September 25, 2014
By | Comments Off on #gamergate

GamerGateIf you do not follow the gaming press, visit popular videogame blogs, read 4chan, or scan Reddit, you may not have heard about the latest barrage of abuse and harassment targeting, yet again, women in the games industry. Even if you do casually follow the aforementioned online spaces, you still may not be entirely sure what #gamergate represents, although the story has now been picked up by mainstream press outlets like Forbes, Slate, and The New Yorker. This brief Antenna post is not an encouragement to dive down a very ugly rabbit hole. In fact, it would be great if we all could collectively ignore the Internet’s current pitchfork mob for a little while, filtering anything related to #gamergate directly to the junk folder.

In brief: #Gamergate started in late August when an ex-boyfriend of independent game designer Zoe Quinn posted an intimate account of their failed relationship, including accusations that Quinn had several affairs with men who write for videogame news and review sites. This, he implied, explained why her interactive fiction game Depression Quest had become an award-winning success. The ex-boyfriend also explicitly stated that his purpose in posting his interpretation of their relationship was to ruin her career.

#Gamergate should have ended there. Exploiting the personal life of a woman to call into question her professional success is an all-too familiar tactic to delegitimize women’s work and status. In 2007, Ubisoft producer Jade Raymond endured similar public humiliation when popular gaming blogs accused her of using sex appeal to promote Assassin’s Creed, suggesting as well that she reached her position at Ubisoft only because she is an attractive woman. For Quinn, the accusation that her success is a result of sleeping her way to fame followed months of harassment and negative comments about her game from users on Steam Greenlight, many of whom claimed Depression Question was not a ‘real game’ worthy of development support from Valve.

Unfortunately Kotaku, one of the news outlets named by the jilted ex, responded to accusations that one of their writers had acted unethically. After a brief investigation, Kotaku determined no ethical breach had occurred, but the editor’s statement only brought further attention to the smear campaign. Video “evidence” was produced in the form of rambling monologues, and graphics tracing Quinn’s supposed relationships within the industry were created and shared widely on 4chan, Reddit and Twitter. Shortly after the initial ex-boyfriend post, B-list actor Adam Baldwin (best known for playing Jayne Cobb on Firefly) linked to a “Quinnspiracy” video and tagged the Twitter post #gamergate; Baldwin has remained active in the #gamergate tag.

An insular, cozy relationship between publishers, developers and game journalists has characterized the industry for decades, though complaints from readers have rarely affected any policy changes. Like other sectors of the entertainment press, industry-sponsored media junkets and gadget-leaden swag bags continue to woo journalists and reviewers despite calls for more objective news coverage and more meaningful game criticism. The back pages of Game Informer, Computer Gaming World (before it folded in 2006) and dozens of gaming magazines over the years are filled with photos of journalists and editors hanging out with celebrity game designers and triple-A publishers at industry parties.

While the outrage about Quinn’s connections in the industry seems to raise fair concerns about journalism ethics, the focus of #gamergate has largely not been on journalists or on the well-funded publishers and developers who have courted the press with exclusive access and freebies for years. Instead, Quinn and other independent game developers with far fewer resources were targeted for fostering relationships and building professional networks – an absolute requirement for success in any creative industry.

The #gamergate controversy frothed when a few game journalists and editors were linked to indie developers through the crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Patreon, and at least one site adopted a policy of “disclosure” for such funding by writers. This sounds fine on the surface, but is a little more insidious when we consider who is usually supported through crowdfunding (i.e. indie developers, often with projects that fall well outside the triple-A mainstream); after all, nobody is asking the same writers to maintain a public list of major releases they’ve paid cash dollars for, even though by the same logic “supporting” development with money in any way should be suspect.

#Gamergate is not about ethics, or about making the industry more transparent. The rhetoric of #gamergate is a co-option of the concerns that women and minorities in the industry have raised for years. The reason #gamergate has struck such a chord now is because, indeed, the industry is changing. Diverse characters in games are more common and more women and minorities are making games. As others have commented, #gamergate signals a culture war within gaming that has been slowly building for decades and, following years on the margins, has finally broken through to the mainstream.

However, the conversation that should occur about inclusivity in games has been hijacked by an extremely conservative discourse that co-opts the language of exclusion in order to argue that the cultural shift occurring is meant to deny gamers their preferred experiences. Transcripts of 4chan conversations and Reddit threads where instigators of #gamergate strategize the online abuse of women and their allies who dare to challenge the status quo read like talking points crafted by conservative political consultant Frank Luntz and right-wing commentator Glenn Beck. It is a world turned upside down, and it would be funnier if it were not alternately scary and tiresome. Even as #gamergate has simultaneously reached mainstream attention and hysterical levels of conspiracy theory paranoia, it remains at heart an object lesson in the harassment that women in and around the game industry are subjected to.

If #gamergate has uncovered anything, it has revealed that some people with shared professional interests know each other, that some people with shared professional interests attend the same professional events, and that some people with shared professional interests are reminded, daily, that those very interests put them at risk. But, hey, we knew that already.


Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.