Like many writers, I find stringing words together gets my thoughts in order. I wasn’t sure I was even going to publish this… but I decided to. It’s not an academic piece. It’s not referenced, it’s opinion. It’s pretty much an unedited stream of consciousness written at 3am after a private disagreement with another writer about gamergate. Was it ethical to use the hashtag on Twitter, to participate at all?
‘#Gamergate’ is something that’s become a massive controversy in the gaming community. Gaming has been a huge part of my life, nearly 30 years of it in fact. I took a break recently to explore my own creativity and have come full circle writing in a game universe. (Usual disclaimer: these opinions are completely my own and are not representative of anyone else’s. I’m an indie writer and enjoy the privilege of spouting off without undue concerns about being censored.)
Gamergate is a complex, many headed hydra. It started with an online ‘exposure’ by Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend of intimate details of her life, their previous relationship, naked photos, and accusations of sleeping with games journalists for favourable reviews of her game, amongst other personal attacks. The ‘sex for favours aspect’ was subsequently rebuffed by Kotaku (the site the games journalist she had a relationship with wrote for), stating what was written was not contemporaneous with the relationship and nothing was written after it started. But the internet had already got hold of the story. Some vicious thugs, because there is no other name for people that do things like this, persecuted Quinn to such an extent she was driven out of her home and it’s wrecked her life. Other female gamers/developers/critics have encountered similar hateful treatment. Perversely, some of the gamergate movement denied this ever happened, that the abuse isn’t real – I’ve read the tweets. Whether this stems from ignorance or a wilful desire to ignore the evidence, I don’t know, but I’m not convinced by either.
Others accuse those affected of cynical victim-hood to push an agenda, and even engineering the evidence of the abuse for personal gain or furthering of political agendas antithetical to gaming culture. Personally, I don’t think this likely. The victimisation is real, it’s ugly, and is a stain on the gaming community as a whole… And for some that’s gamergate. Jealous ex -> stigmatisation -> vilification -> victimisation. Ruined lives. The label of gamergate stood for, and will always stand for, the systematic abuse of women in the gaming community. After the hateful experiences of those concerned, that’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation. Gamergate for them will always be when their community turned on them. Many people of conscience also feel this way about the tag. (Watching someone go through that, you’d have to be a real git not to empathise.) They argue that to use the tag is to perpetuate the abuse, even implicitly endorse it. Some of those under the gamergate banner still espouse viewpoints I think most reasonable people would find utterly offensive. So, this leaves a question, how can anyone use the tag online, support gamergate, and even defend it? Is gamergate now not just another misogynistic label and rallying point for sexist bigots and abusers?
You’d think so. I was surprised when I read the tweets.
As well as the abuse, I found a diverse range of people: white, coloured, male, female, trans, gay, bi… all using the tag. Surely this is morally indefensible and reprehensible? It comes down to motive. I read, listened, watched. I went back in time and and did more of the same. Some of it was about the victimisation/affront to gaming of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu; some viewpoints were sympathetic, some not. There was, and still is, threads running through the tag highlighting the minutiae of the lives and event-sequences for all three individuals: who did what, when, to whom; what this tweet/vid/blog/interview means. But that wasn’t all that was there. There were many who were genuinely concerned about the ethics of games journalism and political agendas. Whether or not Quinn was guilty as charged didn’t matter, there were other things wrong with games reporting. Nah, I thought. So I did some more digging. Major companies have pulled advertising. Gawker has been found to have broken Amazon’s advertising-host Terms and Conditions and lost its backing; games journalists and forum moderators sites have been called out for bullying and abusing ‘gamers'; professional cliques (ProJournos) are thought to communicate behind closed doors, having the power to make-or-break a title before release. There was, and is, a massive community outcry to have these issues and concerns heard, to have them discussed within the gaming news sights that purport to represent ‘gamers’. Most were silent and gamer resentment mounted. Then several sites released ‘Death of the Gamer’ articles. Gamers were labelled as fat, white, heterosexual misogynist ‘neckbeards’. There was abuse from people who called themselves professional journalists towards a community that, apparently naively, thought they were there to provide a service and share there love of gaming. White male gamers didn’t like it. But neither did women gamers, coloured gamers, or gamers of other sexualities. ‘This isn’t us!’ they shouted. ‘We are gamers too!’
The antipathy had been there a long time. Some reviewers were evaluating the content of the games, in a way that asked, ‘Were they “PC”?’ Many gamers wanted reviewers to just review games, not add in ‘progressive’ political footnotes. The divide, dislike and distrust between journalists and many gamers grew, until some journos declared they wanted them, and any male-based culture, ‘Dead’ and gone. From outside, a storm in a tea cup? It can look that way, but for many gaming is a passion, and for some of the most vulnerable, their only escape. The defence started. No one likes being called a misogynist, sexist, a bigot because they play some games featuring women lacking a full set of clothes and pneumatic breasts. (The debate as to whether this makes you a misogynist or not is one of the central ones of gamergate.) Other non-white/non-male/non-hetero groups were outraged at being misrepresented by those who supposedly thought gaming should be more inclusive, and that this wasn’t going to happen until the old, stereotypical white male culture was dismantled. ‘Gaming is already diverse; we’re here and we have our own voices, thank you very much,’ came the response. So gamers of all stripes, genders, and orientations protested. Some gamers allied with the journalists, some stayed neutral, and some idiots stirred the pot. The dialogues had all been happening under the label, the hashtag, of ‘gamergate’. The label was irrevocably attached to the conversation/debate/war. Everyone now knows what ‘WWII’ means: six years of hell to push back an evil regime, but to some in 1939 it meant a local territorial dispute that would be sorted by Christmas. ‘WWII’ is a label whose meaning changed over time for the people that lived through it. So it is now for many moderate gamers: ‘gamergate’ is no longer just Quinn’s story, or Sarkeesian’s, or Wu’s – it’s still their stories, yes, but there’s now many more. To anyone whose watched trends and ‘movements’ come and go on the internet, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Repackaging, reinventing, rehashing of meaning is endemic to such a transient medium as social networking. The word remains.
So now you have camps: those who are disgusted by anyone who identifies with the gamergate tag; those who feel it represents them, their community, their concerns and stand in opposition to a press that they feel has betrayed them; those who want it to implode, to display the moral bankruptcy of the white male patriarchal gaming culture; those who want it to disappear so they can go back to playing games; and those who couldn’t care less. (There’s probably more.)
Whatever their viewpoints or agenda, the meaning of ‘gamergate’ has changed, for the people that use it (or not), and over the course of time. It will continue to change as more moderates feel they can/need to affiliate with it to actively engage in a discussion things may settle down, develop, mature. Useful dialogues and accountability, a vilification of those who peddle hate and violence may become hallmarks of the virtual culture crossroads that is gamergate. Either that, or it will fall into the hands of one extremist mindset or another and drift into obscurity leaving the disillusioned middle behind… or everyone will get bored and drop it as yesterday’s fad. Whatever happens, the collective meaning of gamergate is different: from yesterday, to today, into tomorrow.
The meaning for those whose lives were chewed up by gamergate’s genesis will not change, however. And whatever their politics or viewpoint, my heart goes out to them.
Whether you choose to use it depends on what it means to you.