There are three excellent must-reads related to GamerGate this last week, plus one oldie but goodie. All of them look at gamergate skeptically, not from a position of extremism or reactionary politics, but from a sense of moderation. I’ll recommend them, and then write my own thoughts before I take a bit of a self-imposed exile from the blog for a few days. Seriously, read them.
God of War and Twisted Metal designer David Jaffe’s excellent Twitlonger on the subject mirrors my own thoughts closely.
I keep getting hit with people going ,’Well Jaffe, these journalists are SMEARING devs by saying bad shit about them!!!!’…ok, well welcome to the big leagues of putting something out in the world for public consumption and getting judged for it.
Katherine Cross is an academic and an author for Feministing. I’ve linked this article once, and will gladly do so again.
Their ideology—the conviction that any and all feminism, and anything that can be deemed “SJW” is inherently corrupt—makes harassment and the targeting of outspoken figures, especially women, inevitable, and impervious to utilitarian admonitions. Why care about ‘looking bad’ when your cause is so noble?
John Walker, an editor of Rock, Paper, Scissors, wrote the following on his personal blog.
“Anti-GamerGate” does not exist. There is no such movement, there is no such collective of people. It’s a construct of GG’s, an attempt to create a scarecrow. There are, undoubtedly, stupid, dangerous idiots who are responding to those within GG in awful ways. They are not an organised affiliation, with dedicated forums, coordinated attack mobs, and specifically expressed desires to “destroy”.
David A Hill, dev and former journalist, has a month-old article that bears re-reading.
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.
My turn, and I’ll just write briefly and plainly.
1. I think that GamerGate-the-Hashtag will always struggle with the issue of harassment to casual observers.
#GamerGate was forged in reaction to the refusal for reporters to delve into the muck that was Zoe Quinn’s lovelife, and the associated hammering that she was taking from Mundane Matt (“5 Guys”) and 4Chan. At the same time, Anita Sarkeesian posted the same time, and was immediately driven into hiding by a virulent hate campaign. Gamergaters have attempted to disown the hate from this period of time in their past. But it always seems disingenious – if you try to say that they weren’t party to it or actively cheering it on, you seem inherently dishonest. And that only hurts the cause, no matter how much #gamergate has cleaned up their act (and they’ve certainly put in an effort to do so).
Most #GamerGate diehards have no idea how big, confusing and messy the GamerGate-the-Event is to casual observers on the outside. Most don’t pay close attention to the daily goings-on – hell, *I* can barely keep up with what’s going on, simply between completing my 8-hour job and then writing for the blog. Most only know about the biggest, most explosive things that appeared in Facebook and Twitter in the last week. And since GamerGate is leaderless and has a nasty undercurrent to it, the biggest, most explosive things usually just reinforce the harassment narrative: Brianna Wu got doxed. Anita got a bomb threat at a public event – again. Zoe had a reddit spy show up at her restraining order hearing – and that story has more than 600 upvotes. Every piece of moderate news that comes simply cannot compete with the shittiist things done by the shittiest people who can sneak near the cause.
Some will say, ‘there’s no proof that #Gamergate was behind Anita or Briana!’ This is true. Some will say ‘our side is getting harassed too!’ This is also true. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter – most gamers and devs know that gamergate-the-event is just so toxic that having an opinion on it – one way or the other – can very likely doom you to an inevitable river of shit. There’s a reason every female developer I know refuses to talk about gamergate - what may not be noticed is that fewer devs are opting to talk to fans AT ALL for fear of being dragged into the tarpit of the debate and being forced to choose a side and risk alienating fans. So heads wiser than mine are just opting to stay the hell away from it altogether, rather than support or oppose it directly.
Look at it this way: There is nothing in the whole debate I care about as much as the issue of harassment. If I sign up as a Gamergate supporter, I am instantly associating myself with a movement and a fight that was born of harassment, and always seems to find its way back in the proximity of the gutter. I know that probably only 1% of GamerGaters are the sort of vile people who cannot resist this sort of shit, but the fact that that 1% too often dictates what the fight of the day is for GamerGate, the result is a movement that is incapable of actually moving forward. Until Gamergate changes their culture, I expect little will change.
2. I’m all in favor of better games journalism, but I see little or no actual tangible progress or appetite for change in directions that actually matter.
Look, our press isn’t great. It’s got a lot of problems, but still we have the widest, most diverse, less bought-and-paid press that video games have ever had. To be sure, there have always been problems and questions of corruption. But the corruption centers around money, mainly how publishers can buy access via the games press and streamers, and there seems to be shockingly little interest by anyone in covering that stuff.
Instead, I see a mindnumbing focus on bullshit I can’t get behind. People are still butthurt by an editorial in Gamasutra that happened 6 weeks ago. This — has nothing to do with ethics. People are upset to find that Game Journalists have a mailing list – so far the list has shown… erm, some journalists disagreeing with each other and being a little catty towards some devs. Big whoop. Most industries have a mailing list. On dev lists, we complain about reporters! People are upset to find out that Games Journalists have FRIENDS! Or sometimes have drinks with developers! Ye gads. That’s called “Connections”, otherwise known as “How you get information for your fucking news story.”
