There’s a lot of stuff flying around the Internet right now about “Gamergate”, a supposed scandal at the supposed heart of supposed gaming that supposed gamers are supposedly crusading against. As you may be able to guess from all the “supposed”s, there’s a lot of bullshit out there. So first, I’ll sum up what “Gamergate” is.
It started with Zoe Quinn, an independent game developer. She had an ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, and the break-up was ugly. Gjoni started airing their dirty laundry online,
specifically on 4Chan, starting on a blog he created specifically to do so, posting evidence that she’d cheated on him. Naturally, people were extremely upset that he’d apparently hacked into her private chat logs that she’d cheated on him that she was sleeping with game journalists. Yes, that’s what they’re all upset about! The slight against gaming journalism! Because it’s their ethical responsibility to avoid conflicts of interest because it’s her responsibility to avoid forcing them into conflicts of interest with her sexy ladyparts.
Quinn responded by pointing out that a) her bad break-up is none of the Internet’s business, b) her ex-boyfriend is not an unbiased source for discussions of her behavior, and c) none of the game journalists ever did anything unethical as a result of these relationships. 4Chan responded, as all reasonable Internet gaming enthusiasts do, with doxxing, death threats, and slut shaming. Followed by calling Quinn a liar for accusing them of doxxing, death threats and slut shaming. Oh, and they also insisted that they couldn’t be misogynists, because they prominently backed a group of female gaming developers who weren’t Quinn (called the Fine Young Capitalists). While discussing on their boards how nobody could accuse them of misogyny if they backed a group of female gaming developers who weren’t Quinn, so they should do it as another way of getting back at her.
The Internet then exploded a bit, with several prominent gaming websites and several celebrities (including Joss Whedon, who gets special mention in all this because Joss Whedon is one of the patron saints of the Internet) pointing out that this is all a huge shitshow that gives gamers a terrible reputation. This led to a bunch of people a) claiming that this wasn’t about feminism and they weren’t misogynists, it was about journalistic ethics and they were merely concerned about the clear ethical issues involved; and b) Quinn was a lying (insert gendered slur here) who had it coming and by the way her lies and sluttiness are also a reason for Anita Sarkeesian to shut up too because they both have ladyparts so they’re in on it together!
This, in turn, led to a lot of people being banned from comments sections as trolls. At which point the cry of “FREEZE PEACH!” went out across the land, and the trolls insisted they weren’t being banned for being trolls, they were being banned because journalists hated being called out on their clear pro-sexy-ladyparts bias. Which led to Kotaku telling their journalists they couldn’t contribute money to games they wanted to see made, because hey sure why not.
At this point, there are a number of people out there saying, “You know what? If this is what being a ‘gamer’ is associated with, fuck gamers everywhere. I’d rather see that particular label die in a fire.” And people coming back with long, defensive posts that can all be tl;dr’d down to “#notallgamers”. Oh, and Anita Sarkeesian had to move out of her home because she’s getting death threats from people who know her address over her latest video about women and video games, which isn’t actually related to any of the stuff with Zoe Quinn but should help you understand why people are calling gamers an entitled culture of creepy fucked up sociopaths right now.
So now that you know what’s going on, what do I have to say about it? Apart from all the opinions that I not-too-subtly encoded into the above summary, of course. Well…
1) Zoe Quinn is not responsible for this shit. Whatever went on between her and Eron Gjoni is none of my business, your business, or literally anyone’s business in the world except for her, Eron, and the other people directly involved in the break-up. I am not their relationship counselor, and am not going to pass judgment on anything either one did to cause the break-up, because I don’t know about it and neither do you, even if you read Gjoni’s posts on the subject because it is not a particularly great leap of logic to suggest that someone upset enough to hack into other people’s private communications and post them online a) may have some other relationship issues, and b) may not be self-aware enough to admit to them in public.
Either way, Gjoni’s posts are plain and simple an attempt to make his ex’s life miserable by airing dirty laundry online. This is not a “journalistic scandal” that needs to be exposed by public-minded gamers for the good of the industry, it’s an ugly break-up that some assholes have taken as a chance to pile onto a woman they already didn’t like that much due to her twin decisions to make games and be female. You know how you can tell? Simple. The gaming journalists involved are getting a free pass. They made the decision to sleep with someone involved in the industry, despite knowing that this could be viewed as a conflict of interest, and they have not suffered any consequences from their employers or from the gamers involved. If this was anything other than slut-shaming, they’d be getting fired or at the least suspended, and they’re not. Primarily because they didn’t slant their coverage to be pro-Quinn one little bit. If anyone tells you that Quinn’s bad behavior is responsible for her current position, they are either lying to you or to themselves.
