If the diffuse, hydra-headed internet phenomenon we call GamerGate has a polite public face, it's r/KotakuInAction. The 17,500-subscriber-strong subreddit presents itself as a forum solely dedicated to the oft-cited, oft-questioned justification for the two-month-long movement: the reformation of ethics in gaming journalism. According to its official description, r/KotakuInAction:
is a place to discuss the drama and other crazy bullshit that seems to be more and more a part of the gaming journalism industry these days.
KotakuInAction strains to differentiate itself from the murkier parishes of GamerGate, with their obsessive focus on the pernicious influence of various -isms in the world of gaming, a focus that at its extreme has been marked by an unconcealed hostility to women, and online hate campaigns up to and including rape and death threats. KotakuInAction, in the GamerGate universe, is billed as the place for reasonable discussion and rational analysis, not trolling and hate speech.
Indeed, the first three "rules" of KotakuInAction all have to do with maintaining standards of online decency: "1. No DOXX of any kind. 2. Do not be a dick to anyone. Harass anybody, and you're out. We don't want your kind here. 3. No witch hunt/call to arms type stuff."
KotakuInAction's "Guide for Guests" and "Guide for Gamers" submit an inclusive online community, united under the big tent of concern.
We DO NOT CARE what your political beliefs are. We have conservatives, liberals (more than half of us are liberal), feminists, egalitarians, mras - while everyone here is for their own reasons, there is one underlying cause that has united us. When we would normally fight each other, we fight together now, because we are gamers, we love games, and we are not giving them up to corruption and a lack of ethics. GamerGate does not end until we get transparency and ethics both on reviewsites and in their forums.
The "Guide" even includes a data plot of the political affiliations of the subreddit's members, to stress the broad — even left! — political orientation of the community.
A glance at the top all-time posts on KotakuInAction seems to bear this out: The subreddit is genuinely obsessed with perceived biases in the gaming and broader media. Over the past two weeks, KotakuInAction garnered a huge amount of attention for its campaign against Gawker Media — sparked by a complex Twitter discussion — that largely consisted of calling big brand advertisers in an attempt to get them to remove campaigns from Nick Denton's network of sites. (Kotaku is Gawker Media's video game site; the name KotakuInAction is a mockery of Kotaku's perceived liberal bias.)
If the campaign felt somewhat cynical (the grounds for KotakuInAction's campaign was the flimsy accusation that Gawker was pro-bullying), it was still inarguably of the subreddit's stated mission: exposing bias and "anti-gamer" sentiment among the media. Someone stumbling upon KotakuInAction for the first time might find that mission conspiratorial and out of touch, but also basically genuine.
Subreddits are noisy, democratic spaces. They naturally represent a diversity of opinion. This makes them fascinating. It also makes them, much like GamerGate itself, very, very difficult to truly characterize, as no one person can be held to represent the views whole.
But there are moderators, the people whose job it is to administer the subreddit and enforce its rules. And a look at the online behavior of the moderators of KotakuInAction reveals a community largely guided by a group of people who participate in and moderate subreddits devoted to the physical degradation of women and the mockery and the ridicule of feminism.
Take the Reddit user oxymuncha. A moderator of KotakuInAction, oxymuncha is also a frequent poster in r/struggleporn, a subreddit dedicated to pornographic images and videos of women being constrained and dominated by men. The media in r/struggleporn depict coercion so graphically that the subreddit has to specify in its guidelines "No snuff, real rape videos." As of this writing, oxymuncha has the top post on r/struggleporn, an image he posted last night of a woman tied up, blindfolded, and gagged inside the trunk of a car. View the image, entitled "The struggle begins...," at your own discretion here (NSFW).
Oxymuncha moderates several subreddits other than KotakuInAction including r/gor, which is dedicated to an obscure fantasy series called The Gor Saga. According to The Encylopedia of Fantasy, the series of 30 books "degenerate into extremely sexist, sadomasochistic pornography involving the ritual humiliation of women"; many of the top posts on r/gor show bound and constrained women.
In addition to r/gor and KIA, Oxymuncha also moderates r/breakfeminazis, a subreddit organized around an elaborate fantasy premise:
Breaking Feminist Superheroines
A Fantasy BDSM Subreddit devoted to a Supervillian who enslaves, degrades, and humiliates Feminist Superheroines to teach them their place as women
This Subreddit is centered around creatively exploring Female psychology under imagined speculative conditions in which Feminist indoctrination has been removed.
A Historical Chronicle of the Gender Civil Wars, in which Radical Feminists finally push Men too far, leading to a hot War of the Sexes in which the forces of the Feminist Menace are smashed in battle. What would a hypothetically constructed world in which Feminism has been decisively defeated, and women have been returned to their natural condition as Slaves look like?
Much of r/breakfeminazis consists of drawings, renderings, and photographs of these fantasy "Feminist Superheroines" who have been degraded and constrained. Here is a typical image:
Oxymuncha also moderates the comparatively prosaic r/TumblrInAction, a subreddit that mocks the vocabulary, syntax, and validity of "SJWs" — social justice warriors.
Seen a horribly oppressed transethnic otherkin blog their plight? Wept at how terrible it is for the suffering of multiple systems to go unheard every day? Been unable to even live with the thought of the identities of someone's headmates being cisdenied?
TheHat2 and flerps, two more moderators of r/KotakuInAction, also moderate /rTumblrInAction. IAmSupernova, another moderator of r/KotakuInAction, also moderates the closely related r/INeedFeminismBecause, dedicated to mocking "those absurd, insane, funny, cringe-worthy or just plain sad 'I Need Feminism Because...' photos."
Indeed, a common thread among the moderators of r/KotakuInAction is that most of them moderate a constellation of subreddits wholly devoted to anonymously mocking the concerns, language, and appearance of people who identify as feminists.
Of all the anti-feminism subreddits moderated by r/KotakuInAction moderators, the most mean-spirited is r/WhatFeministsLookLike, which is largely devoted to pictures of overweight women holding up signs proclaiming their feminism. Captions on several of the top all-time posts to r/WhatFeministsLookLike include "A landwhale taking selfies," "No matter how drunk a dude is - trust me, he's not going to ever bang you. They say never say never, I'm saying never," and "Part ham, part planet, all feminist." David-me and IAmSuperNova both moderate this community.
Dave-me and StrawRedditor, another moderator of r/KotakuInAction, also moderate r/ProlapseVille, which comprises a series of pornographic images and videos of rectal prolapse, "a condition in which the rectum (the lower end of the colon, located just above the anus) becomes stretched out and protrudes out of the anus." The sexual practice that leads to this risky condition has become increasingly common in extreme hardcore porn, particularly BDSM. The subreddit specifies "No male prolapses" and includes a link to a donation page for "Feminazi Victims."
In all, seven out of ten of r/KotakuInAction's human moderators either participate in or moderate subreddits devoted to either the physical and emotional degradation and humiliation of women, or in subreddits devoted to mocking and delegitimizing the arguments and appearances of feminists and "social justice warriors." These online actions, while separate from r/KotakuInAction, are a far cry from a community that paints itself as the respectable face of GamerGate, unsullied by the rampant misogyny of unsavory fellow travelers.
Indeed, the picture that emerges after taking into view the behavior of the moderators, the people who are meant to maintain standards in a subreddit, is a community concerned with the perception of the outside world because it is so keenly aware of its true nature. r/KotakuInAction may be scrubbed clean of the elements of GamerGate that have made the movement anathema to much of the culture, but the online activity of its representatives undermine the subreddit's stated premise and reveal it as a well-orchestrated front for a woman-hating goon squad.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at email@example.com.
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