Anyone who has been paying attention to the gaming world has heard of #gamergate at this point. I’ve been a mostly silent observer until fairly recently. I did a lot of retweeting, but otherwise didn’t participate.

I made a single tweet in the gamergate hashtag last night expressing my anger with the reactions from #gamergate folks to the sociopathic harassment of a female game developer.

I was almost immediately responded to by #gamergate folks trying to brush the event aside:

I’m not going to go into all the substance of the conversations here. I’ve linked to the chain of tweets if anyone wants to read them themselves.

The rapidity with which several people jumped in demanding evidence or downplaying it was concerning. I have not been particularly vocal on this issue up to this point, despite following it closely. I am not in any way a prominent or controversial figure in the debate. So I can only imagine how maddening it is for people (predominately women) targeted by #gamergate.1

What I find most frustrating is the stubborn refusal to acknowledge #gamergate’s harassment problem. There are people in #gamergate on one hand talking about how they’re a grassroots movement2 that has concerns with X, Y and Z. But when people associated with them act poorly, they fall back on claims that no one person speaks for them and that there are jerks in every contingent. The problem here, which you see in regular politics as well, is their priorities. When a game dev, critic or journalist receives death threats and/or doxxing, their first response is to defend their movement or to claim that people on their “side” are being harassed. That does not do much to help the “other side”3 view them as people acting in good faith.

Here are my main gripes with #gamergate, in no particular order:

  • It was kicked off by attempts to shame a female indie dev for her sex life.
  • It concerned itself early on with attacks on Anita Sarkeesian4.
  • Women (particularly outspoken women) are disproportionally targeted.
  • People (especially those prominent in the industry) who voice support for targeted women are themselves targeted.

By targeted, I mean harassed, abused and doxxed.

The responses I’ve heard from folks are disappointing. It’s a common political tactic to try to brush aside history (recent or otherwise) and pretend that a movement, as it currently exists,5 is all that matters.

But history does matter. This movement was kicked off with misogynist attacks. It has its origins in slut-shaming. It only pivoted when prominent gaming websites broadly condemned the slut-shaming of Zoe Quinn and the attacks on Sarkeesian. Under fire from game journalism outlets, they changed their message from misogyny to “ethics in gaming journalism”.

This is when a broader audience joined #gamergate. The rash of “Gamers are Dead” articles rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way.

The problem is, history matters. Out of context, the “Gamers are Dead” articles might look mean-spirited and nasty. But these are articles written by gamers. They are writing about what they see as a watershed moment, where they acknowledge the widespread appeal of games and sever relations with a particularly childish, abusive contingent of gamers. They are talking about the death of non-inclusive, misogynist gamers who want ultimate authority on what is a game and who is or isn’t a “gamer”. They are talking about people who accuse people of being “Fake Gamer Girls”; people who want and enjoy an abusive, confrontational environment.

They were saying, “this is not just for you anymore”. And it’s not. Gaming has long sought legitimacy as an art form. Criticism of it from the likes of Sarkeesian is a sign that it is being taken seriously. Games are unquestionably art and are unquestionably political. That is a good thing.

I am open to discussion with #gamergate folks who argue in good faith. I’m also under no illusion that I will convince them that they’re in the wrong. But my patience runs thin for those who want to brush aside the origins of their movement and the very damaging, abusive people in their midst. It runs thin for those who respond to the abuse of others by downplaying it, moving goalposts or simply changing the subject.

  1. And to be perfectly clear here — I am not whining. I wasn’t overwhelmed with responses and I am not in any way characterizing this as harassment. I am merely commenting on the immediacy of the replies. The volume of responses balloons for people more involved. 
  2. The claim that #gamergate is a spontaneous, grassroots movement is demonstrably false. 
  3. I profoundly hate language like, “other side”, “two sides”, etc. and I’m using it somewhat ironically here. This sort of language is by definition polarizing and obscures real issues. It’s bullshit like this that encourages people to downplay the bad behavior of others associated with them. I realize that people on both, ahem, “sides” might disagree with me on this. 
  4. I say early on, because #gamergate has tried to distance itself officially from the harassment of Sarkeesian. The harassment and abuse continues unabated, though. 
  5. That’s being generous. #gamergate is still associated with abuse and doxxing, whether supporters like it or not.