Opinion Rethinking GamerGate

Five reasons why we should give #GamerGate another chance.

Liana Kerzner


By Liana Kerzner @redlianak

Yeah yeah, I'd sworn off writing about GamerGate. But the controversy won't let me go. The Anti-GamerGate side keeps bringing me up as some sort of victim, and as much as I appreciate the intent there, I feel a responsibility to the decent GamerGaters who are being smeared in my name.

I've said what I had to say about the harassment I received. That is my story to create my meaning from. I'm frustrated that my story of survival has been twisted into a story of victimization. I object to this on principle.

The mainstream media has focused predominantly on the harassment that women like developer Brianna Wu and culture critic Anita Sarkeesian have faced. The speciality gaming press seems to be focused on distancing itself from GamerGate, forgetting Thomas Jefferson's thought that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing.

I don't agree with many of the things GamerGate does, but the point is, I don't have to. They have a right to free speech. Yeah, some websites have lost advertisers, but that happened because of the behaviour of some personalities on those websites. When supporters of Sandra Fluke organized a boycott against Rush Limbaugh, people saw them as the heroes of that story. People have the right to complain to advertisers if they don't like something.

There's been a lot written about why GamerGate is terrible and should end. The popular narrative is that it was rotten from the start and is an irredeemable movement. However, I believe in second chances, redemption, and healing. Enough has been written on why GamerGate is bad. So here are five reasons why I'm channelling my inner Luke Skywalker and I still see good in the Gaters.

We are gamers.

New voices are always good

We live in a capitalist system, and creative destruction is a part of that system. No system benefits from stagnation. We've seen through past things like the Jeff Gertsmann / Gamespot review score scandal that when websites get too complacent, consumer advocacy slips. Services like Giant Bomb and Polygon were formed because writers at other websites thought improvements could be made. They were right. There's still work to do.

GamerGate has shown that there are many people who don't feel there's anyone in the video game press that speaks for them. There are very few high profile women, religious minorities, and people of color doing high profile game reviews. The lack of multicultural diversity means that games as diverse as Bayonetta 2, Tropico 5, Assassin's Creed Unity and Papo & Yo are not being presented to the consumer in a helpful way. Even Gone Home was clearly not presented to fans in a way that helped them understand what that game was.

The public is not "stupid" for objecting to Gone Home = 10/10. The public played that game based on our glowing recommendations and felt like it was over-hyped. That isn't an attack on the game. That's an attack on game reviews that the consumer didn't feel served them.

Is the deck stacked against us regarding meaningful consumer advocacy? Yes it is. But the most efficient way to make sure the consumer gets the information they need is to have a greater diversity of voices. Despite the hew and cry from the "progressive" game websites, the employee diversity at them still sucks, and that's undeniable. A company can't claim to truly support diversity unless they at least attempt to create a workforce that reflects the makeup of the consumer base, and most gaming websites do not have, for instance, 20% female representation. (Thanks to @cainejw for running the numbers on that one.)

You can't blame gamers for objecting to being lectured by companies that don't practice what they preach.

They really do love video games... and women

What? Liana? Have you lost your mind? No. I have talked to Gaters almost every day for the past two months. The vast majority of them are totally cool with women being included in gaming. Female journalists get more online harassment than their male counterparts no matter what their speciality, so the harassment against female games press isn't a games thing. It's a press thing.

While there are some extremely loud pro-GamerGate participants with nonsensical anti-feminist political agendas, and while there are some anarchists who just want to burn it all down, there are also a great many people who don't give a damn about the sexual antics of an indie developer and just want to be reassured that the video game industry isn't succumbing to rampant corruption.

The accusations of misogyny against GamerGate are connected to the belief that GamerGate is, at its core, attacks on a series of women. I'm believed to be among them. These women make a lot of public statements, some controversial, and we have made mistakes. But this can also be said about many men who have angered GamerGate, like developers Damion Schubert and David Scott Jaffe. The dudes are allowed to be complex, controversial figures without being turned into Joan of Arc by one faction and Bellatrix Lestrange by the other.

