I’ve talked to a lot of pro- #GamerGate people over the past few days. I’ve tried to hear out as many as I could. It was hard. I want to first address why that was hard, then I want to try to address some of the trends between the reasonable, cool people I spoke with.
Now, I’ve heard a few people say, “Point out the threats and insults when they happen! We’ll report those people! They don’t speak for us!” I’ve seen numerous people pointing these threats and harassments out. A couple of very bad times, I saw some people jump in, report, and otherwise shut down the threats. But more often than not (by a wide margin) what I saw was apologism and excuses for the threats and harassment. I saw a lot of “but this time it’s warranted!” style messages. That doesn’t help anyone. That doesn’t build dialogue.
So, if you want to know why there are prominent journalists right now talking about how gamer culture is toxic, and how gamers as a label are dead, this is why. Because even if you’re rational, passionate, and wanting good things, your voice is being drowned out by loud, hateful, toxic people.
A couple of days ago, I posted an email from the San Francisco Police Department verifying a police report placed by Anita Sarkeesian. Why? Because a muckraker accused her of lying, and drummed up a BUNCH of hate. His message had over six hundred reshares. His thread had dozens of people talking about how she needs to be imprisoned, how she needs to be shot, and how she’s… you get the picture. So, I fact-checked. And I posted the results of that fact-checking. Did I get six hundred people recanting their threats, insults, and accusations? No. I got a couple dozen people threatening me, and a fuckton of people insulting me for DARING to fact-check a journalist. When, mind you, the Gamergate movement is supposedly about holding journalists accountable. Do you know how many messages came up to the effect of, “Oh. I shouldn’t have jumped the gun and accused her without the facts?” None. None at all.
So understand why a lot of us say, “This group of people is toxic.” It’s because a large majority of what we’re experiencing is people doing very toxic things. There are some reasonable voices. But from where we stand, they’re a stark minority. The movement is about accountability and ethics in journalism, yet the ONLY reaction I got from fact-checking a journalist was hate, denial, threats, and insults. From where I stand, calling Gamergate toxic and hateful isn’t a far stretch at all, because it appears to be doing toxic and hateful things.
Yes, there’s some positive. Yay, charities. But that’s drowned out. And ironically, when we hear about a charity or otherwise positive thing, it’s universally used as a method of attack. For example, there was a period where the Gamergate folks had it in their head that Zoe Quinn was lying about charitable donations. They’d trot out, “We aren’t lying con artists! We really donate to charities!” Essentially, weaponizing charity. Then, I also heard a lot of people bragging when Zoe’s donations were verified officially by the charities, because a group of (allegedly) thousands of people were able to donate more than a single independent game designer. Like seriously, very petty shit.
So, corruption in journalism. Can I let you in on a secret?
We want to have that conversation. We all do, with maybe a couple of exceptions. This is a conversation we’ve tried to have, and wanted to have for years.
But why aren’t we just sitting down and talking it over and smiling and playing games and shutting up about the feminisms? Basically, it’s because we’re having two completely different conversations. One’s an insider conversation, informed about the industry. The other is an outsider conversation, based on half-truths, misunderstandings, and what we see as skewed priorities.
On our side, a lot of journalists hate the nepotism, and most importantly, they hate the relationship the industry has with journalism. Because a while back ago, “games journalism” was essentially coopted as a marketing arm for certain AAA publishers. At that point, AAA publishers became gatekeepers for success in games journalism. It’s awful, because we want to be talking critically. We want to be looking at games in different lights. We want to approach these works of art as works of art, and not just as the next success or flop. But that can’t happen on any large scale, because of that corruption, because of the commercialism of it all.
The way a lot of the Gamergate stuff looks to us really looks like some strange bizarro world where the games industry works completely different than it really does.
The biggest targets of Gamergate have been people who are frankly powerless in the games industry. People like Zoe Quinn and Phil Fish, they are not gatekeepers. They are not able to enact any real, significant influence on the industry. Most independent game jams, awards, and exhibitions are small groups of people, trying to make names for themselves in their little ponds. That’s how independent artists work in pretty much every creative field. They can’t compete with the game industry, so they’re trying to carve out their own little micro industry, where they do their own things and have a captive audience.
