One year has passed since the start of GamerGate, an online uprising of gamers against poor journalistic standards, political correctness, and moral crusaders in the world of video games.
The gamers’ rebellion has had an extraordinary impact. In addition to its effect on the games industry, it has drawn the attention of journalism experts, political think-tanks, and celebrities.
We asked game developers, political figures, journalists, and gamers themselves to give us their thoughts on the controversy one year on.
When I coined the GamerGate hashtag on Twitter, I had no idea what would follow, but I’m very pleased with the result. For over a year, gamers have been pushing back against a new wave of political correctness, media spin, and cultural authoritarianism. Propagandists tried to declare gamers “dead” — in response, gamers became their worst nightmare.
Despite the atrocious things said about them in the mainstream media, gamers have survived, thrived, and conquered. They detest censorship, language-policing, and the prioritization of politics over good storytelling. Everyone who believes in creative freedom should support them.
The hysteria around GamerGate reached such insane levels that it helped me to understand Kafka and Lovecraft better. When gaming journalists attack you and call you scum without ever talking to you and when the co-owner of an anti-harassment organization tries to ruin your business just because you decided not to demonize a consumer revolt, well, that’s when you start questioning reality.
I don’t think people involved in GamerGate are all sinless white knights, but I also know – I look at them for almost a year now, and I started as their enemy – they are not the spawn of Satan. Unless protesting gaming media’s one-sided socio-political narrative around games and gamers or exposing journalists promoting their friends without disclosure is the right reason to invent the tenth circle of Hell.
I wonder how we will look at GamerGate a few years from now. My hope is that it will turn out to have been Stalingrad for the authoritarians and moral panic crusaders, and a turning point in the cultural war currently taking place in the modern world.
This last year has been pretty incredible. I’ve met some fantastic people, and a few that I’d be happy to never have to interact with again. I’ve been threatened by both women and men — who claim to be “fighting for me” — to the point where I had to contact the police in both the US and the UK.
I’ve had my experiences as a woman in the games/animation industry erased and my identity questioned. I’ve been repeatedly labelled as a misogynist for daring to question my glorious saviours, but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.
Women are not oppressed in gaming. We don’t need people demanding special treatment for us because of our genitals. We don’t need safe spaces. We don’t need hiring quotas, and those who do simply aren’t talented enough to make it off their own backs. Thank god for GamerGate, because it was honestly sorely needed.
I found GamerGate interesting because it opened up a new and hitherto untouched front in the culture wars that have been raging for decades: video games. The issue for the social justice Left, that made games harder to conquer than, say, literary criticism, is that gamers are a very broad swathe of society.
The social justice arguments made against games as they are, familiar and devastating to a Guardian writer or professor, seem bizarre and outlandish to most people. Combine this with the fact that gamers tend to be invested in and protective of their chosen medium and the social justice left found themselves with a much tougher time on their hands than they expected.
Now, more than any time in history, individuals have the freedom to associate, collaborate, and create value together without the permission of the centralized forces that once served as social gatekeepers. GamerGate is only one realization of this trend. Spontaneous rebellions against the old cultural guards are similarly revolutionizing our musical, technological, literary, and journalistic domains by the day.
This should not be surprising. Technology increases the number of channels through which free people can connect and conspire. It also enhances the legacy media’s illusions of control—as the much-maligned GamerGate has learned first-hand. But these old tricks will not work. Smear jobs and unethical reporting only validate the rebels’ grievances.
On the other hand, mere opposition is valiant but exploitable. The true threat to a decentralized resistance like GamerGate lurks within.
I see GamerGate as the best modern example of how a false narrative can be socially engineered by coordinating the five C’s:
1. Confirmation Bias, leading to the cherry picking of only data that supports one’s position;
2. Composition Fallacy, arguing that a part defines the whole;
3. Clickbait Business Model, incentivizing sensational stories spread through social media;
4. Complicit Mass Media, pushing eagerly any War-Against-Women/harassment story;
5. Collectivism, justifying outrage and action for the “greater good.”
So what is GamerGate? From my one year of observation and interaction on Twitter, it’s simple: gamers pushing for free enterprise and free markets in the gaming industry; gamers asking for a competitive market free of collusion, free of corruption, and free of control of artistic creativity by authoritarians. In short, GamerGate is a freedom movement.
