Opinion Darker Times in the Gaming World

An analysis of those who would wage an unwarranted cultural war on the gaming community.

Justin Knight

Published

By Justin Knight @StoicWriter

The last couple of months have been witness to some very dark times within the gaming community. Shots have been fired from both sides of what appears to be a culture war, and sadly, at times the line is getting blurred between who is in the right and wrong. Sadly it is also made worse by some familiar faces in and out of the gaming media. The events of the Alison Rapp scenario are well known at this point and there is no need to go over the whole thing for those who do not know. The problem with writing about such story is that at this point that finding the absolute truth has become increasingly hard due to what "evidence" is out there but that hasn't stopped some from writing about it. What is known at this point is that Rapp was fired from Nintendo because she had violated an internal policy by holding a second job in conflict with their corporate structure, and after various tweets directed the company to an essay linked on her LinkedIn profile which argued for the potential decriminalization of child pornography.

While it seemed odd, or simply wrong, that any employee of any company to argue for such, the timeline of events lead to Rapp being fired, and that should have been that, but people kept digging and further claims about her past were brought to light... sort of. The problem with writing about such claims is that they were not 100% provable and should really have not been written about in the first place, but that didn't stop the likes of Patrick Klepek of Kotaku in particular. His first article on the topic was long and poorly handled, especially when quoting an email response to him by Jamie Walton of the Wayne Foundation, something which Walton herself had thought was off the record until she saw the article and attacked Klepek for it. His response was that her response was "fair game," when in reality it was lazy reporting on his part. Cynthia Tan wrote a piece on the whole thing for Inc.com but later stated that "editors removed large sections of text and added commentary, changing my entire thesis" she said on Twitter, later tweeting a link to the archived original version.

The worse part of the article was that Klepek seemingly wrote it in a hurry without proper research, and shortly after it was published and Kotaku got its clicks, Nintendo responded with a statement to IGN as to why they fired Rapp. It made Klepek look stupid because he had written a story before all the facts were in. He followed this up with another piece that mentioned the statement and the whole tactic of mining for evidence to discredit someone. Amusingly, Klepek also writes in the piece about how his attempts to contact game creators for comment has been met with silence, almost forgetting that he writes for Kotaku, a site now known for being blacklisted by at least Ubisoft and Bethesda. He tweeted about how when he joined Kotaku, the previously mentioned companies stopped responding to his emails and this was answered by Eric Kozlowsky of Zero Lab Games, who told him not to "feign integrity, u do it for the clicks." Klepek has also failed to consider the fact that perhaps he isn't very good at his job or he has a bad reputation now; a man now revealed for numerous ethical breaches and apparently instigating the black listing of Kevin Dent on the now infamous GameJournoPros group listing.

After an enhanced edition of Baldur's Gate was released by the company Beamdog, they decided to release an expansion for the game called Siege of Dragonspear that would act as a bridge between Baldur's Gate 1 and 2. This all seemed fine until there were not only concerns about the bugs in the game, but also some of the poor, and quite frankly, pathetic writing involved. Not only was there a transgender character put into the story as a token gesture, but also a tacky line thrown in such as, "Really it's about ethics in heroic adventuring." Many fans of the series were quite upset with such poor writing involved, and attacked the writer, Amber Scott, for not only doing such a poor job, but deliberately doing so as a way of inserting her own politics into the game (she is a self-described Social Justice Warrior) with little care for the existing fan-base. Of course, Kotaku helped fan the flames of this controversy with none other than Nathan "one of the five guys" Grayson himself when he interviewed Scott on her writing in the expansion. Her comments came across as antagonistic and uncaring towards the game's community and helped to keep the controversy going.

Furthermore, Beamdog did not help themselves by locking threads that were criticizing the game in the Steam forum section and appealing for good reviews of the game while pointing the finger of blame at GamerGate and KotakuInAction as a way of dismissing the criticisms facing them. After a while, the "ethics in heroic adventuring line" was later removed and a promise was made to improve the writing in the future, especially after a lot of criticism from the transgender community regarding the way the transgender character, Mizhena, was portrayed in the story. Take a note Amber Scott. Events like this also served as a reminder that Scott and those like her -- self-described Social Justice Warriors -- are seemingly unable to make their own original content, and instead leach off of the good work of other people. This has been seen not only in games but in films and comics too. The receptions are always negative. The lesson here is instead of changing someone else's view to suit your own, make something new and add some originality to the market, if you can.

