DeepFreeze And GamerGate, Image Control And Preaching To The Choir

When I first heard noise about DeepFreeze.it I was actually optimistic. Despite the largely negative storm that GamerGate has pulled in its wake a few of their points are worth consideration. AAA game developers and publishers have an immense amount of control over access to information (something GamerGate bizarrely ignores). There is very little hard reporting in the industry. Their charges of cliquishness in the indie reporting world aren’t entirely invalid, even if they largely ignore the reasons for that cliquishness. Perhaps this was a step towards an official organization and legitimacy, a move away from a No True Scotsman mob, which would be a step towards controlling harassment in a systematic way.

If you want to get the best idea of what DeepFeeze.it is all about the best place to start is the “Advanced Guidelines” page. It was obviously written hastily, but it lays out the confusion, childishness and naivety that appears to cripple the moderates of GamerGate. Bonegolem, who is purposely remaining as anonymous as possible, even in interviews, is earnest. He’s committed to objective presentation and supports people making their own decisions about the information presented.

GamerGate purports to focus on ethical issues. He states that not all issues raised on the site are ethical in nature. GamerGate claims to value objectivism and then focuses on largely subjective issues. He critiques one of his own entries wonderfully, saying, “Even for DeepFreeze’s most disputed emblems, like Arthur Gies’s review of Bayonetta 2, you can disagree with the evaluation that the review is intentionally sensationalist, but no one can deny the review existed and it generated controversy,” and yet, “exists and generated controversy” isn’t worthy of note unless you don’t agree with the controversial opinion.

Everything on the site is connected to tangible evidence (How seriously one wants to take shopped together forum exchanges and twitter logs is up to the viewer). I have yet to find a claim that isn’t backed up. This is far from an objective review of the facts though. Statements are strongly characterized to agree with GamerGate’s point of view. The Arthur Gies entry is an easy target, but hardly unique, and rather than remove the entry, or word it so that it reflects a more objective tone they try to argue that their interpretation is correct. This sets the bar pretty low for an official entry. (One of the commenters on that link absolutely nails it, by the way, but he seems to make little impact.)

I’ll demonstrate the difference: “McDonald’s pays many full time employees a wage that puts them under the American poverty line.” is an objective statement. “McDonald’s unfairly exploits workers.” is not an objective statement.

In any case, this is a bit long, so I’ll give you the bloody nuts up front. If you’re interested in the actual problems faced by the gaming press I highly recommend this article at VICE.

What’s the Quick and Dirty?

If GamerGate wants to be an ethical review board they have a long way to go. GamerGate is a radical political movement, and like many radical political movements they have trouble separating ethics from their political beliefs. DeepFreeze is a messy list of grievances thrown up from the mob, but it’s less messy than digging through forums and messageboards. It might gain GG some converts, but it’s probably not going to convince anybody that they are the true voice of the majority, and is unlikely to get them any gains amongst the journalists they want to control.

There are some good things about DeepFreeze, for GamerGate and for the public at large. It does highlight some of their attempts to curb harassment, which I was unaware of and was happy to learn about. It’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of such efforts, but it’s clear that some people in the movement are dedicated to dealing with the flood of ideological hate flowing in their name. DeepFreeze doesn’t manage to keep GG from looking like a mob to anybody even passingly familiar with recent history, but does manage to make them look less like a hate-mob.

In fact some of their image control is compelling. I think there’s plenty of evidence here to prove that their characterization as “right-wing” is lazy, Progressive invective. They are certainly reactionary, but I think they’re better characterized as largely anti-intellectual advocates of a Just World status-quo than generic right-wing oppressives/repressives.

It would be unfair to ignore the money they’ve raised for charities, but their often unctuous weaponizing of those donations as political grist leaves a bad taste in the mouth. On some level the spirit with which money is given to good causes shouldn’t matter, but it doesn’t do much for GG’s image as, at best, obnoxious.

By concentrating information DeepFreeze also makes it clear that GamerGate isn’t about nothing. It’s pretty clear that there is an issue of journalists sometimes being cavalier about their personal relationships and reporting within the gaming press. I personally think their focus is very poorly aimed and their view of stakes flat out wrong, but we’ll have more on that later.

GG is a radical political mob, steeped in anonymity, calling for complete transparency. The man in charge of DF remains anonymous. Most of the investigative work is not credited directly, and most evidence has been gathered by anonymous parties. DeepFreeze  might soften their ideological message, but does little to shift the idea that they are entitled hyperconsumers who want a gaming press that caters specifically to them. They don’t want to think about the social values reflected in their games. They have largely essentialist ideas about gender and sex. They are still prone to conspiratorial thinking. They still refuse to form any real organization, which hampers their ability to control their message and focus their efforts.