2) I don’t believe 4Chan when they say they didn’t do it, and I don’t fucking care. It does need to be mentioned at this point that 4Chan insists that Quinn is faking all the harassment she’s receiving, and using them as a convenient target to make herself look good because she knows that nobody will believe them due to 4Chan’s reputation as a hivemind of vicious, unrepentant shitbags who love making people’s lives miserable. To which I point out: Hey, maybe you would be more likely to be believed if you weren’t a hivemind of vicious, unrepentant shitbags who love making people’s lives miserable. It is just as easy to fabricate evidence that other people are fabricating their evidence (“we have undoctored screenshots proving that their screenshots are doctored!”) and 4Chan explaining that they didn’t do anything wrong this time is a bit like the Joker pleading ‘Not Guilty’. (And this also goes for anyone claiming Sarkeesian, or Phil Fish, or anyone else involved is faking evidence of harassment. The claims are weak, and frankly if you default to believing the harassers over the harassed, then that should indicate that you need to sit down and have a long, hard think about what that says about you.)
3) If gamers want people to stop talking about “the death of gamers”, they need to do more than just point to all the people who aren’t harassing women. Look, I like video games as much as the next person. I like games in general as much as the next person. But the fact of the matter is, when someone is getting death threats for suggesting that video games and the people who play them have issues with women, it makes me not want to be associated with public enthusiasm for video games. Because that is the face of the brand right now. “Gamer” = “maladjusted manchild who can’t take criticism and endlessly harasses anyone who disagrees with them”. It is going to take a stronger response than “Hey, I didn’t do that!” to counteract that. It is going to take pushback. It is going to take calling out the bad behavior in no uncertain terms. If you’re concerned that you’re being rude to a fellow gamer, or that you’re not giving a fellow gamer a chance, or that gamers need to stick together? This is a good time to fall for the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. People who do this shit aren’t really gamers. They’re assholes who play video games.
4) The Famous Young Capitalists need to be careful about who they’re getting involved with. On the one hand, I feel tremendous sympathy for them in all this. They’re pretty much just innocent bystanders who are being used as props, and they do seem to have some legitimate beefs with Quinn (that are also not anybody’s business, really, unless you’re interested in the minutiae of professional gaming development). But on the other hand, just like gamers in general, the FYC do need to realize that one of the strategies that unreasonable people use to avoid being called to account for their actions is to count on them being reasonable. They count on people saying, “Well, I believe in the principle of free speech and free association, so I don’t want to flat-out tell these people to fuck off, because shutting down conversation is the kind of thing unreasonable people like them do.” But that’s the whole point–the other side is not arguing in good faith. They are only keeping the lines of communication open to allow them more opportunities to harass. They are using the Fine Young Capitalists to make themselves look reasonable in order to continue making women’s lives miserable through threats and intimidation. And so while I won’t tell the FYC that they have to stop, I will ask them: Do you enjoy being used like that? Is whatever you’re getting out of this in money and publicity worth it?
5) Joss Whedon is not actually the patron saint of the Internet. I love his work, I think he’s a great guy, and he should legitimately be proud of himself for having spoken up in defense of Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, because the people who are being assholes about this are making a good effort to harass and assault everyone who stands up for them in order to isolate them and silence them. (I’ll admit to a tiny, marginal amount of worry about posting this entry. But the more people that speak up, the less time and effort they can devote to any one of us. The remedy to isolation is unity.) But people like Joss Whedon are not the heroes, here. Just being a celebrity who’s willing to call himself a feminist doesn’t make him special. The people who are special are people like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian who get motherfucking death threats and go on with it anyway, because they’re not going to be silenced when they’re doing the right thing. They’re the heroes. Joss Whedon is the sidekick.
(UPDATE: Edited to correct a factual error–Gjoni did not go straight to 4Chan, they picked up on it all on their own. This makes him look marginally better and them look marginally worse.)