GamerGate, the hashtag that’s hanging around like a bad rash, doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. After an email campaign convinced chip giant Intel to start pulling ads from Gawker websites, cloud photo-editing baron Adobe has now given its tacit approval by doing likewise, as has carmaker BMW.
But who are the people behind the movement?
Like many mobs, there’s no centralised hierarchy, and being built as it is around a simple nine letter hashtag, anyone can play. Whenever the question of GamerGate and harassment comes up, this is actually quite convenient – it’s easy to discount the ‘crazies’ as outliers and not representative of the ‘real’ movement.
Because, of course, GamerGate is all about ethics in journalism. Sure, there is overwhelming evidence that only women are being targeted, and that no one’s actually going after any actually dubious corporate interests and how they intersect with games writing. As game critic and academic Brendan Keogh points out, GamerGate is not in fact progressive – it’s actually staunchly conservative, aiming to maintain a status quo of gaming as somehow undeserving of critical and political study. It’s often violently anti-feminist, too, but hey – really, it’s just about ethics in journalism.
It’s hard to gauge the numbers of people who count themselves as part of the movement, but it’s certainly non-trivial, and they are very vocal, and highly organised. They’re also remarkably eclectic, a broad cross-section of people who are quite afraid that somehow an article on gender politics in games might somehow stop Activision from making another Call of Duty. But there are some broad groupings, and it makes an interesting study to look at the people behind this ethical crusade.
Like Alfred says, some folks just want to watch the world burn, and for these guys, any old fire will do. In GamerGate, these are the people who may not necessarily be gamers, but have hooked onto the movement as a chance to either get their hate on, move their careers along, or just sound popular – in fact sometimes all three. I’m looking at you Adam Baldwin, thanks for making Firefly really hard to rewatch now.
The journalistic hero of the GamerGate movement is a perfect case in point. Milo Yiannopoulos is a journalist for ultra-conservative news site Breitbart, and before he jumped on the GamerGate bandwagon, was best known for utterly failing to pay staff on a previous project, and generally threatening anyone who might disagree with him. On top of that, up until he started writing about Anita Sarkeesian and her reporting of death-threats to the San Francisco Police Department, Milo was more of a GamerHater.
On an article luridly titled “Players as young as 12 and 13 are being raped by dorky weirdos on Grand Theft Auto”, Milo shares some less than glowing opinions on gamers:
“You can't help but feel it's a game for frustrated beta males who can't kill or shag anything in real life, so get their kicks doing it on a computer screen.”
“So what if they're the last resort of the frustrated beta male? It's not for me to legislate what weirdos in yellowing underpants get up to in their spare time.”
Note the frequent use of the term ‘beta’ – we’ll get back to that one.
For now, however, he’s the journalistic paragon of Gamergate, lauded for his untiring work digging up dirt on those nasty feminists – which he also happens to not think much of, having once tweeted “Women who identify as ‘feminists’ are (a) significantly uglier and (b) more masculine-looking than normal women. Discuss.”
Milo is the typical opportunist. For him, it’s not about ethics in journalism, it’s about riding a scoop - that’s all. And if he can use people he despises to get his click-rate up, well, that’s not going to worry him.
The Manosphere Weirdos
Looking into this part of GamerGate is really bleach-for-your-eyes-and-brain material. Like Milo, there’s an awful lot of feminist hate in the manosphere but that’s secondary to the primal urge to recreate a classic, sadly lost, masculinity.
A typical citizen of the manosphere is David Aurini, a Youtube vlogger whose main claim to fame was trawling Tumblr for people to make fun of, but he too is somewhat of the opportunist - he and his partner in awfulness, Jordan Owen are currently trying to raise $15,000 PER MONTH to make an anti-Sarkeesian feature documentary. It’s okay, I laughed, you can laugh at it too. Here’s part of their Patreon spiel:
“Based upon the works of the philosopher John Rawls, Social Justice focuses upon achieving equality of outcome, rather than equitable treatment. Rather than focusing on things which are easily measured and quantifiable (Contract Law, Property Law, et cetera), Rawl's Social Justice emphasizes the importance of subjective feelings; dignity, self-worth, and self-actualization. In practice this results in a suppression of Liberty to attempt to achieve a chimerical Equality.”
And it rambles on. Essentially they want to reveal Social Justice for some sham made of poor ethics (ethics!), manipulative feminists, and the poor saps taken in by them and... fuck I’m going to throw up.