It’s difficult to tell where GamerGate goes from here. They don’t seem to have the resources to do any serious ethical investigations. It’ll be awhile before another GJP list leaks. Another jilted ex-boyfriend isn’t going to score them any points. They’ve pushed their influence about as far as it’s going to go. Right now it seems like they’re destined for the fate of MRA’s, plenty of bitching, the occasional outrage, but little impact outside of their own clique.

The First Huge Problem

DeepFreeze doesn’t seem to embody any of the ideals GamerGate claims it strives for. It isn’t objective. It isn’t transparent and it largely pays little attention to its own ethics. There is no actual ethics statement on the site that I can find (a thing GamerGate pushed hard for). The only site admin, Bonegolem, is anonymous. That’s not a good start for increasing transparency. GamerGaters ARE subject to harassment they don’t deserve. However, if they want to heap scrutiny on others and have it recognized they are going to have to take personal responsibility for their message. One of the SPJ’s ethical statements is that information should be attributed to people as much as possible.

The KotakuInAction reddit has a well defined ethics statement that also references the SPJ code, so we can assume that that’s the code being applied here, but it’s not a good start if DeepFreeze is meant to be significant for people outside of GamerGate. The individual badges are reasonably well defined, however, and could act as something approaching a set of ethics.

This is complicated by the fact that many infractions are, by Bonegolem’s admission, not ethical in nature. The site does very little to prioritize complaints, it only categorizes them. Everything from, “Some people might find this suspicious” to “outright contempt for ethics” is listed. It’s an information dump. Easier to navigate and more curated than forums and boards, but still not doing much to convince that GG’s dislike should be taken as anything more serious than a partisan opinion.

So, as a list of reasons that people who support GamerGate might dislike, mistrust or disagree with certain journalists or outlets it’s fine, but as a well defined ethical statement it’s a failure. It seems very much that GG wants to be taken seriously by the press that it critiques. It wants its voice to mean something outside of their own hallowed halls, but they are consistently unable actually to be objective or ethical.

Reviews

The issue of reviews comes up quite a bit across this site, and it’s a serious problem. The nonsense phrase “objective review” is in frequent use on KiA. Sometimes people are targeted simply for publishing reviews that were “lower than average” for reasons that GG disagrees with. Discussing ideas that GG doesn’t feel “belong” in a review can earn you an entry for “clickbaiting”. Being too far outside the Metacritic score for ideological reasons is also seen as “clickbaiting” and punished with an entry. The ethics statement from KiA likewise focuses almost three quarters of its length on reviews.

Games are entertainment. Reviews are subjective. I could start a blog that rated video games by how they enhanced the flavor of my favorite snack food. You might be able to say that those reviews have poor utility, but it’s not really something to gripe about in any “official” way. And what if people did, for some reason, find those reviews helpful? Finding a good reviewer has always been a personal journey for me. I have to find someone who thinks the same about games as I do. GamerGate seems to believe that a good review will aim for the median of public opinion, and feels that so strongly that they are willing to punish people who deviate. That’s an A&R report, not a review.

At every level GG seems obsessed with the ethics and objective content of the lowest stake, most subjective output of the gaming press. Being convinced to purchase bad entertainment has absolutely no collateral costs, dangers or harm. A bad video game won’t destroy your system, injure your children or curdle your milk. You won’t catch a disease from bad user interface and buggy face rendering won’t give you heavy metals poisoning. At worst you are out some money. That’s where the consequences end.

Here’s where GG scores some points on technicality, but their gains remain petty. Should editors be dictating the content or tone of reviews? No (but should the audience?). Should reviewers submit reviews without having seriously played a game? No. Should high profile studios and publishers buy good reviews? No. These are all worth documenting, with good proof, not presumptions of intent. But I must reiterate that the stakes here are very low. We are not talking about a product that presents any danger to you. We are talking about a product whose value is 100% subjective. The reviewer’s opinion is likewise 100% subjective. A game I’d buy day one for $60 might not be worth $10 to you and vice versa. The only danger is spending money on something you thought you’d enjoy but didn’t.

Entertainment money comes from disposable income. That’s money not necessary for survival items like food, shelter and transport. This isn’t to say that entertainment isn’t important or serious, but to say that dissatisfaction with it is frustrating rather than impactful in most cases.

