An Outsider’s View of #Gamergate

Even if you’re not a hardcore gamer, you’ve probably seen the hashtag #gamergate on social media lately. It’s the scandal/movement/troll bait that doesn’t seem to want to die.

What is Gamergate?

I am only a casual gamer and a late comer to this. I do have a tendency to call it like I see it, and here is what I’ve discovered researching Gamergate on Twitter and in the Blogosphere. Gamergate is a many-headed hydra, an elder black pudding ooze if you’ve played D & D. There is no simplified what is gamergate paragraph to be written because it’s something different to everyone involved.

A rough construction of Gamergate is that it either started with a bunch of guys harassing a female game developer or a spontaneous protest of corrupt journalism in the gaming field. Gamergate has spawned a number of other hashtags, the two most important being #notyourshield and #stopgamergate2014.

Version one is that Zoe Quinn released a game about depression and some gamers didn’t like it. They showed their dislike by a sustained campaign of harassment. Her harassment led to a long needed discussion about women in gaming, sexism and misogyny in the gamer community. A few gamer fought back under the hashtag #Gamergate and it slowly coalesced into a movement of sorts.

In the other version, Zoe Quinn’s boyfriend accused her, in a public blog post, of sleeping with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson. The gaming community saw her relationship with Grayson as a conflict of interest. This lead to a discussion of nepotism and cronyism in the gaming world. The horrible vitriol, death threats and misogyny found on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, 8chan and elsewhere under the hashtag is simply trolls trying to stir the pot.

The biggest challenge with this second version has to do with the #gamergate timeline. It appears that Zoe Quinn was experiencing harassment before anyone knew of her affair. She hadn’t even met Grayson yet when he reviewed her game. Several of the other women who have been taking heat in this debate have experienced a great deal of harassment before this whole thing erupted. Women like Anita Sarkeesian have been talking about sexism in gaming for sometime and are not directly connected to the original scandal in any way I can tell.

Still its almost impossible to pin gamergate down because it means something different to everyone involved. Everyone has an opinion about what gamergate is, and everyone’s opinion manages to discount the worst behavior on their side and emphasize that same behavior on the other side.

Why Should I Care About Gamergate?

I’ve already indicated that I am only a casual gamer myself. Why should I care? Let the gaming community have it’s little drama, right?

There are two problems. The first is that gamergate has spread well beyond the confines of the gaming community. Anyone who attempts to discuss the issues of women in tech gets sucked in. Anyone who attempts to discuss how women are treated online, gets sucked in.

Gamergate has ripped open and ugly can of worms. Women field threats online every day. Often it’s simply the price of being a woman online. Gamergate has taken those threats to a new level. One gamergater threatened “the worst school shooting in history” if Anita Sarkeesian spoke on the issue at Utah State.

Gamergate has become a feminist issue, because some women aren’t allowed to have an opinion about it without being threatened. This is not right.

Everything wrong with Gamergate in one paragraph

I came across this article in Techcrunch. Sadly it’s been heralded by some as the most “balanced view” of what gamergate is about. Here is the paragraph that stopped me in my tracks.

“Have they raised money for a mental health charity? Don’t report that! Did they kickstart a project to help young women get ahead in game development? Definitely don’t report that! Did one of them send someone a death threat? Stop the presses, we need to get the story out now!”

Yes, stop the fucking presses now. Death threats are kind of a big deal. Especially since these aren’t your average random troll comment sort of death threats that women frequently field; anonymous comments that are impossible to track. Brianna Wu had her address posted online along with many threats. She alerted the police and left home.

My day job is a night job on an acute mental health unit. Over the course of fifteen years I’ve dealt with hundreds anti-social personalities (AKA sociopaths). I’ve had my share of death threats. I have a simple rule, when the threats start, we are done talking. I will talk about your anger at the doctor, judge or family member that committed you to my facility, but only after you take two steps back, sit down and stop threatening me. If you can’t do that, we can talk through the tiny window in a seclusion room.

When the women at the center of this controversy started getting believable death threats, we crossed that line. Anything, and I do mean anything, that you have to say about ethics in game journalism can wait. First we need to discuss this.

Gamergate and Misogyny

Gamergaters are insistent that the movement is not sexist or misogynistic. Their argument seems to be that the content of their message (that game journalism is corrupt) is not sexist therefore they aren’t either. They fail to realize that if the message is delivered in a sexist way, it doesn’t matter what the content is. Pretending otherwise is like using racial or homophobic slurs and then trying to say “I didn’t mean it like that.” It just doesn’t work.

What do I mean by sexist delivery? If a female game developer gave sexual favors to a journalist for a positive review, that would be an ethics violation. If you attack her “slutty” behavior while ignoring the journalist’s part, that’s sexism. If you respond by threatening the female with rape, that’s misogyny. If you try to silence any woman who disagrees with you by harassing them, belittling them or threatening them, that’s sexism.

Why Gamergate matters to all of us

Some people will no doubt say that since I am not a gamer I shouldn’t have an opinion on Gamergate. Gamergate is a feminist issue, because the tactics that gamergate activist are using are familiar to all feminist. They belittle women’s opinions. Just wanting to discuss how women are treated in games is tantamount to taking away their freedom, their freedom to enjoy those portrayal without thinking about them. When that doesn’t work they resort to anonymous threats, threats of rape and violence.

Suffragettes faced the same barrage of threats over a hundred years ago when they tried to argue for a woman’s right to vote. Equal rights activists have faced the same violence again and again.

This is why, regardless of what is going on in game journalism, gamergate has become a feminist issue. You can respectfully disagree with what people like Anita Sarkeesian has to say. But if you think that respectfully disagreeing includes the right to make rape threats, you and I have a problem. I will stand beside her right to speak out on this issue.

But it’s just a few bad apples, right?

The gamergate issue might rise above the vitriol of a few misogynist trolls and become a respectful and much needed debate about gaming journalism. I might win the lottery tomorrow, too, even though I don’t play. The two seem about as likely.

Right now the gamergate movement is awash in bad apples. Despite the regular protest of gamergate activist that the threats and harassment is only a few bad apples, the movement has failed to condemn these actions, instead many have taken the stance that such harassment is, or should be, protected as free speech. Using threats to silence opinions is the antithesis of free speech in my books, and using the free speech argument to defend your threats hypocrisy.

The really short version of #gamergate:

There are two sides to this issue, but one side is using harassment and threats to silence the other.

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