Commentary - We Will Force Gaming to Be Free

Katherine Cross is a feminist sociologist, working on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Centre. Her  writing has also appeared in Women’s Studies Quarterly, Bitch Magazine, Questioning Transphobia, and Kotaku. She is a co-editor of the Border House.
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“The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.”

~Ursula K. LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven

GamerGate will be remembered for its breathtaking scope; it drew together hitherto dissociated monads of angry, resentful elements in gaming— once content with shouting from the pestilent valleys of comment sections and tweets by themselves—and made of them a movement with a battle-standard.

From the beginning it was a concatenation of ironies. They declaimed unethical games journalism with the aid of an unethical journalist; they claimed women and minorities were #notyourshield while using them as a shield against criticism of GamerGate; they excoriated “blacklists” while creating aggressively enforced boycott lists of websites and authors who disagreed with them; they averred their movement had nothing to do with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn even as they remained unable to stop talking about them; they promoted a vague notion of “inclusion” while expending great energy claiming that there was nothing wrong whatsoever with gamer culture’s treatment of women.

But the greatest irony of all is that from the beginning, GamerGate took as its enemy the “social justice warrior”—an archetype based on a toxic tendency in leftist activism—and then employed all of their tactics in service to their supposedly noble and just aims. A careful examination of GamerGate reveals an anarchic social movement that is now fully given over to paranoid purge logic, purist orthodoxy, deep suspicion of outsiders and institutions, and, above all, a willingness to believe that the ends will justify the means. This conviction all but ensures that the movement will continually violate its own stated principles in order to achieve them, layering terrible irony atop terrible irony.

GamerGate, for all its loathing of anything that is vaguely redolent of leftism, has spectacularly failed to learn one of the hardest lessons that leftist activists have painfully struggled with for more than two hundred years: no imagined future paradise is worth terror in the here and now.

But this is also the story of what makes GamerGate different from other extreme political movements. Its pretensions to being a “consumer revolt” make it both more distinctive and more dangerous than any “social justice warrior.”

Big Sister Is Watching You

Throughout his life the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin grappled with a haunting question: why are revolutions, especially violent ones, so often unsuccessful? In Berlin’s considered view, the great problem of utopian thinking (whatever its political provenance) is that it effaces human difference and diversity of thought: the honest and sincere disagreements about principle that characterise political life. True tragedy, he wrote, lay not in good against evil, but good against good. How, for instance, are we to always successfully reconcile justice and mercy? Revolutionary movements depended on an ideological fiction of harmony: that all conflict could be erased by their “final answer” and the cacophonous chorus of dissent would fall silent before the sight of perfection.

This, Berlin believed, was a recipe for disaster. “If this is possible,” he wrote in The Crooked Timber of Humanity, “then surely no price is too heavy to pay for it; no amount of oppression, cruelty, repression, coercion will be too high… This conviction gives wide licence to inflict suffering on other men.” The ends, in other words, would justify the means because the revolutionaries always knew better. Citing Rousseau, he believes that this lies behind his conviction in “the right of society to force men to be free.”

It may sound like an unwarranted compliment to see GamerGate in such consequential terms. But these social ills have their strains in all of us, and internet organising provides us with means of enacting social dynamics in miniature that once demanded the energies of mass physical crowds. Thus, on a much smaller scale, these ideas have their salience.

Consider their goal and their methods. Ethical and “agenda-free” journalism and criticism, achieved by scouring games journalism of any and all dissent from GamerGate’s views—i.e. the hated “SJWs.”  This purge was driven by a harmonious idea: the idea of games journalism without corruption, graft, those mysterious “agendas,” or influence-peddling, and a journalistic enterprise that had a sympathetic and symbiotic relationship with its core audience. But above all there need never be a conflict between a journalist’s or critic’s duty to inform and a reader’s desire to be told only what they wanted to hear—a contradiction that would surely make Berlin cringe.

They chase a virtuous horizon; games journalism’s problems are myriad. But at no point could the movement lay genuine claim to virtue. It was, itself, corrupted from the start by the idea that all means were justified or excusable if it meant “saving” video gaming.

In their quest to obliterate ideological foes a paranoid tendency quickly emerged: the movement increasingly confounded “corruption” with “social justice warrior” and the two concepts have now all but fully merged in their eyes. Big Sister was watching them, after all. Many now openly tar anyone who disagrees with them as the mouthpiece of a vastCultural Marxist conspiracy and believe the only way to the paradise of “ethical journalism” is through expelling such people from the ranks of the gaming press and, indeed, from any and all media that comments on gaming.

For all of GamerGate’s hatred of “SJWs” they took no lessons from the threadbare realities that lay behind the SJW stereotype. The phrase ‘social justice warrior’ was originally coined on Tumblr to describe a dangerous tendency among some leftist activists to aggressively and angrily pursue political goals according to strict ideological codes, often to the detriment of others, with no clear collective gain, but significant personal aggrandizement. It is a tendency that I and many others have been critiquing and thinking about long before GamerGate. Indeed, at the start of this year, queer and feminist writers in the world of gaming specifically talked about this very issue and inspired me to do the same. How long ago that all seems now.

When I wrote about the subject I warned fellow feminists that the tendency to view our opponents as irredeemable enemies could easily take on a life of its own.

With GamerGate it is vital to consider their torturous relationship with public figures such as Leigh Alexander, Anita Sarkeesian, or Zoe Quinn—or, indeed, the many men who have spoken out in support of them, and the websites that have published queer or feminist writing in the recent past. GamerGaters are told by some among their number to avoid harassment at all costs, but beyond an appeal to utilitarian self-interest (‘do not harass because it makes us look bad’) they are not really told why.

Their ideology—the conviction that any and all feminism, and anything that can be deemed “SJW” is inherently corrupt—makes harassment and the targeting of outspoken figures, especially women, inevitable, and impervious to utilitarian admonitions. Why care about ‘looking bad’ when your cause is so noble?

The furious, crowdsourced prosecution of perceived feminist “corruption” violently conflicts with any anti-harassment ethic. GamerGate, more than most such movements, is morally unmusical: they have rules with no moral framework, they call for ethics without finding ways of instilling a sense of ethics in their followers. It becomes hollow rhetoric that ultimately bows before the terrible logic of revolutionary thinking: ethics are for paradise, in the here and now we must fight til our final breath with everything we have, no matter the wreckage we may leave behind us. What Hannah Arendt called “the coercive force of logicality” takes hold, proceeding from bad premises to terrible conclusions to worse actions.

If you sincerely believe that the cyber mob is the ideal jury to fight corruption, and you marshal a perilous stack of indictments against dozens of writers, organisations, websites, and developers that charges them all with a conspiracy to destroy gaming, then harassment-as-praxis is inevitable.

Like the most corrosive elements of the far left, GamerGate has adopted a purist cocoon of ideology that is meant to carry them through to a utopia– in this case, a gaming utopia, a restoration to what gaming once was, in their eyes, before the feminist interlopers ravaged it. The stated goal is modest—making gaming journalism more ethical and accountable—but it became little more than a talisman waved at any and all criticism, used more to justify, minimise, and excuse the terror GamerGate wrought on everyone they targeted.

GamerGate had taken an inflexible ideological stand, named their enemies with expansive fervour, and set about persecuting and prosecuting them. They became judge, jury, and executioner, with no court of appeal.

Through all of this terror, as with all such mass prosecutions, they remained fixed on the grand unifying idea: “ethical journalism with no agendas.” It was the way to paradise.

No Use For Nodding Masks

The terror of GamerGate had many insidious dimensions, but surely one of the most chilling was the manner in which it all but criminalised what had hitherto been normal relationships, personal and professional. This, indeed, was GamerGate’s true origin: the false accusation against developer Zoe Quinn that she had slept with a Kotaku journalist for favorable coverage. Though that accusation fell apart, Quinn is still likened to no less than Archduke Franz Ferdinand, as the spark to GamerGate’s tinder. Such metaphors betray much about GamerGate’s terrifying psychology, but for our purposes it is enough to consider that it began with deep suspicion of relationships as such, and the increasingly paranoid fear that any connection, professional or personal, between two or more people revealed corruption.

Almost immediately we—and I must include myself in this, for as a feminist academic and writer, I was quickly targeted as well—were all, as a class, deemed guilty by association: guilty until proven innocent, with no proof ever seeming to satisfy the braying mobs. Suddenly our names began to appear in spider charts, sinful stars in senseless constellations of conspiracy.

Arguments online revealed a lust for orthodoxy and a desire to unmask every “corrupt” journalist or critic they could find. None were spared, and GamerGate began to see lying hypocrites masked by every screen-name and avatar. We were all asked questions with no exonerating answers: why did we write? Were we really gamers? Who did we associate with? Why did we not “disclose” our feminism? Why were we lying about GamerGate?