Any single review, especially for AAA games, is also a drop in a vast sea of user and critical opinion. Aggregate sites pool reactions from all over the internet. Players give their opinions on innumerable forums. The chatter can be so loud and incoherent that one wishes for a voice to trust, to give us the objective worth of a game. I get it, but that huge variety of opinion, professional and not, means that the impact of any particular review is tiny for anyone willing to do even the most cursory investigation, and GG has certainly proven itself adept at research.

Focusing on entirely subjective content that affects nothing but the audience’s leisure time and money is exactly why GG has the reputation for being a voice for hyperconsumers intent on bending an entire industry to their tastes. Reviews they target are reviews that gave low scores for reasons that GG finds objectionable, or high scores to games that they feel were “bad”. They are policing the inclusion of certain ideas in game reviews, even though those ideas are valuable to many consumers. GG wants to take the place of editors manipulating reviews for money and censor reviews according to their completely subjective ideas about “relevance.”

Again, if you agree with GG then this is all well and good. If you don’t, there’s no reason to take them seriously. If GG wants to list all the reviewers who talk about politics and ideology in their reviews that’s fine, but it’s not really an enforceable position.

The “Quick and Dirty” Section

Well, this is certainly quick and dirty, and seems to frame the priorities of GamerGaters in an extremely petty light. They have very little understanding of stakes. They open with minor infractions (if one can even call them that) and then move to two more impactful stories. The first impression is that GG puts issues with reviews over, or on equal terms with, stories that have drastically affected people’s careers and personal lives. Perhaps they meant to ramp up the severity, but there’s little indication in the language that that’s the case. I’m left with the negative impression that either GG views all sins equal in the eyes of God (them) or that their priority is more on getting reliable information on how to spend their money than on the token issues of people dragged through the public scrutiny routine.

First there’s a highlighted quote from an anonymous reviewer saying that his editor directed him to write a bad review in order to gain some outrage clicks. That’s a problem, and it shouldn’t happen. A reviewer’s opinion should be his own, but as I pointed out earlier, there’s basically nothing at stake here. It is technically an infraction, but unless one is slavishly devoted to that particular reviewer it’s easily corrected for. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the economy of ad driven revenue. I don’t like it, and neither do journalists, but GG is not putting forward constructive ways to actually change the situation. And no, hounding sites and reviewers for reviews you disagree with does not count as constructive.

Next is an item where a journalist fell for a joke (which happens to mainstream news sources as well) and then was an asshole about recanting. The issue is basically personal. A journalist was an asshole about something he shouldn’t have been an asshole about. He made a mistake, eventually made it right, and probably got chewed out pretty well by his editor and other journalists. There’s no mention of him threatening violence or stalking detractors. He simply stuck to what he thought was a good story longer than he should have.

Here we also see that dismissal of disagreement is seen as a major sin rather than a mistake. “He didn’t listen to us,” is the focus.

Next we have the case of Brad Wardell, which seems mighty incongruous. We go from minor, if irritating, issues to a case of sexual harassment, hostile work environment and battery. If this were a stand alone blurb it would be fine, but it’s lumped in with almost embarrassingly inconsequential entries.

This is, in fact, a serious issue, and widely discussed in mainstream media circles as well. When and how should the media report on accusations of violence or sexual abuse? Kotaku fucked up some basic facts in reporting the case. They painted Brad Wardell as filing a predatory countersuit against a woman claiming sexual assault when the sexual assault claim was actually the counter claim during a labor dispute. The woman eventually apologized. This caused other outlets to push a narrative that was unnecessarily damning to Wardell’s reputation. It took longer than it should have for them to apologize. There is a definite question about the ability of the gaming press at large to handle things like sexually charged legal scandals. Many of them are not educated in journalism, and few of them can claim any expertise in reporting on sensitive legal proceedings.

It sucks that Wardell will have to deal with that for forever. However, he was sued. Legal proceedings against a public figure are broadly characterized as newsworthy. The shitty way we have to deal with claims of sexual harassment and rape, often substituting public shaming for exacting legal responsibility, are thorny and complex, fraught with politics and emotion. Since this is a “Quick and Dirty” section I won’t fault GG for not addressing those issues, but apologies and clarifications were eventually issued, so there’s really not much left to do without addressing those issues.

