I swear, I really do want to stop making posts about GamerGate. As interesting as it has been for me, I really need to get back to my own responsibilities. Not just that, but the GG people have pretty much won at this point - more people are talking about GamerGate than ever before, a lot of unethical behavior has been fully confirmed, and word has it that more people in the industry will be coming forward about their experiences after things calm down a little. Like a chess player who whittles her opponent down to just their king and queen, all that is left is the long and tedious process of chasing them around the board and trying for a final checkmate.
At the same time, though, I know there are still a lot of people out there who are confused on what this whole “GamerGate” thing is about. Tons of misinformation is going around, and you still see a lot of people saying things like “Isn’t this about getting rid of female developers? That’s what Kotaku told me!”. To combat the misinformation, I want to (hopefully) conclude my essay spree with a post about how this started, what happened, and where it is now.
So grab your sledgehammer, lonely Tumblr people, because a wall of text is coming.
Part 1: The Beginning
Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
-Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics
This all started off when a game developer’s ex came forward to purportedly warn people about the developer’s manipulative and deceptive behavior. He detailed the emotional abuse in their relationship and how it ultimately culminated in this discovery that she had secretly cheated on him with five different people before he had the common sense to break things off with her.
The whole thing would’ve ended there if not for one fact: she was a game developer, and at least one of the people she she was alleged to have slept with was a gaming journalist.
Whether the ex-boyfriend’s actions were cruel or brave is up for debate. In the time since I first started writing this post, I’ve had two separate abuse survivors talk to me about how uncomfortable and victim-blamey it is to see the ex-boyfriend being painted as a villain for speaking out. No matter where you stand on the ex-boyfriend himself, the important part is that - as far as readers were concerned - a game developer had an undisclosed relationship with a gaming journalist. People started looking into it, and digging for any potential conflicts of interest this could have caused. The most well-known analysis of the situation was the Internet Aristocrat’s “Five Guys Saga“ video, which currently carries over 36 thousand Likes. To make things worse, after the information was out, other people began to come forward to talk about abuse they had suffered from this developer - this is where we heard about things like her harassment and supposed press blacklisting of The Fine Young Capitalists or her alleged sexual harassment of developer Wolf Wozniak. Evidence was seemingly beginning to pile that something was up with this developer and her connections to the media.
Gaming journalism sites had to respond. At this point in time, we now know know that Journalists from the major gaming publications discussed it together and agreed that, rather than responding to concerns of journalistic conflicts of interest, they were going to focus on the harassment the developer received after the details of her sex life were outed. And indeed, when the news about this hit, there was no mention of journalistic corruption. Just “Female game developer harassed by internet misogynists”.
(Edit: for people who are apprehensive to believe the Breitbart link, there are members of the group confirming the messages real)
Part 2: Exacerbation
Journalists should be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
-Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics
The “conflict” that followed was as ridiculous as it was entertaining. Here you had a diverse group of people - many of them women or feminists - concerned about the potentially abusive (or arguably rapey) actions of a developer and whether the media was connected to it, and in response they were being labeled as misogynists. When people tried to speak out in protest, there suddenly came a new wave of simultaneous articles declaring that the “gamer” identity had become something bad - a ravenous swarm of disgusting, sexist white men who were only speaking out on this because they wanted to keep female developers out of the games industry. You saw a new hashtag arise on Twitter, “Describe a Gamer in Four Words”, where people created these strange portrayals of gamers as a caste of angry and childish white males.
The pushback came in the form of a counter-tag called “#NotYourShield”. Women and minorities of every kind who enjoyed gaming were encouraged to come forward and declare that they were not okay with journalists harassing gamers under the guise of "protecting women and minorities”. They argued that they were gamers, and that this portrayal of gamers as white men was nothing more than minority erasure. So, naturally, these people faced a whole new wave of accusations that they were fake accounts made by men, or commands of “if you’re really female, post a picture!”. When it was made clear that they were actually who they said, they were accused of being manipulated into defending a misogynistic cause - or, with some of the people who stood up, they were just harassed or hacked into silence. Even today, most news sources claim that the #NotYourShield tag was started as a “jamming tactic” by white gamers on 4chan, ignoring that its earliest use came from the anime reviewer Ninouh. Jason Miller, another black developer who is sometimes credited as the tag’s creator, was purportedly fired after someone from the internet contacted his boss.
Around this time, you also got this interesting influx of well-known Conservative personalities coming out in GamerGate’s defense. They claim that it’s because “the Right supports free speech”, but I think the actual truth is a much simpler one: they faced no consequences to standing up. Liberal or feminist personalities who stood up in GamerGate’s defense risked alienating fans or losing connections - Boogie2988 even came open about the fact that he was receiving threats to his career if he “continued to connect [himself] with a movement that is ‘increasingly being associated with harassment and misogyny’”. Even when I sent in formal complaints about some of the journalist’s conduct, I did it under an alias in fear that the writers would read the complaints and perhaps make good on their threats of career-ending slander. Conservative personalities, though, didn’t need to worry about things like that - to them, threats were just more evidence that all liberals are evil and irrational. So, they stood up.