“The search for motives,” writes Hannah Arendt in On Revolution, “the demand that everybody display in public his innermost motivation… transforms all actors into hypocrites; the moment the display of motives begins, hypocrisy begins to poison all human relations.” What she means by this is that the inquisitorial impulse to unmask motives and hypocrisy will see a liar behind every perceived mask; humans are imperfect and self-contradictory, but under the klieg lights of paranoid suspicion, such human frailty and normality is tantamount to a confession.

Many of us game critics did indeed work together and even liked one another, prima facie proof to GamerGate of unethical collusion; suspicion of our neighbours, disavowal, and bearing false witness, were what the “movement” demanded.

GamerGate, from the start, saw feminist criticism as the spearpoint of an invasion, and set this as the inescapable tone for the movement– in spite of the fact that only 0.41% of articles across major gaming websites had feminist content. The only good woman was a silent one, or one who uncritically supported GamerGate. The rest needed to be purged, along with any and all of their supporters, friends, and colleagues regardless of gender. Ever-growing lists of boycott targets were circulated, praxis was increasingly expressed by using donotlink URLs for “offending” websites, any and all discussion of sexism was considered “clickbait” (despite this essay’s lengthy and unsexy disquisition on philosophy, it too will be considered “clickbait” by their dim lights).

Enemies proliferated as fear mushroomed online. When 4chan itself had at last had enough of GamerGate and began deleting threads discussing it, this too was seen as more proof of an “SJW conspiracy” that had now reached into the heart of 4chan, previously ground zero for the movement. Who was to blame? The site founder’s girlfriend, of course. 4chan was now on the “SJW” list. The Enemy was clearly omnipresent, and the need for unmasking hypocrites and corrupt gamers with “conflicts of interest” grew claxon-urgent.

When Breitbart UK journalist, and staunch ally of GamerGate, Milo Yiannopoulous published a professional mailing list of gaming journalists, implying corrupt “SJW” collusion, the Gater revolutionaries clamoured for more. Thus, when talking to those who questioned them and their newfound zeal for people’s emails, many Gaters simply said some variant of “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.” We need only trust their enlightened, infallible judgement to sniff out any hypocrisy lurking behind an email password, after all.

That same attitude exploded this past week into yet another side-project for GamerGate called Operation Digging-DiGRA, a crowdsourced “fact-check” targeting feminists who have presented at, or were affiliated with the Digital Games Research Association, a professional organisation of academics who study video games. When I and others questioned the ethics and objectivity of an operation whose chief exponent promised that academics like myself would “fear us even in their sleep” and pledged to target only “feminists,” while others were threatening FOIA requests, and accusing myself and others of practising “social engineering,” we were simply told by gentler voices in the movement that we had nothing to fear if we had done no wrong. They are unable to understand that their ability to discern right from wrong is what is at issue here.

This is not merely fruit of the poison tree, but the poison tree itself amidst GamerGate’s toxic forest.

In a stunning recent move, some of GamerGate’s radical elements turned on video game journalist Liana Kerzner, a sometime supporter of their cause. How was her supposed hypocrisy revealed? She offered a virtual hug to GamerGate-critic and analyst Jenni Goodchild and had also spoken out against what she saw as Milo Yiannopoulos’ troubling journalistic practices. Yiannopoulos called her a “woman who gets her tits out for a living,” and the more monstrous side of the movement quickly gathered its torches and pitchforks.

In Arendt’s haunting words, “The revolution, before it proceeded to devour its own children, had unmasked them.”

The Consumer at War

But there is one highly significant fact that makes GamerGate different from historical examples of radical extremism.

All such movements committed to the rule of the mob, whether rightist or leftist, are always self-consciously political. GamerGate’s dogma, by contrast, held that it was both apolitical and committed to purging politics from game reviews. This terrible delusion made it even harder for them to examine their own ethics. GamerGate is neoliberalism’s distorted reflection of leftist terror: the lust for revolution, to be the Rough Rider “good guys” saving the world by force if necessary, but with none of the obligations or thought inherent to political reasoning.

GamerGate styles itself as a “consumer revolt,” which makes it somewhat different from other collective political actions—even those ground in reactionary politics of resentment, like the Tea Party. Instead, GamerGate has set itself up as a gaggle of angry “consumers” who have been insufficiently catered to by game journalism. Again and again, they return to an angry refrain about a clutch of articles about the slow death of the “gamer” identity that were written in the wake of Zoe Quinn’s recent harassment (the first wave of the GamerGate assault, though by no means her first experience with hate mobs). Those articles, they say, were the final straw from a gaming press that “disrespected” them and stereotyped them as sexists and harassers.

The waves of coruscating outrage were simply the newly political variant of the infamous rage that had for so long characterised the world of gaming. If the angriest of gamers could demand the Federal Trade Commission investigate the ending to Mass Effect 3 because they believed they’d been cheated, imagine the solar fury they could bring to bear for charges about corrupting agendas in the games press.

The wound here comes from a sense that they as gamers are not getting what they “paid” for (if only with the micron of cents sites earn from their individual clicks and ad impressions). They identify first and foremost as consumers who see their relationship with the game press as being one that should exalt the readers as kings and their hobby as being virtually beyond reproach. Much of GamerGate felt like an ad hoc PR exercise for the beleaguered male gamer, and for the concept of gaming itself, defending both from charges no one had ever made. But, crucially, in their view a proper games press would never criticise gamers, gamer culture, or their favourite games in anything except the most “objectively” technical ways. Are the controls smooth? Are there any bugs? Are the graphics cool? Slap a score on it and tell the consumer whether or not to buy.

Beyond that, games writing should serve no other purpose, no “agenda” save that of the gaming consumer defined in the narrowest terms possible.

The ideology-of-no-ideology inherent to “consumer revolts” acts as an additional layer of insulation against self-reflection, making it even easier to avoid conducting moral inventories of one’s behaviour. If you believe you are fighting for something “objective,” for something you are owed (like a demanding restaurant patron expecting hand-and-foot service because she’s a “paying customer”) rather than a malleable philosophical principle, it is especially difficult to dissuade you from destructive actions. If you are merely pursuing your entitlements in an economic contract exchange, what use have you for morality? Save the one moral that says you must get what you are owed, of course.

GamerGate has responded to charges that its fixation on insurgent critics like Leigh Alexander, rather than the lavishly paid corporate executives who set the agenda and tone for the whole industry, is wrongheaded by simply saying that men like Activision CEO Bobby Kotick “know how to run a business” while critics, journalist, and developers– especially those who are crowdfunded— are seen as spongers. They are now all but criminalising the very notion that writers should be paid for their work, suggesting this is a conflict of interest in its own right. The new gaming website to emerge from the movement, goodgamers.us, is proud that it does not pay writers, using the ‘dream job’ and “do what you love” rhetoric beloved of the gaming industry at large; such ideas often help impose long hours and insufferable conditions on designers, writers, and developers. If it’s your dream job, why would you ever complain?

Left utopian fallacies can lead us into new layers of hell; neoliberal “consumer revolts” threaten to drown us in the one we already live in.

Like the very “SJWs” they claim to despise, GamerGaters simply wagered that the noble goal of their cause was worth the price of any and all suffering they might cause.

The Doorway to Paradise

GamerGate sought to enforce its vision brutally, and demand the conversion or expulsion of those who dissented, even among their own ranks. As with most utopian movements beset by viral paranoia, it conjured its scarlet letters and pinned them to any and all dissenters: in this case, the favoured term was “SJW.” GamerGate sought to reclaim the concept of the “gamer” and ring-fence it from both criticism and from outsiders, perceived or actual.

Collusion, sex, lies, and videogames. A self-organising movement for “ethics” was the answer, and all sacrifices—including purging the industry of dissenting voices—would be worth it. Even if their own outrage was commodified, canned by the richest precincts of the gaming industry and then sold back to them in the form of the same old gunmetal grey games and prepackaged sense of identity ad nauseam, it was better than reading feminist writers. A war against them had to be fought and won.

On the doorway to paradise appeared the words: Agendas Are Unethical.

Thus we were all made to walk through.

[Correction (10/09/2014): The author would like to add the following: “Liana K notes that there was a longer run-up to the incident with Milo Yiannopolous and his followers, saying that she began to be pushed out when she wrote this editorial for Polygon about gaming and mental illness.“]

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  • Zed75

    Thank you. This is terrific.

  • Don

    What a fascinating essay. Your examples of a growing sense of neoliberalist fervor in a particularly vocal subset of gaming consumers are particularly disquieting. This notion that every provider, service, business or publication is absolutely beholden to its readers without fail or compromise is a terrifying thought, and one that surely can’t lead to anywhere other than a complete and unified homogeneity of games writing.

    I have seen the future this subset seems to want, and it is frighteningly dull: http://www.objectivegamereviews.com/

    • EndlessWinter

      Is the request to wear one’s biases on their sleeve, or otherwise try to avoid politicizing games reviews so horrific? Ultimately because of the influence of metacritic, reviewers have the ability to negatively influence developers livelihoods in a more or less direct fashion, and accordingly effect game content by threatening to cost them money if they don’t tow a particular ideological line. Politicizing game reviews functionally narrows the breadth of what games can be created, by threatening the income of the creators if they don’t stick to “appropriate” topics.

