It’s been almost two months since I wrote an article about GamerGate, the social media movement that has gone to battle under the banner of ethics reform in games journalism. At that time, I had hoped the reasonable voices could take control of the argument and bring gamers together. Unfortunately, since then, things have gotten ugly on both sides of the fence, with harassment, doxxing, and death threats, to the point of people even being forced out of the industry. While I still adamantly support ethics reform in game journalism, as a more moderate voice in the grand scheme of things, I must admit that the negative associations have soured my impressions of the GamerGate movement itself, and I’ve found myself questioning more and more whether GamerGate is a viable movement as it stands now.
First off, it’s important to realize that the ones doing such terrible things are in the minority, a point that has been reiterated again and again by the majority of GamerGate supporters. Indeed, the majority of GGers have gone out of their way to report harassers and abusers as they appear. Despite this, the rotten apples have given the other side plenty of ammunition, with Anita Sarkeesian tweeting that GamerGate “is a war on women in gaming waged by a group of sexist monsters. If you are not a horrible human being, get out of #gamergate now,” and many other media outlets going out of their way to discredit GamerGate and all who support it. That said, it’s working, and GamerGate has developed quite a negative reputation – one that I’m becoming increasingly skeptical that it can shake off.
The media is painting GamerGate as a hate group because of the words and actions of a few idiots within the group. Said idiots have unfortunately dominated the conversation, drowning out the reasonable, moderate majority. The problem is, some within the anti-GG ranks are just as bad, having bullied, harassed, and threatened GamerGate supporters. Conservative columnist Milo Yiannopoulos received a syringe in the mail after writing articles in support of GamerGate, and Gawker’s Sam Biddle tweeted a message calling for nerds to be “constantly shamed and degraded into submission” and crying “Bring Bullying Back.” Whether the tweets were a joke or not, they were in poor taste and did nothing but further fuel the GamerGate fire – to the point where high-profile advertisers such as Adobe and Intel pulled their ads from Gawker sites after gamers contacted them about the bullying threats. And what did Gawker do, but give him a promotion?
All in all, there has been plenty of disgusting behavior on both sides of the aisle, and very little has been accomplished in either direction. But herein lies the problem: without some sort of goal, some sort of endgame, this is just going to go on forever.
If you ask those on the other side, GamerGate is just a war against women in gaming, waged by misogynist manbabies who don’t want cootie-laden girls infecting their precious hobby, and it will not subside until the industry is purged of all the evil women. If you ask anyone within GamerGate what it’s all about, you would get a multitude of responses, mostly dealing with “ethical games journalism.” Which is great! Games journalism is far from perfect, and there are ethical issues all around. The problem is, just saying that “We want ethical games journalism” is a nebulous concept that has a different meaning for each person involved.
In order to succeed, GamerGate needs an end goal. Right now it’s just an unorganized, lawless mob with a crapton of varied opinions on what it’s actually fighting for. It has no codified message, no clear vision, and no leadership to point it in the right direction. There are several questions that GamerGaters should ask themselves. What do we want to get out of this when all is said and done? What will make us stop rallying and make peace with the other side? What will it take to make us feel accomplished and happily walk away from the table at the end of this conversation? And can we even accomplish anything under the GamerGate banner, with the toxic reputation that it has earned?
I’ll get to that in a second, but before going any further, let me just clarify where I stand. I have raised more than a few eyebrows at corruption in the games press, and I’m all for more transparency in games journalism. At the same time, I am very supportive of having more female representation in games, more recognition of females in the industry, and the exploration of “social justice” issues. I’m not offended by the existence of games such as Gone Home, and I think the independent scene is a great venue for experimentation and exploration of new aspects of game design and storytelling. While I don’t agree with the Anita Sarkeesian brand of radical feminism, I’m very much a “social justice warrior” when it comes to equality for everyone, no matter their gender, race, or sexual orientation. And I’ve been utterly disgusted at some of the things that have been done in the name of GamerGate, from terror threats to driving people out of the industry (and their homes!) and the recent doxxing of Felicia Day.