Don’t take my word for it. Scrape the Twitter API, code the content, run the statistical analysis. If you’re anti-GamerGate, you’ll be surprised by what you find.
In my opinion, there is nothing to the idea that violent video games promote “real-life” violence or discrimination. Nothing. It is a complete fallacy. As an avid video-game player my entire life, I have always loved the strategy and the problem-solving and the competition I have experienced as a result of playing games. Sometimes I play games to relax and disconnect from the pressures of the real-world, and other times I play them with my son as a form of bonding and interacting — especially if I’m away. My son loves video games, describes himself as a “gamer,” and is one of the most upstanding and respectful young men you’ll find anywhere.
Commentary Writer, Washington Examiner
One year ago, so-called journalists declared that “gamers are dead” and that [gaming] culture bred hostility toward women and minorities. Since that time gamers have pushed back, proving again and again that they are not the monsters portrayed in the media. In fact, gamers continue to be some of the best people I have ever known, and I know that the false narrative will continue to be exposed in the next year.
Founder, Pixel Metal studios
Many news organizations clearly see that perpetuating an atmosphere of misinformation and censorship is an easy way to earn clicks. In its first year, GamerGate remains a popular punching bag for press outlets. The fact that ABC, CBC, and others were called to task this year for intentionally demonizing GamerGate speaks directly to this issue.
Regardless, GamerGate has been far more successful than the media seems ready to admit. Through the work of impassioned activists, we have seen massive changes in the way games are covered. Major sites, such as Kotaku and The Escapist, have updated their ethics and disclosure policies. This has added some much needed transparency to their coverage.
GamerGate supporters have successfully lobbied the FTC to enforce and clarify its rules about websites that use undisclosed affiliate shopping links. This is causing sweeping change in the industry overall. These victories are critical for exposing biases and will have repercussions far beyond game coverage.
It’s terrific to see those who love games stepping up to defend the art they love. Whatever form the movement takes in the next year, you can bet it will be under fire every step of the way — while continuing to quietly achieve positive, lasting results for journalists and developers alike.
Four lessons I learned in four months of getting to know GamerGate advocates and critics:
1. The most reasonable people on both sides have more in common with each other than with the assholes on their own side.
2. Piss off GamerGate, they’ll tweet at you (literally) 5,000 times a day. Piss off anti-GamerGate, they’ll block you on Twitter and refuse to give you the time of day.
3. The worst harassing on both sides is perpetrated by trolls on neither side.
4. Pro media outlets cover most controversies with a 50-50 split of news and opinion. GamerGate’s coverage seems mostly opinion – both for and against.
5. The media is partly responsible for this mess. When a critical mass of like-minded individuals feel ignored by a free press, their loudest zealots drown out their most reflective moderates. Which, of course, bolsters the claim it’s all just a sh*tshow not worth covering.
Secretary-Treasurer, Society of Professional Journalists
I am not sure the movement has had an effect on journalism or journalism ethics, positively or negatively. If anything I think it highlights a need for people writing online, whether they call themselves journalists or bloggers or online writers, to be more conscientious of the fact that what they write has impact and should be done ethically and with careful consideration. I think it also highlights why journalists should be careful about using anonymous sources, especially those who are online and anonymous.
When I walked away from the [SPJ GamerGate panel], I felt as if people in the audience learned a little bit about what journalists do behind the scenes every day. Having an understanding of the profession and the consideration and thought ethical journalists think about all the time while producing stories is important. SPJ is here to help journalists learn and talk about ethical issues that come up and are here to help all journalists or people wanting to be journalists. A negative was obviously the bomb threat. Any threat made on public conversation is a threat to our right to speak freely in this country and that was disappointing to see.