But Aurini is, well, hardly the best choice to make a film that “will strive to leave all political baggage at the door and simply report the truth as we find it.” Mainly because he’s a man that seems to be made of nothing but political baggage. For one thing, he ascribes to ‘race realism’, which is basically out and out racism, but with a mild understanding of statistics; I’m pretty sure he thinks he has vast mind powers of control and domination; and, yeah, he kinda hates women. “Women,” he says, in one of his interminably bad Youtube videos, “in our culture are the worst sluts since the fall of Rome ... women have become like dogs that were never trained, bouncing and flitting about with no focus or attention.”
But it’s still about ethics in journalism, right? Let’s ask our next contestant!
I don’t why it is, but the Pick-up Artist community has really gotten behind GamerGate. Well, actually, I do know why, because, again, GamerGate is a really good platform from which to push an anti-feminist agenda. And if there's one thing PUAs hate, it's women who might think their kind of manipulative bullshit tactics suck.
‘Eminent’ PUA site, Returnofkings.com is certainly all up in GamerGate’s grill. In between talking about the terrible state of women in the west (yes, they talk like that), and giving advice on how to keep your ‘game’ in top form and pick all the women you could want for exploitative sex, RoK writers like Raymond Stark are fighting for gaming – and men.
“GamerGate presents a larger question. If men are being demonized for the types of video games they wish to play and their opinions, and their hobby is to be co-opted by social justice warriors who regard gamers with utter contempt – where else can these young men blow off steam?
Faced with declining living standards and the atrocious state of western women, if gamers have their hobby stolen from them the SJWs may have awakened a generation of frustrated young men who will finally question the cultural forces which have actively sought to worsen their lives.”
Won’t someone think of the men?!?! And those ugly-arse western women, because, man, they are letting us down, amirite?
Who thinks like that?!? But here’s another telling, trying to be sarcastic, line:
“All games must now offer a strong female perspective on events, and perhaps controllers could be modified to include a “trigger warning” button if things get too heavy for the gamer girls and their beta male accomplices.”
There’s that word again, and in case you’re blessedly unaware, a beta is a weak, un-masculine man. The perfect ideal of PUA manhood is the alpha, a rugged individualist (ie, a cheap parody of just about any Robert A. Heinlein protagonist) who seeks what they want and they get it, by God. The fact that the whole alpha/beta thing keeps getting roped into the GamerGate rhetoric is a huge warning sign, because, while the catch-cry may be about good old ethics in journalism, there’s a nonetheless omnipresent and frankly terrifying level of truly toxic masculinity at play. These are the kind of people who really do think they’re engaging a culture war.
And speaking of which...
Wars, of course, need soldiers, and there are few things more terrifying than a soldier who’s also true believer. If it’s the Aurinis and Milos of GamerGate that are its officers, along with their fellow travellers in sleaze and insanity, then it’s the zealous commenters that plague any anti-GamerGate article that are the movement’s foot soldiers.
If you’ve been following some of my own articles on GamerGate, you’ve seen them – non-regulars who have sniffed out a hint of criticism, and that have followed that trail to fight the good fight. Often, they’re mobilised via other GamerGaters, waving around 'problematic' writers and articles like scent markers for attack dogs.
And when I talk about militancy, I really mean it:
“Let this be a warning shot to other Journalists.”
“This is scorched earth warfare. We are willing to burn gaming industry to the ground to rid gaming of these corrupt journalists, feminists, and social justice warriors.”
“War is what you've sown and it is war you shall reap. We are gamers; we play to win.”
This is one of the frequent commenters on my articles (*waves*). So, not only paranoid (I can guarantee you, the only time I have sat down to create a narrative with my journo and feminist buddies is when we’re starting a DnD campaign), but deeply seated in the idea of some kind of crusade. You can almost see the fluttering banners and vanquished foe littering the ground.
The Worried Gamer
I like to think that most people who side with GamerGate fall into this category. That they have a real belief that something is wrong in the industry, and that it’s going to take GamerGate to fix it. These guys really don’t believe in the sort of harassment that’s been driving people out of their homes, and they are often unfailingly polite, as GamerGate so often coaches them to be.
They really do believe it’s about ethics in journalism.