I consider myself fairly liberal, being in favor of LGBT rights, equality in the workplace (and elsewhere), and programs that help out the less fortunate. And while I think articles such as Polygon’s recent piece on “Kissing vs. Killing in Shadow of Mordor“ are ridiculous and borderline clickbait, I enjoy reading insightful articles that explore social justice issues in the industry by reasonable writers such as Jason Schreier and Patrick Klepek (both of whom, by the way, I really respect as games journalists, despite the fact that GamerGate has considered them enemies since the very beginning). So if you’re looking for someone to condemn the “SJWs” (social justice warriors, as some call them) and call for a boycott of journalists and outlets that champion social justice issues, you might as well click away and look elsewhere.
As a matter of fact, the first thing GamerGate needs to do is get rid of this fixation on the “SJWs.” By focusing so much on these things, GamerGate is just diluting the message of ethics reform and giving the media more ammunition to use to paint supporters as conservative, backwards misogynists. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and the like are just distractions that have nothing at all to do with the goals of the GamerGate movement. Instead of taking the bait every time one of them says something, why not concentrate on the real issues of ethics reform?
Part of this, of course, has to do with the admittedly unfortunate event that sparked this whole shitstorm: Zoe Quinn sleeping with a journalist for what seemed to be positive coverage of her game (which has become a questionable claim to begin with), and a total lack of disclosure that they were even in a relationship at any point when he covered her game (that, I have an issue with). If anything, GamerGate really should have started years ago, when, after pressure from the game’s publisher, GameSpot fired Jeff Gerstmann for giving Kane & Lynch a negative review despite the publisher advertising the game on the site. Or maybe when IGN covered Mass Effect 3 without disclosing that one of their staff members was, you know, a character in the game. But it didn’t, so GamerGate has to move past its origins and move on to more pressing issues.
And I’m honestly speechless at the fact that just last week, Jeff Gerstmann penned a letter saying that the ethical concerns in games journalism are largely “a farce, a fallacy.” This is coming from a guy that was fired for giving a game a negative review! How can you say that ethical concerns in games journalism don’t exist? What about Leigh Alexander, who owns a consulting firm designed to help game developers get better reviews for their games, while all the while being a game reviewer herself? Or maybe Destructoid, who in May 2013 fired a writer for exposing an IndieGoGo fraud and simultaneously outing a trans woman in the process – which did indeed present an ethical conundrum – but whose editor in recent weeks has been revealed to have colluded and conspired with other journalists via the GameJournoPros mailing list throughout the whole ordeal? Or what about the Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor “paid brand deal” exposed by prominent YouTubers, in which the publisher would only provide pre-release code if a contract was signed agreeing not to say anything negative about the game until release date?
These are the types of things GamerGate should focus on if it wants to be a legitimate movement, rather than fixating on the latest attention grab from “Literally Who.” These are the real issues in games journalism, and everything else is just a distraction. The journalists that are proclaiming that “GamerGate is dead” and pushing anti-GG hashtags have done a good job of painting GamerGate in a negative light, and supporters have only helped them by allowing themselves to be distracted by the bait that keeps being thrown at them. And the idiots that issue threats and harass the other side just keep proving their point. But because there’s no leader, no unified message, and no end goal, GamerGate has no way of effectively addressing the issues and responding to the media’s claims.
Without answering the question of “What do we want to get out of this?” it’s impossible to fully address these ethical concerns or, indeed, see themselves as more than a bunch of people with Twitter accounts seeking a nebulous concept of “ethics reform” and “objectivity.” Without specific goals, there is no endgame. If GamerGate had said from the beginning “This is what we want,” and begun a polite, sensible, reasonable conversation, and journalists had addressed their concerns and requests rather than running hit pieces against their very audience, this whole fiasco might have been avoided. It’s going to be a lot harder now, but if the reasonable voices come to the table with a clear list of goals, meet with the other side, and reach a compromise, maybe we can close this ugly chapter of gaming history.
