For context I’m a relative outsider to this, so came in with no vested interests or affiliations: I don’t tweet, I don’t use 4chan, I don’t read any games websites regularly, nor do I support or regularly watch any bloggers or youtubers, I don’t work in the games industry (though friends and family members have done so in the past). I just play games. And I’m a member of a forum that discusses video games amongst many other topics, where I’ve kept track of the story that evolved into (and beyond) #gamergate.
From here it just seems to be an unpleasant incoherent mess.
What I see is that over time video games became a more and more popular form of entertainment which attracted a wider and wider audience, and became more diverse. Like any media, it started to attract scrutiny and debate, and the kind of critique levelled at other art forms. This suggested that the AAA strategy of catering to disenfranchised young men by using sexist tropes was not reflecting the breadth or values of the new audience. This upset some people who felt that such criticism was insulting to them as part of the target demographic and might spoil take away their fun. When a couple of figureheads arose to speak out for feminism in gaming, this polarised a rabble of people opposed to any critical analysis or social progress within the video game arena to ‘defend’ the status quo. Unfortunately some of the loud voices amongst this group were ones saying things that were offensive and threatening, especially towards women and the figurehead women in particular. This polarised many ordinary people to support the more progressive position, and led to the ‘loud voices’ becoming more extreme (perhaps because they felt outnumbered and outdated by social progress).
In order to rally more people to the ‘defence’ of the status quo in video games, the ‘loud voices’ tried to claim some of the moral high ground by picking up on issues that might attract fellow gamers because they had a grain of truth to them, and deflecting coverage from the main issue (of the legitimacy of some feminist critique of game tropes, and the need for slightly more thoughtful and sophisticated games writing). 1) They said that all gamers were being unfairly tarred with the same brush as socially unskilled ignorant white boys (as if this means that those who are trolling don’t exist, rather than being a problematic vocal minority within the gaming community). 2) They said that games journalism was biased by financial links between writers/reviewers/youtubers and publishers (as if this was the reason that voices within games journalism had spoken out about sexism in video games, when in fact the issues are unrelated). 3) They said that the figureheads of feminism had used their victimhood for publicity for their cause (going as far as to say some of the claims of threats and harassment were ‘false flags’, which is a dangerous and un-evidenced claim). These deflections garnered the hastag #gamergate as if these were the legitimate issues that gamers cared about, mutually exclusive with the idea that any feminist critique could be legitimate, and had not been created by the very trolls that had caused ordinary readers to polarise towards social issues in the first place.
Although there are probably plenty of ordinary sensible people who support the 3 grains of truth, they are signing up to exaggerated statements that are not a reaction to what came before them – they are non-sequiturs. When people agree that not all gamers are lonely white boys acting like misogynist trolls to scare off dissenting voices, they don’t seem to grasp that nobody has said that they are. (People have said that some gamers who are vocal in the backlash against socially progressive ideas being applied to video games are lonely white boys acting like misogynist trolls trying to scare off dissenting voices). Similarly, even if there are genuine issues about financial pressures to endorse products in some segments of the video gaming media this is not why various publications refuse to print allegations about the private lives of women in the games industry, un-evidenced claims of false flag attacks (where the real threats and harassment are clearly evident) or orchestrated ‘astro-turfing’ campaigns, and this is not evidence of a secret underground network of feminist influence and corruption. The sad truth is that death and rape threats are bigger news than feminism, and have meant that certain figureheads have received greater coverage than they would have otherwise. But this is a reflection of the disproportionate response and the nature of what makes headlines, and is not something deliberately engineered by the people concerned. I’m sure they would much rather that their work did the talking, rather than that their safety was what is making headlines.
Finally, the last strand of #gamergate is a war of words between feminists and anti-feminists, in which anyone with progressive ideas is branded a “social justice warrior” (as if this is a bad thing). If people who have not been directly affected, such as men, recognise that there is some legitimacy in the critiques that have been raised of the media that they love, they may want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem and thus speak up when they see women being harassed. But this is not proof that ‘social justice warriors’ have taken over the push for socially progressive changes in the games industry to be pointlessly politically correct or to impress women. This is human beings trying to be decent to other human beings by recognising that the hobby that they love should be available to everybody, rather than limited to its originating demographic of young straight white men.