#Gamergate: What Really Started the Fire?
#Gamergate: What Really Started the Fire?
So you may have heard about a thing that happened, that's still happening, on the internet. It's called Gamergate, and it’s become a fight the likes of which have never been seen before. But misinformation, deflection, and the extremely loud voices of a choice few have meant that people who haven't followed along don't really know what it's about. It's an emotionally charged topic on both sides, and it's muddied the waters so much that the genuine debate most people want to have is barely visible to anyone on the outside looking in.
Believe me, it feels like this some most every damn day.
As a supporter of the Gamergate movement who has been following the ongoing story from (almost) the beginning, I'm here to help clear up what we stand for, what we want from game journalism and game development, and why we care just so damn much.
An Industry on Edge: The Fuel
Gamergate is not just a month-long crusade against corruption in games media. Indeed, the movement would not have lasted as long as it has without the years of pent up frustration that preceded it. The early 1900's Eastern Europe of the internet, the online gaming community was a powder keg ready to explode. An ever increasing rift between gamers and the press dedicated to informing them, as well as burgeoning frustrations with a hitherto "incorruptible" indie game scene, all culminated to help create this massive blowout.
The idea of corruption and collusion between gaming press and developers is, of course, nothing new. Huge games like Mass Effect and more recently Watch_Dogs pay for ludicrous amounts of adspace on AAA gaming sites, many of which gave these games very high scores and tons of press coverage. Jeff Gerstmann was fired back in 2007 for a mediocre review of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, a game that had paid huge ad dollars on Gerstmann's website Gamespot. The infamous Doritogate incident sparked questions over the kind of influence PepsiCo had in video game marketing, and the supposed "corporate shilling" being committed by Geoff "Dorito Pope" Keighley. Paying for good reviews became almost a joke among gamers, and the indie scene was perceived to be above the same kind of corruption, simply because they didn't have the cash.
At the same time, some gaming news sites were changing the content on their websites, in a way that didn't sit well with gamers. More and more clickbait fluff and opinion pieces were populating the front pages of sites like Kotaku, Polygon, RockPaperShotgun, and Destructoid. Many of these articles were exhibiting a very pro-social justice stance, and often had little to do with video games at all. Now, this on its own would not be a huge issue - after all, gaming has for years been seen as a very male-dominated industry - but the way these opinion articles pushed these issues didn't sit well with their audience. Gamers were lambasted as being sexist and racist thugs, condemned as the scourge of the human race, all because they happened to like playing games like Call of Duty, Bioshock, or any other “white male fantasy” first-person shooters. There was an emerging perception among gamers that the gaming media was alienating their audience, even though they still claimed to be writing for gamers. Additionally, indie games like Gone Home and Depression Quest were gaining more and more press coverage, in line with their new "progressive" and "inclusive" leanings.
The indie scene rose primarily as a solace from the bullshit of the AAA publishers: the watered down, generic gameplay; the manufactured (and often downright disingenuous) hype; the massive, bloated budgets that led to closed studios and games declared "failures" for not meeting unrealistic sales goals. But more recently, the public perception of a bullshit-free industry was starting to break down. John Bain, aka TotalBiscuit, had Let's Play video reviews of "Day One: Garry's Incident" and "Guise of the Wolf" slapped with false DMCA takedown notices because of the negative criticism he gave out in the videos. Since the game developers moderate their own forums on Steam, some indie devs were found to be banning users for posting anything negative, including legitimate criticism. The most notable example was Muxwell, developer of Earth: Year 2066, a game that has since been removed from Steam for “dishonest marketing”. The indie scene's success was built on a lot of trust with its customers, and that trust was beginning to crack. It was only a matter of time before some event came along that would break it down entirely.
And as it turned out, The Zoe Post would be that event.
The Zoe Post: The Spark
On August 16, Eron Gjoni started The Zoe Post on Wordpress. This 5000 word doorstop of a blog detailed his experiences while weaving in and out of a relationship with Zoe Quinn, indie developer of Depression Quest. It spins a yarn of deceit and infidelity and emotional turmoil, of inappropriate relationships and relentless manipulation.
Insert "still a better love story than Twilight" here at your own discretion.
Original reaction to The Zoe Post was minimal. After all, why would the story of a jilted ex-lover be of any lasting interest? Well, it wasn't. The topic of those that Zoe slept with, who were also big in indie gaming and games journalism, became a point of contention, as there were potential conflicts of interest regarding some of the praise it received from the press and awards festivals. Ultimately, though, not much came as a direct result of what Eron wrote on The Zoe Post. Any accusations of wrongdoing that came from it were either denied or left as mere conjecture. But it was the reaction online to the Zoe Post that would cause things to spiral out of control.
All Quiet on the Media Front: The Fan
August 17: Youtuber MundaneMatt posted a video entitled "Hell hath no fury like a lover's scorn (Zoe Quinn and Eron Gjoni)" (link to the re-upload, though the original has been restored), a video summarizing The Zoe Post, and offering some light commentary on the situation. Soon after, the video was taken down by a DMCA claim filed by Zoe Quinn. Because indie devs silencing criticism through false DMCA claims had previously been a hot topic, interest picked up and the story started to spread (despite efforts to the contrary).
