I think I figured out what has been bothering me about #gamergate. Here’s what I know in an oversimplified narrative:
1. Several journalist gamers (virtually all women) were victims of doxing and bullying online for writing about video games as if it were the mature, mainstream medium that it has become over the last 20 years. The bullying included slander and death threats. Many gamers came to their defense and became victims themselves of doxing and bullying.
2. Several gamers (predominantly men) argued that the aforementioned gamers are lying, cheating, man-hating whores who are manipulating and transforming the gaming industry to be something that it isn’t. They also argue about “journalistic ethics” and use vicious language to attack the aforementioned gamers and the media for getting the story completely wrong, because it is they who are the victims. Then more name-calling.
3. A bunch of gamers (of both sexes) now argue from a political position opposite from what the movement appeared to be in the beginning. Many in this group also seem to argue that this whole thing has absolutely nothing to do with sexism or shaming (because “who actually believes death threats online anyway”), or perhaps it is reverse sexism and shaming.
In the midst of these three groups are a swirling of issues that may or may not be at odds with one another, including video game journalism. Several of the threads include an argument that video game journalism was long ago corrupted, another that video game reviews need to be one word: “good” or “crap” and move on. We don’t need any of this commentary about what the game is actually about, whether or not its derivative or even how it compares with other media. The sexier line of thinking is the culture war critique, arguing that video games are not supposed to be a mainstream, inclusive medium and that cultural and feminist critique of games are an unwelcome blight on video game websites.
Getting to the real gamergate is nearly impossible, because the part you will focus on depends on what you want to see.
One related(?) story gave me pause a couple of months ago, however. It was an episode of TLDR about the video game journalist, Alanah Pearce, who was getting viciously harassed by gamers, only to find out they were middle-school boys. She sought out one boy’s mother and told her what he was writing (about raping her). The Mom handled it really well. The boy apologized to Pearce and totally confessed to just doing what he thought was cool.
I wonder if we are getting this story really wrong. That the culture at odds is not the cultural subject of the culture war, but the potential culture of a world with ubiquitous video gaming and its leading voices aren’t easily identified.
If you take any time to wade through the BS, it seems as if the mainstream media has a better understanding of the touchstones of the story now, but they don’t seem to get how much of the verbiage surrounding gamergate has muddied the waters and left people arguing about different movements at the same time. Or that this may have been intentional.
The media, for their part, seem to be taking the threats seriously, but they are too quick to judge, narrowing those who support #gamergate into the dated Culture War critique: perhaps not recognizing that many have no affinity for what drove the culture war in the 1980s or that many of them actually are liberal & libertarian in political leanings, but thinking that gaming in general is somehow under attack (such is the effectiveness of muddying the waters).
What bothers me most, however, is that #gamergate isn’t just another part of the tired culture war, but is being used as justification to normalize bullying and hate speech in a way that passes for generic politics in a niche medium. It is, in fact, public shaming, aggressive sexism and bullying, and the justification of truly abhorrent behaviors under the cloud of anonymity and the specter of a righteous cause.
I am more worried about the culture that this movement inhabits: a culture that does involve sexism and uses tactics that harm people’s actual lives and threaten their livelihood for their political cause, rather than the true veracity of their work.
And all with the snide self-satisfaction of “protecting” gaming. Regardless of the claims of the #GamerGaters, it is their actions that matter much more.
But mostly, I’m concerned with what this does to bullying: it seems to champion certain types of bullying. Encouraging us to ignore some bullying while looking at others with a sense of false equivalency that “both sides” are bullying. Regardless, I fear that bullying, intentional or not, is more likely to be the norm than the outlier.
[adapted from an original Facebook post and edited from its original.]