioned at all. She’s too confident. She’s too ugly. She’s too trans. She doesn’t fit this narrative of the pretty and punkish white cisgender girl standing up against frothing, stupid oppressors, so she doesn’t get media attention. That means there are no articles referencing articles referencing articles, so her problems don’t seem big at all.
This is not okay! This is like the opposite of okay! This is the kind of thing we should be really upset about! The whole idea of GamerGate being this sexist campaign to keep women out of gaming is predominantly focused around these two women who get a constant stream of press coverage about their problems. Heck, let’s not water this down: these are two women who got their visibility from the media portraying them as victims. You don’t hear about the harassment of people that aren’t them. Why isn’t Devi a victim? Why isn’t Wardell? Or heck, Prassel? Orion: Dino Horde is the saddest underdog story ever told. The game tries so hard.
And furthermore, take a step back and compare the actual tactics used in this. On the GamerGate side of things, you have people speaking out, sharing their experiences, trying to persuade critical figures to support them. And yeah, you have some people advocating horrible things, too. But on the flipside of that, you have their opposition doing shutdown tactics. You have employers threatening to fire people if they speak out, you have men handing out prizes to people who tweet stuff like “I <3 GamerGate AND rape”, and you even have this continual push to stereotype everyone who stands up for it as misogynists, and encourage people who aren’t misogynists to break off and start their own movements. These are very traditional tactics used to keep dissenters from organizing. Just seeing this should skeeve people out regardless of who they support.
So okay, let’s say for a moment you oppose GamerGate. I don’t really care your reasoning; that’s your business. You feel like they’re doing something bad and you want to stop them. How do you fight their movement without accidentally being an erasive fuckwad?
The answer: you lace it with people who you can count on to defend your interests and move it in the right direction.
If you’re worried GamerGate is secretly this 4chan conspiracy to keep women out of gaming, then give power to the women who support it. Rather than acting like they’re animals with no agency who have been deceived into helping the enemy, give them the benefit of the doubt as human beings. Draw attention to it when they face harassment from anti-GamerGate people. Give them a voice, because the media sure as hell isn’t.
Are you worried they’re a bunch of racists trying to keep gaming a predominantly white hobby? Then let’s support some of the fucking black advocates of GamerGate. You know, those people with darker skin who you’re purportedly trying to protect? You might not know this, but it turns out they can actually talk on their own, and by drawing attention to them you can help combat an overly white-centric media.
Trans? Let’s talk about Devi Ever again. If you wanna talk art games that push the envelope of what a “game” can be, she literally made a game where you watch a dead cat decay for ten minutes. No one in the media is gonna bring up her qualms about the game industry and her advocacy for GamerGate. Like she said in her video, she doesn’t fit in the story they’re trying to tell.
What I’m saying is: if you’re going to make this big play of Social Justice and standing up for minorities, then actually stand up for some minorities who need visibility, not these weird media-approved Avatars of Feminism. If you think GamerGate is overwrought with racism/sexism, then help it drown out its racist/sexist parts by giving voice to those who aren’t. Don’t hand your megaphone to the bad parts. Yes, believe it or not, YOU’RE the one who decides who has a voice, and you’re doing a pretty shitty job.
And no, retweeting about the harassment of your Media Approved Feminist Icon doesn’t make it any better.
I know I’ve written this before, but GamerGate won the moment it planted the seeds of a niche. It built solidarity between developers who shared a love of their audience. It built solidarity between creators who had been suffering the same kind of harassment. And, perhaps most notably, it built solidarity between people who were just tired of having their voice taken away because of who they were. They were all gamers, and the industry was hurting them.
This isn’t something you can go back from. You can’t just convince people “no, this was a trick! You are still alone” (though there have certainly been some entertaining attempts to do just that). They’ve realized they’re not alone, and people who realize they’re not alone build industries. Now that it’s out, people aren’t just going to willingly sit down and say “I’m sorry, my opinions don’t matter after all, you were right to speak for me”.
I don’t know where this is going to go. I’ve already explained that I’ve pretty much won either way. Personally, I hope this culminates in a large push for free speech, in particular getting visibility to creators, activists and minority groups that usually get thrown under the bus. I hope it brings more people to question their choice to rally behind fallible figures rather than ideas. I hope it encourages people to follow information back to its source before spreading it. More realistically, though, we’re probably just going to see a lot of popular people act like complete dicks in public and get ridiculed for it repeatedly ever after.
There is one idea I think is important to hold on to, though: question everything. Whether information comes from someone you trust or someone you’ve never met, take some basic steps to confirm it. You have no obligation to believe people, and anyone who tries to tries to shame you for skepticism is a badguy. Like, I am hesitant to use terms of objective good/bad, but I feel there is no question about this. It’s nothing more than an attempt to remove your agency.
In fact, even if you believe someone, try showing some skepticism and seeing how they react. If someone knows they are right, skeptics are a powerful ally they know will likely end up on their side and stay there. If someone knows they’re wrong, a skeptic is a dangerous enemy who will turn on them the moment they slip up. You can learn a lot about someone by how they react.
(And, again, seriously: always check facts. When I work with a paid collaborator I always give them more than they ask. I wish the people who spread those rumors about me would actually talk to people I’ve paid.)