      I hate to say it as an athiest, but one site I saw that had an interesting approach is Christ Centered Gamer. They wear their biases plainly, and they give games two different review scores — one is based on the game as an example of it’s medium within it’s genre and the other one is tied to how “appropriate” they feel it is for those acting under their flavor of Christian morality. So, for example https://www.christcenteredgamer.com/index.php/reviews/18-computer/5740-gabriel-knight-sins-of-the-fathers-preview-pc is their review of the Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers preview was given 78% as a “game” score (dinging it mostly for graphical issues and sometimes confusing or illogical puzzles) and 53% as a “morality” score (because a game about voodoo murders has a fair bit of occultism and violence).

      Another approach that might be workable would be to separate the examination of the work’s quality within it’s medium/genre from it’s alignment with the reviewers particular political perspectives, relegating the latter to a separate but linked (or attached) analysis. So, for example one might write about the graphical fidelity, performance, stability, difficulty, level design, even the “feel” of the game play (as subjective as that is) of Bayonetta, but relegate how one feels about it’s portayal of female sexuality to a separate bit.

      By analogy: A black metal band having a well composed, well written, and well performed song about a topic you find distasteful doesn’t make it any less a good example of a well made black metal song. Even if they’re singing about murdering their ex girlfriends or suicide as a form of self-expression or whatever happens to rub you the wrong way.

  • Cheeser

    From my point of view as a pretty lazy and inactive Gamergate supporter, the trigger point for me was the series of Gamers Are Dead articles across a number of websites. Why insult your audience? It seems crazy and suicidal from a business viewpoint. An apology, or at least an honest explanation of the reason behind these articles would probably go some way towards satisfying Gamergate supporters and pave the way for a solution to this mess.

    • aeolist

      The articles are self-explanatory, but most people complaining about them can’t see beyond the headlines. The entire point of them is that the industry has moved beyond utter reliance on those that perpetuate the worst gamer stereotypes, and those people proceeded to prove their critics entire correct.

      Gamergaters aren’t interested in discussion or explanation. Most of them continue to cry “do not engage!” and will only harass anonymously and email advertisers. If you try to reply to anything any one person has said you get an angry horde screaming “that’s not what this is about, they don’t represent us!” because of course one person can’t represent an anarchic crowd of trolls and bigots. Which leaves us with the conclusion that discussion is useless because you can’t discuss anything with a hurricane.

      • Albert

        The advertiser writing campaign was in response to exactly one person writing at one publication. If you wanted to, you could go through this person’s long history of vitriol and abuse and open disdain for specific demographics and understand why some people really, really don’t like that person. Or, you could take one or two articles they wrote, analyze the text completely free of everything the person has said and done before and declare the case closed. Or you could do even less and declare the it part of a “hurricane” and give it no critical thought or investigation at all.

    • Syn –

      Read those again.
      It is FAR from an insult. It is a celebration of a broadening horizon, for games, and for people who play them. The only people who were insulted were the mouthfoamers, the archetypical southpark gamers that stagnate the industry.

  • Demonx14

    Gamergate isn’t over yet. Speaking of it in past tense is incorrect.

  • IHTG

    The goal of revolutionary movements is to take over – to literally replace the people in charge with the revolution’s own people.

    The goal of consumer protest movements is to influence those in charge – to convince them to change their ways and to tread more carefully when dealing with the things the consumer protest movement cares about.

    Which of these two things do you think GamerGate is more similar to? The answer is obvious.

    Let’s imagine a world where GamerGate won – that is, a world influenced by the ideals of GamerGate, not a world where Adam Baldwin and Milo take over Gamespot and IGN, respectively.

    That’s a world where pretentious indie games don’t receive awards they don’t deserve due to ideological cliques. A world where political preaching is more careful, nuanced, pragmatic and thoughtful.

    Does that sound like a negative outcome to you?

    • Orvillius Azuremyst

      Yes it does. Because it assumes that “pretentious” and “deserving” are utterly objective measures. And when you say “preaching” would be “nuanced” and “thoughtful” that’s generally code for “more in line with what I believe” crossed with “babying my feelings very carefully when it disagrees with me.” This stinks of the same attitude that defines “fair” as “entirely slanted in my favor.”

      If I think a particular award-giving body is full of pretentious ideologues who I disagree with, I’ll disregard winners of their awards, but I won’t assume that as a consumer of games I, and those who agree with me more or less completely, are the sole arbiters of what is “deserving.”

    • PJM

      Let’s flip the hypothesis here, then. What happens if GamerGaters lose?

      – AAA games with WASP protagonists (usually voiced by Nolan North), targeted at the ‘core gamer’ audience are still made, because it makes business sense to continue marketing that to audiences. They are reviewed by a wide range of publications, some of which you will agree with, others which you won’t. They will receive awards, some of which you will agree with and others that you won’t.
      – Games not targeted at GGers will also be made, purchased, reviewed and awarded. Nobody will force you to play them or agree with anything written about them.

      That’s the crazy thing about this ‘movement’. All this sound and fury about people making games or writing things that NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO PLAY/READ.

      In short, you’re not throwing a tantrum because someone took away YOUR toys. You’re throwing a tantrum because someone gave somebody else a toy and said they didn’t like yours as much as you do, and you don’t like it.

    • Jay

      “Convince them to change their ways and to tread more carefully when dealing with things the consumer protest movement cares about”.

      I believe this can be concisely paraphrased as “do as we say or we will make you suffer”.

      Firstly, you are saying that only one group, possibly even a majority one in a particular context and one which I assume you are part of, must be appeased – you are the judge, jury and executioner in your world uninfluenced by “ideological cliques”. Not only is the irony there somewhat staggering, but you’re simply calling for a ‘tyranny of the majority’.

      There is nothing forcing you to consume particular content (such as reviews of games approaching them with a feminist (etc) lens) nor anything forcing you to even care a particular award. By “influencing” creators to “tread more carefully” with the things “consumers care about”, you are – by force of threat – eliminating content that doesn’t appease you but that other consumers WANT to consume. What about their ‘consumer rights’? You can simply speak with your wallet and not consume what you don’t wish to – they cannot get content when it has been threatened and harassed out of existence.

      To me, you are advocating a politics of “above all, don’t rock the boat” enforced with threats, intimidation and violence. This is a very negative outcome indeed.

      • Emil Söderman

        To be fair, I think that as long as the “force or threat” is simply the force or threat of withdrawal of support (IE: not buying the game, explaining why, trying to convince others not to, etc.) that’s just a part of the conversation between consumer an producer.

        Corporations do not have a right to our money and our support. They have to earn it. Now, if someone else likes their stuff? Great for them! But that shouldn’t stop me from advertising (hah) my own needs/desires.

        EDIT: The flipside of course is that they are under no obigation to listen to me. If they can make do without my money, they’re free to do so.

        • Jay

          What has been done to Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Jenn Frank and the other victims of this awfulness is so far beyond the “withdrawal of support” you describe – things I am perfectly fine with on an ethical level and do myself, from “don’t buy Rome 2 coz it’s broken” to “don’t buy LA Noire because of the abusive practices towards the developers.”

          What you describe is just how a free market operates. GamerGate supporters could do that too – and to an extent, they have – but the commercial threats have been accompanied with bomb threats.

          Your edit is the most important part, I think. “If they can make do without my money, they’re free to do so”.

          The nightmare world proposed in the comment I was replying to, or at least my interpretation (influenced by my politics, my taste in games, my experience as a gamer) of it, is one in which a game not liked by IHTG cannot win an award [of course, it wouldn’t stop there: “this game shouldn’t be on Steam”, “why are you talking about Indie Walkfest 9000 instead of COD9000?”] by virtue of them and their peers not liking the type of game it is.

          Personally, I do not enjoy the type of games I think the comment was talking about (such as Gone Home and Dear Esther) but I will defend their right to exist, to be made, and to even win awards. I’ll simply reach the conclusion – as I think you would – that the critic or judge giving those games a 10/10 or a GOTY has a vastly different opinion to mine and find other critics who value the same things I do in a game. Simple ‘market forces’ in which the popular (e.g. COD) will thrive and the unpopular (Depression Quest?) do not stop existing because there IS a market for them, and they are often a labour of love made without expecting significant financial returns,.

          IHTG reached the conclusion that the world is broken and needs to be remade to their specifications. If what you and I are both (and I think we are!) arguing for is basically a free market in which gamers, developers and journalists alike are free to make, play, enjoy and critique whatever they want, then what IHTG was calling for is a monopoly.

          • Emil Söderman

            Oh, I agree, but my point is simply that at least certain game-industry sites (not talking indie stuff here, but AAA publishers) have a tendency to equate “making people suffer” with “won’t buy our games”. (to be fair, if you want to draw the conclusion long enough a consumer boycott *does* make people suffer, after all even game developers need to eat)

    • Jon Stone

      “Which of these two things do you think GamerGate is more similar to? The answer is obvious.”