No one wins against the spotlight because it cuts both ways. Various press sites ran articles about Zoe and Anita in attempts to "support" them. This was misguided. By running one-sided stories about various women, both for and against, the media has turned these women into greater targets through those biases. I'm not suggesting we adopt victim blaming mentalities. I'm saying we need to stop making the victimization worse.

When you run a news story, you have to expect that coverage to be scrutinized for bias, errors and omissions. It's much better to let us face our critics and tell our stories. Shut down unfair criticism, yes. Shut down threats of violence, yes. But some services would not accept any criticism regarding some public figures who happen to be women. The press fed people a narrative. People felt something was amiss with the coverage. When they complained about that, they were called bigots. That solves nothing.

Anonymous Twitter users need to get better about how they phrase their criticisms, but it's unfair to equate social awkwardness with hatred. Yeah, the Gaters were rough on me at first. But I've come to realize that was its own form of equality. There were some a**holes with issues, sure, but most of the Gaters who challenged me did so based on the assumption that I am an equal. I appreciate the respect. It was a nice change from being treated like a glass flower that needed protection as opposed to fairness.

In fact, it's very hard to enjoy most modern video games without some feminist leanings. Lara Croft; the Asari in Mass Effect; the extremely diverse women of Dragon Age; Anne Bonny and Mary Read in Assassin's Creed Black Flag, Aveline from Assassin's Creed: Liberation; Shaundi and Kenzie in Saints Row III and IV, and the various women of the God of War franchise are all examples of feminism in populist art. And if you prefer your ladies more buttoned down and intellectual, we have the Bioshock franchise's Brigid Tenenbaum, Sophia Lamb, and Rosalind Lutece. GamerGaters love these characters.

So while the misogyny argument is totally valid when applied to certain participants in GamerGate, it's a complete straw man argument when applied to GamerGate as a whole.

It's very hard to enjoy most modern video games without some feminist leanings."

It's not just about Conservative ideology

A few very loud individuals have been used to paint GamerGate as a Conservative anti-feminist movement, despite the fact that actually talking to Gaters makes it clear that this isn't true. Unfortunately, you can't prove a non-event, so this perception has stuck. Unfortunately, the conservative articles about GamerGate tend to be favourable, while the liberal articles about GamerGate tend to be critical. It's sad that things are unfolding based on ideology, not facts.

So here are facts:

  • GamerGate has raised money for feminist causes, suicide prevention, an anti-bullying charity, and a project to benefit third-world food growers.
  • The person who many believe is responsible for starting GamerGate, Eron Gjoni, self-identifies as a strong believer in social justice.

Not only have I confirmed the presence of real women and people of color by talking to them on web streams, but many of them aren't even North American. Many live in former Communist countries, and they distrust any political extremism.

The thing is, even if GamerGate was a right wing movement... so? Do they have a valid point? Right wingers are people too. Arguments should be judged based on quality of argument and evidence, not who the writer voted for in the last election.

I've observed GamerGate being used as a political football between radicalized left wing and right wing press outlets. Neither side is interested in getting the story right. They just want to bloody their opponents' noses. While the extreme left attacks the reputation of gamers as a group, the extreme right's target is feminism. Neither can hope to win, so they're just pointlessly hurting a lot of people while they pander to their respective bases. The left has, so far, done a better job of spinning things their way, but the right really has no vested interest in gaming anyway.

Underneath this partisan fighting, however, is a sizeable group of people who don't care about any of it. They're just worried about what they perceive to be happening in the video game industry. Progressives and Conservatives should be able to agree that corruption is bad and free speech is good.

They're human beings

To quote Sirius Black from Harry Potter, "If you want to know what a man's like, take a look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." The thing about Sirius Black was that if you judged him based on his own advice, he wouldn't do too well.

Preaching tolerance is a lot easier than practicing tolerance, and GamerGate has been an intense lesson in that."

I have been stunned by the dehumanization I've seen at the hands of so-called enlightened people. The "neckbeard" slags aside, I've seen attacks on people with autism, and a lot of condescension and unique cruelty directed at the women who support GamerGate. And then there was the absolutely baffling moment when a member of the media suggested we "bring back bullying."

