One of the things people said would happen with the GamerGate consumer revolt, whose stated aim is to raise standards in video games journalism, is that after an initial flurry of haphazard activism, and a few scary “misogynist” allegations, the movement would die quietly.
That hasn’t happened, largely because most people in the video games industry, and even some outside it, can see that the mud being slung at gamers isn’t sticking. Opinions like this – that gamers are the real victims here – from my colleague Noah Dulis, are becoming commonplace.
And advertisers are reconsidering where they spend their money in light of widespread dissatisfaction from readers about the aloof, abusive, sarcastic and in some cases positively sociopathic attitudes of trendy coastal bloggers at companies such as Gawker and Vox Media.
Trendy metropolitan bloggers got used to being able to openly mock people who weren’t like them, because most conservatives didn’t fight back using the same tools as the authoritarian left: Twitter outrage, letter-writing campaigns and organised consumer pushback.
But gamers are, to their immense credit. And it doesn’t take much time reporting on this little corner of the universe to realise what kind, welcoming, funny and sympathetic characters hardcore gamers are–which might surprise you, if you believe the stereotypes. (I once did myself.)
Often, gamers are slightly marginalised figures. But what they sometimes lack in social graces and conversational subtlety they more than make up for in determination, efficiency, organisation, fairness and sheer, impressive bloody-mindedness.
They are, as American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers puts it, consumers who like to win.
Make no mistake: they are winning. Gawker and Vox writers can play at smear campaigns all they like–and it’s all they have left to do, because they cannot argue the case on merit–but their own advertisers are seeing through the sneering and starting to ask whether they want to be associated at all with such wildly unpleasant attitudes.
How do I know? Because I’ve spent the last fortnight quietly soliciting the opinions not only of senior executives at AAA video game publishers, but also at some of the companies linked to GamerGate’s boycotts and activism, such as Intel, Mercedes and BMW.
Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that microchip manufacturers and car companies are pretty sympathetic to the concerns of male consumers. But some of the things said to me–all, sadly, on condition of anonymity–have been nothing short of remarkable.
There’s the Intel vice president who told me via email that GamerGate was “doing great work” and that he was “sick of slander and self-loathing from the press”. He was talking about male journalists who do misandrist feminists’ work for them.
“I am pressing that team, it’s not mine, but I am exerting influence when I can, to stop spending money with people who hate themselves and hate our clients,” he added by phone later.
Then consider the product manager, who was happy to be identified as “senior management at a German car manufacturer”, who told me that, “the violence against women is unacceptable and we cannot support it, but we will not financially support people who insult our customers either”.
The manager told me: “We would prefer not to make headlines like Intel. But you should expect to see strategic changes in how we spend in coming years. It is very much an open question inside the company and we are watching closely.”
Finally, the executive at a household name video game developer who said: “Opinion is sharply divided within the company. But that’s remarkable in itself, given how totally the media has slammed and lied about gamers. We’re split straight down the middle.
“One thing I can tell you, though, is that when claims about gamers being woman-hating or abusive start to unravel, because journalists didn’t check them properly before running these ‘bleeding heart’ editorials, it’s very difficult to win people back from there. So God help Kotaku and Polygon if any of these women are shown to be making stuff up.”
This reaction, in its entirety, has been the objective of GamerGate all along–and it is being achieved through politeness, persistence and reason. Journalists of all stripes are on notice that they can no longer blithely insult and ridicule their own readers without consequence.
The next step will be to uncover proof of illegalities in the way journalists operate–such as collusion and industry blacklisting of journalists for doing their jobs. That is starting to happen already, and with each concrete revelation its pace will increase.
There will also, as the confidence and investigative talents of GamerGate supporters are honed, come investigations into how AAA studios pay for positive coverage. Gamers don’t like this practice, and are finally in a position to do something about it. So its days are numbered.
Understandably, the media at large is terrified by the sight of an internet campaign using blisteringly effective tactics to hit writers they don’t like where it hurts. And they’re petrified that this taste for revenge after decades of snobbery and ridicule will spread to other readers.
What if the political contingent out there in “real America” decides one day, inspired by the victories of gamers, that they’re not taking ignorant, foul-mouthed abuse from the likes of Gawker any more? What if they start writing letters?
Video games journalists and others elsewhere in the media have only themselves to blame for all this. Rather than apologising and resolving to make amends to readers, they dug their heels in and spread further lies about the people who put bread on the table.
But that’s ancient history now. The animal can’t be put back in its cage, can’t be defeated by wrongly defaming it as “misogynist”, “abusive” (or even, shock horror, “right-wing”), and GamerGate will continue, relentlessly, until it achieves its objectives. What a ride this is turning out to be.