      The hilarious thing about this attempt at a rhetorical question is that I really had to think about the answer – GamerGate is obviously a combination of both. They have a hit list of ‘SJW’ journos they want to get rid of and replace with people who are more like them. Not necessarily Milo and Baldwin, but as yet unidentified games journalists who will kowtow to their ideological line and never ever mention the treatment of women or minorities in games.

      Or did you miss the fact that a site was launched about a month into this fandango with just that mission statement? Goodgamers, or something like that. I think they made a point of reviewing a game with rape in it as their first review and never mentioning the rape. Something along those lines.

  • turnoffthenews

    Fantastic work. Throughout all this I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of the “social justice warrior” as anything other than a casual slur for progressives. Fascinating exploration of the topic.

  • George Ross

    “The search for motives,” writes Hannah Arendt in On Revolution, “the demand that everybody display in public his innermost motivation… transforms all actors into hypocrites; the moment the display of motives begins, hypocrisy begins to poison all human relations.”

    This.

    Though I should say that perhaps this is also part of why I’ve been so uncomfortable saying anything either way on GamersGate, because in many cases the anti-GG rhetoric has also focused on the search for motives behind GG, and I think a lot of the vitriol aimed at the “SJWs” is precisely because it is a core tendency of social critics to look for and attack motives, actual or perceived. A great deal of talk – even this article partially included – is all about the motives of GG, assigned by those who do not identify with GGers positions. We academics may or may not acknowledge it, but it is in fact a very aggressive act – not as aggressive as harassment, threats or witch hunts, sure, but still unproductive. Bourdieu has a useful term for this – symbolic violence. People don’t like having their motives told by others (or Others), and I don’t think either side is less guilty of that than the other here. One side is almost inarguably more guilty of harassment and crummy behaviour, but the (often-arbitrary) assignment of motives… I don’t know.

    The other side of this is that both sides have been so good at inflicting symbolic violence on each other, that the moment I hear somebody talk about GGers or SJWs motives (positively or negatively), I lose all interest. To me, those labels are now bankrupt and irrecoverable.

    So, with thanks to this article for focusing on behaviour over motives for a change, I think I’ll go back to not thinking or talking about GG.

  • Michael

    If GamerGate was ever about journalistic ethics and not stomping out dissenting voices they’d be going after the major game news outlets that hype up the triple A titles that inevitably disappoint instead they only go after independent women with much smaller pull in the industry..

    • smartalec2001 .

      There is a lot of invisible activity involving emailing advertisers and companies to express disappointment with, and illustrate shortcomings/problems of, the games media outlets and their parent entities. Much of the public criticism is directed towards editors and notable writers in these websites, many of whom are men. This is rarely highlighted by any media source.

  • Cheeser

    I don’t think the case for the video game industry not having to rely on
    gamers has actually been made, and certainly wasn’t in those articles.
    Casual gamers by their nature are not going to spend as much money as
    “core” gamers and I doubt Candy Crush Saga fans are going to start
    reading Gamasutra any time soon. The Call of Duties, FIFAs and the GTAs of the video games world are selling as well as they ever did.

    Wanting more diversity in games and a more tolerant inclusive gaming community are admirable causes, but I think the journalists could have made their point in a less destructive way.

  • Govindira

    Your comparison of GamerGate to revolutionary organizations makes much better sense than a comparison to religious fanaticism. The same idealism that punishes critics and unorthodox adherents reigns supreme. But what of revolutionary organizations who are a vocal but impotent minority, who are furious at finding themselves in the minority? They can certainly be literally dangerous, but do you think that is or will be so with GamerGate?

    • Robot Parking

      The trap here, I feel, (and it’s something Cross points out in her piece) is that painting GamerGate as some oppressed/minoritized group elides the point that the “core gamer” demographic is frequently the target audience at the heart of the paratextual/enthusiast press industry as well as AAA development.

      Framed that way, some of this movement seems to be a reaction to games writing diversifying from its enthusiast roots and speaking to wider audiences, while broadening its critical toolbox. However, the degree to which this is diluting the “gamer” audience in a way that makes it a minority is negligible – especially considering Morgan Ramsay’s analysis here: https://storify.com/MorganRamsay/how-often-do-video-game-journalists-write-about-fe

      As for your question of whether GamerGaters “could become” dangerous, I’d contend that they are very keen on appearing dangerous already: There are already plenty of instances where death threats and threats of violence are commonplace from enthusiastic game fans, to say nothing of the increase of “swatting” (i.e. sending a SWAT team to someone’s house for laughs) which certainly has a very real risk for actual harm. The persistent and completely incomprehensible demonization of DiGRA is also a concern, as well. These are all forums in which online relationships blur with the real world, and as Cross points out, if there’s little trust that GG knows where to stop, it’s completely understandable that the “targets” of GG would be concerned, to say nothing of the very real anxiety and fear that a targeted harassment campaign engenders in a target.

  • Staghorn

    This was really interesting – I love academic takes on this.

    Maybe we could see in the future something about how Gamergate will likely play out? I’m sure that those you quoted and have learned about have made statements on how groups like this end up turning out and why – statements that I’m sure wouldn’t not be applicable to GamerGate.

  • Robot Parking

    The predilection for military-themed jargon is something I’ve puzzled over. I think it dramatically contributes to the feeling that there’s very little hope of realistically “negotiating” or engaging in productive conversation with the “movement”-at-large.

  • Will R.

    I think part of the disconnect comes from the question of what category does a ‘games journalist’ fall under?; Are they art critics there to measure a game’s ‘worth’ by how much it delights the senses and engages the mind? Are they technical reviewers there to examine how the game as a product and piece of technology achieves its function? Or are they opinion writers who get to naval gaze about gaming’s broader effect on / reflection of society? If the reader goes in with one preconceived notion of what they should find in a gaming article and finds something vastly different, especially when it’s mockery directed at them, how could they not be angry?

    • Emil Söderman

      I think one of the issues with “games journalism” here is that it lacks a defined critial vocabulary, the way say film analysis, does. It’s either borrowed from film/literature criticism, naive impressionistic “I likethis!/Don’t like this!” or crude techno-jargon. There’s no real vocabulary that synthezises these things. And the terms and concepts difer significatly between modes of discussion.

  • Roi

    The ideology is only relevant to the extent that it acts like a social glue, leading to real corruption, like awards where judges have monetary interests in the stuff they are judging. We are then expected to “Listen and Believe”, which seems like the standard journalist practice for any event that fits the ideological narrative.

    • Robot Parking

      Would you be able to elaborate on this point? Cross goes to great lengths to point out that the concept of “no-ideology” is itself ideological – and in particular, an ideology that discourages self-reflection, leading to more ideology-as-social-glue-that-corrupts-all. It seems, ah, a little circular?

  • MorganL

    Really interesting, well argued piece. Enjoyed it very much. Thanks.

  • weaselsoup

    I do find myself wondering what would happen in any other area of criticism if the same ‘grievances’ were felt. Giving a press pass to a film festival to a journalist would mean any good review they wrote would be seen as ‘corrupt’? A feminist analysis of a particular film/ opinion piece about sexist tropes in films would be accused of being the same thing as a call to ban all films? A woman who wrote a film review would find herself reviled for not being “a proper film fan” because she hadn’t seen every film ever made? (with the assertion that one must be a ‘proper fan’, ie, to have seen every film ever made, in order to be qualified to write analysis/understand theory)

    &c &c

  • Jim Cook

    “And who was it that declared this Culture War?”

    Bullpucky. Hatred of all that isn’t straight, white and male is endemic to gaming.You only have to peruse the comment section of nearly every gaming-related forum to see the evidence.

    I’m sorry if people are asking you to grow up, but that’s life.

  • Meles Badger

    I don’t if it has been the same in the USA than in France but, here, with time, there has been a distinction between hardcore “gamers” and “casual” gamers (the quoted terms becoming the word used to define respectively each of the two groups).

    Anyway, I don’t think gamers really became loaded because of the “SJW” but because there has been a rift since a long time between casual and hardcore gaming, the latter perceived as being a “real” gamer (most of the gamergate seem to be people who play games quite often, maybe not “hardcore gamers” per se, but yeah, I think most of them play GTA and see The Sims play as non-gamers… but I could be wrong).

    In some way, I think the GamerGate is a prolongation of this idea since a lot of the criticisms seem to be that the opposing faction (the “SJW”) don’t know jack about games and just want to push a political agenda.

  • Syn –

    Try to understand that when you don’t acknowledge the violent bigots and trolls to have your conversation, it feels like you are talking to a mussolini sympathizer because his health plan was cool. There are conversations to be had, just not on these terms.

    • Wavinator

      Far too late to comment, but I will never understand how those who share your sentiment do not apply it to themselves. How might it feel to hear, for example, Polygon writer Samantha Allen proudly proclaim herself “a misandrist” yet see little criticism of this mentality among the gaming press?