The people being targeted the most are small names, on the fringe of the industry. Even if these people all pat each other on the proverbial backs and promote each other into the ground with the corruption of a thousand watergates, their games will NEVER be as successful as even moderately popular indie games like Castle Crashers. We’re talking about games that won’t pay a single basic salary if successful. To these games, success doesn’t look a lot different than failure.
“SJWs” aren’t affecting widescale change in video games. There’s some minor change here and there. But most of it is shit that, if you weren’t aware was changed, you wouldn’t know was any different. If they get what they want, and that’s a big if, the end result will be a few more games featuring a little more diversity, and maybe less rape and objectification. This will never, ever approach social justice change in major titles like Call of Duty. The SJWs know that. The Call of Duty developers are making Call of Duty. Nobody expects them to make something else. There’s room for Call of Duty. Nobody is trying to take it away. Fuck, the ideal is ultimately MORE GAMES. This is a good thing. Experimental games move the industry forward, and make your core games better. Those games get to be the testing ground where we try out new ideas in a less risk adverse environment.
Anita Sarkeesian? So far, a writer for an already very diverse game was influenced to cop to a trope in his games, and say he won’t be using it again. Fundamentally, the game is still a manshooter game. Just, one story element will be swapped out for something else in the future, instead of recycling the same old thing. That’s pretty much as far as her influence has gone.
Here’s why: She’s not trying to enact and force change. She’s pointing out trends, the way an art critic does. Some people might look to what she’s saying, and ask for more exceptions from that trend. Some developers might see those trends in their work, and shift away. But she’s never once said that games featuring sexist tropes should not be made. She even makes explicitly clear in every one of her videos that playing games with sexist tropes is okay, it’s not wrong to have fun with those games. But, certain trends do influence attitudes, according to numerous scientific studies. She doesn’t say these games will make you sexist. That would be stupid, since she, and numerous SJW types, have played these games. If she was saying that, and she’s not, she would have to follow up her videos with, “I played this game. It made me sexist.”
Do you know what else this focus on Anita’s doing? It’s making your games worse. And I’m not saying, “Oh, if you leave Anita alone, she’ll make games better”. No. But right now, AAA game executives see people like Anita calling for diversity in games, and they’re seeing people like Gamergate attacking them vehemently. They see SO much hate. They see 650 people retweeting the guy claiming she lied about a police report. This tells them that the market doesn’t want diversity. This tells them to double down on boring, scruffy 30-something male protagonist with a dark past, blah, blah. When we look at games like Watch Dogs, and we think they could have done better if they were a little more ambitious, understand that people shitting on “SJWs” causes that risk averse, milquetoast game design.
You can have discussions about Anita’s points. But understand that she’s making critique. A lot of it is subjective. A lot of it relies on specific definitions that she gives. For example, it’s popular to attack her use of Hitman as an example of Women as Background Decoration. However, the only way it’s not a valid example is if you’re not actually using her definition. Essentially, you’re throwing out her thesis and applying a different thesis to her examples. That’s not fair, and it’s not academically sound.
But have these discussions! Just focus on the art, the trends, and the culture. Don’t focus on the person. Because if your goal is debunking her, you’ve already lost. Right now, people are throwing so much shit at her, hoping it sticks. Seriously. A journalist literally investigated whether or not she actually made a police report when people were threatening her life, and another prominent blogger demanded police report numbers from her. Neither of these people are entitled to that information. They’re trying so hard to catch her up in a lie, that they’re losing sight of what they’re doing, and how silly and unethical it looks. Why does Anita have to be discredited, if her points are not valid? If her arguments are wrong, discuss them.
Right now, publishers are buying reviews. Right now, publishers are giving large amounts of money and other perks to journalists in order to skew the public perception and influence, both positively and negatively, game sales. Right now, Metacritic is being used to determine whether or not designers get to keep their jobs. Right now, AAA executives are cutting women and LGBT characters out of games in development, because of “the core demographic”. These are huge problems. These are problems we want to talk about. These are problems we want to fix.
We aren’t going to smile and nod while hundreds of people dogpile a couple of people’s sex lives. We’re not going to cheer you on while muckrakers are hounding people for answers to stupid, invasive questions they shouldn’t be asking. We want a better industry. But we feel that what we’re seeing, or at least the bulk of what we’re seeing is making a worse industry.