In a previous article I wrote about how we can wield our otherness as a tool for positive change, embracing what makes us different from the mainstream and turning it into a positive. There is however a darker side to otherness, when we see our otherness as superior to a world blind to the right way, our way. Issues such as white supremacists believing theres a war against white people, or the idea that feminists are actively trying to emasculate men or even the idea that there is a global jewish conspiracy to control the world. These groups take their otherness and attempt to eradicate any dissenting voice using their perceived superiority as an excuse for any objectionable actions they may take. This brings us to the subject of this article, the Gamergate “conspiracy” and how its a great example of how otherness and perceived oppression can turn toxic. One last disclaimer before we continue: this article is in no way an attempt to justify the actions or thoughts of Gamergate adherents, it is meant as a study of how otherness can become a negative quality and how it operates.
By now the Gamergate controversy has not only been talked about in the mainstream media, but it has all but disappeared except from occasional mentions in video game blogs and news sites. Gamergate started as harassment campaign created by video game designer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend after their breakup. This person published a 10,000 word blog post accusing Quinn of sleeping with several game reviewers in exchange for publicity for her free game depression quest. And even though each of the accusations made against Quinn have been refuted the harassment didn’t stop, and in fact escalated including death threats to Quinn’s family and friends, as well as any other person that supported her or disagreed with the Gamergate movement. However Gamergate’s agenda has always been nebulous at best. As the adherents of this movement paint it, they fight for ethics in games journalism, however this crusade feels hollow if we study the targets and tactics employed by Gamergaters as well as where its members come from.
This movement is not a homogeneous group of individuals directed by a centralised leadership. Gamergate adherents come from websites such as 4chan.org, somethingwful.com and reddit, the same places where Anonymous originated from. Anonymous as well as Gamergate are uncoordinated networks of users that routinely take on causes they feel deserve their brand of vigilantism. Some days the target is the Church of Scientology, other days it is a campaign to create fake feminist posts as a way to smear feminism, other times they target huge banking corporations and corrupt governments.
Regardless of the object of their attention, the techniques they use to attack their targets are similar probably due to an overlap between both groups. Attacks include doxxing, boycotts and slander as a way to silence their critics. Doxxing involved revealing Quinn’s address, phone number, email, and other personal information so that the target and their loved ones can be easier to harass, boycotts include harassing advertisers and clients of the target asking them to withdraw their support while slander includes fabricating statements, faking photographs, as well as drowning any attempt of refutal by their target.
So far, everything I written has been recounted by countless sites in much more depth and the movement itself has been condemned by countless writers and personalities. What has not been written about is how this siege mentality where every attempt to address video games from a detached or even questioning angle is met with vicious toxic retaliation. To understand this phenomena, we have to go back to the late 90’s and two american personalities, disbarred Lawyer Jack Thompson and former Democratic Senator Leland Yee. Both Thompson and Yee attempted for an entire decade to either ban the sale of video games to minors or outright ban video games under the premise that video games promoted violence in youths, and that depictions of sexual acts and non cis-sexuality could turn heterosexual children into deviants. Jack Thompson was disbarred in part due to his bullying of game developers and was notorious in the gaming community for threatening dissenters with legal action. Leland Yee meanwhile was much more effective in introducing legislation that effectively would have fined retailers for the sale of inappropriate games to minors, however his attempts were ruled as unconstitutional and unenforceable by the Supreme Court.
It is during this period that the gamer identity began to take the shape we now associate with the term gamer: people dedicated to video games, who consider them an important part of their cultural makeup and play them constantly. As a large part of their identity, these attempts at legislating and censoring (in the truest meaning of the word) by the state, created in gamers a sense of urgency, to demonstrate the cultural value and inclusiveness in games. Gamers created this identity that lives, breathes and dreams video games. At the time it seemed like a sensible strategy although some of the characteristics of Gamergate stated to show through the cracks. Thompson was routinely harassed and threatened with violence by overzealous gamers, This decade of constant culture wars enforced a sense of pending danger in gamers that their video games were to be taken away or heavily censored by a government that embraced a different cultural sensitivity. As to why this would worry gamers, all we have to do is look back to other moral panics in the U.S. such as the Dungeons and Dragons panic in the 1990s or the comic books moral panic in the 1950s which led to the comics code and a notable decline in the quality of comic books by negating freedom of expression and any utterance that fell out of the conservative value system it enforced.
