McGinnis: Dear GamergateWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: This “Open Letter to an Online Movement” was written by Jeff McGinnis in collaboration with Feliza Casano, founder and editor-in-chief of Girls in Capes (girlsin capes.com), and Grendel, author of the YouTube channel and Tumblr WTFHistory (wtfhistory.tumblr.com).
We write this letter as geeks, feminists and game players.
We write as individuals who have a passion for pop culture, but also care about the messages it can send, and we work in the hopes that it can improve.
We write believing that video games can impact their players emotionally in ways few art forms can, and should be taken seriously as art. But if they are to cement that place in the public consciousness, their defenders need to do better than react like petulant schoolchildren when others disagree with them.
We write out of anger and sorrow, and the belief that something needs to be said:
Gamergate is a hate movement.
There are many who consider themselves members of the group who will disagree. They will claim we are judging the whole of a varied, nuanced campaign by the actions of its most extreme members, or that we are buying into hyperbole perpetrated by a conspiracy to make a movement about the ethics of gaming journalism look bad.
To believe Gamergate is not a hate movement, one has to ignore the group’s well-documented roots in sexism, hypocrisy and harassment. One has to ignore the fact that a substantial majority of the comments attributed to Gamergate supporters are aimed at female game developers and critics, not the actual journalists whose “ethics” are supposedly in question.
One has to ignore the fact that Gamergate’s supposed “accomplishments” consist mainly of convincing advertisers to pull support from sites that have been critical of the movement — not actually inspiring debate and reform of the supposedly egregious ethical violations they are aimed at.
To believe that the heart of Gamergate does not lie in prejudice and intimidation is to willfully ignore the culture of fear that has enveloped women connected to gaming in the months since it began.
The very idea that the movement is focused on integrity in video game reporting is contradicted by its origins. In August, an 8,000-word screed by a former boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn was posted to various websites, its author proclaiming in spectacularly bitter prose how he felt Quinn had mistreated him during their relationship. Among his allegations was that Quinn had cheated on him with Nathan Grayson, a video game reporter who writes for the website Kotaku.
The backlash was swift and furious. The presumption was made that Quinn’s relationship with the Kotaku writer had influenced his coverage of Quinn’s games, and thus she had clearly traded sexual favors for positive press coverage. A firestorm of righteous anger over this alleged violation of ethics quickly began.
Quinn was descended upon by ludicrously angry protests, a concentrated effort to destroy her reputation and threaten her safety. Grayson, the reporter who would have actually committed the alleged violation of ethics, got barely a fraction of the scorn.
But no such ethical violations had occurred. Grayson’s coverage of Quinn was practically nonexistent on Kotaku. The site conducted its own investigation and found no evidence of misconduct. The righteously indignant, though, would not be dissuaded. According to the Gamergate movement, this one non-scandal was clearly indicative of larger corruption within gaming journalism, and it was up to them to expose it. A tweet from “Firefly” actor Adam Baldwin gave the movement its name, hashtag and screed: “Gamergate.”
All of this would be ridiculous if so many lives weren’t being legitimately endangered. In the months since the movement launched, its sanctimonious catch-all philosophy has led to the intensifying of an already troubling streak of misogyny within the gaming community. It’s not just game journalism that troubles these die-hards; it’s anything that they perceive as an attack on gaming in general. Playing is not just a diversion — it’s part of what defines them as an individual. The statement seems to be: “If you criticize gaming, you criticize me.”
As a result, individuals who dare to disagree with Gamergate — or worse, take a stand against prejudice within games or the gaming community — have found themselves increasingly under attack. And no matter how supporters may try to brush off those attackers as “extremists” who don’t represent “real” Gamergaters, the fact is that the most violent and persistent of threats are aimed at women.
Quinn had to flee her home when her personal information was publicized. Video game critic Anita Sarkeesian, who is a vocal activist about the depiction of women in gaming media (and who through sheer
badassness has refused to stop being vocal), suffered similar treatment. She even had to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University in October when a mass shooting threat was called in. Game developer Brianna Wu was tormented for retweeting an anti-Gamergate meme one of her followers had made, inspired by her comments on the subject.
And the danger isn’t limited to those within the gaming community. Journalists and critics faced harassment for the crime of daring to speak in support of Quinn. Even individuals who had done much to further the cause of gaming found themselves under attack: Actress and Web darling Felicia Day wrote a piece on feeling threatened by Gamergate, and how she feared by even mentioning the movement her personal information would be made public. Within an hour, it was.
Supporters of Gamergate dismiss this series of events as either the actions of a small minority of those in the movement or as a conspiracy perpetrated to discredit their message (whatever that message is supposed to be at this point). Both conveniently allow the rank-and-file Gamergaters to keep feeling positive about what they’re doing. It’s not ME, it’s THEM. Or it’s a vast, well-coordinated effort to make me look prejudiced.
This line of thinking is either willful ignorance or elaborate self-deception in regards to the reality of Gamergate’s impact. A study of Twitter activity commissioned by Newsweek found that the majority of tweets that carry the #gamergate hashtag are aimed not at prominent journalists or multimillion dollar game developers — the ones who would be most guilty of the corruption the movement purports to stand against — but instead attack small independent game designers and game critics. And the vast majority of those targets are women.
Quinn was targeted by over 10 times more #gamergate tweets than Grayson. By themselves, Wu and Sarkeesian have been targeted by more #gamergate tweets than all other games journalists combined, according to the Newsweek study.
Either the movement’s supposed “lunatic fringe” is larger than its moderates dare consider, or this is the one of most masterfully coordinated conspiracies to discredit a movement in human history.
And yet “average” members of the movement still insist upon seeing themselves as the persecuted minority. If people involved in the movement wanted to disavow themselves of the exclusionary, misogynistic aspects of it, they are going about it in the worst way possible. By insisting that they are not part of the problem, that it’s merely a few bad apples, and aligning themselves with the “movement,” they create a defense for those using the tag and the movement to spread their vitriol. Better to separate themselves and forge their own movements. Better to refocus.
If you’re so concerned about the ethics of video game journalism, why not consider how gaming media treats women as characters and as players? Why not consider the coverage of game developers and companies and the quality of marketing directed at gamers, and the sexist tones found there? Why not make a new movement, one that includes the women Gamergate targets or discounts? There are too many people shoving all criticism and concerns aside and claiming the media is attempting to silence their crusade — a crusade that is at best misguided tunnelvision, and at worst a sexist witch hunt aimed at driving women away from games.
The tragedy of it all is that it’s working. Several female game makers and writers have announced their departure from the medium. Many of those brave enough to persevere — like Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu — find themselves the subject of constant, unrelenting threats. Many more who would speak out in support are terrified that they would end up with a target on their own backs.
And those who believe they are defending gaming — either against a journalistic cabal conspiring to (GASP!) tell them slightly biased information about a product, or against the influence of those who dare to suggest games could do some things a little better — those Gamergaters are actually the ones hastening the destruction of the gaming community.
They are solidifying the scathing views of an already pessimistic public.
They are convincing people who might have tried gaming that its supporters are small-minded and prejudicial, and new voices are not welcome.
They are driving away individuals who could bring them new and exciting experiences.
They are telling people — half the world’s population, and half the population of the gaming community whom they could welcome with open arms — that gaming isn’t a safe place for them.
They have withdrawn so far within an echo chamber of fiddles that they can’t smell how Rome is already burning all around them.
They — you — need to wake up.
Feliza, Grendel and Jeff
Jeff McGinnis is pop culture editor of Toledo Free Press. He can be reached at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jeffmac813.