If the anti-GamerGate side thinks itself superior, it should act it. GamerGate members have confirmed to me that there are quite a few participants with autism spectrum disorders. I'm not saying that everyone involved with GamerGate has autism. What I'm saying is that it's a major factor in how many Gaters express themselves. If they want to engage in ritualistic behaviours to calm themselves down, including posting on 8chan, let them. I don't care, as long as they're not planning to raid me again. When an opportunist riles them up, things get bad, but that's not their fault.

So if we're supposed to be these fantastic, sensitive people, we have to adjust our thinking now that we know that autism is a factor in this debate. Autistic people are often socially awkward and can seem rude. They can have very strong reactions to triggers. They don't always understand why another person is hurt.

We need to stop complaining that "gamers are dead" was a metaphor that wasn't grasped. Autistic people tend to take things literally.

Stop comparing GamerGate to ISIL, the KKK or terrorists. They take that literally too, and it hurts them.

Stop lecturing them on white male privilege. They're autistic. Autistic people are not privileged. They've been rejected, bullied, and shamed, and you just look like an ass when you start telling them how good they have it.

Stop blaming them because they were so desperate for acceptance that they got manipulated by some bad people.

Stop being so dismissive of small details that are being fixated on. We have to have the patience to contextualize those details.

We have to be more aware that the columns and reviews we write going forward are going to be read by autistic people. They are an important part of our audience, and they cherish games. So coming down like a ton of bricks on a game for a social faux pas or political incorrectness is going to affect an autistic person more than a neurotypical person. This is a reality of the video game market.

GamerGate is fighting online harassment

This point goes directly against the narrative being spun regarding GamerGate. The thing is, there's a ton of evidence to support it. A group of Gaters tracked down a Brazilian tabloid reporter who has been harassing and impersonating Anita Sarkeesian to get publicity for his website (which I will not disclose because that's giving him what he wants). Wanting to be as sure as possible, they tracked IP addresses and even had a conversation with him asking him what it would take for him to stop. Not surprisingly, he doesn't care about GamerGate. His target is Anita with the end goal of getting attention for himself and his website, which he will not be getting from me.

Instead, I want to give credit to "J Sail," "Lisa" and "Alison" from GamerGate, who provided me with a lot of evidence so I could confirm that GamerGate is policing harassment. (Some names have been changed to protect personal information.)

Gaters are also working to track down the person who posted game developer Brianna Wu's address online. They spent hours spamming 8chan boards to get Zoe Quinn's personal information pushed off the website because the moderators were sleeping and couldn't remove it. They connected a person who was contemplating suicide with the correct people to help them. And when certain people made sexist, antisemitic comments to me, a lot of them called out that behaviour.

And they can't figure out why all the bad stuff is being reported and none of the good stuff is. I don't have a good answer for them.

Does any of this excuse the thoroughly wretched things that have been done by people connected to GamerGate? Of course it doesn't. But if people are trying to change and improve, this should be encouraged. There are some portions of GamerGate that are everything the critics say: hateful, misogynist, threatening, entitled idiots. But show me a movement without its share of jerks. I can't name one.

If you'd like to learn more about how GamerGate is policing harassment, search Twitter for "#Gamergate harassment patrol" - those three words exactly.

Anita Sarkeesian

Let's work together

So there's a lot to learn from each other in GamerGate. It can have positive outcomes if we commit to positivity. I'm not going to give up on a group that's taught me so much about video game consumers.

Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to go through the GamerGate initiation like I did. It's just that too many bystanders, including some celebrities, are making up their minds based on biased, overly negative coverage. It's not popular right now to say that GamerGate still has important things to say, but it's the right thing to do. I don't want a group of people that cares passionately about games to walk away feeling rejected by the hobby they love.

This isn't about winning and losing. This is about understanding each other. Let's make gaming better, together.

Images courtesy of monorus, Square Enix and Anita Sarkeesian. #GamerGate image copyright 2014 Metaleater Media.