Another event that was more confusing than it was controversial was the choice by Blizzard to change the victory pose of its character, Tracer, in the forthcoming game Overwatch after a complaint about the pose went up on the Beta Feedback forum. The complaint about her pose was that it "It reduces Tracer to another bland female sex symbol," accusing Blizzard of not only willing to reduce characters like Tracer "to sex symbols to help boost our investment game," but also that the pose "undermines so much of the good work of the good you've already done." Users like Ginny Higerd took issue with this claim and posted her own response on the matter, wanting to keep the character is it was, as she enjoyed playing as strong and sexy women. She felt voices like hers were being ignored in matters like this. Days later, game designer Jeff Kaplan from Blizzard responded with an apology saying that they would replace the pose and that they would try to do better in the future. The replacement pose sparked amusement from the gaming community as it was seen as a blatant "screw you" to tone policing. Tracer's new pose seemingly echoed a pinup model pose from years before and there was equal amusement surrounding the fact that the original complaint was revealed to be from a man, not a woman as previously thought. When Ginny was asked for her views on this, she replied saying, "Personally I thought the whole thing was a big PR stink that could have easily been avoidable."

Of course this didn't stop the likes of Brianna Wu jumping on the band wagon as a way to draw attention to herself by doing a technical examination of the pose on Twitter. Stuff like this just cannot be made up. Wu herself has become an object of mockery by the gaming community as someone who spends more time complaining and seeking attention as opposed to actually making games. One example is her much mocked appearance on Syfy's The Internet Ruined My Life (watch the video below) and the amount of incorrect information presented in it to strengthen her case. To this date, she has made only one game and it is quite a poor one. Revolution 60 has a user rating of only 2.3 on Metacritic and the PC port of the game, which was greenlit on Steam some time last year, has yet to appear. Wu spends more of her time complaining on Twitter, taking part in what interviews she can to spread her message, or writing highly questionable pieces on websites with highly questionable reputations. She has suffered for it. She got into a spat with journalist Pax Dickinson, who quite rightly pointed out she had done interviews where she had just told reporters what they wanted to hear and not to "transplain" to him about a profession he knew more about than she did. Her Patreon account suffered a massive drop after she spewed many unpopular beliefs on Twitter.

Tracer from Overwatch

Wu also took part in a ridiculous piece featured on The Mary Sue where she and another author tried to say that the character Samus Aran was transgender. The Mary Sue itself would be caught out much later after it was revealed a former games writer Mark Ankucic had been writing articles for the site under a pen name to see if he could actually get them on the site. The articles were written as ridiculous and as "flagrantly wrong/untruthful" as possible and what was even more amusing was that the pen name he used, Sandy Beaches, wasn't a giveaway as to what he was up to. Sandy. Beaches.

Websites like The Mary Sue serve not only as an example to check out a writer before hiring them, but also that it appears anybody can run one in this modern age, even the village idiot.

Of course, this whole thing has been stirred and continued by those on both sides of the fight in one way or another, in an attempt to either make money or build a reputation for themselves. The results have always been mixed. Anita Sarkeesian once again appeared with a new crowd funded campaign "Ordinary Women" on Seed & Spark (interestingly not on Kickstarter due to is different procedures on money handling) which would focus on "Ordinary Women daring to defy history," and the goal was $200,000. It was not a smooth ride for Feminist Frequency and at one point looked like it was going to fall short of the mark, but it received some hefty donations of $25,000, some of which were from certain individuals like Max Temkin and an unspecified amount from Tim Schafer. This drew criticism as Schafer had completed his crowd funding campaign for Psychonauts 2 not long before, and it was questionable how he was able to afford a donation to Sarkeesian when he apparently needed money for the game. When Schafer was confronted on Twitter about this, he admitted that Double Fine has multiple sources of income. When pressed for an explanation as to how he had "so much money to swing after asking for so much," he ended the conversation and blocked the individual questioning him.

Sarkeesian’s campaign was a success, but only just, as it crawled over the finish line in the closing hours. This was certainly a far cry from the success of Tropes Vs. Women. It was interesting to notice that Sarkeesian's writing partner, Jonathan McIntosh, was not part of this project and had been replaced by Laura Hudson, who had previously written for the likes of BoingBoing. Her main claim to fame was writing about why she thought rape scenes (in Game of Thrones) were lazy writing, never mind all the brutal killings and so on that happen in that series. At this point, Sarkeesian has proven that she is another one of those people who cannot do any kind of project without asking for public funding -- much like Tim Schafer -- and will continue to do so as long as there are people (or gullible saps, depending on your view) who will give money to them without a second thought.