Max Temkin’s rape accusations come next, and these are complicated by the fact that no legal case was filed and the media were not directly contacted. That means that there are no real facts in the case and no real investigation was done by anybody. I don’t mean that to speak to the truth or falsehood of the claims, but to the lack of our ability to evaluate them. Again, emotions ran high and most players apologized. However you might personally feel about these issues, or feel about these issues conceptually, it seems clear here that the impulse to criticize overrode the consideration of the gravity of the accusations. Stephen Totilo said as much, even going so far as to say he’d changed the way they treat similar stories. Patricia Hernandez rewrote her article. GamerGate is harping on something which has already been corrected for.

Certainly historical context is important to establish that these things weren’t created out of a vacuum by GamerGate, but making mistakes, apologizing and taking real steps to not make those mistakes again is sort of the best you can hope for. The consequential issues pointed out by DeepFreeze have been corrected, and in fact demonstrated that the industry is capable of self-regulation. What’s left are the ideological issues that GamerGate tries to keep in the background.

List of Journalists

Approaching the list of journalists is bogged down by the fact that everyone on the GameJournoPros list receives an entry. You can find an explanation for this on the “Advanced Guidelines” page.

My initial thought was to break down some numbers on the list. One of the accusations leveled at GG is that they are misogynists, unfairly targeting women. In breaking things down there isn’t enough evidence in the numbers for an untrained blogger like myself to come to an objective conclusion. I also couldn’t find any numbers on the gender breakdown of the gaming press as a whole to control for. Since almost everyone listed was a member of GameJournoPros, could I accept that ratio as representative of the gender breakdown of the industry as a whole? Since that list seems to skew liberal would there be more women than in the larger industry? Would men be less likely to share the list with female colleagues? More? There’s no way to tell.

For some basic comparison, at time of writing, this is what the numbers look like.

 

Overall

Men: 147

Women: 28

Total: 175

 

More than 1 entry (a single entry generally denotes simply being on the GameJournoPros list)

Men: 22 (~15% of men)

Women: 7 (25% of women)

Total: 29 (~17% of total)

 

Mean number of entries (excluding those with only one entry)

Men: ~3.5

Women: ~5.9

 

I’m not even going to interpret these numbers. Please, don’t interpret them yourself. As I’m writing this I’m considering removing them. There is no way to determine how representative these numbers are of the industry, or even GamerGate. One of their ideological hobby horses is certainly anti-feminism, but I am not qualified to comment on how these numbers relate to the expression of that idea.

So, is all of this a bunch of garbage? Far too much of it is. There are some actual bad actors, assholes and sloppy reporters who needed a little tap on the shoulder. Most of those have already been corrected, because people with power in the press generally do care about ethics. Again, many of the complaints are ideological, not strictly, or even loosely, ethical.

I found some of the list informational and enlightening. Again though, any issues that seem significant have mostly been changed, addressed or apologized for. Most everything else is minutiae, a natural outgrowth of journalism within a fairly small industry or ideological. It’s difficult to see GamerGate, as projected through the DeepFreeze lens, as much more than a list of grudges and an attempt to create a gaming press that agrees with it, rather than one that acts ethically.

The Poisoned Well

One of the most frustrating things about GamerGate is that it continues to dip its bucket in the festering holes that are The Zoe Post (a huge source of harassment, slut-shaming and one of the main reason GamerGate has the image that it does) and “Gamers Are Dead” conspiracy (No, I don’t give a fuck that that phrase was never used.). I’ve read all three of Nathan’s articles, and there’s just nothing there. Depression Quest was already being talked about in multiple outlets when it made it onto Steam Greenlight. It was a newsworthy game at the time, and “positive coverage” amounts to being mentioned along with two other games at the top of the list. The two other articles might demonstrate a certain laziness when it comes to finding sources, but certainly not any kind of blatant career boosting.

If GamerGate is about journalistic ethics, and these are the types of things they are going to call conspiracies, collusion and cronyism, well, they frankly must be about something else. That the injured ramblings of an ex-boyfriend and the tawdry details of a sex scandal continue to be fist shaking proof that the journalistic world is corrupt demonstrates that nobody in GG is able to keep the message on ethics, and that ethics isn’t really the issue at the center of the movement. Hell, Eron Gjoni’s friend’s claim that Quinn dismissed her PTSD and depression would be a much bigger scandal, but GG doesn’t really care about mental health either. Their continued return to this post, and support of Gjoni, is a dedication to exactly the kind of tabloid mentality they purport to hate. They’re obsessed with the flash and sex and not the real stakes.

