If you follow games and the people who make them and the people who write about them you probably realize something is happening. Something idiotic and ugly and depressing and laughable. Something that, if you listen to breathless and inane YouTube videos, threatens the entire fabric and sanctity of something or other. Something that very well might have fizzled out by the time you read this.
The people who base their identity around playing games, who willingly embrace the title “gamer”, are rising up against the people who spend 60 hours a week making those games and the people who make less than a full-time QuikTrip employee writing about those games. They call it #GamerGate, because they have absolutely no self-awareness whatsoever, and because they apparently didn’t see the more timely #GamerGhazi just sitting there in front of them.
We weren’t going to talk about this at Paste. The entire ordeal has been so thoroughly beneath contempt that it didn’t seem necessary to ever discuss it. As #GamerGate continues to waft across the internet, producing increasingly torturous flowcharts to prove how anybody who has ever drawn a paycheck from reviewing games is corrupt, while disproportionately targeting women within the games industry, we’ve realized we should probably address the situation. If real people weren’t being hurt by this, it would be hilarious how ridiculous the entire thing is.
It started with an angry ex-boyfriend releasing private information about a female game developer, Zoe Quinn. Paste didn’t mention that because the personal life of a game designer is not news. (A designer having his work site hacked is newsworthy, which is why we covered that when it happened to Phil Fish after he openly supported Quinn.) The common use of the inexplicable epithet “Social Justice Warrior”, a sure sign of anti-equality intent, clearly marked this as a politically retrograde attack against minorities and their supporters.
When the scandal morphed into a larger assault upon “game journalism ethics” it still felt out of Paste’s purview. Paste covers games but we’re not a gaming site. Our audience isn’t necessarily interested in “inside baseball” tripe about games journalism or the hurt feelings of so-called “gamers.” I can’t imagine our readers taking umbrage at our contributors and freelancers giving their own money to crowdfunding campaigns, which has become a thread within the tapestry of reaching, overwrought complaints. “Gamers” have never been our target audience (although all readers from all walks of life are more than welcome) and their anger over supposed ethical lapses is directed more towards dedicated gaming sites than general pop culture outlets with gaming subsidiaries. And although those so-called ethical lapses might be a legitimate concern for some of those who unironically use the #GamerGate hashtag, it was clearly blatant anti-woman sentiment that launched the countless harassing tweets and emails and conspiracy-peddling charts and YouTube videos from the movement’s founders and ringleaders.
That’s who is behind this entire situation: anti-woman trolls who intentionally distort the meaning of the word “ethics” to further their own agenda and mislead their followers. There are some beating the #GamerGate drum who sincerely believe that it’s not related to misogyny or the persistent attacks on Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, that it’s simply about keeping the games press accountable. It’s impossible to extricate that hashtag from its roots, though, which grew out of unconscionable smears and threats against two prominent women in gaming merely because they are prominent women in gaming. All the conspiracies and trumped-up claims of “evidence” of collusion among developers, press agents and the press spread by the #GamerGate founders are lies and distortions aimed at driving Quinn, Sarkeesian and other women out of videogames. Whether it’s hate, fear or simply the grotesque joy horrible people find in maliciously denigrating others, this entire #GamerGate nonsense is built on silencing women and shutting them out of games.
That’s the scandal here. Not that some journalists are friendly with some game designers, or that review copies of games are often sent early to critics (an entrenched practice that occurs across the entire spectrum of tech and entertainment journalism, and which is crucial to informing readers in a timely fashion). It’s that a vocal minority of videogame fans who tend to congregate at sites like 4chan and Reddit, who blanket twitter and comment sections with hate and anger, and who adopt the exclusionary identity of “gamer” have united to intimidate and silence videogame fans, developers and writers who aren’t like them or don’t think like them. And the leaders of that movement, the ones who stir up the most resentment and convince their followers that it’s not about hate but ethics, the YouTube “personalities” and condescending Breitbart hacks and, uh, Firefly’s Adam Baldwin, are all well-established opponents of equality and social justice. Some are trolls, some are disingenuous, politically motivated bullies, and none of them are worth the attention.
If you identify as a “gamer”, some of this probably sounds super condescending and off-putting. I’m sorry. No offense! It’s great if games are the thing that help you with sadness, loneliness and depression (that’s part of what Quinn’s game is about) or if they’re just a thing that helps you kill time. And games are a great way to make friends and create a social circle. The big problem with the concept of the “gamer” (beyond its meaninglessness—there are far more people who play games than who identify as “gamers”) is that it’s inherently exclusionary on either side of the divide. If you cast judgment on the types of games other people play, finding them not worthy, not fit for a real “gamer”, you’re contributing to the same type of bullying that might have driven you into games in the first place. At the same time, if your appreciation of games leads you to fixate so thoroughly on “game culture” that gaming frames most of your outlook upon life, dictating what you watch, read, talk about or listen to, you’re closing yourself off to most of what the world has to offer. You’re willingly excluding yourself from the larger culture. And by isolating yourself as a “gamer”, you’re setting yourself up to be manipulated by unscrupulous deceivers who like to attack people like Sarkeesian and Quinn.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games section.