Sunday, April 19, 2015

What I know, and have learned, about Gamergate

For those of you unaware of the Gamergate controversy, here are the basics:

1. It's a vague moniker for a series of scandals within the video game industry that have morphed together into a Cronenbergian mass, lacking even a trace of resemblance to the issues around which it was originally based.

2. It's the kind of thing where you say "Gamergate" and everyone knows what you're talking about, but nobody can define what Gamergate actually is.

3. Currently, most people think it's about sexism in video games.

4. Most people think that if you support Gamergate, you're a pro-sexism apologist who thinks that most video games are fine just the way they are. (Note: THEY'RE NOT.)

5. Believe it or not, the term "Gamergate" was originally coined on Twitter by Adam fucking Baldwin.

Here's the story. I'm going to make it short and sweet, but if you want more information, actually has a really comprehensive article about the whole mess.

I also want to make it very clear that this is a muddy issue, and I'm posting my perspective only.

One day, the ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn posted about how Zoe cheated on him with a bunch of people in the gaming industry. A series of articles from various authors followed regarding the ethics of video game development and journalism. Instead of latching onto that, a bunch of people focused on how Zoe (allegedly) Cirsei Lannister'd her way to developing an (allegedly) crappy game, and called her lots of nasty chauvinistic things as a result.

Then, it was discovered that a bunch of people staffed on Kotaku (a refutable gaming journalism site) were contributing donations to the Patreon account of Quinn; this is against Kotaku's code of journalistic ethics. Kotaku issued a statement, blah blah so on etc.

On August 27th, 2014, Adam Baldwin (Full Metal JacketFirefly, Halo ODST) Tweeted a link to a video that some guy made on the whole Zoe Quinn thing, and created the hashtag Gamergate, naming the issue the gaming industry equivalent of the Watergate scandal.


Here's where it gets messy.

Remember how I said earlier that there was a vocal minority who slut-shamed Zoe Quinn instead of shaming her for her Machiavellian business tactics?

(...actually, I suppose it was more comparable to Sir Francis Walshingham, Queen Elizabeth's personal Jules Winnfield. Short story: he slept with one of Elizabeth's political rivals, then murdered her.)

Thug life.

Anyway, those guys never left, and when they realized nobody was paying attention to them, they started yelling louder.

Anita Sarkeesian joined the fray. She's a journalist who deconstructs various aspects of Western culture and explains how sexism is deeply, deeply ingrained in lots of things, and although the signs are obvious, the only reason most people don't realize it is that they've become habituated to them. 

She started a Youtube channel called FeministFrequency and created a massive 3-part critique called "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." The Internet's response- well, just read her Twitter feed. This was posted after she cancelled a talk at Utah State University because they refused to do pat-downs and use metal detectors on audience members.

She got death threats, rape threats- a ton of undue abuse. It got so bad that she had to start staying with a friend, because she was too afraid for her life to live at home. 

Here's why that happened: Sarkeesian's critique is mostly accurate. She points out a lot of really disturbingly sexist and misogynistic things in a lot of video games which aren't necessarily core aspects of the game, but exist mostly as "decoration". She says that, for sexism to be eliminated, all we need to do is be aware of these little, little features here and there and stop being okay with them, because even though a sexy Easter egg here or there may not be the end of the world, the vast majority of them are so tastelessly done, it's really difficult to make a solid argument that it's not demeaning. 

Sarkeesian is right, in a lot of ways. She makes excellent points. She's also really smug, and sometimes makes blanket statements that aren't true.

For example: she claimed to be a longtime gamer, but someone went back and found her in an interview from the early 2000's or so in which she very clearly says, "I'm not really a gamer, I play occasionally" or something to that extent. So, the fact that she's not "gooble gobble one of us" means she just doesn't understand the "struggle" of being a gamer.

Now, if you're one of the people who honestly believe that these acts of stupidity on her part prove that Sarkeesian's arguments are not even partially valid, I have something very important to say. Come closer, you'll hear better. 

No, closer.

A little more- that's it.




Reading the posts of fellow gamers, sometimes I wonder.

You can probably guess how everything panned out. Anita Sarkeesian is still terrified for her life, not sure what she's up to these days but she's posting videos somewhat regularly again, so that's good.

Oh, and a cultural commentator named C.H. Sommers posted this video that people latched on to, "refuting" Sarkeesian's points. She was the right person who came along and said the right thing at the right time, so everybody ended up loving her and hating Sarkeesian.

I've watched Sommers' video. You can watch it for yourself in the link above, but I found it to be filled with pandering tripe and half-baked pontifications about the video game industry that are neither accurate nor helpful to the issue in any way. My favorite part is when she says the industry as a whole isn't sexist because there are lots of games featuring female protagonists. As if that made all of Sarkeesian's points disappear back to Narnia.

People started calling her "Based Mom" for a little while,
thanking her for that shitty video.

There have been updates, there have been other videos, but that's the bulk of it. 4chan made a meme about what they considered "butthurt" feminists with a grudge against video games and no solid support for their demonization. Which is a thing- there are absolutely people like that in the world, people with grudges against video games and gamers, who will use noble causes in order to destroy that which they hate.

There just isn't as many of them as most people think.

Although, to be fair, Sarkeesian does deserve some criticism, besides some of her arguments being a little overblown. Look closely at her Twitter feed again. The top one, especially.

A lot of why #Gamergate is associated with misogynist apologists is because of that fucking Tweet. Then again, she was threatened with rape and murder by like, lots of people. I suppose that would make anyone a little irrational.

I'm also certain she regrets it, and maybe has even tried to apologize for it. Not that anyone will let her.

The hashtag NotYourShield was created by Gamergate supporters. #NotYourShield is essentially a splinter group of the Gamergate camp, comprised mostly of non-white, and many female, Gamergate supporters. It happened as a response to the Sarkeesian thing, as an attempt to bring the discussion back to its original cause, the corruption of game development and game journalism politics. It was also a response to the growing sentiment that most #Gamergate supporters are white males.

So there you have it- that's Gamergate. Now you can tell people you actually know what it is.

EDIT: I know that the Brianna Wuu doxxing thing is also important, and it's a big part of the story, but I just wanted to cover the basics in this article, and that whole thing is another article for another time.