With that in mind, here are some realistic, reasonable goals that I think GamerGate should adopt if it sincerely wishes to bring about true ethics reform in the games media:
- Games journalists should disclose any relation, personal or professional, that they have with publishers or developers, including Patreon and Kickstarter, and remove themselves in cases where there is a clear conflict of interest. In the wake of GamerGate, Polygon has required that its writers list every patron that receives their support on Patreon, and Kotaku has forbidden its writers from even supporting said patrons. Even something as simple as Giant Bomb’s habit of mentioning when developers receiving coverage are “friends of the site” would be an improvement.
- In that spirit, all sites should institute and follow an Ethics Policy, similar to sites such as TechRaptor, GamesNosh, and even right here on 4P. Even big-name sites such as Polygon and The Escapist have instituted such policies. The things outlined in these policies are basic guidelines that will ensure transparency and journalistic integrity. As a matter of fact, just by reading any such ethics policy, we can see the vast majority of GamerGate’s goals and this list becomes largely redundant.
- Any staff member of a site is a representative of said site and should therefore act as such on social media. Harassment, defamation, and the like are unacceptable in any form and should be a punishable offense. And it goes without saying that doing so in their writing should be unacceptable.
- Sites should address rather than censor dissenting opinions. Provided they are respectful in their debate and disagreement, anyone should be allowed to bring their views to the table for discussion in comments, forums, etc. without being silenced.
- Sites should encourage an environment of civility and positivity rather than a negative, hostile environment.
Notice that I didn’t say anything about a major complaint among GGers: reviewers’ ideologies and political/social views affecting their opinion of the game. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. What doesn’t bother one person may be deeply disturbing to someone else, to the point where it impacts their enjoyment of the game. If a reviewer doesn’t like a game’s portrayal of women, for example, I think it’s perfectly valid for them to point it out in the review. If reviews were entirely objective, then they would simply be lists of facts about the game rather than actual critique and opinion. A variety of viewpoints is always a good thing, and just because a critic’s views don’t necessarily mesh with your own doesn’t constitute a breach in ethics.
“But Geoff, those scores go on Metacritic! Developers get bonuses based on Metacritic scores! If a reviewer knocks off points for something like that, it could cause the developer to lose money!” Why not go after the real issue, then? Rather than telling critics that they have to give games good reviews so that the Metacritic score is high enough for the devs to get bonuses, why not go after the publishers who put such stipulations out there in the first place? If GamerGate wants to launch a crusade on this front, it should be against the practice of using Metacritic to award monetary compensation to developers, since that’s an asinine practice in the first place – but that’s another discussion entirely.
Yes, there are some real concerns in game journalism, and yes, GamerGate at its core has noble goals if it’s indeed about “ethics in game journalism.” But in order to accomplish anything, it needs to rid itself of the stigma that it’s gained from the behavior of some within its ranks, and its constant distractions with social justice issues. If (and it’s a very big if) the movement can shake that off, come up with concrete goals, and come to the table with the people on the other side who will hear them, maybe it can still do some real good in this industry. But at this point, the negative associations are so strong that I’m really not sure at this point that GamerGate is salvageable.
So is #GamerGate entirely toxic at this point? Is it time to just abandon the hashtag and move on, finding a new banner to unite under? Maybe, maybe not. If a new movement starts up, the bad apples are going to hijack it just as quickly as they did GamerGate – that’s just the unfortunate nature of the internet. I’m fairly positive that just starting another movement is not the way to go. But can anything actually be accomplished in the name of GamerGate?
GamerGate at its core is an incredibly multicultural and varied group of individuals, from all kinds of backgrounds, all united in their love of gaming. Most GGers simply want better game journalism. Unfortunately, GamerGate has been twisted and deformed into something that’s pretty damn vile, to the point where it’s drowning out moderate voices and the people who joined the movement solely due to legitimate ethical concerns. At the same time, not everyone on the other side is a corrupt, raving, radical Marxist hellbent on the destruction of gamers, as some within GG would have you believe. There are plenty of moderates on both sides. I urge them to find some common ground, come together, and get to work on the real issues – and, again, I’m still not sure that can happen effectively under the tarnished GamerGate name.
Whether they do it under the banner of GamerGate or not, however, the reasonable voices absolutely must take control of this whole fiasco if they want to bring it to a successful conclusion. Otherwise, this is just going to go on forever and it’s only going to get uglier, and I’m getting sick of all the drama.