The effects of this attack on “nerd/geek” culture by mainstream culture had consequences on the communities that embraced such activities. To this day any criticism related to violence, or social issues is met with vitrol and threats. For almost two decades the goal of gamers was to achieve the recognition of video games as art so they could not be protected speech; however it is ironic then that when video games acquired enough cultural weight to be the objects of academic criticism that the “gamer” community declares that video games are “just games” and should not be criticised for their depictions of women and minorities.
However Gamergate’s targets have expanded beyond Quinn to include video game critic Anita Sarkesian, her partner Alex Lifschitz, Internet personality and actress Felicia Day and game maker Brianna Wu. All these targets have not only been doxxed, but threatened with rape and murder. As the “controversy” moved it became obvious that the targets were entirely women and particularly women that desired a more balanced treatment both in the industry and within games themselves, this can be demonstrated when actor Will Wheaton and former NFL player Chris Kluwe made negative comments about the movement. In these cases, neither men were harassed threatened or doxxed. The conclusions we can draw from this and in fact have been drawn by many, are that Gamergate is a culture war over expanding the limits of gaming to accept alternate sexualities and identities as well as social justice.
It is possible to explain this if we focus on concepts of alterity. Gamers, for over 40 years have been a minority, their hobby demeaned as a pastime for those children who were unfit or unwilling to participate in what was perceived by mainstream culture as manlier sports, and activities. Often ridiculed and demeaned, eventually a community of likeminded individuals developed bound by their mastery of video games. As time went by the gaming community divided into personal computer gamers and console gamers. While this seems like a trivial subdivision, within the community it is a big point of contention as pc gamers consider consoles to be oversimplified machines lacking in finesse and computing power, and blame them and its users as the reason games have become less complex and challenging. Meanwhile console players consider pc gamers insufferable elitists, who call themselves the glorious pc gaming master race. The title while originally an insult towards elitist pc gamers, has become embraced by them as a point of pride. Finally both groups look down at anything they consider casual, including mobile games, or any game that does not involve violence in one way or another. For examples Gone Home is a immensely creative game where the player discovers a tasteful and respectful homosexual love story, however the gamer community decries it as a walking simulator and a feminisation of video games. As we can see, there has been a long internal fight over the gamer identity. To make it their own and consider themselves the real gamers, the ones oppressed by the jocks and ignored by women, the ones that really understand games and can judge what is a “good” game. If casuals, and specially women are allowed in, that would mean that they could hypothetically be shunned from their hobby.
Gamergaters have turned the gamer label into a self-defined oppressed minority under attack by feminist critics. The biggest irony being that by definition anyone with a game on their laptop or mobile phone qualifies as a gamer. The fact that they choose an actual oppressed minority (women) simply confirms the charges against the movement as a patriarchal system attempting to limit speech that disrupts their status quo.
As we can see the entire affair stems from a misguided attempt at alterity, where instead of embracing the positive aspects of gaming, it turns upon itself and defends the same system that forced it to be an outsider in the first place. In gamer gate we have a hobby that historically has been considered as the purview of losers and social outcasts more interested in computer games than physical activities or socialising. If we break this down, we realise that all these requirements: being male, and being successful both professionally and sexually (Particularly with multiple partners) and being social and physically active are characteristics required of a cisgendered heterosexual man, the same man that is the ideal manly archetype.
Here we have a group that has been traditionally oppressed by the patriarchy blaming another oppressed group for their problems. Then, they use the same tools of their tormentor to attack feminists and dissenters. Slut and fat shaming are the first tools, accusations of zionist conspiracy follow, and finally moving to outright criminal behaviour such as death and rape threats as well as exposing the victim’s addresses so others in the movement can harass and send swat teams to their house under the idea that that will “teach them” to leave games and gamers alone.
