This article appeared in The Oxford Student in November 2014. That was around the time that the whole Gamergate thing was just starting to blow up, and I noticed it was getting some attention in the mainstream press. So I wrote this article as a primer for the general reader who might not otherwise understand what was going on. It’s not a perfect article – I struggled to convey such a dense and complex topic in such a short amount of text, and the ending doesn’t quite feel earned. But on the whole I was quite pleased with how it turned out, and my editor liked it so much he emailed me to say well done, and encouraged me to apply to edit the following term. And that’s how my student journalism story begins. With an article about a load of hateful scumbags. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
You may have heard of GamerGate, the controversy which has rumbled on in feminist and video game circles, particularly online, for the last few months. The movement has been very active on social media, and has garnered a surprising amount of attention from the mainstream press. If you have heard of it, you may have some inkling of its association with the online harassment and abuse of certain prominent women in the video games, as well as the claim made by its proponents, the so-called GamerGaters, that their concern is with “ethics in games journalism”. As someone who has followed games journalism for a number of years, and thus had a front-row seat to this phenomenon, I feel qualified to inform you precisely what GamerGate is, and why it’s important.
But I warn you: this won’t be pleasant. Researching this article is easily the most demoralising experience I have had in my brief journalistic pseudo-career. Attempting to study GamerGate is like staring into a swirling vortex of human depravity. There’s an almost Lovecraftian horror to it- the utter lack of reason or rationality leaves the mind reeling, unable to comprehend a world where such a thing could even exist, let alone make sense in the minds of the perpetrators. This nonsense has to be seen to believed. But I beg you, if you value your sanity, don’t look.
Let us begin at the beginning; earlier this year, the ex-boyfriend of independent game developer Zoe Quinn made an angry blog post about his ex-partner, in which he accused her of having sexual relations with a journalist working for the gaming website Kotaku, in order to get a good review for her game.
Now, this accusation was patently ridiculous; regardless of whether there actually were any sexual relations between these people, the journalist in question had never written about Quinn’s work, and the allegation was clearly unfounded and ludicrous.
And this is where the madness begins.
Many self-identified “gamers” pointed to this spurious accusation as an example of corruption in video game journalism, and the refusal of most of the large gaming sites to report on this non-story was seen as indicative of a conspiracy to repress negative coverage of female video game professionals.
This came to a head when Adam Baldwin (yes, him off of Firefly) started the twitter hashtag #GamerGate, and so-called “GamerGaters” rallied around it as part of a concerted social media campaign to, as they saw it, improve ethics in games journalism. Their main ethical concern seemed to be inclusion of more female voices in games media, due to idiotic perceptions that “traditional” male gamers were being downgraded in importance. And these (overwhelmingly white, heterosexual and cisgendered male) gamers addressed these concerns by… viciously abusing female video game professionals, a number of whom were not even journalists.
One of the movement’s targets was feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has been the target of such attacks ever since she began her Youtube series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, in 2012. She, along with Zoe Quinn, received multiple rape and death threats from self-identified “GamerGaters”, and caused a stirring in the mainstream press when she was forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University after somebody threatened a mass shooting unless she backed down.
But wait! There’s more! GamerGaters have also repeatedly engaged in “doxing” of prominent female figures, a practice involving private information and contact details (addresses, phone numbers etc.), often obtained via hacking, being made public over the internet. This, along with the aforementioned threats, has forced Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and prominent female game developer Brianna Wu to flee their homes.
But, GamerGaters argue, all of these crimes are irrelevant; the movement is concerned with “ethics in games journalism”, and this vile behaviour is simply the actions of a vocal minority. This argument, obviously, is bunkum. GamerGate is a phenomenon which began with misogynistic abuse, and the idea that a movement with that kind of foundation is any way valuable or redeemable is sickening, as well as demonstrably wrong.
So, to return to the title of this article, why is this important? Well, as Brianna Wu has pointed out, for as long as this kind of harassment and abuse continues, more women will be deterred from entering the game industry. After all, who wants to enter a line of work where unfettered abuse is acceptable? GamerGate has caused real and lasting damage to the media it claims to protect, and in doing so has further contributed to the misogyny and hostility of certain online spaces. It’s not about ethics in games journalism. It’s about bullying women out of games journalism, and my respect and admiration for those women who continue their work regardless knows no bounds.