I’ve tried for a long time to ignore this whole #GamerGate thing, but I can’t go on with it anymore. The movement has become a serious threat to variety in games, to independent game journalism, to freedom of speech on the internet, and to everybody who dares to stand up against them. At the same time, there is a lot of justified, well-researched criticism of the movement, the criminal network at its very core, the methods used by the more rabid GamerGators (a word I just made up. Neat, huh?) and the impact they have on the gaming community. This, however, is mostly limited to private blogs of devs or journalists, while the big gaming websites either completely ignore it or try to cover it from a “neutral” standpoint.
Unfortunately, the time for neutrality has passed. GamerGate is a mob and has been a mob pretty much from day one. The things they do – threatening murder and rape, telling people to kill themselves, harassing critics and attacking their revenue streams – are amoral and for the most part criminal, and they do real harm. By looking away, the big gaming press allows the GamerGators to continue with what they do while still being able to pretend having the moral high ground. That is shameful.
This post will be filled with a lot of rage, so I would like to address some things first: I do not believe everybody in the GamerGate movement is a criminal, amoral scumbag. But I do think that the movement is so rotten to the core that no good will come from it, ever. If you genuinely believe in a free, independent press and that’s the only reason why you are a Gator, get out. Now. Not only are you supporting the aforementioned criminals by standing with them – you are supporting a movement that harms the very ideals you are fighting for. That’s right – I think GamerGate does not do any good for an independent press, because they have a completely screwed up definition of “independent”. More on that later.
Again: If you are fighting for a good cause, you have no need to associate with criminals. Don’t do it. Go somewhere else. Create your own movement and hashtag. I bet many game designers and journalists alike would love to stand with you. But if you are with GamerGate, you are with a mob that operates via Nazi methods, and you should not support people like that, ever. They should stand isolated and alone, and they need to fail if freedom should win.
The Global SJW Conspiracy
Now, let’s move on to why I despise the GamerGate movement so much. Well, apart from them being a mob of criminal, amoral scumbags who threaten murder and rape, tell people to kill themselves, harass critics and attack their revenue stream while hiding behind a shield of good-willed but naive people with partially overlapping goals.
At its very core, GamerGate is a conspiracy theory.
Remember how everything started? Does the name Zoe Quinn ring a bell? Well, she did a game some people disliked and allegedly slept with a games journalist to allegedly influence an alleged review. Of course, this was quickly debunked by things like the fact that the guy she allegedly slept with didn’t even write a review of the game, but in the vein of 9/11 truthers, chemtrail afficionados, moon landing sceptics, Neuschwabenland fanatics and Holocaust deniers, some participants of the initial discussions didn’t want to let facts in the way of their argument. They started a movement criticising the close ties between devs (both big publishers and indie studios) and “the press”, and their first course of action was to “punish” Zoe Quinn for the heinous crime of having sex that she may or may not actually not have committed.
(Keep in mind – I’m aware that this is a broad generalization. Gators like to use the “But we’re a loosely organized movement” defense to shield themselves from any criticism. Please read the introduction again if you are outraged by my generalizations.)
Do the Gators have a point when they claim the gaming press is corrupt and untrustworthy? Well, kinda. It’s a complicated topic in itself and it deserves some discussion – discussion that is successfully prevented by everybody who states an opinion that does not please the Gators becoming their next target. I will get to that point in a minute, but first there is a second layer of conspiracy theorism that needs to be addressed.
That’s the Social Justice Warrior conspiracy. It became apparent when the Let’s Lynch Zoe Quinn Mob ran out of insults and needed a new target. Luckily, they found one in Anita Sarkeesian, who had just released a new video, demanding the deportation of everybody who plays video games. Oh, wait, actually it was about misoginy in games, which is even worse.
But Sarkeesian was not the real target. The real target was – and is – the so-called SJW movement.
The term SJW is being used so frequently these days that it’s easy to forget it actually has a meaning – just like the word “sun” loses any meaning if you say it fifty times in a row. As a reminder: It stands for “Social Justice Warrior”, and it’s the Gators favorite insult. A Social Justice Warrior is a person that fights for Social Justice, which is somehow bad. Don’t ask me.
What this word actually means is this: Gators believe there is some conspiracy by those who fight for fair representation of race and gender in games, for more variety, for tolerance in the gaming community, against gaming in general. They think people want to outlaw everything they love about video games. They do not see people who argue for female Player Characters in Assassins Creed: Unity, or homosexual relationships in Tama… er… Tomoga… Tomodachi Life, or against having a rape scene in Tomb Raider (remember that debate, how much fun it was?) as people using their right of free expression to make an argument about how a game could be, in their eyes, better. They see those people as part of a huge conspiracy, advocating broad censorship and setting up mandatory standards for how videogames should be.
