What if GamerGate isn't actually about games?

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What if GamerGate isn't actually about games?

The movement that continues to split gaming is supposedly about 'ethics in journalism'. But it could be a far more deeper split than that, and one that is almost certainly not going to be resolved.

There are many on either side of the now notorious GamerGate movement that call the entire two-party struggle a culture war. There are, on the one side, cries of “We just want ethics in journalism” and “Get your Social Justice out of our games”, while the other, journalists, developers, and the so-called SJWs are calling GamerGate a hate group that is deeply, inherently, conservative.

Not to mention an excellent front for the right wing, racist, and deeply misogynist groups to rally behind. Groups like the Pick-up Artist movement, most recently in the Australian news thanks to the effective deportation of PUA spokesman and choking-enthusiast Julien LeBlanc. Or the infamously right-wing, white-power group, Stormfront.

But that’s neither here nor there – if you think I might have scant regard for GamerGate myself, allow me to banish those allusions in the interest of ethically reporting my bias. I think it’s a dangerous and ultimately damaging movement that lacks any sense of self examination.

But I also think it’s about far more than just games. I’d suggest it’s not even just about the apparent conservative versus progressive conflict that we see playing it in our own houses of government, down to tabloid papers and backyard conversations. Of course, it is all of those things, but at its heart, it’s a manifestation of the friction between Old Media and New. It’s a generational rift between old ways of reporting – and consuming – news and media in an age struggling to cope with a quantum shift in what it means to be a media organisation.

Out with the old, in with the new
One of the early (and by early, this something like over a month ago) catch cries of the GamerGate movement was that they just wanted more objective journalism. They wanted facts, news, raw data that they then could interpret for themselves. What GamerGate did and does not want is anything subjective, especially if it’s tied in with an author’s opinion, and especially if that opinion is in any way progressive.

And yet, that is often the very heart of the opportunity that New Media offers.

New Media is basically what this article is. It’s online, written in a reasonably short amount of time, about an ongoing news story, but seasoned with comment and context. The rise of online media has been a boon to anyone wanting to write; with WordPress, Twitter, YouTube, anyone can create a channel for their view. Which, of course, has had an immense impact on how mainstream and even niche media – in this case, games media – operates.

The question before them these older outlets, then, is how to adapt.

Many Editors have taken the attitude that if you can’t beat them, join them, and rightly so. Without print costs and word counts to worry about, with the ability to address news and events as they happen is easier than it ever has been. The challenge, then, is how to differentiate your reportage from that of your colleagues and competitors.

The answer is actually simple, and it’s something that writers like Hunter S. Thompson have known for decades – the one thing that makes what ‘you’ write unique, is you. In other words, let the author be present in their work – let them be part of the story, not just reporting dry facts, but also adding insightful comment and perspective.

Otherwise, you have thousands of outlets all reporting the same thing. Modern, ‘new’ media gives rise to the possibilities of near endless variety and voice. And new media, by its very connected nature, can reach a wider audience than ever before, thus making each of those voices, no matter how niche, that much more powerful.

This is powerful on paper, and in most cases, just as powerful in reality. Except when new media progressiveness runs head-on into a conservative mindset. GamerGate is showing us that a very vocal minority of gamers are very conservative indeed.

Out with the old, and... wait. Let’s keep the old
GamerGate, it appears, does not want this level of diversity. It certainly does not want criticism from the likes of Leigh Alexander, whose essay on the changing of face of the ‘gamer’ identity was one of the sparks that ignited GamerGate.

Ironically, consumers always have choice. They can choose to read from whatever outlet they want – some will want detailed and academic critiques of gaming as the artform and cultural power it is without doubt proving to be. Others will not. GamerGate represents the latter, but with the added sting that such voices – feminist, academic, critical, alternative, or progressive – actually have no place in games culture.

What GamerGate wants is the ability to make their own minds up. They want to know what’s out, what’s coming up, what is good, and what is bad. How a game looks, how it plays, how many guns are in it, or how many frames it runs at. If there is a value judgement to be made, they will make it themselves, without another party offering an opinion.

In essence, they do not want to be challenged. Not by journalists and academics, nor more progressive game-makers. The negative response to titles like Gone Home, Depression Quest, and That Dragon Cancer suggests that even progressive games are not welcome, let alone progressive views and forms of journalism.

The perfect storm
Gaming, possibly more than any other form of art or media, is unique in the manner it engages its audience. It casts gamers not as passive observers of a TV show, or strokes of paint on a canvas, but as the protagonists of a narrative. A game, in the mind of a GamerGater, is essentially nothing without the gamer to bring it to life. This is obvious when one reads the rhetoric espoused by many in the movement – they are used to fighting as the underdog, they know how to win, how to persevere to beat a level or defeat a boss, and that is why the will ultimately win in this fight for ethics in games journalism.

Of course, that flies in the face of the fact that all art is a conversation between creator and consumer, between maker and critic. And if games are in fact going to be seen as something no different, and no less legitimate, than other narrative artforms, it deserves the same robust discussion.

However, here’s the biggest problem, between a segment of gamers who cannot accept critical writing, and forward-looking outlets wanting to grow their voice: the combination of informed and often academic critique is crashing headlong into a demographic that self-identifies heavily with games. It is impossible – as GamerGate and its backlash has proved – to say to some gamers that there is a problem in gaming culture (sexism, homophobia, bullying, or whatever), without that same gamer feeling as though it is being addressed to them, personally. If a writer wants to talk about sexism, the GamerGater responds with “I’m not sexist”, and ignores the rest.

Given the deep divide that has formed, and continues to form, between GamerGate supporters on one side, and their social justice-oriented, progressive enemies on the other, it’s hard to see how this can ever be resolved. With each new campaign – or ‘operation’, in the GG parlance – that GamerGate undertakes, and with each new attempt to address or even counter the problem from the other side, those positions merely harden further. Gamergate supporters will proudly say that they are here to say, and it’s hard to gainsay that opinion.

As much as GamerGate may be a minority, albeit a very vocal and motivated one, it’s impossible to see how any kind of detente can ever be reached. To many publishing outlets and writers have staked their businesses and careers on the New Media boom, and in this writer’s opinion journalism is far the better for it. But the entrenched yearning for simpler, more personally reassuring Old Media values that so mobilises GamerGate is just as intransigent.

GamerGate, for better or worse, is the new normal. 

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