Of course, the gaming journalism sites took this and tried to spin it as a liberal-versus-conservative issue. There was no mention of the threats or harassment someone on the Left could receive for supporting GamerGate, just the shallow observation that conservatives were standing up for it. Sometimes, the observation wasn’t even true - Kotaku ran an article about feminist Christina Sommers titled “Conservative Critic Argues That Gaming culture Is For Guys”. When it was pointed out to them that Sommers is a registered democrat and leans liberal, they edited the title to “Critic Argues That Gaming culture Is For Guys” - curiously leaving out any note of her political affiliations.
All through this, you still had people looking into that original question of whether developers were colluding with journalists. The curious lack of press coverage or even acknowledgement of this issue only caused them to redouble their investigative efforts. On one hand, this is probably what led to the continued harassment of several independent developers - which the gaming news outlets continued to report on as vigorously as they could. But on the other hand, the investigators began to scrape up evidence of actual legal wrongdoing. The Independent Games Festival, it turned out, might have had some games’ investors as judges. To quote developer Michael Vargas: “It’s one thing that I had participated in a rigged contest. It’s another that younger devs put college tuitions on the line, went into debt, made hours of sacrifices, all for a fraud and to send kickbacks to an indie clique”. Eventually people even uncovered evidence that could potentially place indie developer Phil Fish in prison - nobody knows what is going on with that now, since lawyers got involved and he deleted his Twitter.
This all eventually culminated in one games journalist contacting flaming conservative Milo Yiannopoulos and anonymously leaking the existence of “GameJournoPros” - a mailing list where competing gaming journalists could discuss issues in private. Milo’s article on the emails shows journalists dismissing the claims of journalistic favoritism toward the accused developer, while simultaneously agreeing to spin their articles in a way supportive of her and describing her as a “colleague”. At least one journalist in the group decries the actions as unethical and says he wants no part. Others discuss how they could use this to help the developer get positive PR - a curiously duplicitous move to support a developer who recently criticized 4chan for discussing how to best gain support.
Now, you pretty much just have confusion. There’s no clean, decisive victory in things like this. There are still people who only know about GamerGate from biased information delivered on gaming news sites. There are gaming journalists defending the GameJournoPros group, saying that it was just a gathering of friends and there was nothing unethical about it. On the flipside, you slowly have more developers and journalists coming forward to talk about their harassment or unethical actions, now that the tide is turning such that those who remain silent might be the ones remembered as being complicit. All that lies ahead is a slow and tedious cleanup as people without a voice band together to tediously correct misinformation one debate at a time.
Usually, something like this would just end with a few people getting fired. Sadly, gamers love going for the 100% completion score. Godspeed, journalists.
Part 3: Why I Care
Journalists should expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations. They should abide by the same high standards they expect of others.
-Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics
So, reading all this wordswordswords, you’re probably wondering: “why does this person care? And, why should I care?”.
If you read my blog, you know that I still consider myself to be a scientist. Truth is important to me, and discerning the truth means you must be able to judge the credibility and biases of information.
Just like academia has standards, so does journalism. Journalists are not just really popular bloggers - they have more credibility than the average person because we assume they abide by certain rules. We cite our sources and defend our beliefs and even write our own pieces using news articles as a reference - not because they are popular, but because we believe them to be more credible than the average internet blogger. When you have major public news sites publishing articles about how a bunch of gamers have been launching an organized harassment campaign at a female indie developer, it’s because the reporters got this info from sites like Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun, and assumed it was credible.
This whole fiasco has revealed that gaming journalists do not, in fact, abide by these standards, and in many cases probably don’t even understand them. They view themselves no differently than any popular Tumblr personality who uses their follower count to bully others - to quote professional gaming journalist Leigh Alexander: “Be careful with me. I am a megaphone. I am much less kind than [other journalists] and I won’t mind making an example out of you”. These are the popular kids who beat up gamers in high school, masquerading as journalists in a halfhearted attempt to do it again.
By all accounts, this blog is effectively a more credible source than sites Kotaku. I might have a hundredth of the followers they do, but at least I have a degree in the things I’m talking about rather than a degree in talking about things. As a standard blogger I have no obligation to abide by SPJ’s code of ethics, yet I still manage to abide by 32/35 of their edicts. Just going by information they’ve admitted to during this, sites like Kotaku stand at 6/35. People need to know this before regarding these sites as any more credible than hearsay.