      It is clear among both sides that the other side is a protected class, beyond criticism. Only one side is right, and likely it tracks to the side you support.

  • I wish i had more time to collect my thoughts on a cogent response, but i have to be somewhere in a few minutes.

    e.g. How to actually have a debate about Games and ethics in a modern context, is almost a purist academic response rather than a debate, it’s a critique of the process and the audience.

    I would like to see GamerGate evolve into something that is considered and evaluated, because a lot of the arguments are against the idea of people being co-opted into rational discourse, because they’re being co-opted into agency and action by agenda driven ideology. As you note, there’s no upside to the chaos produced when people want to act, and have no definable reasons to not act, because the discourse has not been addressed in the community.

    There are enough people out there who can point to something wrong and diagnose the fault, and very few who will take the time to list what the better actions are to solve, soothe and examine the problem.

    GamerGate is poor in logic, because nobody has actually come into the discussion and provided a solid examination of the issues, just blaming the evolving mess on the people within, and not actually doing the work or investing the effort into breaking down significant ideology. It can be done, it’s been done before by other academics in religion, science, politics, nationalism and other areas, better than i can stumble over.

    There are a load of utopic elements to the GG movement that seem both ideological and paranoid, and a lot of the Sound and Fury, signifying no truth (sic) aspects, are often because there’s no substantive voices in the inchoate group that are actually providing a neutral sounding board for opinions,

    and the logic is of course, as it always does, being rounded up into a cause or a belief structure of the loudest person at the time. There’s no internal review or collective that really makes decisions, so it will always be driven towards action and reaction rather than being lead or dissolved into factions or republics of different disciplines.

    Leaderless cultures often have a disconnect with a western audience for several reason, and it also leads to being led astray by personalities, as may be evident from previous examples of other ideological movements in past and present.

    If academics wanted to point that out to people directly, there’s a broad scope for people to give relative advice rather than decry the movement as being energetic and often blinkered by arrogance and indiscriminate personalities with agendas.

    but, i guess that’s where logic ends. because if intellectual action invokes collusion, you can be blamed for cause and effect of a group that you have never met, and all of the anechoic material it produces. And your work becomes tarnished by that association. Which is why there’s so many poor ley arguments at work.

    This is more of a dilemma for people whose task it is to belong to a group invested in the results of discourse. Game developers, should be agents of change, or not, game journalists should be agents of change, or not, and game consumers should be agents of change, or not.

    But is that cogent and reasonable, that media should be changed by the critical lens of reviews that don’t come from the audience ? should lolita be changed to star a 28 year old actress, seducing a boy because that would be abjectly sensitive and less/more profane ? should a narrative game be pressured into changing the attire of women and men to be equally bereft ? would this improve the equality of the exercise and experience, if men and women had a bare midriff in plate armor ?

    I guess the question relies on the audience and the material. Entertainment be driven to modify the views of millions of people to suit the current audience, or the supposed audience that people want to imagine or create that would be playing this game, or experiencing the media as it exists, rather than as it would exist if it were changed.

    you may have also noticed this in modern feminist dialogue, that the audience is only as good as the setting itself, or the topic of choice. I tend to think that GamerGate could be improved or substantially modified into an academic setting, but it would require academics to provide context and correlate the unformed ideas into arguments and extrapolate the outcomes.

    Games and Ethics is not a well formed topic, most of the problem extends to an audience of ~10-20 million people who use games as entertainment rather than simulation or education, and it has all of the media studies potential, but none of the cultural or developmental foundations in an ethics or philosophical nature.

    Terra Nova, the blog, i don’t think has covered the nature of how a gamer is supposed to be ethically minded, when the developer or the studio/production is not cogent of an ethical framework, and the promotion is not ethical either, at some point now requires an ethical viewpoint from the perspective of casual or community review and a non ludic response from an auteur reviewer to align with.

    Groups without a narrative or leadership, are especially prone to being lead by a cult of personality, rather than a clear objective.

    I’m just intrigued by the exploration of the movement, a fellow traveller by all means if the motif wears true, i’d wear it.

    The one aspect i’d like to see in depth is also something DIGRA has tried looking into, the idea of games needing to be changed to suit a comforting ideological or assumed “utopic” audience of women who either do or don’t want to play games, but don’t play or develop enough games to be considered equal.

    It’s an odd disconnect for people to write about games that are challenging, but not ludic experiences, they are more narrative based experiences in simulacra, without proving to be adequate experiences,

  • Albert

    “Like the most corrosive elements of the far left, GamerGate has adopted a purist cocoon of ideology that is meant to carry them through to a utopia– in this case, a gaming utopia, a restoration to what gaming once was, in their eyes, before the feminist interlopers ravaged it.”

    “Gaming journalism” used to have exactly one political cause, which was opposition to the various means of censorship and banning of video games. Which is kind of a given. The people who want to talk about feminism and associated causes have always been the minority but they have been adamant that this is a debate we WILL be having whether you like it or not. Some of these people managed to weasel their way into positions where they could push this on everyone and punish people who didn’t want to talk about it. That is why so many people are mad. It is really that simple. You can explain how depoliticization of the gaming space is really enforcing a hegemonic status quo political opinion, but in the end this is not something that has to be done THROUGH the medium of games journalism.

    When I go to a game website, I want to read about games. I don’t want to read metacommentary on the state of gaming websites. Some people have mentioned neoliberal. Well, this content is in large part because of cross-marketing of other blogs in “blog networks” that these sites are a part of. So again, whether I like it or not, Polygon is going to talk about those celebrity nude photo leaks, because they gotta push their other content on their sister sites on Vox media. Same with Kotaku and Gawker. Theydo it for other junk too, and people hate it almost as much. Ironically, it was against sites like Kotaku pushing “gaming culture” garbage on their site, taking up space that wasn’t actually about, you know, games. People that wanted to read about games coming out not “weird porn in Japan.” They eventually capitulated and made a separate stream for just games so it was at least possible to filter this stuff out, but the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of this stuff really does have its roots in people that just want “gamer” to be about games.

    There are a lot of legitimate criticisms in this article, I am not saying there isn’t. But I see a lot of stuff said (not just here) that isn’t what I feel or experience at all. A lot of the gamergate stuff is stuff that I have been mad about for a very long time, but harassment or legitimate misogyny (some is, some isn’t) is not something I or anybody I know has participated in.

  • Robot Parking

    Wellends:
    It’s worth noting that Alexander has also seen more than her fair share of abuse during her lengthy time in the industry. And that’s the thing, she has put in her time. If you don’t like what she’s saying, fine, but don’t try to pretend that her dislike of the “gamer” demographic invalidates her experiences. One thing that has been consistently ignored from her article is the refrain, “These people are not my audience.”

    As someone who has watched the utterly incoherent conspiracy theories about “cultural Marxism,” DiGRA, and academia gain traction – and in many cases enthusiastic, uncritical acceptance – among gaters, it’s a sentence I’ve been turning over in my head for a while. First Person Scholar is a forum for academic criticism of varying stripes – from formal academic papers about to head off to be reviewed by a journal to early experiments, thinking-out-loud commentaries that might turn into something larger, etc. Readers that are openly hostile to the mere *mention* of feminist criticism are certainly not our audience. Conference papers presented at DiGRA are not written with the enthusiast audience in mind. Gamasutra, while it certainly sees its share of attention from enthusiast press, bills itself as a publication about the art and business of making games. By and large, its audience is frequently game developers. Except, for whatever reason, a certain segment of gamers have taken exception for these modes of discourse that are, in general, not written for them. I’ve had numerous conversations with self-identified gamers that were genuinely perplexed by the idea that not *all* things written about video games are intended for their consumption.

    I’m not suggesting that there can’t be overlap between these categories of people. Most people who move on to graduate school and study games don’t do it because they’re keen to wreck someone else’s fun — they do it because they love games. The potential for that love to be twisted or otherwise corrupted lies at the heart of Cross’ article here. Game developers are frequently subjected to untenable work conditions and expected to sacrifice their personal lives for the utopian ideal of a “dream job,” just as, I would suggest, a gamer’s enthusiasm for video games is exploited by publishers with the lure of bonuses for pre-ordering a game – that is, buying it without reading a review, without asking first if a game is going to be well-made instead of well-marketed (and certainly there can be moments where games are both well-made and well-marketed).

    Again, I encourage you to re-read this passage from Cross’ piece and think on it a bit:

    The new gaming website to emerge from the movement, goodgamers.us, is proud that it does not pay writers, using the ‘dream job’ and “do what you love” rhetoric beloved of the gaming industry at large; such ideas often help impose long hours and insufferable conditions on designers, writers, and developers. If it’s your dream job, why would you ever complain?

  • I saw the Le Guin quote and knew I was going to love this essay. I was not disappointed!

  • lawduck

    Wait, WHAT? Someone on the internet used a click-bait headline to draw attention to what they were saying, and drive ad impressions? The devil you say!

