Corruption. Politics. Nepotism. Sex. Moral panic. Adam Baldwin. No, this isn't a Hollywood film. Rather, it is the very real saga that is the video game world's current controversy, known as Gamergate. While the consumer revolt has garnered a large amount of press between small game publications and mainstream media outlets, a majority of this coverage has failed to include a complete and honest picture of both sides of the controversy, rather selling conjecture as indisputable fact. My name is Elizabeth Fogarty, and for the past 4 months, I have actively fought for the key goals behind the Gamergate consumer revolt. And they are not what you think.
But Seriously, What IS Gamergate?
The Gamergate controversy is the result of a combination of separate, yet related, issues. Firstly it is a call for ethical reform in the games press, primarily in the form of disclosure of either personal or financial conflicts of interest between a journalist and a subject they are reviewing or reporting on. Secondly, it is a response to ideological manipulation of the gaming industry, and the censorship that has occurred as a result of this. These two things are, in fact, related, because we are seeing the praise of this manipulation by members of the gaming press, as well as praise of the censorship of discussion by members of the gaming press. This combination of the lack of objectivity and fact checking with the desire to adjust or omit truths in order to appeal to a particular "group" is in no way exclusive to games journalists, but rather is indicative of a larger, more universal issue in how we all receive news.
You hear the phrases "right wing news" and "left wing news" quite a bit nowadays, yet the truth is, news should not have a wing because facts do not have a wing. Facts are facts. We do not expect journalists to be unbiased. Everyone has bias, we're human beings who are designed to think and feel. However, when you are in position of power, such as in the case of a journalist with incredible reach, you should put your personal bias and politics aside in the interest of being honest, fair, and neutral. In gaming many articles, particularly reviews, are indeed a combination of fact and opinion. If a journalist knowingly agrees to write a review on a game or company that they have a personal or financial tie to, it is highly unlikely they would be able to position themselves neutrally enough to cover it fairly, and they should either recuse themselves or disclose the conflict.
One of the largest issues people take with Gamergate is the origin. Gamergate did in fact initially begin with the Zoe Post. A game developer's ex boyfriend wrote a blog post detailing the end of his relationship, which had indications of being emotionally and mentally abusive. He outlined the alleged infidelity of his girlfriend throughout the course of their relationship. Several of the names included in the post drew attention to a potential conflict of interest in gaming journalism, most specifically Nathan Grayson of Kotaku (and formerly of Rock, Paper, Shotgun). Many people feel everything that has resulted was a reaction to a female developer having sex. In reality, the developer was a character backstory, and most of those involved in the discussion were interested in the plot of the film. The first use of the hashtag #Gamergate was by actor Adam Baldwin, who has actively spoken on the matter.
Stephen Totilo, Editor in Chief of Kotaku, claimed to have conducted an investigation, and stated that the relationship between Grayson and the developer, Zoe Quinn, began after he covered her game (an assertion that has since been disproven.)
When this potential conflict of interest was brought to light, two other undisclosed conflicts of interest were exposed at essentially the same time (Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez and Polygon's Ben Kuchera)
When we, as consumers, began questioning these conflicts, over a dozen articles declaring the "death of gamers" were published within a 48 hour period, from competing sites, some more vitriolic than others. It was later revealed that these journalists were part of a private email list, where discussions took place regarding what to report on, as well as attempted censorship of forum discussion of the topics surrounding the controversy. Ben Kuchera of Polygon is seen in leaked emails repeatedly chastising journalists from competing publications for allowing discussion of the topic on their forums.
In addition to journalists halting, and attempting to halt, discussion of the topic on gaming publication forums, third party sites such as 4chan and Reddit began deleting threads which pointed to potential journalistic impropriety. This occurred to such an extent that even Wikileaks joined the fray.
Many of the journalists involved have installed the GG Autoblocker, which is a program for Twitter that immediately blocks anyone following two or more accounts which were classified as alleged "ringleaders" of the leaderless consumer revolt. This has limited the ability to engage in any productive conversation about the issues.
Although several publications willingly updated their ethics policies, many were resistant. Supporters of the revolt began organized email campaigns, contacting advertisers on the websites of the publications and providing evidence of wrongdoing. Multiple advertisers have pulled ads on the sites in question as a result.
It's unlikely that this call for disclosure and ethical reform appears extreme, or unreasonable, to many of you. Why then, has this become one of the greatest controversies within the industry?
When you accuse someone of doing something wrong, one of two things will happen. They will admit they were wrong, apologize, and change what they are doing. Or, they will accuse you of something much worse. That banal response is what we have seen with Gamergate. Instead of addressing the claims head on and responding to our evidence, the very press we were fighting against painted us as misogynist harassers, intent on keeping women out of the industry. And because they had not only pen and ink, but an audience, they were believed without question.
