I have been waffling about writing this all week. Watching the way other writers have been treated when trying to comment on Gamergate kind of makes me feel like even attempting this is tantamount to placing a wasp's nest over my head. But we have gotten the stray tweet here and there asking both TLDR and On the Media to comment on it, so I am going to take a whack at it.
Before I comment on Gamergate, I guess I have to explain what it is. A couple of weeks ago, a blog went up detailing the dissolution of a relationship. The blog was agonizing to read, heavily annotated, clearly bitter, and really only tangentially related to games. According to this blog's author, the relationship dissolved due to a lot of infidelity on the part of his girlfriend, who happens to be a game developer, with several men who happen to also be either game developers or game journalists.
As is expected on the internet, a predictable wave of gendered insults and death threats followed, even though the blog's author appended the following warning:
I DO NOT STAND BY THE CURRENT ABUSE AND HARASSMENT OF [DEVELOPER] OR FRIENDS. STOP DOING THAT. IT IS NOT IN ANYONE’S BEST INTEREST.
What was not expected was that harrassers would extrapolate from this interminably long blog post about two people's sex lives that the developer in question was trading sexual favors for favorable reviews in the gaming press and for jobs. The attacks against her were predictably gendered, vicious, and fairly unrelenting. Nude photos of her were propagated throughout the internet, as was her phone number and address.
A week later, feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, already a controversial figure in the gaming world, released the latest episode of her "Tropes vs. Women" video series, and she too was doxed, threatened, and forced to leave her home. She too was accused of faking the death threats against her.
From this, Gamergate was born. It's too hard to cover all of the accusations that are being made against by gamergate in detail, but I can bullet them pretty well.
- The developer in question has faked threats against her, doxed other people and deliberately shut down charities she didn't like.
- The gaming press is colluding to force a feminist perspective on readers that they're not interested in.
- The gaming press is completely corrupt and essentially pay-for-play.
- "Social justice warriors" are currently using friendship (and of course, sexual favors) to influence the gaming press to write about them.
- Critics of gamers accuse them of all being sexist, racist, and men, when they are actually a pretty diverse group.
So there you have it. Gamergate. It's such a mess, it's hard to know where to begin, but I suppose the best place would be at the beginning.
All of the accusations of sexual favors for jobs and favorable press have been debunked. In fact, the ex-boyfriend who made this very public website that kickstarted this whole thing has gone in to clarify that these accusations are unfounded. That people insist on harping on this developers alleged infidelities simply has nothing to do with the integrity of the gaming industry or the gaming press.
As for the other accusations against this developer, they too seem unfounded. But as two enterprising tweeters called Blippoblappo and Crushingbort proved the other day, if you're unhappy with the way that the press is doing its job, the internet allows you to become the press. So far,I have yet to see compelling evidence that any of the professional accusations lodged against the developer in question are true.
Part of the problem here is that the world of "gamers" simultaneously want to be treated as a monolith and as individuals. But you can't have it both ways. If you see yourself as a bloc of people who call themselves "gamers," to outsiders you are only as good as your worst representatives, and the past month have shown those representatives to be racist, homophobic, misogynist, and threatening.
The service of the press is to critique the world it interrogates. That is the service that the gaming press and Anita Sarkeesian provide when they look critically at the way women are treated in gaming. You may not particularly like or agree with what Anita or anyone else has to say, but again, the internet allows you to become your own press. Instead, the response to Sarkeesian's work has included a video game that allows you to beat her up.
And sure, there are plenty of stories about the gaming press getting too cozy with developers. Like the time Jeff Gertsmann was fired for writing a bad review of Kane & Lynch. But for whatever reason, rather than going after the well established practice of AAA publishers flying journalists out to fancy junkets on the eve of reviewing their games, Gamergate has specifically targeted indie game developers and mostly women at that.
For what it's worth, this campaign appears to be working. Guardian writer Jenn Frank has vowed to leave journalism altogether after writing an article about Gamergate in which the Guardian removed her disclosure that she had contributed to the developer in question* through a platform called patreon. Game designer and media critic Mattie Brice has said that she will no longer recommend other minorities get into the games industry. Even though Gamergate has insisted over and over again that it is not anti-woman, it seems that the only people who are retreating from it are women. Well, women and Phil Fish.
The most frustrating aspect of this, I think, is that there is a scintilla of truth and merit to some of the Gamergate complaints. The industry and journalists are too cozy. Gamers are diverse. But when there is clear evidence that 4chan is trying to bolster Gamergate's fight by pretending to be minorities and women, all credibility is lost. If you want to be seen as a monolith, publicly shame the bad actors in your cohort. If you want to be seen as individuals, well, stop calling yourself gamers. Come up with some other means of self-identification. Because as of right now, the worst people standing behind the mantle of gamer have spoiled it for all of you.
*The original version of this article said that Jenn Frank had failed to mention her relationship to the developer, but she actually attempted to disclose that information, and the Guardian legal team didn't find it relevant.