Their focus on the set of articles they refer to under the banner of “Gamers Are Dead” reveals a profound inability to view correlated events as anything but a conspiracy and a dedication to their wounded feelings over larger concepts. Articles questioning the homogenous view that AAA gaming studios seem to have of their audience and the puritanical way that elements who fit that image have defended which are “real games” have been written for years. Batches of similarly themed articles, often followed by similarly themed rebuttals are part of the entertainment news cycle and require no coordination. Most of the articles support their thesis with the exact diversity that GamerGate claims they tried to erase. It’s indicative of the borderline conspiracy theorist mentality that prevails within GamerGate. All friendly contact is collusion, all attempts at privacy are conspiracy.

Wrap Up

GamerGate’s  push for real, publicly displayed ethics policies and better disclosure of personal relationships was needed. No journalist should be highlighting a game by their roommate without disclosure (and maybe not even then). The continued, constant surveillance by GG is in danger of becoming a witch hunt where journalists are constantly defending perfectly normal journalistic relationships from organized outrage though.

The major issues that GamerGate has pointed out have largely been apologized for and corrected within the press. Most of them happened before GG existed. Apologies only go so far, but Stephen Totilo especially has proven that he is willing to take steps to make sure mistakes aren’t repeated. Certainly public outcry is part of that system, but again, organizing it the way GG has has created an atmosphere where it’s difficult to be a games journalist at all.

GG has constantly been upset that they are mischaracterized by the gaming and mainstream press. DeepFreeze goes a long way to give future journalists a place to quickly gain an idea of what GamerGate is about. It might work to knock the “hate” off their hate-mob tag. What it’s not going to do is allow them to claim words like “objective”, “censorship” and “ethics” for themselves. It’s not going to justify their anger to a larger audience that doesn’t share their radical politics.

 

{Edit: A reference to GG calling for Schrier’s firing was removed.}

14 Comments

  1. About objective game reviews, instead of regurgitating what was said before, I will direct you to TB’s video on it instead (plus the Erik Kain piece someone linked already):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj6jREPcp10

    That aside, I have 2 questions for you:

    1- What is your opinion on game scores?

    2- What do you have to say about the model adopted by ChristianGameReviews for their scoring system? Here is an example:

    https://www.christcenteredgamer.com/index.php/reviews/consoles/playstation-4/5899-the-witcher-3-wild-hunt-ps4

    1. I’ve had that video recommended a few times, and I think if you read the latest review from Gies he actually took some advice from it. I think there are some fair points to be made about social and political content in reviews and how it should be handled. I’m chewing through some stuff on it still. Like I said, I approach reviews as subjective, which works fine for me personally, but isn’t a useful framework for discussing objective reviews and what they should look like.

      1. I don’t like scored reviews. I especially dislike Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes is slightly better, mostly because it only uses fresh and rotten, rather than trying to mash together all sorts of different scales (as TotalBiscuit points out is a problem.). What’s the difference between a 7 and a 7.5? Is a 5 on a 10 scale “average”? Average compared to what extremes? Is the scale meant to be a Bell Curve? Is a 1 a game that is bad, but playable, or is it a game that is nigh on unplayable because of technical problems or extremely difficult game elements? They look concrete and authoritative while actually being basically meaningless once interrogated. One game might receive a 9 primarily because of amazing writing, and another might receive it for well execute, novel gameplay.

      They also make it much easier to not actually read the review.

      2. I like it better than a single score, but still, I’d rather get that information from reading the review itself. I think it’s interesting to formally break moral issues from game issues in the scoring box. I could gain the same information from reading a single scored review though. It’s not difficult to read a review that praises all the game elements and then comes down on the violence or sexual content and figure out that the lower score is due to the moral rather than the gameplay content.

      I really don’t find scores useful except for when I don’t feel like reading the actual review, and I think they actually encourage people not to read reviews.

      1. We have a similar opinion on scores. I also think that gaming journalism is planting the seeds of their irrelevance with those, as many people will end up ignoring the content produced and go directly to the score to form their opinion – but at that point, they might as well drop entirely reading the website (and giving it clicks) to just go and get an all-you-can-eat buffet on metacritic or any other aggregator (or even from twitter and other social media websites). That, and its a lot harder to maintain internal consistency when you need to assign arbitrary numbers to a well written review, making it lose all its nuance in the process. I wrote lengthy posts on it before on other places, but I’ll leave it at that.

        I hope we come to a day when no websites carry scores anymore, and metacritic is a wasteland of made up numbers. Bullet points summarizing the review at the end can already convey everything the ADHD gamer needs to know about a game if he wishes to skip readinhg about it in detail.

