Gaming, a hobby largely despised by the mainstream press and much maligned as a pastime of the basement dweller, the social recluse, the spotty nerd. Anyone in the games community knows that, in reality, it is increasingly made up of a group of varied, diverse and flawed people. There isn’t one stereotype that unites us; we haven’t all been bullied, we didn’t all get straight A grades at school and we’re not all dudes.
And yet, there’s a subculture of people who are so determined to retain the ‘gamer’ crown, uphold its dirty stereotype and keep out anyone who they perceive to be unlike them, that they will participate in the very bullying they supposedly despise. They will create a campaign centred on targeting large swathes of predominantly women writers who they feel are a threat to their precious, precious games.
#GamerGate has fostered such threat and hostility, both from those at the centre and those pulled into it on a false pretext, that it has actively forced some women out of the industry altogether. Brave, unique and vital voices have been hounded to breaking point.
We can separate those involved in #GamerGate into two basic groups (ignoring, of course, the jilted ex) – firstly, we have the 4channers, those at the centre of the movement who sought to harass, abuse and tear down so-called Social Justice Warriors and deliberately mislead others using the hashtag. Secondly, we have the Adopters, those who bought into the narrative of #GamerGate as a movement about journalistic integrity and about fighting back against journalists sullying the gamer name, inadvertently promoting the cause of the 4channers.
The 4channers at the centre of #GamerGate and #NotYourShield have had their true priorities revealed, to strip power and agency from prominent women and men seeking to better the industry. To attempt to tear down the limited progress the games industry has made, to turn games media’s own recognition of oppression back on itself by creating sockpuppet accounts, in the misguided belief that they would be listened to without question. These people are abusers and fantasists who succeeded in leading others in order to gang up on, bully and harass those they disagree with.
The fact that ‘gamers’, developers and gaming sites bought into #GamerGate as a legitimate movement is nothing short of an embarrassment. They were manipulated by a pathetic pantomime act playing make-believe, a group of children who ran away to their den to plot the collapse of the gaming community. When I say ‘children’ that applies to these people no matter their age; they are mentally stunted aged 12 and ¾, incapable of empathy and naming their abuse campaign an ‘Operation’ and treating it as an opportunity to recreate their own Tom Clancy-esque desires.
From ‘maybe we should listen to them’ to changing policies, many in the gaming press were taken in by the call for greater journalistic integrity that concealed the true motive of #GamerGate. The ruse designed to make people in positions of power more amenable to their demands, while rendering those relying on audience support and freelance work even more vulnerable to their attacks. In 2007 readers didn’t trust games journalists; in 2014 games journalists can no longer trust their readers.
The fact that this subculture exists, occasionally making itself known in the comment sections – long written off as the breeding ground of loathsome, odious opinions of entitled children – and seemingly finding its home on 4chan is a somewhat scary prospect. Their fantasy continues as they send out ‘orders’ to ‘regroup’ next year and yet we’re expected to accommodate and babysit this group of cockroaches, the walls of their bedroom plastered with gaming posters and scantily clad women who they want to control and abuse. Although they’re scuttling back to their holes now, these children with ability for hacking combined with a hatred of women, obsession with games and an intense jealousy of games journalists will resurface.
That someone had to trawl through their logs in order to prove #GamerGate as a farce and defend themselves and their colleagues says something about our acceptance of these comments at face value. Although some had genuine concerns, at the heart of this movement was an attempt to seek out and demonise writers the 4channers define as Other. The way #GamerGate was created, promoted and eventually fell apart is damaging to the games community as a whole, #GamerGate’s outright abuse and fanatical conception has truly lived up to the outside world’s idea of gamers.
In the second group, the Adopters, we have a group of people who identify deeply with the gamer title and stereotype, who will happily buy into a flimsy narrative-come-witch hunt in order to feel part of a group, to feel purpose. At a base level, these people bought into a movement that was ultimately centred on not wanting to share games with anyone outside their defined circle of ‘gamer’. While the 4channers, happy to hack people for their own depraved motives, hardly deserve our time, the Adopters leave us with questions to ask.
The fact that such a seemingly large group of people in the gaming community could so easily buy into sexist and abusive logic without questioning it and could so readily buy into MS Paint mock ups as evidence of corruption without any independent thought of their own, leaves me asking how we can move on from this while knowing that these people exist in our community, waiting for the next target to be pointed out for them.
While the easiest, and most attractive, option is to leave them alone, ignore them and sweep them under the carpet; that leaves the opportunity for more pressure and anger to build, and thereby more fuel for influential people like the 4channers to latch onto and harness. Some would argue that we should interact with these people, convince them of our way of thinking and show them that they’re buying into a crock of shit but that’s easier said than done when there are hundreds, or even thousands of these people who all give ten @ replies to one tweet and continue to exist on forums spreading hatred as gospel.
There isn’t one true solution to this; no one can provide an answer to all the questions and anxieties this month of abuse has caused. The audience of games journalists is made up of a lot of angry people, a lot of easily led people but, equally, a lot of loving, caring and well-meaning people.
If we maintain Business as Normal, continue to produce and consume meaningful, challenging and interesting critiques of games, do what we can to cultivate a culture of inclusivity that questions the norm and absolutely does not accept abuse or harassment and calls it out at every opportunity, maybe we can keep the good people who haven’t yet fled. Maybe we can change things and create a community that seeks to do better. If not, we can keep going for the many good people who do appreciate our work and fuck the rest.