    The last sentence of your first paragraph, as others have more eloquently pointed out, has nothing to do with, and receives no support from, the statement that editors used clickbait headlines.

    • FPS

      Hello. We only approved this comment to make one thing abundantly clear: First Person Scholar is a non-profit endeavor, and, uh, if you hadn’t noticed – we don’t have any ads. Thanks for visiting the site, though!

  • George Ross

    I have another, perhaps slightly more radical suggestion here, for the academics involved with the whole thing:
    I would suggest that there is an undue amount of attention paid to ideology and the loudest (rather than most representative) voices, and very little sociological understanding of gamer or “Gamer” or even “GamerGate” culture out there. My exposure to academia has actually showed that, with some exceptions, there’s little interest in the sociology and anthropology of that particular cultural space. As a result, I see a lot of straw man attacks from even some very intelligent quarters.

    So here’s a suggestion: instead of adding to the shrill “gamers are dead” and “gamer culture sucks and is tied up in horrible misogynistic anarcho-liberalist ideology”, I’d recommend actually encouraging some sociological study and seeing what the picture is like and what the issues actually are. Do it ethnographically. Do it with some actual method. It’s evident to me that both shortly before and soon after GamersGate, a lot of non-traditional gamers and game academics have discovered a cultural space that is (shock and awe!) hostile to them and their values, and are attacking it based on said offended values rather than trying to get some sort of understanding. An anthropologist doesn’t arrive to an unexplored territory and immediately proclaim “fuck your man-eating ways!” I’d see it as little more than ironic justice if said researcher was immediately eaten as a result. An academic shouldn’t arrive into a cultural space in that way either. The discourse I’ve seen come out of people of academic slant on this subject has sometimes been shameful, and I think we need to fix that. It’s an ethical responsibility that, IMO, games-related academia has been failing.

  • Ryan Johnson

    Speaking for myself, I don’t support Gamergate. However, it has been a bit painful to see some of the nascent academic criticism of video games. Not because I want to engage and defensively support my hobby “at all costs” as this article suggests, but because the academic criticism is incredibly flawed. I get that cultural criticism cannot be quantitative, and I’m not expecting that. And I appreciate feminist criticism, as it is one of the many lenses we can use when examining works of art.

    But some of the criticism smack of a moral panic. As gamers, we can enjoy our problematic games, but only if we self-flagellate and apologize. We are told no one is out to take games away, and yet we see someone say GTA V players are Neanderthals equivalent to hot garbage who must be broken on racks. This, to me, doesn’t sound like thoughtful dialogue or critique, but condemnation.

    And then when someone criticizes the criticism, we are told to go away and not read it. Or worse, that we’re somehow anti-intellectual. I assure you, this isn’t the case.

    Anyway, I sincerely want games criticism to continue, I just want the underpinnings of it to be a little more sound.

    • Jason Hawreliak

      I don’t think we have to self-flagellate when playing problematic games, but it is important that we recognize what’s problematic and ask for better. For me the issue is when problematic material doesn’t appear in the discourse; that shows that people are taking it for granted or simply don’t care. Good criticism will point it out and that’s what GG has a problem with.

      Not that you’re suggesting this, but it’s important to point out that news, reviews, criticism, etc. are not, and never have been, “objective” or apolitical. That’s an utter illusion and unfortunately it informs much of GG’s argumentation. It’s as if they can’t deal with something that isn’t put into a strict dichotomy.

      On the other hand, from what I’ve seen the vast majority of academic criticism has been on very solid ground. There’s usually a strong theoretical context, nuance, and plenty of concrete examples. This piece is a perfect example of that. But because GG doesn’t like the message they call it illogical or cherry-picked. It’s absurd.

      • Ryan Johnson

        I definitely agree we need to call out what is problematic. “Asking for better”, however, is where I sort of throw my hands up. I think that is a bit beyond the role of criticism, or at least, just isn’t likely to happen. I think getting across the criticism itself would be the catalyst for change (that is, persuading someone through your critique), not symbolically or literally smashing the icons (as in the case with destroying a disc of GTA V). Or calling for people to be ashamed: that borders on paternalistic. There is a small but significant difference there: between laying out one’s views, and a “call to action” and demanding that people “do better”. We already agreed there can be no objectivity, so why call for people to feel a certain way? It just seems illogical.

        Yes, the notion that we shouldn’t ever have discourse and criticism in our writings about videogames, or that writing about things can be Objective with a capital O is patently absurd. However, I do somewhat sympathize with the idea that mixing cultural criticism with game reviews is awkward. Or at least, we’re not at a point yet where the cultural criticism flows well with the “graphics are pretty, controls are awful, this port is shoddy” parts. Maybe that will improve with time, but for now, it just seems better writing when we have a review, that maybe references a follow-up article that can really dig in and break down what is problematic about a game. In the rush to get a review out, there’s many times where the cultural criticism part is given short shrift, and instead keywords substitutue for a discussion or argument (I’m thinking of “problematic” and “troubling”). That’s just lazy in any kind of academic setting. Like you said, this article is itself a great example, because it is framed properly, we know the audience, we can make certain assumptions, etc. That context or environment seems to be lacking on a mainstream video game site, and the handwaving of “just read your reviews somewhere else” is sort of missing the point.

        We can agree the feminist critique criticism is strong, well-grounded, essential. But you and I both know those aren’t the only tools in our toolbox of criticism. I’m not saying feminist critique is the only types we see, and perhaps it is an unfortunate result of them being signal boosted through vitriol towards them, but I see a whole lot of room for other types of perspectives. Just think about it: for an art form, there is surprisingly little art history or humanistic language used in video game criticism. I’m somewhat confident that rich, comprehensive criticism will in fact emerge, I’m just saying I’m not yet satisfied, and the execution is still a bit awkward. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Adam G. Yoksas

    You mention Arendt, and what immediately comes to mind is her analysis of the Dreyfus Affair in Origins of Totalitarianism. What I see in Gamergate is a kind of re-creation of Dreyfus, and the same problems that plagued France are the same problems that plague gaming.

    For those who don’t know, Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army that had been falsely convicted of treason because of doctored evidence. Dreyfus was acquitted by the French Court of Appeals, but there was a problem…the court of appeals had no jurisdiction to acquit a court martial…it could only order a new trial (in which Dreyfus would surely lose). So what we have is an injustice of morals (a conviction based on antisemitic mistrust) that could only be remedied by another injustice, an injustice of law (a grant of authority to the Court of Appeals that the Court of Appeals did not have).

    As you can guess, the “mob” was out in full force shouting “conspiracy!,” regarding Dreyfus’s acquittal. And the worst part about it is that the French state gave the mob everything it needed to actually fuel its conspiracy-mongering when it acquitted Dreyfus in the way that it did. The Dreyfus Affair would go on for years and years, almost destroying France, turning intellectual against intellectual, citizen against citizen.

    Gamergate seems like the Dreyfus Affair, with Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian playing Dreyfus. Unfortunately, the only way that the gaming press could remedy the injustice is to do a kind of injustice of its own: they colluded together to declare “gamers are over!,” giving the ‘anti-Dreyfusards’ of the Gamergate movement all the evidence they needed to justify how the tech journalists are driven by a secret, feminist, Frankfurt-inspired grand conspiracy to take away their genre’s freedom of expression. Are they wrong? Probably…but just because they are wrong, doesn’t mean that they aren’t going away easily, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to get consideration just so things can get back to normal.

    Here’s where I think the anti-Gamergate folks really need to pay attention to Dreyfus: If the anti-Gamergate folks think that something like this will blow over easily, the Dreyfus Affair showed that something like this can drag on for a long, long time. The Dreyfus Affair became, in a sense, not even about Dreyfus anymore, but about conspiracy theory against conspiracy theory, harasser against harasser, boycott against boycott and protest against protest. Frankly, parliament didn’t want to touch the controversy with a ten foot pole. Frankly, I’m not sure the major AAA studios and the publishing houses want to touch this with a ten foot pole…not in the middle of a console war and a war for box sales.

  • David

    #notyourshield is very much hypocritical in how it is used as a deflection of accusations of misogyny.
    However it is not astroturfed. It was suggested in a /v/ thread when somebody voiced their frustration about not being taken seriously despite being a minority. Again, I know the hashtag is a complete parody of what it is in their eyes, but allegation that it was not created out of sincere concerns by actual minorities is the kind of misinformation that validates proponents of GamerGate in their belief that they are righteous and misrepresented.

    Also I am not sure what you mean by behind-the-scene folks when all the discussion is done through public channels. Most of the ideology and conspiracy theories that motivate parts of the group are out in the open, there is no need to create a group of invisible boogie-men.

  • David

    I don’t believe the opinion piece deserves the amount of outrage it got or even the boycotts.
    But it is very obviously an attack on ‘Game culture’ and very much means disrespect. Sentences like
    ‘Suddenly a generation of lonely basement kids had marketers whispering
    in their ears that they were the most important commercial demographic
    of all time.’
    are not taken out of context when every second paragraph of the article is generalizations and demeaning language like that.
    The criticism voiced in there is legitimate in many ways but it’s ludicrous to deny that this is an attack piece on a subculture the author has open (check the FAQ section in her blog) contempt for.