        Frankly, to me, the only way to make a scoring system relevant would be if metacritic would allow user curation of the score composition so we may personalize it to our liking. For instance, say I want reviews with a certain political view composing my scores. In that case, I could, for instance, add only reviews by Polygon, RPS and maybe Kotaku (let’s pretend those last 2 have scores) to compose my game score. Or you could select particular reviewers who seem to share with you a similar taste in games. The same could be said about user review scores, and I, personally, would seek to aggregate the review of users who write more than a single line about it, seem to worry about the same kind of things I do when evaluating a game and have a few reviews under their belt. That way, you can get away from review bombing, post-purchase rationalization and anything else that might contaminate your end score. Sadly, no service has stepped up to this challenge so far.

        1. I think it would be interesting to see the evolution of a data heavy, user curated platform for game reviews. I think it would take a lot of time to build a participatory userbase though.

          In the end, I’d much rather see reading comprehension make a resurgence, rather than more number crunching. But I’m old-fashioned.

  2. Gamergate has two problems.

    The first was focusing on journalistic integrity. The important issue has always been an attempt to implement censorship on speech/art by controlling video game content. The reporting on the games themselves is a subset of this issue.

    The second problem is in the handling of the virtual by those using the gamergate tag. Denial of association should be the throwaway line. Instead gamer’s should focus on how most movements pick up this sort of online baggage. Force those who reject the legitimacy of the issue due to the online threats to justify why the movements they already support get a pass for the exact same behavior.

  3. I have no prior knowledge of this website and this is the first article I have read here. It’s well-written and your take on the issue is clear. I do, however, disagree with some of the points made and have some observations about the movement overall.

    I have followed the GamerGate movement from the very beginning. I have not participated in the movement and I think the most I have done was just a couple of comments on Eric Kain’s articles on Forbes.

    You mention several times that the stakes are low when it comes to review scores. Objectively, that may be true to an extent, but this statement also borders on being a fallacy. GamerGate is not a movement about ending wars or poverty, it’s about videogames and reviews of games are a big part of that. This is what I believe is the biggest issue that divides people on the issue. GamerGaters are the enthusiasts, the hardcore gamers, for whom gaming is a rather important part of their lives. Game journalists, of all people, should realize the difference between enthusiasts and casuals.

    When you cater to enthusiasts, you have to be one yourself, or you’ll fail. In reading reviews, an enthusiast quickly realizes that the reviewer is not an enthusiast and doesn’t care nearly as much as he should when covering something for an enthusiast audience. That understandably irks the enthusiasts. Now when the same clueless reviewers, who often don’t finish the games they play, or haven’t played the previous installments of a sequel, start pissing all over games due to their incompetence, ignorance, and/or sociopolitical stance, it generates even more discontent.

    Now mind you, this is not just a problem with gaming journalism, it’s almost universal. That doesn’t mean nothing should be done about it.

    High stakes or not, reviewers are not doing their job properly by playing what they actually review with a critical eye, then form well-informed opinions to give the consumers a good idea on what to expect from the game and allow them to make decisions based on good information. With that, they piss on the works of developers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_v_ubcYsTI) and the needs of their audience.

    I honestly don’t think most journalists were malicious in their intent and I don’t think they were actively pushing an agenda. The existence of GJP alone isn’t an indication that all journalists were in collusion together to push a narrative although from what we have seen, a few really tried to exert their influence there. Being a member is not a crime, but it’s not very professional either. That kind of innocent participation may have fueled the knee-jerk overreaction of the journalists to the accusations directed at them.

    GamerGate was never a hatemob, it was portrayed as such by the gaming press that felt threatened and insulted, portraying gamers as women-haters since misogyny is all the rage these days in the media (racism too enjoys a resurgence in popularity), picked up by the mainstream media that, much like gaming journalists, rarely ever bother do even basic research about what they publish (http://io9.com/i-fooled-millions-into-thinking-chocolate-helps-weight-1707251800), there it was: a bunch of basement-dwelling women-haters were furious because women were making and playing games. Of course that ridiculous narrative wouldn’t last for too long simply because it was not true, and because some GamerGaters were surprisingly unrelenting in their efforts. Along the way many people threw themselves into the mess. Feminists, MRAs, mentally unstable indies, con artists, attention-whores, actual misogynists, trolls, etc.

    In my opinion, GamerGate has been successful despite the odds and the momentum is with them now. I disagree with your assessment that it will fade into oblivion. GamerGate is not just the hashtag, it’s the people who support that hashtag. The people will not evaporate overnight. Ironically, it might just be the most diverse movement on the internet.