This way gamergate shifts the gaming identity from that of victim to that one of an oppressor and a tool for the patriarchy to yet again control women’s lives. This is even more obvious when we consider that far-right neoconservative personalities have attached themselves to the movement mostly to denounce feminism and progressive politics. Amongst them the most notable are Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich and Christina Hoff Sommers.
Yiannopoulos Is know for his strong conservative leaning as well as for blaming the politization of gaming as the work of “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers.” He has become one of the main personalities in the Gamergate community even though a search of his past Twitter messages reveals multiple offensive comments aimed at the gaming community. As of today he has deleted most of them.
Cernovich is a first amendment lawyer know for his vitriolic comments against trans-people, women, the overweight as well as rape. For example:
If we follow Cernovich’s statements we come to the conclusion that he is using Gamergate in the pursue of an even bigger target: the protection of rape culture (Cernovic has been accused of rape, however he was found innocent in court), as well as the reinstitution of conservative views on the subservience of women and heteronormativity. He achieves this by throwing around his money and legal knowledge in an attempt to defame and discredit his opponents. A technique that he has used in the Gamergate affair. Just like Yiannopoulos, he has admitted to both mocking and using gamers as tools in his greater objective.
Finally we have Christina Hoff Sommers philosopher and writer who describes herself as a member of the Democratic party, and a feminist fighting against 3rd wave feminists who base their ideology on an uncontrollable hatred of men. Summers argues that gaming culture is something for men to enjoy and that negative depictions of women in video games are nothing to be worried over. She sees calls for the betterment of video game depictions of women as part of a bigger culture war. For her, supporting Gamergate is part of a strategy where denying the existence of a problem as inconsequential because it happens in “games”, means that the problem should not be addressed in other areas. The existence of the issue in a “banal activity” would turn it into a constant overarching problem that probably exists in other areas.
So far the identity of the gamer becomes more of a leif motif instead of the subject of the discussion, and that is no accident. Games are just an excuse for a group of men to reclaim what the patriarchy asks of them and the rewards promised and then denied. Manfred Von Karma in medium.com said it better:
The modern day Men’s Rights movement is comprised, in large part, of a fresh crop of angry young men who want to see people like Quinn get their overdue comeuppance for denying men the glory inherent in their warped notions of manhood .
So far we have discovered a nesting doll of identity issues. What began as apparently a fight over the gamer identity, what we discovered is that the definition of gamer is incredibly fluid and constructed on conflicting base assumptions by diverse groups. Pc gamers consider themselves the true gamers, console gamers consider themselves part of the label even if the former deny them this while both discriminate against more casual players. However gaming is peripheral to the underlying misogyny in the movement, their targets are overwhelmingly female and when male critics step in, the harassment is much milder. So the true identity of Gamergate members is that of men’s rights activists who play videogames and see women as oppressors denying them what is rightfully theirs. And so in an acrobatic act of self hate Gamergate turns around and defends the patriarchy while attacking other victims of the patriarchy.
In conclusion, Gamergate provides a prime example of alterity being twisted into a negative construct. This is a group that was marginalised and built an entire identity around this oppression but instead of vying for respect and positive representation, instead chose to close ranks and fought a straw man provided by their real oppressor. In this we can observe two forces at play, the ability of entrenched systems to subvert movements that it considers subversive and pit them against each other as well as the dangers of embracing an identity too strongly while at the same time failing to recognise the plights of other oppressed groups, substituting “all of us matter” with “only we matter” thus negating all the positive aspects of embracing ones alterity.
The reasons individuals attach themselves to obviously toxic groups such as the Pick-up community and Gamergate is because these groups use rhetoric and faulty logic arguments to attract people who feel wronged by the system. If we are to combat such techniques it will become necessary to better teach students concepts of rhetoric and logic in ways that they understand the ways these can be used to manipulate and shape opinions and thoughts. However until we are able to fully embrace tolerance and diversity, situations similar to Gamergate will be a recurring concern for anyone who does not fit within cis gendered heteronormativity and its power structure.