Discussing these issues is great and should continue. Engaging experts in the field of ethics and journalism is also great. I think the key thing to keep in mind is the way the communication is happening: the tone, the arena, etc. Respectful discussion is going to have the most impact. Twitter is great but limited to 140 characters, and a lot of the issues being discussed need more than 140 characters.
I was somewhat fortunate to have a good friend, “Cranky T Rex”, in the middle of that culture who pushed me into covering it. As a fifty-two-year-old grandfather whose last significant gaming experience involved Galaga consoles in arcades, I understand the reluctance of those who stayed away from the story — the fear of not getting the cultural nuances of a new community, and of the perils of stumbling through a complicated controversy. Had they begun to pay attention, though, conservative media outlets would have found what I did: a prototype of the same battles we have fought against, coordinated bias in media, and the same kind of demonization that routinely got applied to us when we began to assert ourselves in New Media.
Milo [Yiannopoulos] was one of the few who did grasp it, as did our friend Adam Baldwin. Some of us are still playing catch-up, but most of us still have not started at all. We are missing out on an opportunity to build alliances with millennials through the shared experience of media manipulation. Let’s hope our side wakes up to the possibilities — and the dangers of ignoring this rising and sophisticated constituency.
The Social Justice Warriors were on a tear these past few years, getting people fired and issuing boycotts on any company that didn’t conform to cultural Marxism. When they attacked video games and embarked on GamerGate, they kicked a wasp’s nest. Hell hath no fury like a nerd in front of a computer, and instead of conceding that video games are somehow immoral, the gamers unleashed a digital tsunami on the SJWs that left them permanently isolated. However, I fear gamers are fair weather friends who are ultimately left wing at heart and won’t be using their powers for good in the near future — especially if it doesn’t affect their personal interests.
Speaking as a closet gamer myself (“I know not of your pod. Seek the big blue”) I think it’s no exaggeration to say that GamerGate represented one of the most thrilling revolutions in recent cultural history. Millions of people who’d never thought about politics suddenly realised that you have to — and that what’s more you have to fight — if the bad guys aren’t going to win.
Animator & Designer, “Seedscape”
The key lesson for the industry regarding GamerGate is that your opinion of consumers has no bearing on whether or not they impact the industry, but they do impact whether or not you have influence over game sales. Whether you feel consumers’ concerns are merited or not, never ever dump on the audience. They own this industry with every purchase they make, every screenshot they post, and every mention of your game or your articles about games.
You can feel like the person who says the coffee is too hot is wrong or not, but throwing it in their face and calling them a “Wailing Hyper Consumer” will ultimately cause you to pay the price for that, not them. Hot coffee burns for awhile, but the internet will remember what you did forever. As a developer it is hard to address everyone’s individual complaints (though we try!), but when you’re a game journalist and the complaint is “why are you talking about your friends’ games without disclosure?” I wish all complaints were so easily fixed!
Even for myself it was a great reminder developers should not spend all their time trying to make games that catch the eye of a journalist or “fighting” customers when you feel they are wrong. It’s kind of backwards. The customers are the ones buying the game; from what I’ve seen a lot of these people in games journalism admit to not even liking games anymore. They seem tired and worn out, like the magic has gone away. I would like to see more developers take a page from Nintendo Treehouse. Talk about your games, invite people to play them, and even if you feel like people are wrong, focus on the people who already like your stuff, and improve where you can.
The thing that folks have gotten wrong about GamerGate is that there are trolls on both sides. And I don’t understand why trolling is considered ok, when it’s done by women. I’ve been attacked for not supporting certain women who troll pretty hard. Why can’t I take a stand for civil discourse and general niceness on the internet?
So many journalists are writing because they want to create social justice. (I think that’s part of how GamerGate intersects with gender.) But that leads to poor reporting. We need people to research stories, and report on what they discover. I’ve seen so many journalists try to position me as some kind of “woman in tech” victim. But that’s not my story. I see it in the GamerGate reporting as well. The damsel in distress story sells, but I think it does a disservice to everyone. And it’s inaccurate.