Anita Sarkeesian Tim Schafer

When Alison Rapp was fired, it gave an opportunity to former footballer, and washed up bum, turned writer, Chris Kluwe (or "Kluweless" as he is nicknamed) to find a way to get involved and shove his views across by tweeting aggressively -- namely at Nintendo about how he was no longer going to buy their products and that he would send that message to his "190k followers on Twitter." Kluwe has been quite an antagonistic presence on both Twitter and in interviews. His more recent appearances on the David Pakman show were a showcase of not only how rude he could be -- especially when in a debate -- but also how he looked like he had just fallen out of bed moments before the broadcasts. More recently he appeared on the Outkick The Show with Clay Travis and he did not come across very well. In the video footage of the interview the bile that he ended up spewing caused Travis to do one of the most hilarious double takes ever seen: quickly losing his cool with his guest. It was moments like that that showed Kluwe was not as clever as he thinks he is, and clearly needed to find something better to do with his time as opposed to antagonizing people online so much.

One of the more successful trolls that has managed to stay latched onto this whole thing like a parasite has been Randi Harper and this is evident in her Patreon account. It is one of the only accounts not to suffer a drop in intake unlike Zoe Quinn's and Brianna Wu's, still managing to pull in almost $5k a month from people who clearly have money to throw away. Harper claims to have left a long career in the tech industry to go full time with the GamerGate Auto Blocker. However, there are strong claims from those on the Internet (although unconfirmed) that she was in fact fired for being a bad employee, and she has made herself unemployable due to her stance on certain subjects, not to mention her hostile attitude -- especially towards men. Veteran software developer Roberto Rosario, academic Vivek Wadhwa and data scientist Chris Von Csefalvay have told stories about how she has gone after them publicly for views that she didn't like, but it certainly did not mean that women were safe either. A lady named Claire Schumann was driven off of Twitter and the previously mentioned Ginny Higerd told her story of her encounter with Harper on her Tumblr account, and a nasty encounter it is. The fact that Harper claims she is against online bullying is purely laughable at this point, and large amounts of her followers are very much guilty of it too. Even though there are plenty of stories and evidence against her -- especially a very colourful profile on Encyclopedia Dramatica -- the fact that that she is still able to pull in that sort of money on a monthly basis via Patreon is almost admirable.

Even people like Graham Linehan and Bernard Keane somehow found a way to get themselves involved in the events and fiascos that have happened, even though there was no apparent reason for them to do so. Seemingly doing so purely because he has nothing better to do with his time, Linehan is quite a nasty individual on Twitter and regularly throws insults and nasty comments at people. Those who dare to fight back are blocked instantly, except when he feels like he can belittle them somehow as one Dan Sidnell found out. During an exchange with Linehan on Twitter, the writer thought it best to score a point off of the young student by tweeting a picture of him and his mother after he lifted it from his personal Facebook profile. Sidnell, along with others who witnessed this, was disturbed. Although Linehan was reported to Twitter for it, he was not penalized and continues to speak to people how he pleases with no apparent consequence. Keane decided to test the waters by tweeting "Why do gamergaters despise women and gays so much? Threatened much?" When men and women, both straight and gay, dared to argue back at him he chose to block in cowardice instead of engage with them. There was no real reason for him to say such a thing on Twitter other than to provoke people, and sadly it worked. Keane came off as nothing more than a troll, and a pathetic one at that.

On the other side of the coin, there are individuals that are certainly not perfect either. One of those is The Ralph and some of the stories he has published on his site, TheRalphRetort.com. It includes some of the most putrid articles ever seen, and his YouTube channel is home to some caustic debates that, granted, have pulled in some high numbers. However, these have not been without consequence for The Ralph. After publishing a particular article on his site a group of people got together and decided they had had enough of him. The hateful writing that he was spreading without fear of reprisal and this group decided to do something about it. Those in the group copied some of the disgusting articles that he had written over a period of months and sent them to Google AdSense with the intent of having it removed from his site. It worked, and Ralph was not happy about it, to say the least. He apparently saw it as an attack on his free speech and, in turn, opened up a Patreon account. The AdSense returned to the site and Ralph was boastful about it, declaring those who had gone after him as losers, but with all that had happened to him, he continues to publish nasty writings on his site. Ralph fails to see the irony of the whole situation, and appears to have become the very thing he and many others have fought against. He has become like Gawker Media. Many people who have used the #GamerGate hashtag no longer do so. A lot of those that still do join them in doing their best to put considerable distance between them and him and he has become a figure of mockery and disgust to them.