    1. I think GamerGate has had some successes. I think games reporting has too long been sort of hiding behind the fact that a lot of them are passionate bloggers or even primarily developers rather than “journalists” and not being as professional as they should have been about conflicts of interest. There is some misunderstanding in GG about what a professional journalistic relationship looks like though. Most sites have published ethics policies and tightened up their ships. I think that needed to happen. Certainly no journalist should be reporting on their roommate’s game without disclosure, among other things. That issue is largely spent though. The truth is that most people in journalism also want to be ethical. That’s not to say that public outcry when things get out of hand isn’t warranted, but that partnership with journalists is necessary if GG wants to do more than scour tweets for signs of inappropriate relationships. As an example the SPJ is made up of journalists. Most ethical review agencies are made up of people who work within that field. Their goal is to uphold good practice. GG is adversarial, sometimes downright abusive, in its treatment of journalists. DeepFreeze is more grudge list than a recommendation to better practice.

      There’s certainly been some issue taken over sloppy, halfhearted or incomplete reviews, but I think both sides agree that reviewers should be enthusiastic and thorough. Certainly journalists are going to be more sensitive to the fact that a 100+ hour game is difficult to get through before release. On the other side gamers are unlikely to be understanding about a review that comes out days or a week after release because the reviewer wanted to be especially thorough. They will have already bought the game. Reviewers, like all of us, have lives. They may be reviewing multiple games at a time. A 40 hour main story campaign is a week of full time work. Now, that doesn’t mean that a reviewer should release a review until he’s finished, or gotten a good grasp of (for games with no “finish”), a game. It also means that reviewing a game, especially a long RPG or open world game is no small commitment, and reviewers for big sites do it under strict deadlines.

      I can’t speak to why bad reviews happen. I think, by and large, that reviewers WANT to do a good job. I think incomplete, shoddy reviews more often come from overwork than lack of enthusiasm. Inevitably reviewers are going to review games when they haven’t played the sequels, or in genres they aren’t super familiar with. There are a lot of games and a much smaller pool of professional reviewers, especially when you’re dealing with 30 and 40+ hours sunk in before you can really start writing. I’d guess bad reviews mostly get published because “We need a review for the game up, no matter what it is.” This is hardly only a game thing. Plenty of online publishing is plagued by similar issues.

      I think there’s something to be said for the way social and political ideas are handled in reviews. Game reviewers probably aren’t always the most qualified people in the world to determine the political or social stance of a game. The fallacy that objectionable depictions reflect direct beliefs of creators is a big problem. Using fairly academic definitions of words like misogyny and racism, rather than the colloquial understanding that they’re audience has is another. I think Gies has heard the message on some level in his review of The Witcher 3. His social commentary is at the end of a review where he mostly praises the game itself.
      It’s difficult for me to focus on more moderate or academic voices when I see large swathes of GG on forums, Twitter and in comments not objecting to HOW those ideas are handled but THAT they are included. They don’t want better considered and presented social and political criticism of games. They want game reviews to remain apolitical, without criticism. Which is a huge problem since most enthusiasts would consider games “art.” If you’re going to consider your entertainment “art” then you have to accept that art is subject to criticism as well as consumer review. Art critics don’t comment only on the use of light and the character of brush strokes, but on the possible message of the art. What is that art commenting on? Where does it fit into the outside world?

      My theory here, off the cuff, is that back in the 90s, when games were being attacked by ignorant elements for their violence, the real enthusiasts fought very hard for the apolitical “they’re just games” position to counter. Now that games are being criticized by people from within the industry, and who are passionate about games, they are clinging to the same position, “Keep your political bullshit out of my games.” I don’t think that’s a really tenable position when the criticism is well considered and comes from within.

      So, my point isn’t that reviews aren’t worth talking about or arguing about even, but that I don’t see them as high stakes enough to maintain an effective movement over. I don’t want to invalidate their efforts, but rather point out that their focus doesn’t look like a strong strategic position to me. There are places that people sympathetic to GG’s ideas can find reviews that they find useful, acceptable, less judgmental or challenging. There are very good reviews of video games being done on smaller sites, and even personal blogs all over the place. Those people will simply go to those places. They aren’t going to participate heavily in the movement. Now, if enough of those people flock from sites like Kotaku and Polygon they may be forced to change their review strategy and separate social and political ideas from game ideas more cleanly. I’m not prepared to guess at whether or not that happens, or if some other action will end up making more sense.