The portrayal of gamers in the media has been grossly detached from reality. As a woman, I have never felt more accepted or welcome. Yet the gaming community is supposedly filled with “misogynists.”
When your friends are anonymous, as many online gamers are, it really conditions you to not judge based on physical appearance. You see people as complex personalities, not as members of a race or gender. That’s why I believe so many gamers, including myself, don’t care for identity politics — we get to know peoples’ personalities and judge based on merit.
That’s the gaming culture I know, and it’s very different from the one portrayed in the mainstream media. I urge journalists to present a more accurate picture in the future.
Somewhere on the internet, a spark occurred. That spark created a flame. That flame became a beacon. That beacon gathered a rebellion. That rebellion began to fight. That fight became a war. That war changed everything.
Many people won’t know that the greatest battle for the soul of the media occurred right under their noses, and that it was undertaken on their behalf by the same group that many of them had looked down on for decades; the gamers. What’s more, nobody saw them coming. Not even the media that thought they would so easily walk all over them.
Due to efforts through the gaming community, the journalistic world was turned on its head. The gamers let reporters and columnists know that they were no longer talking at them, but with them. Many, who had a platform upheld by mainstream outlets, suddenly found their claims being dismantled and thrown out. Activists ran scared as their carefully constructed world crumbled around them. These self styled media kings and queens were made to kneel by the gamers.
But aside from all the damaged-turned-reconstruction that gamers caused, the thing that impresses the most was the community that is GamerGate. Here you have a mass of people of so many cultural differences, religious beliefs, political stances, etc, and they were able to put their differences aside to achieve a very lofty goal, and all without a leader. This is not a natural occurrence. The odds would be astronomical. Yet, gamers made it happen. This was weaponized chaos from a community of good people who made the enemy of their enemy their actual friend. People who drive hours or fly out to see one another. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of that movement, and couldn’t be happier to have these people as friends
Ask any gamer or anyone within the game industry what GamerGate means to them and you might get a variety of answers, depending on who you ask.
Over the course of the year, my stance towards the GamerGate movement has shifted. Having initially bought into the “social justice”-approved narrative that all of GamerGate was about the harassment of women, I used to be violently opposed to the movement and engaged in demonizing its supporters, who consist mainly of gamers—including women.
Most gamers don’t much care for political correctness, and the way they speak has been deliberately misinterpreted as bigotry by social justice proponents whose biggest source of angst comes from microaggressions.
The narrative is false, and it’s one I see propped up time and time again to discredit anyone who dissents against what I’d call “social authoritarianism.”
The loud-mouthed ideologue Arthur Chu recently said that I’m literally worse than a Nazi for (presumably) refusing to fall in line with the approved narrative. That alone should say much about social justice proponents and how they treat dissenters.
Question everything, and don’t let others do the thinking for you.
Whenever you find people who use certain actions and terminology to establish an in-group clique, which makes an out-group comprised of everyone else, you will find they become authoritarian moralisers. Whether it was the Neocons of the Bush presidency and the word “terrorist” or the progressive activist-journalists and the word “misogyny,” the purpose is to establish that this small group knows better than everyone else, and thus must be ceded control. GamerGate has helped write the playbook for the 21st century when dealing with these groups through civil disobedience on the internet and should be considered highly when circumstances like this arise in future, because they will.
The GamerGate movement has been a rollercoaster ride. These past 12 months, I have personally witnessed the hostility and strength of both sides of the consumer movement. Due to my GamerGate affiliation, I have been silenced by many large media outlets who refuse to publish my interviews and editorials. It is clear to me that mass media has twisted the GamerGate story to villainize gamers as a threatening and misogynistic group.
Moreover, after delving into the industry with BasedGamer.com, I am beginning to see that not all journalists in the industry conduct unethical and unprofessional practices. As a gamer, this is extremely heartening. There are a lot of genuine and professional journalists in the games industry. These are the journalists we need to promote.
