If you don’t know what #GamerGate is, you should be glad. It’s awful. Here’s a summary if you don’t know.
Here’s my TL;DR for you:
1. Over the last couple years, a few feminists have been pointing out that many video games perpetuate sexist stereotypes about women, and make little room for women in their stories and gameplay. The locus of this conversation has been Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency video channel. When Sarkeesian decided to make a series of videos about women in games a couple years ago, some members of the “gamer” community lost its mind, and many members of it began harassing her relentlessly, triggering the Streisand effect and getting Sarkeesian far more money than she would have gotten originally (full disclosure, I pitched in $10 specifically because of this harassment). The abuse and harassment has not stopped for Sarkeesian in the time since her project began.
2. Sometime recently, the ex-boyfriend of a game developer named Zoe Quinn posted a long rant about what an awful person he thought she was, and she suddenly became the object of all sorts of viciousness and abuse from the net’s most visible denizen of ne’er-do-wells, 4chan’s /b/ forum. As part of this vitriol, accusations were made that Quinn used sex to advance her games and/or get favorable reviews from game journalists.
3. Hence, #GamerGate, a scandal about games journalism and corruption in game reviewing. Supposedly. Except that the hate, vitriol, harassment, abuse, and threats against women are inextricably linked with the people mad about how game reviews are written. And the loci from which the discussions of the scandal spring are the same, so there’s no way an outsider could understand or see how the individuals inside those groups imagine them to be different.
My intent in writing this piece is not to argue the merits of game journalism corruption, nor to condemn the harassment of women in the gaming industry (which I do hereby condemn) but rather to think about the way the denizens of #GamerGate have handled the accusations that it’s a front for women-harassing assholes. I have three anecdotes and a thought to share.
1. I was a Boy Scout as a kid, and I have a lot of fond memories of the organization. But in the last twenty years, a conservative arm of the group has taken over leadership of it and made a number of terrible policies excluding gay leaders and scouts. I find these decisions appalling, and not in keeping with either the spirit of inclusiveness that is supposed to be at the heart of scouts, nor with the non-demoninational morality the group claims to have. Hence, because I disagree with these prominent choices associated with the group, I’ve withdrawn my support of it, and won’t be involved with it.
2. In 2010, when a lady was caught on video throwing a cat in a trash can, 4chan found and published her identifying information in less than 24 hours. Apparently they sent threats and other horrible things her way while they were at it, but my point here is that when they’re angry, this roving group of nuclear id can bring powerful pain down on people they don’t like. If they really cared about the individuals harassing women in the name of #GamerGate, they would self-police. Send a threatening tweet? Feel the fury of 4chan. They have shown themselves to be resourceful, active detectives of the digital sphere. Failure to act against bad actors in their midst speaks volumes.
3. Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange features a third act (or fifth? I can never tell which is which) that Stanley Kubrick left out of the film. The narrator serves his time in prison and tries to return to his old ways, only to find that he’s outgrown them. He finds that uncivilized behavior, while appealing to youth, creates a false present-hedonism that hampered his ability to be a human being as he grew. It’s a moment of growth that’s missing from the film. We learn that groups of young men are particularly good at getting one another to do awful things, but in the long run, those awful things undermine society and the very humanity of the people committing them.
But then I saw this comic (via @granitetide), and it sums up much of what the casual observer will think about #GamerGate.
A final thought:
As Ken White at Popehat has often written, the answer to speech we don’t like is more speech. Individuals who use their power to try to stop other people from speaking should be opposed with all the strength we can muster, as hampering free and open dialogue cuts to the core of what makes America great. But the constitutional right to say whatever you like does not mean such statements are ethical or moral. Words have meaning, and have an effect on the people at whom they’re directed. To associate with people who are acting unconscionably is to endorse that behavior. The #GamerGate label has been poisoned from the beginning. It was always-already infused with women-hating harassment, and any attempt to claim a higher ethical purpose cannot be extricated from these roots.If you don’t like how games journalism works, write about games journalism. If you don’t like the tale that Sarkeesian is telling about how games work, critique that tale. But to threaten her and her supporters, to harass and frighten opposition across the web, and to demand that people join your worldview or face terror is to forego freedom for tyranny.