Gamergate and Perspective
By Damien Wilkens
12 November 2014 — I'm a straight white male. I've never threatened, harassed, stalked, or assaulted a woman, nor have I ever had the desire to. The fact that I felt the need to follow up the first statement with the latter should say something about the weird place the Internet is in right now.
I'm also a gamer, even though I think the term is sort of redundant nowadays. Video games have become socially acceptable to the point that nearly everyone plays them; not to mention that labels like "gamer" are really just an invitation to draw conclusions about someone based upon one of their interests. It's human nature to simplify a complicated world, but breaking down the whole of a person to a word or sentence sends us down a lot of bumpy roads. Regardless, I didn't get to choose my race or gender or sexual orientation. There wasn't a vote I missed, either. I just didn't. Neither did you.
Video games, though? That was a choice. There was even a time when I wanted to write about games for a living. Unfortunately, this coincided with a lot of events that disenfranchised me on the world of gaming journalism at large. It started in 2007 when Jeff Gerstmann was fired from GameSpot for giving a lackluster review to a game that just so happened to be published by a site advertiser. It got worse over time, the more I would see 9s and 10s for games in magazines that were owned and operated by the same stores looking to get pre-orders for them. I started to question exactly what I was getting myself into, only to be pushed further away when I found myself unable to define what even the purpose of a game review was anymore. Commenters would often lose their minds if a simple numerical grade clashed with their expectations, looking to reviews less as a value proposition than a justification for their purchasing habits. I realized just how much of a no-win situation I'd be in right out of the gate if I didn't give a AAA title a review filled with box-quotes and a double-digit score. I realized that I was fighting to be part of a potentially toxic and surely corrupt industry. Perhaps most of all, I realized just how young the medium still was and how much growing there was yet to do.
Then Gamergate happened and that statement became even more true.
For those that don't know, first off, consider yourself lucky for having maintained your sanity, especially considering this will probably be the 9 millionth article written on the subject. The short version is this: indie developer Zoe Quinn put out a game called Depression Quest, which was a source of conflict from the very beginning due to the game's subject matter and the apparently very important detail of Quinn being female. Soon after, a "conspiracy" was uncovered involving Quinn allegedly sleeping with various members of the gaming press in exchange for more coverage / good reviews. The whole thing was uncovered by Quinn herself as the fabrication of a bitter ex-boyfriend, because cyber-bulling, leaked personal information (including nude photos), death threats, and phone calls to the point of having to flee your home are as good a motivation as any to get to the bottom of things.
While that should have been the end of it, the movement known as Gamergate had already started, and a war on "ethics in game journalism" had begun. And things just got worse from there.
I had no intention of weighing in on the issue, really. Partly because I believed (and still do) that talking about it just gives the problem more exposure without any way to stop the worst parts from spreading, but some point after the third or fourth death / rape threat targeted at a female in the industry (some of whom have quit altogether), I started to get more engaged, wondering what the hell my hobby was turning into.
As a male, I can safely say that women have often captivated / confused / hurt / attracted / baffled / energized me, often in the same interaction. I'm the guy that will opt out from chatting up the cute girl behind the counter at the Orange Julius because I don't want to be a bother. I can't go to conventions because of how badly the social aspect stresses me out — much of which involves very beautiful women dressed as our favorite characters. I'm also a guy that watches ASMR videos every night to relax, knowing that if the person in the video just happens to be female, I'm sure to see a comments section filled with the worst my gender has to offer. I also read over and over about men being creeps at those very same conventions I'm staying home from.
Growing up, I identified more with females than males. The same is true even now, as I have several times more female friends than male ones. It's not because I'm the dreaded "nice guy" of recent Internet infamy either. Have I been rejected by the opposite sex before? Probably more than most, but I also have an understanding that women have no obligation to be attracted to a man simply because he doesn't treat her poorly — no more than I have an obligation to the nice girl at the Sonic drive-thru that showed interest.
