Bob speaks with Christopher Grant, Editor in Chief of the progressive video game publication Polygon, who explains #GamerGate and his approach to speaking out against the video game industry's latest misogyny problems.
BOB: Though women now represent half the video gaming community, a Pew study this week revealed that gaming is the least welcoming online space for women. The conclusion seems to be borne out by the ongoing troll crusade known as #Gamergate, wherein a small rabble is using a trumped-up scandal as cover for a full-on attack on female game-makers and game critics. Until the story materialized in the New York Times last week, one influential gaming publication, called Polygon, did its best not to feed those trolls, but finally weighed in with a letter from the editor, Christopher Grant. Chris, welcome to OTM.
GRANT: Thank you.
BOB: Tell me from your perspective, what is the 'gate' in Gamergate?
GRANT: A specific situation where an ex-boyfriend published details about a gamer developer alleged to have slept with a videogame journalist. Part of the gate is in a erroneous accusation that she slept with him for a good review. A review that never happened.
BOB: But it's all since mutated and the scandal is no longer about the particulars of his situation but about the supposed culture wars that are harming the very nature of gaming and its fans.
GRANT: In reality it's a, it's a re-balancing. Video gaming on the heels of its 2011 Supreme Court victory, increasing sales, increasing software and tools that make making games opemn to more people than ever. As it grows into that, I think a lot of people have a lot of concerns about new voices. Voices that are often times critical of what's come before, entering the fray. It's an old war. Right? It's the battle against progressive voices. What they see as political correctness being inserted into a formally "safe" space. It is a culture war.
BOB: The kinds of complaints that we heard about gaming and its occasional misogyny, its sexist characterization of female characters and so forth. We've heard them about the larger popular culture for decades. But there is not a concerned effort to attack and threaten the critics. Why do you suppose that this subculture of gamers has been so, uh, well...vicious?
GRANT: It's accepted to criticize these tropes. And fail the Bechtel test, the Bechtel test being two women having a conversation that isn't about a man. Every year, plenty of movies fail that test. Gaming was under-analyzed, right? It was shunned from academia. Under-critiqued. But a lot of the criticism that's also been leveled against games has been hyperbolic. A bad faith effort. There's not shortage of examples of the main stream media vilifying games. And getting basic facts wrong. So, a lot of the gaming audience looked at that criticism and learned a certain way of responding to it. Which is that it's wrong. It's ignorant. And then when criticism from inside happens. Criticism about the way women are presented. One example that's very notable here - they deal with it in a sort of hysterical way. In a reactionary way.
BOB: Do we even know who the 'they' is?
GRANT: We know who some of those people are, right? A lot of them are anonymous. Gamergate would be quick to say -- well that's not who we are. It's this logical fallacy where they can define a movement whose inclusion is exactly ten characters long. All you need to do to be a member of this movement is type #Gamergate in Twitter. And so they'll reject any behavior that they don't want. While basically condoning it and allowing it and boosting it. It's this very strange intentionally chaotic mission. Where they reject basic order and structure. So as a journalist its really hard to tackle it. And the only benefit I can see of being leaderless, of being amorphous is that they can continue their campaign of harassment with little to know culpability.
BOB: IS there any public face. Is there anyone who is willing to attach his -- I assume his -- to this whole supposed scandal.
GRANT: Their actually is a notable her, Christina Hoff Sommers. She's a scholar in residence at the American Enterprise Institute which is a right-leaning think tank. She has no interest in video games. But she was interested in maybe getting some new converts to her particular ideology. A lot of cases the people who are signal boosting g this topic, doin't have anything to do with games. People like Adam Bolland who uses his platform on Twitter to sort of amplify a lot of this stuff. He's not a gamer. He doesn't have an interest in this culture. I'ts a political platform. A lot of the Gamergate adherents are really happy to embrace these opportunists. They call Christina Hoff Sommers 'mom' -- it's a very strange, I don't know, almost like hunger for validation. They do not have a lot of public faces. THe ones that they do have they are very attached to.
BOB: You also mention that this phenomenon is going to take the reputation of gamers back to where it once was before. Maladjusted guys in their Mom's basements with no other life thanks to the work of the obnoxious vigilantes.
GRANT: I think that it's a very small, almost infinitesimally small percentage of people who play games. They failed to root out, uh...the corruption in game journalism that they insistence is there. Which after two months of a loud and noisy campaign they haven't found - doesn't exist. But what they have done is chase women out of their home. They've made people feels unsafe to speak out. They've made the front page of The New York Times. Which, even if the author didn't intend it - that sort of mainstream exposure repeats and reinforces a negative stereotype of videos games. I don't think the stereotypespreviously were accurate. And I odn't think they're any more accurate now. In fact I think they're much less accurate. And it's a stereotype a lot of people have worked really hard to move past. You hear a lot of women speak out about their experience talking to younger women who are no afraid to join the video gameindustry because of harassment.
BOB: For now you've tried to stay out of the fray because you saw not benefit in being it. But now..you are in it. Can I ask you what changed your mind that compelled you to right this letter from the editor. And what do you supposed happens next?
GRANT: What changed was my willingness to condemn it. I think as a journalist I was loathe the formless leaderless group and condemn it outright as one that I think is really a front for not only misogyny but a progression voices and progressive ideals. And recognizing that parts of it - more pernicious parts of it were getting more brazen. More violent and unchecked. The more negative elements of Gamergate were allowed to roam the country brandishing pitchforks and harassing anyone they could find. And I think the obvious counter to that are reasonable voices. Where it goes from here, I hope, is that they continue to see how fruitless this effort has been. my real hope is that this sort of backlash and this sort of backlash and this sort of violent protest will ultimately be remembered as not only something that was hugely effective, but that its also embarrassing. That it's also been a particular low point for our medium. And for the culture that surrounds it. And they have nobody to blame for that but themselves.
BOB: Chris, thank you so much.
GRANT: Bob, thanks so much for having.
BOB: Christopher Grant is editor and chief of the online videogame publication Polygon.