GamerGate is the biggest internet storm in a decade–a battle that has spawned an unprecedented four-and-a-half million tweets, death threats, a front-page story in the New York Times, a segment on The Colbert Report, cost Gawker Media over a million dollars, left hundreds of journalists angry and humiliated and precipitated a huge, unending wave of bitchy insults, bitter recriminations and online controversy.What caused this gigantic internet drama? The humble video game.
On the face of it–and according to most press reports–GamerGate describes a loose coalition of angry white men trying to run women out of the video games industry. But, in fact, GamerGate represents a brutal clash of worlds: put-upon, basement-dwelling nerds and the bloggers and feminists who have for years been claiming that video games are hateful, misogynistic and should be censored.
Video games have come a long way since Mario and Ecco the Dolphin. The industry is now worth over $80 billion–more than Hollywood–and the biggest titles are released with the same fanfare, and make as much money, as summer blockbusters from big movie studios. Since they’re created primarily for men, they also feature a lot of babes and big explosions.Yet something has gone wrong with video game journalism, which a decade ago began a slide into guilt-mongering and pearl-clutching over all those boobs and bombs.
Today, the release of a top-tier video game is accompanied by hand-wringing in the press about its “violent” and “sexist” content, despite the fact that the evidence about how games make people behave in real life is inconclusive at best. Ordinary gamers are left scratching their heads by all this.
In September 2014, emails were leaked to me from a secret mailing list called GameJournoPros. The emails proved that dozens of senior journalists from competing publications were colluding–as in the JournoList scandal in 2010–to push political and “social engineering” agendas in their coverage and blackball writers who tried to speak out about corruption in the press.
This was the proof that gamers had been waiting for: the gaming press really was rotten, as they had suspected for years. For a decade, games journalists had been insulting their own audience with lofty put-downs and boring them to death with earnest political treatises. The GameJournoPros disclosure provided momentum for GamerGate, which became a full-scale consumer revolt against malpractice in the games press and a rejection of that vindictive, politicised coverage.
As an internet movement, it is unprecedented in scale, comparable to the Occupy Wall Street protests in its longevity and remarkable in the sheer viciousness of language on both sides. In the past few months, just for reporting favourably about GamerGate supporters, I have had syringes filled with mysterious liquids posted to my home address and dead animals shoved through my letterbox.
And I have received thousands of emails from both sides, both from gamers and feminists.The GamerGate story begins with Zoe Quinn, an American indie game developer from New York accused of cheating on her boyfriend with a journalist to garner positive coverage for her video games. I was one of the first mainstream journalists to write about these allegations.
As one of the vanishingly few journalists consistently sympathetic to the GamerGate consumer revolt, I’ve been asked dozens of times whether I’ll be addressing the subject at greater length than in my columns here at Breitbart. After all, the social justice warriors have had more than a fair hearing in the media, despite how dodgy their claims and spokespeople can sometimes be. The answer is: yes.
Zoe Quinn’s story became emblematic of the inappropriate closeness video game journalists have with the people they write about. In many cases, sex and money are traded in both directions.Zoe Quinn is just one of a number of women drawn into the GamerGate controversy. Others include feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian and developer Brianna Wu, each of whom also claims, despite a lack of evidence, to have received death and rape threats from GamerGate supporters.
All three became well known in the media for aggressively promoting the threats they’d received. Gamers said they did so for attention, to push political agendas and to falsely paint gamers as reactionary bigots. On closer inspection, all three women have pasts that suggest more scepticism is required.Over time, as GamerGate grew in intensity, with video gamers bewildered at being called misogynists and confused about why feminist agitators were swamping the agenda, a strange coalition of supporters emerged.
Wikileaks’s Julian Assange found common cause with the movement, tweeting his support on a number of occasions and replying to questions about GamerGate on reddit. The Occupy movement, seeing GamerGate as an anti-establishment initiative, also gave public support.Hollywood actor Adam Baldwin, who had coined the name GamerGate in the first place, continues to tweet his support, as does feminist scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, porn star Mercedes Carrera and a variety of writers and minor celebrities.
Meanwhile, activists used their friends in the media to propagate those dubious claims about death threats and to continue to claim that video games were perpetuating violence against women. Unlike other fandoms, gamers have fought back against this social justice incursion with waspish humour, internet memes, relentlessness, attention to detail and utter ruthlessness, exposing the lies and dodgy pasts of the feminists and busting journalists for outrageous professional malpractice, such as Polygon writer Ben Kuchera, who nearly destroyed a game developer CEO’s career by repeating lurid sexual allegations about him.
They have also staged massive letter-writing campaigns to the advertisers who support Gawker Media and Vox Media, whom gamers accuse of spreading lies about them. The campaign has cost Gawker Media seven figures in ad revenue to date. It’s the first time an organised revolt against sloppy, city-dwelling bloggers has got off the ground. The wider media has been watching, slack-jawed, hoping it doesn’t spread outside of video games. (Imagine if other readers got the same idea!)
Because the GamerGate story is so compelling, touching on themes of culture war, the rise of anti-establishment political movements such as the Tea Party and Ukip, the failures of modern feminism, celebrities, internet culture, gun violence and school massacres, young men dropping out of society and the war of the sexes, I felt compelled to put my current book project, The Sociopaths of Silicon Valley, on hold while I write the definitive account of the saga, which I hope will finally give gamers the voice they have been denied so far in the mainstream media.
I’m currently assembling the book with the help of a research assistant and my marvellous literary agent Toby Mundy at the new TMA Agency. We’re well into the writing process and hope to have a completed manuscript by February. If you’d like to get in touch about the project, you can do so via email.