Sunday, October 12, 2014

Understanding #Gamergate and Why it's Problematic

For more than a month now, one of the biggest controversies in the video game industry is #Gamergate. Each side will have their own narrative. Here's the one from the pro-#Gamergate side for example:

However, if you parse the details of what #Gamergate stands for, it becomes problematic on several levels.

Both sides agree that #Gamergate started when independent game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest, what some gamers consider a "non-game" because, among other things, it was an interactive fiction game) was accused of sleeping with a journalist to gain favorable reviews on gaming website Kotaku. This is detailed in the website of Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. (Vice has an interview with him.) Never mind the fact that such a review did not exist. Or that Gjoni coached members of 4chan on how Quinn (and the media) would react.

Adam Baldwin (popularly known for playing Jayne in Firefly) was initially the face of #Gamergate, as he was one of the first to use the hashtag.
Several personalities would come to Quinn's defense, including controversial game developer Phil Fish (creator of Fez, the subject of which was tackled in Indie Game: The Movie), as well as several simultaneous articles from various gaming media outlets that "gamers were dead":
So cue the current uproar.

The Background

As a background, this isn't a development that happened overnight. Neither pro-#Gamergate or anti-#Gamergate woke up one day in August and decided to be angry. This was a conversation with the gaming industry that has been happening slowly.

For the past few years, the gaming media has pointed out various injustices in the gaming industry, such as the harassment of women in the industry. This has been the bias of various media outlets as part of, well, making the gaming industry a more welcoming place for people outside of the status quo. Does the video game industry have problems?

Here are some examples:
Currently, some gamers are infuriated with this. For some, it's because they think this has no basis in reality. (Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not happening to others.) Some are thinking that if this continues, someone will take their games away. (The critics aren't asking to take away your games; they're criticism.) And some simply play defensive and can't take any form of criticism when it comes to their favorite media. (They should read "How to be a fan of problematic things".)

So here we are, #Gamergate.

The #Gamergate Propaganda

The problem with harassers in the gaming community is that they have no moral cause (beyond simply being personally offended) before #Gamergate. By framing their agenda in what seems a righteous cause, they draw upon support from various people (some with legitimate grievances towards the gaming industry, some opportunists, and others that are simply ignorant).

But what exactly does #Gamergate profess to stand for? Corruption in video game journalism.

In WhatCulture's "10 Things You Need To Know About The #GamerGate Scandal", here's the things they bring up (those in bold italics are my replies):
  1. It’s Not About Misogyny. Yes, it just so happens that many of the targets happen to be women. Or as some pro-#Gamergate proponents have framed it:
  2. Everybody Receives Death Threats. Which is why #Gamergate condones victim blaming or suggest harassment is a false flag?
  3. It’s Not Just Straight White Males Who Are In Favour. And some women don't identify as Feminists. Or that some People of Color have racists views.
  4. Not All Gamers Send Death Threats And Harass People. Cue #notallmen.
  5. Corruption In Video Game Journalism Is A Real Issue. Yes, it is. Leigh Alexander has a list of genuine ethical concerns. But blaming indie developers is like saying public school teachers should receive less funding to solve the US budget. Or actually going after actual controversial issues like Shadows Over Mordor.
  6. It’s About Separating The Journalist From The Blogger. Or: I don't understand media bias and how how actual journalism works, so I will claim people whose views I don't agree with aren't being objective. And let me insult bloggers while I'm at it.
  7. Men Don’t Want To Keep Gaming A “Boy’s Club”. They have a funny way of showing that.
  8. #DescribeAGamerIn4Words Is A Smear Campaign. And endemic of the perception gaming has to the general community, and why #7 keeps on happening.
  9. It’s About Negating Censorship. Governments censor work. Individuals or companies don't.
  10. It’s About The Videogames. Cue excuses why they don't like games like Depression Quest or Gone Home, so if somebody likes games they don't, it must be corruption.
So you can see some of the inherent problems when discussing #Gamergate, whether its proponents approach it with intentional or unintentional ignorance.

In my interaction with the hashtag, other points brought as evidence of corruption in games journalism include:
  • Conflict of interest in reviewing video games where the author backed it via Kickstarter, Patron, or some similar crowd-funded service. That's not conflict of interest. That's like saying it's a conflict of interest to review a game I bought. You are not a shareholder when you fund a game via crowdfunding; you're a consumer.
  • Game journalists are too close to game developers. First off, game journalists ARE close to game developers. That's how they obtain the news and how stories/leaks happen. Second, when  journalists aren't close to game developers, as is the case in this Brad Wardell interview, you're still angry at them.
  • The game journalists have a secret mailing list. Journalists are allowed to converse with each other, just like professionals in other industries.
There's a list of other grievances at Little Tiny Frogs.

L. Rhodes attempts to converse with proponents of #Gamergate and understand their points. Here are Rhodes's observations:
"At the same time, many of you told me that you wanted to see less social criticism in those reviews. If you really think that through, you’ll see that you can’t have it both ways. There’s a deep contradiction imbedded in the notion that, on the one hand, writers shouldn’t be beholden to developers when they review a game, and that, on the other hand, they should avoid criticisms they feel are relevant. Most game publishers don’t want to be criticized for the social prejudices they may have worked into their games. As such, the simple fact that a writer or editor would be willing to publish a social criticism ought to be treated as evidence that the venue is maintaining some independence from the industry on which it reports. Even when it doesn’t interest you, even when you disagree with what’s been said— even if, as some of you expressed, you feel personally affronted on the game’s behalf—you ought to welcome such criticism as a check on the sort of cozy developer/press relationship you’ve called corrupt."

Who Is Involved or Supports #Gamergate?

As previously stated, there are a lot of personalities involved in #Gamergate. Some believe the propaganda, some have sincere intentions, and some that view this as an operation and propaganda. Here are some who publicly support #Gamergate.
The Results of #Gamergate so far:

The harassment and doxxing of various people (whether pro- or anti-#Gamergate) including (but not limited to:
Various hashtags like:
  • #Notyourshield, where various people (including LGBT and people of color) support #Gamergate and tell video game journalists not to represent them in their criticisms.
  • #Gameethics, which discussed problems in the video game industry--usually from AAA companies--but is constantly accused of derailment by #Gamergate supporters.
  • #INeedDiverseGames, which states reasons for having diverse games, only to be criticized by #Gamergate supporters as derailment. (Edit: From the comments: "I was not thinking about GamerGate when I created the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag. Do not give them credit, or give the impression they were even on my mind when I created it. - Cypher")
A cancelled Indiegogo campaign, Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption. It was not initially disclosed that the campaigner was intending to hire their spouse as the lawyer in question., a no-ads (except Google AdSense) gaming review site that claims to be mostly free of political ideologies and does not pay its staff.

Christina Hoff Sommers, host of Factual Feminist, makes a video that video games are not sexist.

Intel pulling out its ads from game development site Gamasutra and subsequently apologizes (but does not reinstate) on a late Friday afternoon.

Other Comments:

The Escapist has an article featuring several anonymous female game developers sharing their views on #Gamergate.

Leigh Alexander has a list of ethical concerns in video games.

The prevalence of impersonation and conspiracy theories to discredit women in the game industry.


Cypher said...

I was not thinking about GamerGate when I created the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag. Do not give them credit, or give the impression they were even on my mind when I created it.

Thank you!

Pogona said...

Did you know that actually the 'not your shield' hashtag is actually made up of sockpuppet accounts?