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How to Lose a Public Relations Battle on the Internet

How to Lose a Public Relations Battle on the Internet

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You can’t wage guerrilla warfare armed only with flak cannons. But that’s precisely what the gaming and tech media are trying to do with GamerGate, a consumer revolt against unethical press practices that is striking terror into the heart of the video games journalism establishment and rocking developers.

Opinion piece after opinion piece are flooding out about the supposedly ugly beliefs and tactics of GamerGate supporters, yet no one outside the tight liberal blogging circle and its social justice warrior intimates, are buying the story. The mud isn’t sticking, which is why the frequency and hysteria of these claims is going through the roof. 

The wrong tools are being deployed, in a misunderstanding of what victory looks like. To #GamerGate supporters, the withdrawal of sponsorship from Intel on Gamasutra, a games news website which published hateful rhetoric about its own audience, was a huge win. Despite universal condemnation from the press, Intel has stuck to its guns and will not advertise on Gamasutra for the foreseeable future. Good on them. 

And that’s the essence of the problem for the hand-wringing liberal media in all of this. The polite, insistent, fact-based and entirely reasonable concerns of GamerGate are invulnerable to scrambling, desperate, politically illiterate and completely absurd attempts to paint the movement as a misogynistic, right-wing lobby group. It isn’t one, and advertisers know it. 

All you accomplish when you tell brazen falsehoods about a sizeable group of disgruntled consumers is make them even more determined to punish you for the contempt you have shown them. That is what’s happening with each new wave of ideological garbage, such as this ludicrous summary of GamerGate by Gawker today, a fact-free screed penned by someone suspended for plagiarism. 

So extreme are the contortions through which the weakened, social media-obsessed media has to put itself in order to slam legitimate concerns about press ethics, we now have the spectacle of Gawker apparently claiming that there’s nothing wrong with journalists who financially support the people they write about and reporting, contrary to the facts, that Intel had reversed its position on Gamasutra when it has done no such thing. 

Developers and studios themselves aren’t thanking journalists for pretending that GamerGate is some sort of Tea Party conspiracy. All the press is doing, say sources in the industry, is driving a wedge between themselves and the people who make games – leaving journalists ever more isolated and vulnerable in a world where more people trust self-employed YouTubers to make games recommendations than trust professional reviewers. It’s a terrible strategy. 

Advertising rates are surely set to plummet, as developers and studios object to outright lies being told about their own customers by journalists who have nothing in common with ordinary gamers and who, in many cases, actively despise their own readers, use every opportunity to poke fun at them, take the word of liars over their own common sense and go on ideological crusades against people whose politics they don’t like

But you can’t fight a war of factual disclosures with attacks on character – something you’d expect journalists to instinctively understand. Perhaps the people these blogging hipsters hang out with, in cringeworthy San Francisco neo-speakeasies, respond to the mere mention of the word “conservative” with the same horror the wannabe journalists do.

But ordinary consumers – the gamers on whose continuing interest gaming publications utterly depend – aren’t impressed. Just how stupid do Polygon and Kotaku think their readers are? Do they really believe that EA, Bungie, Capcom and the like don’t already know exactly what their customers are like? Do they think that their discredited and widely derided publications are going to change a single mind not already determined to hate gamers for the mere crime of being white men?

For the media, GamerGate is an opportunity to sneer and bully from the safety of venture-funded ivory towers. But that battle has already been lost: the smear tactics failed. Now, for #GamerGate supporters, this is a war for the soul of the games industry. Gamers don’t care any more that these journalists hate them. They’re fighting a war they intend to win – a war that simply doesn’t require positive headlines to succeed. 

You’d think video game journalists, of all people, would realise the futility of trying to smite Paladins.


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