If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with #GamerGate (which I’ll be calling GG from here on). You’re also probably familiar with the usual criticisms thrown at it – that it’s pro-harassment, that it’s responsible for death threats, that it’s all white men having a temper tantrum.
(And seriously, can we stop with that last one? Even if #notyourshield was astroturfed at the start – and that’s a big if – it’s full of actual people. Stop denying these people’s identities, please!)
Those aren’t the criticisms I have for it.
Let’s start with a vague timeline, shall we? You’ll find a lot of attempts to re-write history here, with claims that GG started in response to the ‘Gamers are Over’ articles (the most notable example being Gamasutra’s by Leigh Alexander). But this is to deny its origins – the first use of the hashtag was by Adam Baldwin on August 28th, linking to two of the infamous Quinnspiracy videos. Whilst many people may have joined over those articles, GG was not a response to this. It was instead, a response to the claims made by Eron Gjoni about his ex-girlfriend.
I won’t be using the language of most of the media here – to call Eron jilted or the like is to be insensitive to those who read his post and see emotional abuse. Instead, let’s look at how the post was responded to. There’s an attempt by some of GG now to claim they cared about the emotional abuse aspect from the start – and I don’t doubt that for some of them, that’s true! But the fact that the post quickly became a meme (Five Guys) and the disdain often shown for Eron whilst discussing this highlights that for many, it wasn’t.
For a movement allegedly about journalistic ethics, it got off on the wrong foot – it put the emphasis on the developer, not the journalists. I suspect that’s because they know they had very little. You may still see people saying “but Nathan Grayson reviewed her game.” The problem is that he didn’t. He listed her game as one of fifty indie games over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and he mentioned it again in a Kotaku article about a game jam. Neither of these are the reviews that many in GG claim.
Here’s my core issue with GG: it’s built on a lot of misinformation, and that misinformation is still getting passed around as fact.
Early on, GG got excited over claims of corruption in the IGF. Maya Kramer was accused of sleeping with the chairman to get an award for a game she did the PR for – The Stanley Parable. The fact this was an Audience Award seemed to be conveniently ignored.
People both want to say that Phil Fish must have hacked himself, but then use the financial records apparently gained through this hacking to “prove” something about the IGF. What this proves is very little. For instance, the claim “In 2012, FEZ gets through nominations and wins big. Of note here is the IGF anonymous nomination panel: all of the finalist judges are invited back to nominate games the following year. So the Indie Fund judges from 2011 would anonymously judge entrants for 2012,” (source) is fundamentally meaningless. There are hundreds of judges in the IGF. Eight or so would not be able to weight the votes so heavily. Especially when none of those who have financial interest were on the 2012 jury. And yet, the idea that the IGF was clearly corrupt and clearly rigged because of this floats around, unchecked.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun gets continually listed as a site that had a “gamers are dead” article written for it. It didn’t, it merely linked to one of the others. But knowing that would require fact-checking, right?
There’s more – DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association) had some exceptionally strange claims made about it. There’s claims that they’re against peer-review, when in fact, that comes down to a few members talking the worth of it in a fishbowl discussion, in a manner very similar to others in academia do. There’s also claims that they’re funded by DARPA. They’re not, by the way. They once posted a job advertisement for a role that was – at a university. And yet still these myths float around the tag to be pulled out as though they’re worth something.
But enough of that for now. Let’s look at what GG has proven, shall we? The GameJournoPros list is the big one. Of course, ask GG to point to what actual collusion they’ve seen happen on there, and you’ll get very little beyond ‘they decided not to cover the Quinnspiracy stuff. This is barely a conspiracy. What’s more interesting is that the writers that wrote the notorious “gamers are over” articles are mostly not on that list. So the claims that those articles were co-ordinated via that list? Sorry, wrong.
Ethics? What Ethics?
Another key problem with GG is that many in it don’t have a grasp of journalistic ethics. Let’s take a look at an example that got big recently.
I criticized this – after all, this is not anti-corruption. This is encouraging corruption. Publishers being able to control the early coverage of their games is a huge deal, just take a look at the Shadow of Mordor issue from earlier this month. This “operation” is basically saying that blacklisting journalists who give lower scores (and since when is 7.5 a low score?) is okay. It’s also a bit weird, since apparently, the fact Polygon dissented from the common consensus on the game is a problem now – whereas, if anything, that shows a lack of collusion on their part!
But many in GG are no longer at a point where the actual ethics are something to consider. They’re at a point where anyone who disagrees with them is seen as an enemy of sorts. Because apparently, when someone like me (critical of GG from the start) says that this is a bad idea, what some of GG see is: “This is a great idea, because she disagrees.” Source/archive. This isn’t the behavior of a movement concerned with actually sorting out ethics. This is the behavior of a movement concerned with being right.
An important thing to remember about this “operation” is that it’s based in the idea that criticizing something from a cultural angle is bad. This is something many of GG believe. From the cries of cultural Marxism (which honestly, is just as big a buzzword as misogynerd now) to suggestions that reviews should just be about gameplay and nothing else, there’s a clear rejection of the idea that social critique has a role in reviews for some GG participants.
Social Critique is NOT Corruption
Throughout GG, I’ve undertaken a survey to find out what people want from reviews. Some of the answers highlight the above issue:
“Basically, a review that describes the game without involving the author’s personal opinion on it.”
“Focus on the gameplay and technical aspects, not the story and art style.”
“I mean that I want a game to be judged solely on its mechanics, story, immersiveness, strength of character and level of involvement, and judgement be based solely on that. Not whether a game is ‘problematic.’”
These are all totally valid things to want from a review – it’s okay to not care about social critique – but the inclusion of these things isn’t corruption. It’s just a style of review people don’t like. It’s also not unique to games journalism. Over the past two months, people keep linking me Roger Ebert’s little rule book for what they want from reviews. This seems to ignore the fact that Ebert frequently did call out films in the same way these journalists discuss games. As a brief example, here’s a quote from his review of the Flowers of War:
“One of the ancient ploys of the film industry is to make a film about non-white people and find a way, however convoluted, to tell it from the point of view of a white character … One of the last places you’d expect to see this practice is in a Chinese film … Now let me ask you: Can you think of any reason the character John Miller is needed to tell his story? Was any consideration given to the possibility of a Chinese priest? Would that be asking for too much?”
This lack of awareness of how criticism of media works limits GG in scope – it’s unwilling to consider that it’s not evidence of corruption, but simply, an opinion they don’t hold.
What’s The Point of It?
It’s all of this, plus the chaotic nature of the tag, that makes me critical of it. It’s a tangled mess of those who want feminist critique removed entirely – even suggesting it’s cultural genocide, those with genuine concerns about the nature of publisher/journalist relationships and those who think the military is paying DiGRA to learn how to brainwash people.
The common criticisms I brought up earlier? Like the idea it’s pro-harassment? Sort of. I don’t think it’s pro-harassment, but I think it creates a climate where harassment – of all sides, all angles – is common and supported. There’s a phrase I’ve seen a few times: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.” It’s this attitude – the idea that the grand goal of ethics is so worth it that a few accidents on the way don’t matter – that sustains a culture where harassment happens. So whilst I don’t think GG is pro-harassment, I think it’s creating a space where harassment is supported even as people condemn it.
The thing is, even if you could convince me that such a grand, transcendent goal as ethics was worth the mess on the way (you can’t, but let’s pretend), this wouldn’t make me less critical of GG. Why?
Well, as I’ve said in this very lengthy piece and could have actually summed up in this single sentence: GG does not seem to understand ethics nearly as well as it thinks it does.