A Reddit thread discussing TotalBiscuit's response to the DMCA saw more than 20 000 comments deleted. Since then, many Reddit threads in both r/Gaming and r/Games saw more mass deletions and users getting shadowbanned for spurious reasons, like participating in 4chan raids and vote manipulation. Smaller news site like GamesNosh had articles reporting on the unfolding drama taken down under suspicious circumstances. Threads on forums like NeoGAF and the Escapist discussing the controversy were heavily moderated and therefore offered little in real discussion. With a little help from the Streisand Effect, more and more people began to look into just what the hell was happening, and decided that this was something worth investigating further.
A reminder that the internet is the ultimate elephant: it never forgets.
It soon became obvious that gaming news sites did not want to talk about this. This opened the floodgates to asking the question, "How far does this go?" And while Zoe Quinn's involvement didn't go very deep, the internet had a lot of other questions regarding the gaming press. Questions like why gaming journalists are allowed to support indie developers financially through Patreon? Questions like why reviewers are allowed to live with developers they continually write on, as is the case with Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez? We wanted to know why press and developers were so incredibly close, and why this didn't seem to be a problem of journalistic integrity or ethical reporting.
But most questions were (and continue to be) left unanswered, and instead anyone who dared ask was swiftly labelled as another misogynistic nerd (or "misogynerd", apparently) who was just harassing a female in gaming. The games media completely ignored the controversy, or simply paid lip service to it in regards to other events, such as when Phil Fish freaked out on Twitter again and put Fez 2 and dev company Polytron up for sale. "We're just bloggers!" they said, a sentiment oft repeated throughout the past month. "We don't need to report on it."
The jury's been out on that one for awhile.
#Gamergate, Adam Baldwin, and the Day the Gamers "Died": The Flame
The hashtag #Gamergate was coined by Adam Baldwin of Firefly fame. Baldwin's first expression of interest in the controversy was when he retweeted a Twitter post from @MissAngerist explaining their position on the matter. His first tweet with the Gamergate hashtag went out several hours later, and the tag gained about 4000 tweets on that first day. The movement finally found its moniker to rally under.
And thanks to a new assault on gamers, rally it did.
Beginning on August 28, articles from sites all over the internet came out within a 24-48 hour period, all with the same message: gamers are dead. After millions across the internet collectively checked their pulses, the backlash was immediate. No longer were we being called simply misogynists, or rapists, or worse than ISIS, we were all dead.
The Gamergate hashtag exploded, calling out the publications running these suspiciously similar stories for putting the cart before the horse and declaring the debate over before it even began. In the fallout from the "Gamers are dead" carpet bombing, #Gamergate gained over 10 times the number of tweets per day, and has since racked up over 900 000 total.
Gamers finally united to make their voices heard, to ask for change to the way that gaming sites conduct themselves. We don't want to hear that we're awful people for liking games. We want to be able to trust that the information presented to us is not tainted by unnecessary conflicts of interest.
And we have made change; Kotaku changed its policy to disallow its reporters to support devs on Patreon. The Escapist recently updated its journalistic standards to reflect criticism of some of its pieces. But it's been long, far longer than any internet hashtag movement has ever lasted. It's been tough, emotionally draining on many involved in the discussion. So why, after so many long weeks, so many deliberate attempts to derail the discussion or discredit our movement, so many relentless attacks on gaming and gamers, do we still fight?
Because we love video games. We want a video game industry where "dudebro" FPSs like Call of Duty and artsy "walking simulators" like Gone Home can exist together. We want those who report to us to respect us, and not call us scumbags and misogynists. We want transparency and accountability when someone is reporting on something that they have a vested interest in, either through a friendship or financial support. And most importantly, we just want to play video games.
Gamergate is not a monolithic group of 4chan sockpuppets, attacking women in gaming because we're misogynists. We're gamers, from all over the world, brought together by a common interest and frustrated with being misrepresented in the public's eyes. We're developers, both indie and AAA, too scared to bring their concerns forward in fear that they'll be blackballed from the industry. We're journalists too, concerned with where their field has been heading for years.
Gamergate is not about exclusion. The hashtag #NotYourShield began when minority and females gamers became frustrated at being labelled as "white cishet males" for holding a pro-Gamergate stance, and their identity being used by the other side as an excuse to shut down criticism. Since then, the tag has been tweeted over 100 000 times, with people from all walks of life pledging their support.
Gamergate does not condone the harassment of anyone. The loud minority does not speak for our entire movement. We want to have a discussion on the state of gaming press, and we want to see changes made to the way that journalists conduct themselves. We do not want to harass women out of gaming to keep it a "boys-only" club. Some perhaps do, but they do not represent what Gamergate stands for. Gamergate is about equality, respect, and transparency.
And most importantly, we’re about playing some damn video games.
We all do, BMO. We all do.
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