  • Slav

    Ok, so she was wrong. If you don’t like her or her ideas, great. But, are you arguing that her insulting language merits rape, dismembering, and murder threats? If you’re supporting the harassers then you are effectively reinforcing her representation of gamers as “obtuse shitslingers,” “wailing hyper-consumers”, and “childish internet-arguers.” You are proving her point for her. How about proving her wrong and not overreacting to her opinion. So what? Who cares what she thinks. Say that. That’s what you want to be true anyway, right? The problem is that it matters too much to you that she doesn’t think you’re perfect.

    • EndlessWinter

      Sorry for coming in so late, but let me respond with this:

      Does anyone actually support the harassers?

      In comparison, the anti-GG folks have doxxed and harassed numerous GG supporters to date (around 2 dozen doxxed, I believe?), called some of their employers to try to get them fired for being pro-GG (and were successful in at least one case), and actually had notable personalities openly dox at least one person, and an open web campaign to falsely report him to the LAPD (which also included his dox as it described how to fill out the police report with accurate info for him).

      Do you think that opposing GGs views requires death threats, doxxing, trying to get people with jobs wholly unrelated to the topics of GG fired, sending people syringes and knives with notes telling them to kill themselves, and attempts to get someone arrested on false pretenses? If you are supporting the anti-GG people, then you are actively supporting those behaviors. Or, you could accept that a comparatively small handful of trolls on either side are the source of most of it, and not try to pretend that it’s representative of the whole of either side, but you don’t get to have it both ways.

  • slav

    Isn’t it a reference to “God is dead.” If that’s the case it seems more like an unwarentedly huge compliment. It doesn’t matter if these authors are wrong, they aren’t part of a vast conspiracy of feminists. They are people with friends who also happen to have similar sensibilities. What a shock. People never become friends with people that share their interests, right?

  • LL

    This is so well written. Kudos.

  • Robot Parking

    The trap, with “advocating openness to things that contradict ideology” is that there is a degree of nuance there that many gaters tend to miss. When Sargon draws an absurd distinction between “academics” and “feminist idealogues,” for example, they elide the longstanding history of feminist discourse both within and outside of academia and misconstrue the function and purpose of that criticism. Feminist critics are certainly open to dialogue, but if the purpose of that dialogue is to “refute” feminism, or somehow blindly scream against its necessity when the evidence of that necessity is incredibly obvious, that’s not a dialogue that’s being done in good faith. It demonstrates an unwillingness to foster a common ground, and an unwillingness to understand the thing that one wishes to argue against.

    As Cross notes:

    GamerGate, from the start, saw feminist criticism as the spearpoint of an invasion, and set this as the inescapable tone for the movement– in spite of the fact that only 0.41% of articles across major gaming websites had feminist content.

  • Robot Parking

    It’s worth going back and re-reading those articles. My takeaway from them is that the idea of the “core gamer” is outmoded and starting to fall by the wayside. That content does not need to be laser-focused on a specific demographic that has been cultivated by publishers and developers for decades. There is money to be found in other markets, as well, and there’s value in diverting even a modicum of attention toward that market.

    Even more troubling is this “the customer is always right” mentality that GG espouses with regard to games criticism. Some gamers want the game that they’ve pre-ordered to be good, to be recognized as good, to have their buying decision reinforced by some external source. Some gamers want to be reassured that the expensive console they’ve purchased is the best one. Except, sometimes games are bad – even games with huge budgets and an incredible amount of pre-order bonuses. Sometimes consoles are undercooked and perhaps not a great value proposition. Sometimes one person’s experiences with a game are going to differ from another person’s experiences. Given that reviews are largely based on the reviewer’s experience with a game, the likelihood that they’re going to have the same experience as everyone else is actually quite slim. Expecting a reviewer to tell the customer what they want to hear isn’t just borderline-impossible, it’s asking for reviewers to be dishonest to their own expertise with the game, as well as their own abilities to think critically about what they’re playing. Offering commentary on gaming culture is just another part of the enthusiast press – charting trends, predicting changes within the industry, noting changes in approaches to game development – all of this is part of their job, even if some of that information is uncomfortable for the reader to confront.

    As cross mentions above:
    Ethical and “agenda-free” journalism and criticism,achieved by scouring games journalism of any and all dissent from GamerGate’s views—i.e. the hated “SJWs.” This purge was driven by a harmonious idea: the idea of games journalism without corruption, graft, those mysterious “agendas,” or influence-peddling, and a journalistic enterprise that had a sympathetic and symbiotic relationship with its core audience. But above all there need never be a conflict between a journalist’s or critic’s duty to inform and a reader’s desire to be told only what they wanted to hear—a contradiction that would surely make Berlin cringe.

  • trouble

    how do you know who their target audience is? Also you have a pretty weird idea about what journalism is if you think it means that you should should never criticize or analyze the people who you are writing about.

  • SYPMMS

    One of this biggest issues with this article is its woeful lack of understanding of image board culture and image board collective projects. Despite its claims that Gamergate lacks self introspection and seeks ideological purity is quickly disproven by a visit to said imageboards which are in a constant state of argument and chaos as users debate goals, strategy and the validity of the project itself. What the writer believes to be calls for ideological purity are rather attempts to protect the fragile nature of online organization from disruption by opponents or more likely by 3rd party trolls. Once anonymity disappears the supposed ideological enforcement disappears as well.

    • Robot Parking

      Would you be able to expand on this? Cross seems to be speaking here of the overall effect this has had on discourse, rather than going for a thoroughly nuanced read of the fractious and contradictory foundations of GamerGate. Regardless of its roots, its effect has remained pretty consistent.

      I’m also not sure that image board culture is a reasonable venue for self-reflection as much as a place for sharpening rhetorical tools, so to speak. Also, to date, very little anonymity has left GamerGate. I had a protracted conversation with an anti-humanities physics student (presumably) about the “value” of feminist critique and at the end of the conversation, that person deleted their account. It’s a little hard to take the last sentence of your post into consideration when there are so many instances where GamerGate insists on having “no leaders” or on being a “leaderless consumer revolt.”

      At any rate, I’m genuinely curious to hear how a more nuanced understanding of *chan message boards would improve Cross’ article – especially since, at the time of its writing, 4chan had run GamerGate off, and it was struggling to find places to congregate. Reddit was one locale, and I can’t remember if GitHub had yet decided to ban GamerGate discussion when this article went up.

      • SYPMMS

        4Chan did not run GG off of the board. Moot said that the movement had outgrown 4chan like project chanology and that it was cluttering up the board. The GGs disagreed and complained that they had kept themselves contained in one thread. There was also a disagreement with a long time unpopular mod and this was the final straw that caused GG to move to 8chan.

        As for overall discourse Cross provides a very limited view of the discourse that is drawn almost entirely from anti-GG sources which focus obsessively on the worst aspects of GG. In reality the GG movement is filled with conversations about all aspects of the movement in contrast to the screaming zealots Cross is trying to claim they are.

        Imageboards are perfect for critique of the self as unlike Reddit and other sites unpopular opinions cannot be downvoted and hidden in fact the more controversial an opinion the more likely it is to rise to the top as more people will comment on it. From day 1 people on 4chan and 8chan have argued with GG and GG has had to denfend themselves against these arguments.

        If the writer understood imageboard culture there would understand that many of the things see as paranoia or violent rehtoric are part of the language of imageboards which is often exaggerated on purpose to made fun of the “internet toughguy”. Much of the suspicion of motives that comes from the imageboards is as a result of their history. If you’ve ever seen internet raiding or drama play out on an imageboard you would understand how valuable any organized group is to sabotage or misinformation and how groups of trolls (like some on the something awful forum) can manipulate social media and internet sites to cause chaos. Much of what Cross says here is a misunderstanding of how the community has learned over years to cope with internal disruption.

        As for your point about anonymity wanting to have a leader is not wanting to stay unknown. GG has attempted to signal boost faces of their campaign whenever possible( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtzrUsi6Y1s such as here). Also the #notyourshield campaign was the opposite of maintaining anonymity.( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYqBdCmDR0M )
        They oppose the call for a leader on the basis that it would put said person in danger of harassment and there is no mechanism for them to agree on who should be their leader as they are such a diverse group of people.

        The reason GGer may have deleted their twitter account is that within these circles where GG originates from twitter is considered to be an unpleasant and toxic place and so many in GG only have taken to twitter as part of GG and after GG will probably never use it again.

        • Robot Parking

          “Moot said that the movement had outgrown 4chan like project chanology and that it was cluttering up the board.”

          This statement sanitizes the reason why those threads were being deleted, which was because they were in violation of 4chan’s “no personal information/raids/calls to invasion rule” – which, certainly Moot ends by saying that GamerGate has “outgrown” 4chan, but it’s interesting that you downplay the criticism of GG’s methodology.