The constant fighting in what is now seen by many in this culture war has become nothing short of tiring on the community and it has not been without casualties. TotalBiscuit himself, John Bain, quit social media altogether after repeated harassment against him and his family by those in the name of Social Justice and his announcement of this on his SoundCloud was a hard listen. His wife even tweeted screen caps of some of his critics mocking him, among them Jenn Frank who was famously caught writing about her friend Zoe Quinn without disclosing it. Bain's crime in their eyes? He stuck up for the gaming community when they needed it when others like Angry Joe Vargas remained silent and Jim Sterling cast doubt and mockery. Game journalist Georgina White attempted to come at the whole GamerGate situation from a neutral perspective and was abused online. She also had websites refuse to deal with her and had her email hacked as a result. Milo Yiannopoulos had a pack of toilet paper rolls and a syringe filled with an unknown liquid sent to him in the mail. These incidents were then followed by a dead animal with a razor blade stabbed in its neck. The YouTuber Mundane Matt had a SWAT team sent to his home in a false call and would later post an audio recording of it on his channel. It is disturbing to listen to when he opens his door and realizes what is going on. You can hear the fear in his voice.

There are many others that could be named here, but it would turn out to be a long, long list.

John Bain

The constant fighting in what is now seen by many in this culture war has become nothing short of tiring on the community."

This article has been written as a lament to what has happened to this hobby of many. No matter what the media tries to publish in denial of everything, gaming has been a place where everyone is welcome, and it will continue to be. Various individuals -- either waving the flag of Social Justice, progressiveness and even hostile third-wave feminists -- barged their way in and tried to make changes to things they didn't like. They were met with one hell of a backlash and because a majority of the gaming press are full of hipster bloggers practicing yellow journalism, they joined against gamers as opposed to standing by them. Those that think it is unfair to label these third-wave feminists as such are entitled to their opinions, but remember this: these are the type of feminists that would bully a man online because he wore a shirt with some scantily clad cartoon women on it. These are the type of feminists that would pour a bottle of urine over Canadian reporter Lauren Southern when she dared to use facts against them in an argument; the type of feminists that would disrupt a public speaking event by pulling a fire alarm; the type of feminists that would try to send a man to jail because he dared to argue with her on Twitter and cost him not only his job, but also cause him heavy financial loss.

Canadian Reporter Lauren Southern Attacked

Police Confront protesters in Ottawa

This is also a lament because of the actions of those who would not only do their best to get the likes of Alison Rapp fired from her job, but they keep digging for more dirt, turning the whole thing into a giant witch hunt. Ask yourselves this: have you become the very thing you have been fighting against throughout all of this ugliness? Sites like Kotaku will continue to dump on gamers and be despised by the gaming community and game developers because it was sites like Kotaku that started all of this almost two years ago. Those that choose to continue to fight in this culture war in defence of a hobby that they hold so dear must remember not to take things so far. The Alison Rapp scenario must serve as a reminder of that, because by the looks of things this fighting will go on for a very long time, and it will keep going as long as certain individuals make money from it and certain websites continue to get their clicks. Remember that there are sites out there that will always stand by their audience -- sites like Metaleater, along with TechRaptor, Niche Gamer, GamesNosh, The Escapist, Gameranx, Super Nerd Land, Shemworld and League 4 Gamers. (Disclosure: I am on friendly terms with staff from both Shemworld and Super Nerd Land. They are listed here purely for relevance and are plugged as equally as the rest of the sites mentioned).

These are websites that cannot betray their audience because they would be betraying themselves. Most of them have writers that often write for for little or no money, and not for clicks, but because gaming is a community that they care about and will continue to do so.

And to those who started this fight, and even now still sit and act like their hands are clean, I can only say this: You drew first blood and started a culture war that should not have been. Start scrubbing your hands now because it will be a long time before the stains come off.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, The Guardian and YouTube.