The sad thing is, though, is that this is a lie. It’s spin, pure and simple, created by people with a deep hatred of any kind of progressive thought in gaming, let alone feminist – or even just simply female – influence. This is what the start of GamerGate looks like, before Baldwin even coined the term – these quotes are taken from this source, with logs gathered from 4chan by Zoe Quinn herself:
“Well anon, it’s like this: she [Quinn] is a c**t so naturally she does not have anything to offer except access to her holes. Can a c**t create a masterpiece? Write a play? Make a Game of the Year? No. Therefore it is fair to conclude that she received favourable reviews from Kotaku in exchange for use of her...”
Yeah, I’m not even going to repeat that last bit. But I would like to point out that the apparent timeline of sex-for-comment was proven false; though that's not really what this crowd cares about. And, of course, there's the out and out misogyny on display. This is not about ethics – it’s about hate.
However, hate is hard to push - it doesn't play with the press. Sadly, cleverer minds decided that the best way to spin their own narrative – which, incidentally, is what journalists are accused of – was to shift focus:
“I’ve been keeping track since the beginning but I think a lot of us are too scattered about what this should be about. It shouldn’t be about a psycho slut who fucked 5 guys and hurt some beta’s feelings. I think the focus should be more on that this chick is using sex to climb her way through the ranks of the gaming industry, all while spewing an ideology that she does not believe or follow.”
And there’s the spin. “Hey guys, we can’t get away with hating sluts, but doesn’t the ethical angle look like a good way to do it?” And notice as well, another use of the pejorative term ‘beta’. Again, the link to some idealised form of us-and-them masculinity, dressed around an unhealthy hate for women who deign to have sex, and who go so far as to match that with a social conscience.
The whole ‘ethics in journalism’ angle is nothing more than an illusion.
There’s further proof, too, gathered by a Gamasutra commenter ‘Miles Dyson’, who analysed GamerGate Twitter traffic to see what the zeitgeist was talking about. You can see the full analysis in the comment section here, but there are some rather salient points worth repeating here. Because, for a movement that is apparently as against harassment as it is corruption, I think the facts speak for themselves.
So, who is talked about the most:
- #gamergate brianna wu: 3645
- #gamergate anita sarkeesian: 2589
- #gamergate zoe quinn: 1238
Huh. Two female devs, and an academic feminist critic. No journos, no sites, no AAA game companies.
Okay, so let’s look at insults:
- #gamergate sl*t: 438
- #gamergate b*tch: 371
- #gamergate f*gg*t: 193
- #gamergate c*nt: 131
- #gamergate wh*re: 77
- #gamergate f*g: 12
So, just a little misogynistic and homophobic. Compare that with mentions of authors on the widely circulated boycott lists:
- #gamergate jim sterling: 294
- #gamergate matt lees: 211
- #gamergate ian cheong: 201
- #gamergate ben kuchera: 208
- #gamergate phil fish: 130
- #gamergate bob chipman: 115
- #gamergate john walker: 71
- #gamergate stephen totilo: 62
- #gamergate adam sessler: 55
- #gamergate devin faraci: 48
That list quickly marches down to zero (that's where I rank, which is... bemusing). Nonetheless, all dudes, and they barely rate alongside the female devs.
During the GamerGate lifespan, we’ve also had one true instance of gaming corruption, when it was revealed that Warner was effectively paying vloggers for good press for Shadows of Mordor. So that must be really high up the mentions...
- #gamergate mordor: 164
- #gamergate wb: 16
- #gamergate warner: 13
Not so much, as it turns out.
So what does this reveal? Well, for a movement about exposing corruption, actual corruption doesn’t seem to be mentioned all that often. But for raw abuse, and targeting of female developers, GamerGate is your go-to mob. In fact, looking at single-name mentions, Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian total something like 20,000 individual tweets. Here’s the top five must-boycott news sites, ranked by mentions with GamerGate:
- #gamergate gawker: 6081
- #gamergate kotaku: 3813
- #gamergate polygon: 3528
- #gamergate gamasutra: 762
- #gamergate escapist: 742
So that’s two female devs who have had more said about them than those sites combined. So, let me say this again – the last thing this is about is ethics in journalism. If you believe that, you’re being led on by people with only hate as their prime motivation.
Which is not to say that if you're worried about the state of the industry, you should keep your mouth shut. Worry. Make noise. Question journalists and games companies if you want. Given the nature of mainstream journalism here in Australia (Thankyou Rupert Murdoch), you'd be silly to take anything on face value. But treat GamerGate with the same analysis, the same scepticism.
Because, otherwise, you stand with people who are, I daresay, true villains. And by lending them your voice, you give them power.