      Do I think GG is on its way out? No. I don’t even think GamerGate NEEDS to change if it’s happy with its current position. I see that GG’s most populist points about ethics have largely been answered by the industry though. I don’t see them moving towards a relationship with journalists to further that goal, which at this point is what I think they need to make any further progress on that front. I think some impact on how ideas are presented in reviews is coming. We’ll see, but generally I see them talking to themselves and doing little to entice action or agreement from people who aren’t already aligned with them. I don’t see them growing or gaining serious legitimacy. Which I only see as a problem because I perceive that GG wants more. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe GG is happy with where it’s at. It’s also possible that this is simply what a sustainable, growing movement looks like at this point in its development in this day and age. I’m not a sociologist or a political scientist.

      Strategically I see GG laying claim to ground their opposition can easily take from them and largely has. Ethics is a common goal, and since GG is the underdog, claiming that it’s exclusively their domain isn’t going to get them much further. Likewise both sides generally value free speech, but disagree about what should be considered uncontroversial speech. I don’t see them reaching across the aisle to make friends, and I don’t see them moving to do or encourage new and vital forms of game journalism. Again, maybe this is just what things look like at this stage of the game in the radical culture wars, but I’m not seeing a position of expansion or legitimacy arising.

  4. If journo’s had any credibility they would do the right thing, drop the narrative and start mending the wounds they caused, instead they continue with their flawed story and blame gamers. It doesn’t wash. Either get with the program or get a new job. Either way they are irrelevant.

  5. “GamerGate seems to believe that a good review will aim for the median of public opinion, and feels that so strongly that they are willing to punish people who deviate. That’s an A&R report, not a review.”
    This is incorrect, GamerGate doesn’t want so-called “100% objective” reviews all the time. What we do want however is for the reviewers to strive for objectivism and also properly think about their userbase. Proper disclosure about possible affiliations/agenda is also extremely important for more objective reviews.
    A really good example is Christ Centered Gamer; even though I’m an atheist I find their Morality Score very intriguing and when I know about their point of view I can think whether or not the review is actually helpful for me. That is certainly not the case with big gaming sites like Kotaku, Polygon etc. who think they should be the ones doing the thinking for me (and my wallet).

    1. I didn’t invoke the “100% objective” strawman which is quickly turning into a strawman on both sides. I mention that I consider reviews 100% subjective, but that’s not really a stance that participates in the conversation about what a review should look like. I wasn’t interested in defining good/bad reviews, but in illustrating their low stakes nature and the ease of finding alternate viewpoints. Not that that makes them not worth talking about, but that I think they receive an inordinate amount of focus IF the focus is meant to be ethics because their ethical stakes are fairly low. Likewise it doesn’t mean that they aren’t immune from ethical review. It’s just that from the outside looking in it looks like those concerns receive more attention than they’re stakes are worth from an ethical standpoint.

      I can see the virtues of Christian Centered Gamer’s approach, and understand preferring being presented with information over being challenged with it. Like I said in another response, I’m digesting a few things about what reviews should include and how they should include it, so I won’t go on an ill thought out expedition into that wilderness. Maybe there will be another article in the works.

      As with a lot of things GamerGate I find it difficult to determine what level of response is warranted and which arguments are worth addressing. How representative is a particular argument? Are prima facie bad, but common arguments worth addressing? How seriously should I take it? What is it’s intent?

      As an example, “Games are just for fun. Don’t bother me with your feminist bullshit,” seems like a fairly common sentiment among GG supporters, and is, I think, worth disputing if it’s representative. But how is representation determined? Number of comments? GG’s very nature makes it so that nobody can speak with authority on the group’s position as a whole, and it’s too young to have fractured into loose factions of similar ideas as feminism has. “Reviewers should be careful about the way they present social commentary in game reviews,” is completely reasonable and worth exploring, as long as it isn’t being used to scrutinize only certain social ideas, but is it a representative argument, or just a better one? Is it being chosen for it’s tactical value or for its official sponsorship by the group? (Most of these issues could also be leveled at anti-GG, btw. Plenty of noise is made by attacking the worst of “the other side’s” arguments while advancing the best of “your side’s”.)

      Ah, but I’m rambling now.

    1. Thanks for sharing the article. I like Kain generally, and that article specifically. I’m currently enjoying digesting a few different ideas about reviews and criticism. Maybe there will be a follow up article.

      As far as “Gamers Are Dead” goes I guess I can go fuck myself. Though, for the record, the articles COULD have been coordinated. I just don’t accept their existence as evidence that they were.

      [small punctuation edit]

    1. Thank you! I have read it and will respond on the thread a little later today. I will at least say that I thought it was a completely reasonable rebuttal.

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