          “As for overall discourse Cross provides a very limited view of the discourse that is drawn almost entirely from anti-GG sources which focus obsessively on the worst aspects of GG.”

          This falls into the false premise that Cross points out at the top of the article. The idea that, if there is a pseudo-movement or consumer revolt that is united under the banner of GamerGate then there must be a mirror counter-movement for GamerGate to thrash itself against. This mirror-enemy has been variously defined as a “social justice warrior” (or, really, anyone who writes any kind of cultural or social criticism of videogames) but as more and more voices have come out in opposition to the excesses of GamerGate (or excesses committed in the name of GamerGate – the difference between these two is really negligible without any sort of cogent statement from the “movement”), the term “anti-GG” has materialized to denote an equal and opposite reaction.

          Except that this is not the case. While there is certainly overlap between people who play games, people who write for the enthusiast press, people who do game studies, and so on – the idea that there is some concentrated cabal of feminists conspiring to manipulate the trajectory of game development by, I don’t actually know, writing essays? Writing reviews? Making videos? is patently absurd.

          GamerGate repeatedly demands credibility, demands to be taken seriously, demands to be understood with some kind of nuance even as its most vocal and aggressive supporters repeatedly demonstrate the futility of this. They demonstrate it through repeated appropriation of revolutionary rhetoric with apparently zero comprehension of the implications of that rhetoric. They demonstrate it through the proliferation of YouTube videos in which the authors seem to delight in their own lack of understanding of the purpose of criticism, or how academia works, or how literally any industry functions. They demonstrate it by castigating any criticism as “anti-GG” in some overdramatic us vs. them binary. They demonstrate it by steeping their “projects” in pseudo-military jargon which does nothing to encourage real discussion but absolutely gives it the face an all-or-nothing utopianism that Cross criticizes above.

          And finally, seeing someone suggest that imageboard culture’s legacy of anonymity, hostility, and zero accountability is what makes it an ideal forum for discussion while claiming Twitter is somehow a more toxic place is just another irony in, as Cross points out, a concatenation of ironies that has come to
          define GamerGate.

          I’m not denying that an analysis of different types of online message boards and how the affordances and features of those different boards shape and inform the online rhetorical strategies of their users would be interesting. I’d read the heck out of something like that. (Or hell, I might just write it myself someday. I wouldn’t be surprised if something along those lines already existed.)

          As for your final point of #notyourshield, this article does a fine job of pointing out its fallacies: http://simplikation.com/notyourshield-using-minority-voices-to-bludgeon-other-minorities/

  • Gina

    “It becomes hollow rhetoric that ultimately bows before the terrible
    logic of revolutionary thinking: ethics are for paradise, in the here
    and now we must fight til our final breath with everything we have, no matter the wreckage we may leave behind us.”

    I think this is projection. GamerGate’s ethics are the apolitical, the anarchic. I realize this is hard for authoritarian idealists to understand, but for some people the only crusade is “leave me the fuck alone.” The activism is only pushback.

    • Robot Parking

      Could you expand on what you mean by “anarchic” here – an awful lot of anarchist writers that would absolutely bristle at the claims that:
      1. Anarchy can be apolitical
      2. A consumer “revolt” can be anarchist in any sense of the word.

    • Jason Hawreliak

      Sorry, Gina, but there’s no such thing as “apolitical.” That’s an absolute illusion and I’m sorry that you believe in it. The precise problem is that GG’s status quo politics are being challenged and that’s what all the fuss is about. They’re not used to things not going their way so they lash out.

      This argument to “keep politics out of videogames” is absurd and, frankly, deeply ignorant. All media artifacts are intrinsically political. It’s just that you don’t see it as readily when your politics are the norm. It’s difficult, but if you develop strong critical thinking strategies and the ability to self-reflect, the politics will materialize. You just have to know where and (more importantly) how to look.

  • Robot Parking

    I’m still not clear on what you mean when you say that GamerGate’s ethics are anarchic, even colloquially. If your point in using that term is that GamerGate has little intent on producing something concrete and is simply attempting to dismantle what is already there, then, certainly, that’s exactly what concerns Cross (and many other vocal critics) of GamerGate, as there’s zero indication that this is being done with an understanding that these are real people whose lives are being directly affected because they happened to write something a vocal minority of gamers disagreed with.

    I’m also not quite sure why you’re declaring the authors of those articles authoritarian – none of them have the institutional power to stop you from calling yourself a gamer. None of them have the ability to stop companies from making games to cater to gamers, either.

    • Gina

      Just because they don’t have the power doesn’t mean that’s not their desire or goal. Look at the attempts- some of them successful- to shut down any discussion of GamerGate at forum sites, and the furious spin to paint the movement as being about white men holding everyone back.

      The better term is probably anti-authoritarian.

      • Robot Parking

        Again, though, I’m honestly not following your concept of “authority” here. Videogame critics are not particularly well paid compared to comparable jobs in other industries. It’s absolutely baffling that they’re singled out as authoritarian figures, while massive, multi-million dollar conglomerates are inexplicably seen as silent allies to GamerGate.

  • Robot Parking

    Could you spell out a couple of the “agendas” being pushed?

    • Gina

      This should be obvious in an article about Anita Sarkeesian.

      • Robot Parking

        In point of fact, it’s not obvious. For starters:
        1. This article is not explicitly about Anita Sarkeesian. It mentions her a few times, but the topic of discussion is the discourse GamerGate and its embrace of revolutionary rhetoric to accomplish undefined goals.
        2. The crux of Cross’ argument here is that the idea of an “agenda” is hazily defined by the adherents of GamerGate, but is so frequently used as evidence of some form of corruption.

        On that end, some more substance to the charges of “agenda-pushing” would be terrific.

  • Robot Parking

    What I meant by that statement is that GamerGate has been incredibly inconsistent when it selects targets for its ire. Much of Operation Disrespectful Nod is founded on the idea that there is some solidarity between a company like Intel and their “customers.” However, I’d like to point out that you haven’t really clarified who or what the “authority” is that GamerGate is railing against, which reinforces Cross’ argument in this piece – ill-defined and inconsistent targets and no stated “goals” beyond the increasingly shrill “it’s about ethics in games journalism!”

    • Gina

      There’s no inconsistency in a company wanting to distance itself from inflammatory remarks.

      Re authority: I’ve been over this. Either you missed it or you’re being obtuse. Just because someone doesn’t have authority (and I think it arguable that media colluding to present only one side of the story and to shut down forum discussion of a topic is not an exercise of authority) doesn’t mean they’re not authoritarian. It’s one of the tragicomic aspects of the “gamers are dead” articles, and subsequent attempts to declare GamerGate dead, that their tone was so imperial while their impact was so ineffectual.

      An informal survey of GamerGate supporters showed that the majority of them were left-leaning and libertarian. That is likely not a reflection of their actual politics, but signals the approach and mindset.

      Hence also why your criticism of the movement for being diffuse and not speaking with a singular voice also misses the mark. Not every movement has to have a manifesto. The fact that this article insists that GamerGate does, and your insistence that it must, is a misunderstanding of the moment.

      • Robot Parking

        The point remains that: if those writers cannot stop you from calling yourself a gamer, and certainly cannot stop companies from making games that contribute to and reinforce videogame enthusiast culture. Even if their goal *is* to try and stop you from calling yourself a gamer and stop those companies from making those games (and, by the way, good luck actually building that argument out of the “Gamers are dead” articles) – who cares? What are you defending, if these are things that don’t need defense? Why try to force a site to cater to your needs when clearly you’re dissatisfied with what they’re offering?

        Yes, they can ban those discussions on their forums. That’s their prerogative. It’s certainly their prerogative when the prevailing perception of this whole affair is that the only things GamerGate has produced is likely to be disclosure of Patreon contributions, a PR nightmare for Intel, and an awful lot of mainstream articles reinforcing the existing stigma that gamers are a hostile, often immature, lot (and maybe a shot in the arm for the careers of some ethically questionable right-wing journalists and YouTube channels). But if GamerGate activism, as you said in your frist comment, is a manifestation of “leave me the fuck alone” then congratulations, people are plenty tired of GamerGate.
        My question for you is: now what?

        • Gina

          “My question for you is: now what?”
          Why are you asking me? If people with an international megaphone are just powerless bystanders, then what is one consumer, a female gamer no less- supposedly an oppressed minority? I don’t speak for anyone but myself.

          As for me, I’ve been disgusted by the decline in quality and integrity in the media for years. The insertion of political agendas is, in my view, a factor of journalists treating their platforms as a personal megaphone, and they’re encouraged by the mixture of social media and blog mentality and the need for clicks to replace lost ad revenue. So what this controversy has done for me is expose who’s still worthy of a hearing and who I can disregard. As with the rest of the press, I now follow individuals who demonstrate integrity, not publications. I certainly don’t give a hearing to outlets who treat me with contempt. I’ve shed a lot of dead weight in the gaming press the last month or two. Good riddance.