In recent years, people have been more willing to view video games as a form of art. As a result, there has been an increase in critiques of games, most notably with the Feminist Frequency web series. This series has been accused of "cherry picking" examples, out of context, in order to argue a sexist epidemic in games and their portrayals of women. To be clear: They have every right to say what they are saying, whether I agree or not. However, those involved in the discussion of Gamergate, as well as neutral parties within the culture, have expressed concern over the amount of clout and influence the creators of this series have.
Since the series rose to fame, the industry has seen one title pulled from several stores in Australia for perceived sexism, and Sweden is currently discussing adding additional labeling to games which are found to be sexist, despite a rating system for games already existing. The standards by which this will be measured are currently unclear. Additionally, after Jonathan McIntosh, writer and producer of Feminist Frequency, began publicly speaking out against the game, Hatred was temporarily pulled from Steam Greenlight (it was later reinstated, and shortly after was Greenlit).
There is a demand for the evolution of the industry to leave behind "offensive" tropes and characters completely. However, offense is taken, not given. Games are not sentient beings. They are incapable, on their own, of acting with volition or prejudice. This interpretation happens in the mind of the individual player. It is a widely held belief by those involved in the revolt that artistic and creative freedom should be protected without exception.
A majority of the "other side" of the discussion oppose the goals surrounding Gamergate from an ideological standpoint. Many disregard the call for ethics, some openly mocking it. It's easy for them to draw an incorrect conclusion because they don't care about games journalism, and can not fathom how, if they don't care, anyone else could. They focus on the ideological debate, which essentially boils down to those who support creative freedom, versus those who want specific universal representation of certain types of characters.
As a result of our push against the politicization of the industry, we were minimized to the singular demographic of "white cis male."
#NotYourShield is a "sister hashtag" to #Gamergate, and was started as a response to this characterization that all gamers were white nerdy man-children. Female and minority gamers spoke out in support of both ethics and creative freedom, while also largely condemning both artistic and spoken censorship. We were met with accusations of being fake, or of internalizing our own self hatred - be it "internalized misogyny" or "internalized racism." In addition, many of us have been called tokens, shields, gender traitors, and "uncle toms."
In 1968, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan II spoke on behalf of free speech: "One man's vulgarity is another man's lyric." Works of art evoke diverse and deeply passionate responses in people, be it positive or negative, and as a result, have been the target of numerous censorship efforts throughout history.
Claims of the Harassment of Women
The primary assumption regarding those involved in the Gamergate revolt has been that we are a harassment movement intent on keeping women out of both gaming and the game industry, through threats and targeted harassment. I am not disputing that people have received threats and harassment, because that has happened - on both sides. I myself have received quite a few threats, regular harassment, and I've been doxed. Most recently, someone printed out my picture from Twitter, masturbated onto it, and tweeted an image of this publicly.
A vast majority of the threats and harassment on both sides have been the result of online trolls. They target both sides in order to further tension and get deranged laughs out of what is happening. And the truth is, this has happened to both men AND women. I would never claim that my harassment is because of my gender, rather as a result of both my stance on the Gamergate controversy and my involvement in the discussion. Should the threats be taken less seriously? Absolutely not. All threats should be assessed, reported, and monitored. But to place blame on an entire group with no evidence is not only dishonest and unfair, it's also potentially dangerous to the person who has received them.
People who actually care about the key goals of the Gamergate revolt often speak out against threats, harassment, and doxing. Yes, there are women involved of whom we are critical - Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Leigh Alexander, for example. We criticize posts, we dispute and debate points that they make. Yes, this is happening. No one is denying that. However, I will deny until my last breath these two points: 1) that we are disputing what they are saying because they are women, and 2) we are only disputing the words and opinions of women. That is untrue. We have regularly criticized Jonathan McIntosh. We have regularly criticized Ben Kuchera of Polygon, and Stephen Totilo and Nathan Grayson of Kotaku, and Arthur Chu, who actually does not care about video games, as well as many more. The idea that we are simply "targeting women" for just being women is asinine and often dishonest. But if someone were to actually share all of this information, they'd have to leave the "they're just woman-haters" narrative behind, and they aren't willing to do that.
We have questioned the actions of many people, yet are widely portrayed as only criticizing women. The idea that women should be exempt from criticism is insulting and, frankly, meets the criteria for sexism.
Ethics matter. If you believe in the right to trust the news you receive, regarding anything, then you must constantly demand more neutrality. Personal biases shaping the delivery of facts only serves to hinder progress, not help it.
Creative Freedom matters. If you believe in the right to think, to feel, to discover, to play, and to create, then you must support and defend the right for others to be able to do the same.
The only proven fact of "offensive" material is whether you personally find it offensive or not. What offends you may not offend me, and vice versa. As long as we have options in games, you have the ability to participate in the hobby comfortably. Removing any of these options helps no one. When you allow things in life to be censored, censorship becomes life.
More diversity in games is a good thing. Developers should be open to this. They should not, however, be pressured into creating a checkbox character in an attempt to please people who will likely never be content.
There are real people on the other side of your computer screen. It is possible to treat others kindly while still asserting your stance.
To learn more about the Gamergate consumer revolt: Talk to some of us.