Of course, they are so wrong it would be utterly ridiculous if the whole GamerGate trainwreck hadn’t done so much damage already. We “SJWs” (and I am proud to say that social justice is my ideal and I will always stand for it) do not go to secret meetings where we plan to destroy video games forever. But it’s been proven that Gators (or at least a core group of them) have an almost paramilitaric organization set up for their criminal activities. We are not even a movement. We are just people who think that women and LGBT people are people, too, and we think video games would be genuinely better if they reflected that better, because video games like any form of storytelling reflect upon our real lifes. They have the biggest emotional impact when they allow us to see the world around us in a new way, and when they force us to ponder difficult questions. Guess why I like both Modern Warfare (the original, at least) and SpecOps: The Line so much.
Don’t be fooled: Those two conspiracy theories are at the core of the GamerGate movement, and its ideology is derived from those two theories.
Free of SJWs, independent from SJWs
I hope we all can agree that a free and independent press – the thing GamerGators cite as their main target – are good things. And it is obvious that there are problems in that regard, with things like the Shadow of Mordor brand deal (covered by Jim Sterling / The Escapist) holding YouTubers at bay and most of the gaming press being financed by game ads almost exclusively.
Unfortunately, Gators and I have very different ideas of what “free” and “independent” mean. I think that gaming journalists should have the freedom to write their mind, both about particular games and about the issues surrounding our culture, without being unduly put under pressure by anybody – in particularly not by people related to the game or issue being discussed.
What Gators mean when they talk about a free, independent press is a press that is free of SJWs and put under pressure only by them. GamerGate is not about freedom, independence, variety – it is about the prerogative of interpretation. Gators want to be able to prevent people like Sarkeesian from having their own views about how a video game should be, and the same goes not just for private YouTubers and bloggers but for “real” journalists as well.
This point is strongly supported by the Twitter attacks on the aforementioned Jim Sterling and on many other high-profile people in the industry and press who also take a critical stance of Gators and the Social Injustice Jihadi that make up the core of the movement. These attacks have always been Gators’ primary means of winning the war – which is not a hyperbole made up by me, but Gators’ own term for what is going on. “War”.
They are trying to instill fear in people, and they have been very successful in doing so. Several high-profile people have already been driven from their homes, and I don’t see any signs of this unfortunate trend to stop anytime soon. But that’s not the way of doing things chosen by people who want freedom. The weapon of Gators is called “terror”. Fear and terror are inherently enemies of freedom, and Gators are attacking the freedom of the internet in a way that will cut far deeper than any legislation ever could. Mark my words.
What the press really needs
Time to get a bit more constructive. How bad is this whole press thing really? Well, it’s not that bad!
It’s true that most big websites are driven by ads for the very games they write about, and of course that means a loss of independence. People have lost their jobs before for not following the party line. And there are barely any standards for transparency – in particular, it is not common to clearly state in reviews if the platform is currently, or has in the past, received ad revenue from the publisher responsible for the game. Changing this one point alone would have a huge impact because it would allow customers to put the reviewer’s opinion in the proper context, and introducing mandatory transparency standards might even be enough to take the wind from GamerGate’s sails.
But on the other hand, there are definitely game journalists who are willing to rip apart their subject matter and who will not – repeat: NOT – shy away from stating opinions that will not make publishers or readers / viewers happy. The aforementioned Jim Sterling would be one example, or Yahtzee Croshaw from the same website. Also, we have blogs and YouTube, where everybody can be a journalist and offer counterpoints to those big news platforms. We have Let’s Plays as a form of games journalism that can have a huge impact on a game’s performance on the market. Hell, we even have reviews (with an upvote/downvote system) on Steam! We also have people and whole sites that don’t dare to say anything critical – but nobody can force them to. In any free and democratic society, it is each single person’s job to find out who is worth listening to and who is not. There is no simple solution to this.
To make a long story short: Video game journalism is far from flawless, but not everything sucks, either. And what we need is constructivism, not sabotage against those very people within games journalism that actually dare to have unpopular positions – like being against GamerGate.
GamerGate is bad, and this blog post will probably not change anything about anything. Games Journalism is pretty okay these days. And if you want to take games like SpecOps: The Line from me because they “push a SJW agenda”, you’ll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.