Yes, it sucks that a female game developer got harassed - it sucks when anyone gets harassed. But she is a popular, public figure. It is unethical for journalists to focus on her harassment while being knowingly complicit in silencing people she harassed. Journalists are supposed to give “voice to the voiceless”, not say things like “I do feel that there is some legitimate public interest in a game developer being attacked by the internet”.
I admit, though, there is another reason I care about this too.
Gaming is not a big deal. The gaming journalism industry is small and poor, and they don’t have the money or experience to launch any major information coverup or maintain a sizable conspiracy. This whole thing has been a sloppy and pathetic attempt at a real conspiracy.
And yet, people are still falling for it.
Sure, it might not matter now. A news site can declare “gamers are misogynists! We need to push back!” and the worst that will happen is some people get bullied on the internet or mailed an ominous syringe. But what happens when the news declares “Egyptians are terrorists! We need to attack!”? What happens when you have actual collusion and falsified information, headed by professionals, guiding you to political conclusions? \
The manipulation tactics people have fallen for over the course of GamerGate are appalling in their simplicity. You see people using grouping as a call to arms - “you’re a social justice warrior. If you want to keep being one, you need to stand against these misogynists with me”. You see harassment and threats given to people who speak out - before the syringe, Milo Yiannopoulos was sent 90 rolls of toilet paper as a presumed message of “I know where you live (and you’re shit)”. You see people using guilt by association - citing Adam Baldwin’s homophobic statements and how he’s a GamerGate supporter - or relying on the Genetic Fallacy - pointing out how much of this started on 4chan and claiming that ruins its credibility. I swear you even see fucking negging: people getting hit with these subtle implications that they’re inherently racist or overprivelaged, but that they can counteract it a bit by opposing GamerGate. Negging, for God’s sake!
If you want a picture of how sloppy this entire operation is, consider this for a moment: there is no name for people who are against GamerGate. People who oppose abortion, for example, get the cheerful title of “Pro-Life”, but people who oppose GamerGate aren’t pro- anything. They can say “I’m pro-safety in the games industry”, but then GamerGate people just reply “so are we. We want people to be able to speak without losing their jobs”. They could say “I’m pro-women in gaming”, but then GamerGate people point out that they are too, and funded The Fine Young Capitalists after they were DDos’d and slandered by journalists and their friends. If they say they’re against harassment, the GamerGate people will point out that they have been actively calling out harassers in their own ranks while their opposition hasn’t. The anti-Gamergate people can’t even claim they’re “pro-representation in media” because, as people have pointed out, the gaming journalism clique is predominantly white men. #NotYourShield was created (and promptly ignored) because minorities were pissed off at these people’s claims to “represent” them. The only position anti-GamerGate people have is that they are against GamerGate. Sometimes, they even endorse all its goals but are pushed to stand against it anyway.
And this is all so easymode. We are better than this; these are manipulation tactics that should be harmlessly bouncing off anyone who graduated highschool. I’m glad that GamerGate seems to be winning, but understand: we need to be able to win harder. We need to learn from this, and become resistant to these methods. There are bigger enemies all around us, and we can’t afford to waste this much time struggling to beat the rat in the starting dungeon.
While writing these essays on GamerGate, I got a piece of fanmail from someone near Russia. He said that my writings and analysis of GamerGate were helping him question and confront the media coverage of the Ukranian crisis. “While bullets fly in our neighbour’s eastern parts, an information war is waged in traditional and electronic media and frankly, it’s terrifying.” This is the sort of thing we need to prepare for, and our track record following this GamerGate thing is pretty abysmal.
The dumbest part is, people who oppose GamerGate because they want to talk about sexism or misogyny in gaming aren’t even helping that conversation happen. There are people on both sides who really do want to talk about those issues, but it’s hard to do it when the media won’t even acknowledge women on the GamerGate side of things are getting doxxed, harassed, and blacklisted for not fitting the journalists’ model of how a woman “should act”. If we had just stood together and held journalists and their friends accountable for their wrongdoings without letting them subtly change the subject to harassment and misogyny, we could have moved on from this and all started talking about those other issues together. Heck, as soon as enough people stand up, that’s probably how it will play out anyway.
I’m not the kind of person who likes to 100% games. I can see a gold coin laying on a table and I won’t even take it unless my character is short on cash, and I’m not going to keep writing about GamerGate while gamers go through the long and arduous process of dissuading site’s advertisers to pull out and getting people fired. If you’re interested in staying on top of things, there are people obsessed enough to do daily updates on the happenings. Please understand, though: we need to get faster at this. We need to get more resilient, keeping manipulation like this from having a leg to stand on to begin with. In the future, lives will depend on your ability to see through lies and discern the credibility of information sources. You can’t always afford to take this long.
But, to everyone who questioned this stuff from the very beginning, stood against harassment and misogyny even when the news itself was calling you a misogynistic harasser, and endeavored to give a voice to the voiceless even when the media tried to stomp them out: rock on. The world needs people like you.