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Gamergate, Politics & The Culture Wars
| published February 13, 2015 |

By Isaac Fink
Thursday Review contributor

Since last August there has been a movement in the video game industry known as GamerGate, with the GamerGate supporters claiming to be against corruption in games journalism, while the anti-GG crowd claiming that GamerGate is just a bunch of misogynists that want to harass women. So which side is right? Well, as someone who has been following the movement very closely on both sides, I can tell you it's not that simple. Political fault lines, the Culture Wars, definitions about technology, privacy concerns, and even arguments about what constitutes “games” gets in the way, making a condensed, pat answer almost impossible.

It all started with a sex scandal involving indie developer Zoe Quinn, creator of a game called Depression Quest. Her then boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, took to social media to publicly voice his outrage and heartbreak over the fact that Zoe had cheated on him with five different men, all of whom are in the game industry, and some of whom were married. One of those men was allegedly a writer and reviewer for a gaming site called Kotaku, which is owned by Gawker. Presumably she slept with the Kotaku writer in exchange for a better review. Whether true or not, this sparked outrage by a large number of people in the gaming community, and many people attacked her over social media (much like how Chris Brown was attacked after domestic violence charges against him from his wife, Rihanna). Others began circulating the rumor that she slept with those people to get favorable press for her game, a breach of gamer ethics. This lead to a mass demand for full disclosure from game journalists.

Instead, however, the gaming press responded with 10 different articles on the same day from 10 different websites, claiming that “Gamers are dead” which essentially called all gamers immature, sexist, and grouped them into the same group that harassed Quinn. This only caused further disconnect between gamers and the press, and lead to conservative actor, Adam Baldwin starting the #GamerGate hashtag.

GamerGate wanted to fight back against the industry they believed to be corrupt, but they did not want to resort to the same harassment that many were wrongfully accused of (and some rightfully accused), that lead to this movement in the first place. So instead, they chose smarter methods: boycotting websites that they felt had questionable integrity and emailing their sponsors to tell them they would not be returning to these websites until they cleaned up their act. This actually saw some large success: they managed to get large amounts of advertising pulled from Kotaku, one of the bigger offenders to game journalism.

Uniting under one banner though, made GamerGate a large target. Zoe Quinn put the blame of her harassment, while Anita Sarkeesian, controversial feminist video game critic chimed in, claiming they were harassing her as well. The gaming media, which was losing money as a result of GamerGate, saw this as a great opportunity to run a smear campaign, and thus the narrative that GamerGate was an organized group of misogynist terrorists was born.

With every major gaming press website running the same story, this became accepted as fact, with many people now attacking GamerGate members and supporting Anita and Zoe through donations and other means. This reached its absolute worst when Zoe Quinn went on a twitter rampage about a feminist game jam charity, which rivaled her own similar charity which many found less appealing due to the much vaguer terms, and had her supporters DDOS attack the charity simply because GamerGate was supporting it.

So what is the truth to all this? Well the truth is, both sides have embraced lies and spread misinformation. The first of these—that Zoe Quinn slept with five men and cheated or her boyfriend, and which many of her supporters claim never happened—should be considered. Her boyfriend's original posts however, contain chat logs where she admits to this very thing, as well as statements from Nathan Grayson, one of the five men, who also admitted to having a sexual relationship with her. So from this we can deduce that yes, she really did do that. But the real question is should it matter? The answer of course is no, her personal life and her poor choices, no matter how much you may disapprove, do not give others the right to harass or vilify her.

So that brings us to our next question, was GamerGate created under false pretenses? The answer is yes, GamerGate is not really about ethics in games journalism. This was the excuse for many who demanded full disclosure on the Zoe Quinn matter and claimed she was sleeping with game journalists for good reviews. However, this theory can be disproved by the simple fact that her game is entirely free, so getting good reviews would not boost sales or help her in any way. Not to mention that almost none of the entertainment journalists wrote about her game.

So then what is GamerGate really about? Well there are a few different things behind it. The first is the conservative agenda of people like Adam Baldwin, (famous for such gems as “Homosexuality is on the same level as incest.”) Milo Yiannopoulus, (journalist for extremist conservative site, Breitbart.) and Christina H. Sommers, (Author of Who Stole Feminism?) are spearheading the movement, and for the most part know nothing of video games but instead want to just further their own conservative agenda. But these people are not the majority, what the majority of GamerGaters are truly opposed to is the sensationalist and extreme leftist views that journalists are putting into their articles.

Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku is one of the worst offenders, accusing Far Cry: Blood Dragon for being homophobic because of one character telling another that he “likes men” in jest, or criticizing a mobile game that teaches women how to masturbate as being “exclusionary” because “not all women have vaginas.” Another example would be Polygon, another infamously leftist journalism site that lowered the review scores for Dragon's Crown and Bayonetta 2 because they thought that women with large breasts were inherently sexist. These are the type of people who are really responsible for the GamerGate crowd and are what GamerGate REALLY wants to be rid of.

That said, in their quest to use “ethics in games journalism” as an excuse to combat their true enemies—sensationalist liberal journalists—they did manage to uncover some actual corruption in the industry, which lead to a rather large number of people joining in with the actual intention of fighting industry corruption.

So is GamerGate really about ethics? No, not really. Then is it about harassing women? No, not at all. But are women in the industry being harassed? The answer is yes and no. Zoe Quinn has been harassed and blames it on misogynist gamers, though the truth is she's being harassed by people who think she's a disgusting person for the way she treated her significant other. This does not excuse the people harassing her, but misogyny was definitely not the reason she's being harassed.

Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu are other alleged victims of harassment, appearing on several talk shows and claiming that they fled their homes because they feared for their safety. GamerGate's response to this has been almost unanimously that they faked their own attacks, and they believe this with good reason, as police, who responded to Anita's supposed fear for her life, stated they had not found any death threats at all since March 2014, five months before GamerGate even started. Or Brianna Wu who was almost completely unknown to anyone who was just recently caught attacking herself on Steam Greenlight and is generally thought to have just cashed in on the controversy to get herself more recognition.

That said, I have no doubts that Anita Sarkeesian is harassed online constantly, just like any other famous person on the internet, and that is not okay. However, it is understandable. She's known for her Tropes Vs. Women kickstarter campaign, where she raised thousands of dollars in order to make a youtube series where she takes things from video games out of context to try to drive the narrative that video games are sexist and make the people who play them sexist as well. The fact that she takes things out of context in such a manner, as well as her extremist views, make her a very easy target for harassment, and she takes full advantage of this, using the harassment she receives as “evidence” of how sexist gamers supposedly are, as well as getting her more support from the more ignorant members of the community who think she's just being attacked for being a woman. Like Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, she has used her harassment as a way to get more recognition and money out of the community.

So who are the real bad guys? As it turns out, not GamerGate. They have no connection to the harassment affecting female developers. As someone who followed both sides closely, I can say that GamerGate supporters echoed a very common rule: “Do NOT harass ANYONE.” Of course, those who are harassing women may in fact be members of GamerGate, but they are individuals who are acting of their own accord, and they do not represent GamerGate in any way. At any time one could look up the GamerGate hashtag and they would find no harassment whatsoever coming from GG supporters. I did so several times since August and all I found instead was a great deal of harassment coming from the anti-GG side.

With the media spinning the narrative that GG is a bunch of sexist, hateful people who are attacking innocent women for no reason, there's a large amount of people who are harassing the GamerGaters and using excuses like “They deserve it for being sexist pigs.” But all they do is spread further hate. Devin Faraci, writer for badass digest is one of the most offensive and hateful thus far, claiming GamerGaters are “worse than ISIS.” Nathan Grayson of Kotaku who admitted to a sexual relationship with Quinn said that he wished his block button on twitter would, “also function as a guillotine.” Despite this, these people are still somehow seen as “the good guys” by the general public.

So what's the truth? GamerGaters are being attacked and treated as sub-human for things they had absolutely no involvement in, while the media and people like Quinn and Sarkeesian only encourage them to continue. Perhaps the biggest victim in all this is Eron Gjoni, Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend, who still receives death threats for simply voicing the fact that he was cheated on. And unlike her, he isn't getting any donations out of it. Anyone who disapproves of Zoe or Anita's views or behavior is now automatically grouped into the GamerGate/women hating group, so now gamers must either accept Sarkeesian's ridiculous views, or be labeled as a misogynist and treated like a pariah.

Ultimately, these events have created a poisonous relationship between gamers, the industry and the press. But can this relationship be repaired? Yes, if people stop harassment. People need to stop harassing Quinn and Sarkeesian, even if you dislike them, it's not acceptable and it only gives them more ammunition to attack gamers. And anti-GamerGaters need to educate themselves and stop attacking the pro-GG crowd who have done nothing wrong. And perhaps most of all, people need to stop supporting people like Zoe and Anita, or websites like Kotaku and Polygon, who only use controversies like this to make money and further their own agendas. Only when these things are done, will we begin to make true progress for gaming as a medium, instead of finding new ways to spread hate and create a toxic community.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The True Art of Video Games; Isaac Fink; Thursday Review; July 12, 2014.