And then there’s the collusion angle. Apparently, Ben Kuchera worked together to release 12 articles at the same time in order to…. do …. what? Seriously, what’s the motive here? That they’d launch a nagging mommy bomb so massive that they’d convince all gamers that they had wasted their lives, so we’d all stop playing our video games and Ben could be looking for a new job before Christmas as the games industry as we know it lay in smoldering ruins behind him? Seriously. There is no motive here for any sort of nefarious conspiracy here that makes sense. The short answer is simple: journalists were fucking lazy, and stole from each other when trying to rush out stories condemning what was happening to Zoe and Anita.
Here’s the secret about the press: Collusion, I.e. having the same story as the other guys, is actually pretty bad for them. If everyone has the same story, then there’s no reason to read them all. People will only read the biggest and best one. In order to compete, you have to FIND a reason, a spin, or an angle for people to choose your site over the others. Polygon does it by asking interesting cultural questions about the games it plays. The Escapist does it, apparently, by pandering to Gamergate. That’s FINE. If you don’t have a good spin, angle or beat, then there’s no reason why someone would choose your site over IGN or Gamespot.
3. As a game developer and first amendment purist, I find the drive to silence certain types of game criticism revolting.
I concede that the anti-feminist and anti-SJW angle of the debate is a relatively minor complaint for some gamergaters to have, but for many, that’s what they mean when they talk about corruption. In my interview with Milo, he dinged the idea of GAMR as something that couldn’t handle the anti-feminist cultural issues he cares about. This idea that SJWs are going to use DARPA and DiGRA to somehow make us stop making the kind of games that gamers today love. It’s ridiculous.
First off, AAA studios like money. A lot. And their stockholders like money. A lot. People get fired if we don’t make games that deliver wheelbarrels full of money. And it turns out that games with lots of sex and violence still deliver money. A metric fuckton of it. Look at the success of Grand Theft Auto V. The noted SJW-corrupt press gave it a 97%. That studio is going to be pretty damned cautious about fucking up that money printing machine. If some SJW tried to come in and mess with GTA VI, they’d probably be taken out mob style.
I’m in no way an SJW, but I have taken the time to watch Anita’s stuff, and found both good and bad stuff in there. Why? Because good designers seek all the input they can. They try to look at their game in every possible light, examine every possible angle, and see if there is some new way, technique or viewpoint that can elevate their craft, and make better games and reach larger audiences. Me and most other designers are more than capable of filtering out the bad or non-useful parts of the feedback. My artistic freedom is fine.
People want to study my games? That’s fine. People want to tell me I’m doing it wrong? Dear god, that’s a normal day of work for a game designer. As long as no one is advocating for legal or political censorship of games – let them talk. It’s not going to hurt your games, and I’d rather live in an industry where free speech is encouraged, rather than slam down on one viewpoint via some sort of neoMcCarthyism.
4. I’m skeptical of how big GamerGate actually is.
As I mentioned yesterday, the big gaming press outlets are utterly ignoring #GamerGate. They’ve completely written that audience off. It’s hard to tell what, exactly, they’re seeing, but they must have some metrics, somewhere, that says that things are moving up for them, and that they should just keep on keeping on.
This probably shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, it’s not Polygon’s readers that was mad at Polygon. It was Reddit and 4Chan, who normally get their news from… well, whatever Reddit and 4Chan have upvoted and/or talked about. Polygon’s daily readers probably have only the dimmest idea of what’s going on.
5. I really want GamerGate to become effective, or go away.
I have a selfish reason for suggesting a consumer organization and then attempting to refine that idea – right now, the games industry is a sucky place to be around. Developers don’t want to engage with their fans right now, for fear of being pulled into the tarpit of #gamergate related issues. This sucks. It sucks for us, and it sucks for you.
Right now, #gamergate is like a dull toothache. It’s constantly there, nagging at you, but nothing much that’s momentous actually happens. I want to change that. I think a consumer organization like GAMR could solve the problems above. It could provide resources to help combat harassment. It could focus the issues of press corruption on actual press corruption. It could help casual #gamergate fans get a filtered understanding of what is actually important to the cause. And it could focus its relatively small numbers into forming a more powerful, unified thrust. One big enough, united enough, and powerful enough that the major game sites can’t ignore it anymore.
So I put the idea out there. I still have no interest in running it, but I think it could be pretty cool, and has the potential to raise the visibility of the cause, and could address not only some press shady practices, but also some developer/publisher shady practices as well. Which, I stress, I think is a good thing, because we’re certainly not above reproach either.
Maybe that’s not the answer. But I can tell you that the answer isn’t just letting this dull toothache keep going the way it’s going now. It’s just an endless game of chicken right now, between the press and a relatively tiny sliver of the games playerbase. Until some fundamentals happen, it looks almost guarunteed that nothing substantial is going to change in the near future.
Which is a shame, because I’d really like to talk about something other than gamergate.