Last Steam game review will come next week. Promise!
If you’ve been remotely paying attention to the gaming scene, you’ll have noticed the kerfuffle surrounding GamerGate (GG). Starting as a collection of emails from an ex, GG exploded into a toxic cocktail of misogynistic hatred and self-righteousness egged on by heaping piles of Twitter and cliquishness. GG is tailor made to show the flaws in the gamer community, both for the consumers and the journalists.
If you’ve read over the ex’s emails, then you’ll see that they’re an impressive breach of trust and say terrible things about the person who posted them. They allege that Zoe Quinn, developer of the much applauded Depression Quest, cheated on her then boyfriend with several people including a reviewer from the gaming site Kotaku. I’m not going to comment on the emails beyond this because they’re really none of my business. From here, GG commentary exploded in two directions, planned misogynistic attacks on Quinn and complaints about the closeness of developers and game journalists. The commentary quickly took on the older issue of social justice warriors (SJWs). SJWs are a group of game journalists that critiqued games with an eye towards the pressing social issues of today and have been attacked for inserting political views into the perceived neutral space of video games. Supporters of GG continue to blur the lines between these threads by combining them allowing their opponents to brand the whole movement as abusive. Anti-GG groups not wrong.
The GG community has repeatedly claimed that it is purely focused on the developer-journalist connection and the threat of SJWs, yet the vast majority of its presence on Twitter and other outlets is laced with hateful attacks or a denial of hateful attacks. Known anti GG speakers are being threatened for their views. The comments page of any article on the topic is loaded with screed. Perhaps most damning, recent information about Youtubers receiving pay for boosting games and not revealing their relationship has come to light yet the GG movement hasn’t jumped on that. GG has a case of proven corruption yet it’s still focusing on nutty conspiracies that really on unproven allegations and supposedly doctored screenshots. If GG were truly interested in journalist corruption, than there are easier targets with a great deal more evidence.
The above is what I have collected after considerable searching, which is a problem. The games journalists that are decrying the pro GG community are the same journalists that I would normally read to get more information on the GG controversy. As you can imagine, there is a major conflict of interest and it shows. In prepping for this article, I repeatedly ran into articles that had clearly never talked to a pro GG person (tweets do not count. They have never counted) and sought only to portray the movement as hateful trolls. That may well be the case, but it would probably help if journalists scanned something other than their Twitter feeds or the internet toilet known as 4chan. As a result, I was having trouble finding sources that convinced me that they knew anything beyond the incendiary talk running around their own circles. A favorite site of mine, Critical Distance, wrote this:
“It’s been about two months since a loose anti-feminist collective known as Gamergate began carrying out harassment campaigns and waves of abuse towards women developers, writers, journalists, critics, and many of those who are active in the indie community and the videogame industry at large. A lot has been written about this already, so I only chose the most enlightening and useful pieces regarding the situation.
It then proceeded to post a number of interesting articles that repeated the sins mentioned above. That’s also the nicest description. It’s clear that many journalists have become combatants in the wars that they should be reporting on. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that they aren’t creating a substantial enough divide between their advocacy and reporting. Many sites report only the atrocities of the pro GG community splashing the death threats as representative of all who support it. As far as I can tell, only the Escapist wrote an article soliciting the views of pro GG people and it was far more enlightening than anything I had read until then. Games journalists cannot occupy the neutral newspaper position and the partisan editorial position without compromising both. There needs to be a clear divide between the two roles lest news and editorials become confused such as with cable news outlets.
Games journalism and gamers are at a crossroads. A segment of gamers are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that games belong in a critical space and should be discussed alongside pressing social issues such as race and gender. Games journalists are trying to establish that critical space without resolving the conflict between journalism and criticism. It has created an ugly brew that has brought out the worst in all concerned. I happen to disagree with the GG viewpoint, but it’s an issue worth discussing, not insulting people over. I also think that games journalists need to resolve the problem of their reporting on the stories they are involved in. Most importantly, I think a little introspection and humility would benefit all sides.