Both sides of the GamerGate movement have valid opinions and driven individuals. There is no need to create enemies. Focus on what you believe in. If you want change in the games industry, you need to be the change. By next year, I hope to see GamerGate as a much more powerful presence in the games industry.
GamerGate changed my life for the better. It showed me ways I can raise money for charity despite being stuck in my bed. Folks I met through it came to help me with my vision when I had almost given up on making video games. However, folks in GamerGate must remember not to become what they hate. They especially needs to avoid being against things because those that have harmed us are for them as that is what the opposition does. For the most folks seem to remember that what matters most is being excellent to each other. That is what really matters and what those that have harmed us can’t do.
I’m glad GamerGate happened. I’d been talking about issues with the anti-consumer games press for a few years prior, so when people finally caught on to what was happening it was like greeting a friend who had finally came around to the fact they were in a bad relationship. There’s been real, positive change in fighting the fear that was bred into the game industry— we can now have the discussion we need. GamerGate is a spark of hope that pushes me to keep trying, because if at least one group can push back against this sort of cultural authoritarianism then there’s at least a chance things can get better.
Just because some journalists think they’re “punching up” with the righteous hand of social justice and feminism does not mean they get to just make shit up :^)
At the time of writing this, I’m preparing to move in to a new apartment, which would not have been possible if not for the help of some very generous people that I’ve met because of GamerGate. Thank you for saving my family’s lives, you ethical sockpuppets and gentlemen. And thank you, unethical game journos, for being so bad at your jobs that we all met and formed this unlikely family. You’re truly the best of the best at being the worst. You’re gonna carry that weight a long time.
Gamer and memeforger
To me personally, the GamerGate conflict marks the beginning of gaming’s troubled adolescence. Something akin to Code Era Cinema. It’s beautiful to witness if you can step back from the online politics and drama.
I started as a naive, innocent boy, wading into the scary world of neckbeards and Xbox controllers not knowing my W from my A, S or D.
I finish the year as a fully-fledged shitlord with amazing stories to tell and a lot of new friends. Thank you for having me!
I believe that a lot of industries and cultures of people could learn a lot from what has transpired over the duration of GamerGate. For the industries, it’s important from a business perspective to see exactly what not to do in regards to your consumer base or audience. Attacking them is never an option, and as most any can plainly see it leads to bad places. On a cultural level, I would hope that GamerGate serves as an example of not letting bullies step in and push you around. Just like any other classic bully, the one thing that cultural authoritarians can’t handle is someone with the courage to face them down in a confrontation.
Blogger, “The Ralph Retort”
I think GamerGate is something very unique. Most causes would have folded when faced with the same sort of vitriol. GamerGate didn’t quit, though. In fact, we thrived. Think about all the history we made in the face of an almost entirely hostile mainstream media. They’ve smeared us at every turn. Our successes were ignored, and repeatedly, we were misrepresented. How many other endeavours would have wilted when faced with such unbridled aggression from the fourth estate? Just about all of them, I’m afraid.
That’s why I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last year. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. We’ve had our disagreements, and I’ve been in the middle of many of them. But one of our strengths has always been the diversity of our supporters. Robust debate shows vitality. Plus, at the end of the day, we always circle the wagons and support the end goals: cleaning up gaming journalism, holding the media to account when it comes to ethics, and stopping the cultural advance of social justice warriors.
The first year was definitely special, and it will go down in the history books of online activism. This isn’t the end, though. In fact, we’re just getting started. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for GamerGate. If things go anything like the last twelve months, it will be incredible.
Gamers are always fighting, not necessarily to be accepted by society at large, but for the freedom to pursue our hobbies without those masquerading as the moral authority getting in our way. And for the past year, I’ve seen Gamers get vilified in the national media, and on the world stage by people who simply don’t play video games but want to have a say in the culture of it. I’m proud to say that GamerGate, despite a few hiccups along the way, has become a beacon for free speech and ethics in new media. We have survived the initial onslaught, and now we prepare for wave two.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter