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Responding to the first and most obvious criticism of this piece, there can be no truly objective human perspective. Humans by nature are influenced and shaped by their own experiences and thus will always be biased. For example my personal biases are that I’m a supporter of Feminism, very anti-censorship, anti-bullying and in favour of transparency and honesty within journalism of all kinds, hence this initial disclaimer.
This is an attempt to be objective and to also provide a clearer explanation of this entire controversy for those who have been relative outsiders to it. Those whose only sources of information are the same sources having their integrity and credibility challenged and thus any attempt to decipher what’s really happening is long-winded, conflicted and difficult.
The comparatively humble beginnings of Gamergate start from issues fairly distanced from what it has ultimately become. A man named Eron Gjoni ended a relationship with indie game designer Zoe Quinn after revelations of infidelity on Zoe’s part came to light and the two were unable to work through their differences.
Eron submitted a lengthy post detailing the life and death of his relationship with Zoe to forums on Something Awful and Penny Arcade, who deleted the threads for reasons not entirely clear. It’s the first hint of issues of bias and censorship within this issue whilst for others it’s a justified moderation of a clearly slanderous post.
Eron went on to upload what he’d written on its own separate blog, believing the warning of Zoe’s supposed manipulative and dishonest nature was important for people within the games industry to read. The first igniting sparks of gamergate come from the details of those involved in Zoe’s affairs, including her boss and a writer for gaming website Kotaku called Nathan Grayson.
Many would bring up the issue of “conflicted interests”. That writing about or working with someone you have a relationship with causes bias, favouritism and ultimately corruption within supposedly unbiased media. Others have gone so far as to suggest Zoe instigated these relationships solely to advance her career and get positive coverage for her games.
Next is where things get a little crazy and convoluted.
The issue attracted increasing attention until known names in game development, journalism, gaming internet personalities and other popular media weighed in on the topic. Someone or some group of people began regimenting these people into opposing armies and exacerbating the disagreement into a conflict rather than a discussion.
It’s generally believed the majority of the abusers came from the particularly anonymous and unregulated forums of 4chan but I don’t doubt many people simply jumped on the bandwagon. Believing their assaults were a righteous crusade or simply relishing in other’s misery, droves of people sent mockery, harassment, insults, even death and rape threats to Zoe Quinn and her most prominent supporters, including but not exclusive to Anita Sarkeesian (Feminist and video game critic, subject to her own controversial content) and Phil Fish (Former acclaimed indie game developer).
Angry, irrational, often illiterate abuse and negative feedback is sadly nothing new to anyone contributing content on the internet but some people took the harassment further. It is claimed that Zoe Quinn as well as her friends and family had their personal details discovered through forms of internet hacking known as “doxxing” and the abuse spread to their mobile phones, personal email addresses and bank accounts. Quinn, amongst others claimed to have been forced out of their homes due to the extent of this abuse and were contacting the local authorities to track down those responsible.
It is worth noting that we only have Zoe and her supporter’s word for this as no logs or evidence would exist publicly once the abuse moved on from the internet. Articles that later commented on Zoe or her supporters being driven out of their homes only linked to the person’s twitter comments as evidence.
At this point large numbers of people on Zoe’s “side” began fighting fire with fire and responding to the online abuse with their own attacks. Gaming journalism websites began censoring topics related to the controversy on their forums, whilst posting articles arguably very skewed into supporting Quinn, portraying all gamers as disgusting misogynistic abusers in rather blanket statements.
“These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours.” – “’Gamers’ don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers’ are over.” – Leigh Alexander. Gamasutra.
This mainly served to backfire however as it reinforced suspicions of collusion and bias between gaming websites, angered groups of anti-censorship supporters and gamers with no participation in the conflict, offended at being grouped in with those harassing and abusing. As a result more people joined up with the movement known as “Gamergate”.
The term originated and predominantly resides on twitter as “#Gamergate” often grouped with “#notyourshield”. An accompanying moniker to reject the assumptions from journalists writing the aforementioned articles, that all gamers are the stereotypical socially inept, ugly, white male and they are the ignorant, immature, misogynist harassers of Zoe Quinn and her supporters.
Hundreds of arguments flew back and forth between the opposing sides. Some civil discussions, some abusive insult flinging, all of them making no noticeable progress one way or another. Some supporters of Gamergate denied the abuse and harassment ever happened, that Zoe Quinn and others manipulated and fabricated the attacks, whilst others claimed the movement was and always had been about journalistic integrity and defeating corruption within the gaming industry.
The numerous sites seemingly on Quinn’s side continued to report on the controversy, some firmly believing the “fighting corruption” angle of the gamergate movement was just to disguise their “hate campaign”, others entertaining the idea that their methods of discussing and reporting gaming news were perhaps flawed and biased.
Gaming website The Escapist actually made significant amendments to their reporting style, publishing an “Ethics Policy” pledging to provide more unbiased and transparent journalism. This still wasn’t enough for some people, others appreciated the reflection and reaction on their comments and some expressed their disappointment at The Escapist submitting to a supposed bullying mob’s demands.
Meanwhile Quinn herself released logs of online chat forums she had been secretly monitoring. The logs are extremely long and full of digressions but the overall topic is centred on Quinn. Discovering and distributing personal information about her or her supporters, discussing how to further the gamergate movement by influencing social media sites like Reddit and Tumblr and how to conceal their abuse and harassment under the mask of “journalistic integrity”.
“Aug 21 17.23.31 <sarahv> The problem is that making it about Zoe sleeping around amounts to a personal attack which, while funny and something she totally deserves, will hurt our chances of pushing the other point”
Numerous comments from certain users seem to confirm a sexist viewpoint, others a strong hatred for “Social Justice Warriors” and Feminists or at least a feeling of victimisation as a man, concretely dragging feminism into the fray. Members also mused and laughed about ways to ruin Zoe’s career, severely humiliate or injure her or even coax her towards suicide. These logs proved evidence of the harassment against Quinn and her supporters, whilst also giving credibility to the idea that the gamergate movement was a ruse for a hate campaign. The latter claim however can only be used so far as to prove that groups were trying to steer and manipulate the gamergate movement into abusive actions, not that the entire movement was a manipulated hate campaign from the start.
The chat logs naturally also had their legitimacy criticised and accusations appeared of Quinn manufacturing them or at least “cherry-picking” the offending statements out of context. Supporters of Quinn proudly took release of the chat logs as a killing blow, trying to next promote the hashtag #Gameovergate.
Quinn followed up these logs with claims that they were being relayed to the authorities and even the FBI in a police report. Again we only have her word for this but I feel at the point where very real and substantial organisations like the FBI are being brought in, it becomes far more difficult to lie about such occurrences. I’m not entirely sure what would serve as justifiable proof about the real world reactions involved in this but larger, more reputable news sources have begun commenting on aspects of the issue and unless we begin questioning the credibility of those as well, most would consider that proof.
Insults, abuse and hatred towards anyone strongly involved can still be found online, articles on gaming websites continue to be written, some of which from less-established journalists are now actively pro-gamergate, the twitter hashtag remains a fairly active movement, whilst growing numbers of Gamergate supporters publicly denounce the actions and views of those harassers that inflamed the controversy so wildly.
Some of those opposing Gamergate have admitted there are people with noble intentions towards journalistic purity within its ranks but still believe that the “well has been poisoned” and that a movement with such ugly, divisive origins can’t meaningfully make progress campaigning for honesty, inclusivity and integrity.
If you remain interested in the ongoing Gamergate movement and its accompanying controversy I highly recommend doing extensive research into both sides of the debate and above all else, forming your own opinion. For what it’s worth my belief is that idiotic and cruel people exist on both sides, blowing things out of proportion, hurting individuals solely for their views and sowing seeds of discontent. There are also honest and decent people seeking civil, intelligent discussion about the future of gaming and game journalism. Those who, despite falling on different sides of this metaphorical warzone, have many shared interests and can most likely reach a healthy progressive compromise.
The future of Gamergate is still being written, often quite literally in articles, blogs, tweets, comment sections and more across the internet. There are aspects of the preceding controversy that are now so entangled in accusations, and counter-accusations, that we might never be able to determine the exact truth of them. Hopefully amidst this eruption of underlying problems within the industry and culture we, as gamers, players or fans of video games can still progress. I’d hope we can all agree there’s nothing worse than being stuck on the same level forever.
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