Look, gender roles are dumb. I wish more than anyone that they didn't exist, but we're not there yet, not as long as we have extreme perspectives on both sides that only serve to divide us even more. All women are not man-hating manipulators that owe men sex, nor are all men suppressed rape-machines with entitlement issues. I have no doubt that people are going to look back on the modern age and see us as primitives for still fighting over things like marriage equality and health care, and hopefully Gamergate will be a distant memory at that point.
Is it wrong to want some transparency and more accountability in media? Of course not, but that feels like such a minor piece of the puzzle. One could say that the anti-woman sentiment has hijacked the movement in lieu of its message, but it never had a chance considering it stemmed from there. Gamergate has become a campaign synonymous with misogyny and anti-feminism, and its supporters really have no one to blame but themselves. When Wil Wheaton, Chris Kluwe, and Felicia Day all spoke out against the abuse, only one of them immediately faced harassment and had their private information leaked. Take a wild guess which one.
And when called on these constant threats, the typical responses I keep seeing are: "We're getting harassed to," and "You can't prove it was us!" When the response should be: "Wow, that's horrible!"
Despite what the Internet has led us to believe, the world cannot be changed with a hashtag or a YouTube comment or a blog post, especially when the argument comes from a place of such vitriol that your point is lost. Even if we were all able to have these conversations in a calm, rational manner, we can't do it in 140 characters and I'm forced to wonder what the endgame is here. If the stated goal is to "end corruption," then at what point is victory declared? And at what point is it not worth it anymore?
I love video games more than a grown man probably should. I was the kid that would read Nintendo code books during moments I could have been bonding with my father, moments I can't get back because he's no longer here. They've offered me an escape in my lowest times, and I very much want to see the medium grow and prosper long after I'm gone. But if this is the price we have to pay for that growth, I start to wonder what I'm fighting for. I don't care how much Chrono Trigger enriched my life, if a loved one is threatened or put in danger and quitting video games forever would ensure their continued safety, then I'm finding a new hobby. Art is supremely important to my life in ways I can't accurately describe, but not worth more than human decency.
To the people supporting Gamergate, even despite all of the negativity, I have to question if it's truly a passion for the issue as much as it is a desire to be a part of something. Perhaps it's a desire to "defend" an industry that you feel is no longer yours. When Jeff Gerstmann was fired, there was no call to action, no death threats sent to the publishers of the game he reviewed. Maybe it's because he's just another white guy in an industry full of them, or maybe its because a jilted ex wasn't involved, or maybe it's because it wasn't about a woman entering a male-dominated industry with some new ideas.
Corruption is in everything. The media is nothing but sharply edited and packaged corruption. Your local news is biased. Movie critics are on the take. Somewhere a local music critic is giving good press to a musician they're sleeping with. Lobbyists and marketing teams have ungodly amounts of power in our society and it sucks.
Everyone has an agenda. Even I have an agenda in writing this, even if it's something as simple as "stop using Internet anonymity to harass women." Sometimes inaction is just as effective as 10,000 hashtags if that inaction is out of refusal to engage with toxic thinking. We're in an age where it's easier than ever to get our faces and voices out there — even in the most raw and biased form — and if anything is ever going to change for the better, then it's up to us to change how we consume our media. Think a critic isn't on the up or just flat out disagree with his tastes? Find another one. That's the beauty of choice; we have free rein on which of those faces and voices get our attention. Gaming journalism will never be 100% clean, because nothing is.
Is there a major point or lesson to be learned from this? Maybe. I'm not a social commentator. Hell, I'm not even a game reviewer anymore. I'm just a guy that's frustrated and saddened every day that an industry he loves finds a new way to break his heart, and hopefully can offer some perspective on that. That's what this is really all about: perspective. We're all sharing a giant ball of water spinning around in space. Every problem we've had and will ever have centers around the things that we love and our ability to be close to them and / or put them in our mouths.
Just think about that the next time you do anything on the Internet.