With so many enemies now crushed and defeated beneath Gamergate’s armoured boots, with increased ethics all around and with the separate but related victory of Chairman Pao being removed by the glorious counter-revolutionary wing of the Reddit Revolt, GG seems to have turned in on itself a bit and a divide that has been felt before (with the exit of Internet Aristocrat and others) has reared its head up again.
Are we fighting for ethics in game journalism – and ONLY ethics in game journalism, or are we fighting against the authoritarian censors of the Social Justice mob? What is appropriate to post on the tag and what isn’t?
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way quickly first.
- You can’t control the hashtag. People can and will post whatever the fuck they want on it. You can’t control other people’s output, only your own. If someone spams a lot of stuff you’re not interested in, mute them or something. Jesus. This isn’t difficult.
- Proposing a new hashtag is going to go down like a cup of cold sick. There’s strength in unity and some shitposting, spam and off-topic or semi off-topic material isn’t the end of the world. By all means, go make a new tag if you like (#mediagate was tried, I believe) but it’s unlikely to garner the same traction and impetus that #Gamergate has.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the ethics part.
The fact is, games media has been corrupt since forever with in-house magazines, bribery, extortion, threats (mostly coming from distributors and publishers rather than studios, to be fair) and because this was the status quo people kind of navigated around it while quietly seething. This was financial corruption, where threats and money are used to protect and further the bottom line.
This was all ‘background radiation’ to Gamergate, what made it achieve critical mass was a different kind of corruption. Political corruption and agenda pushing, initially exposed via Literally Who’s sexual shenanigans but much, much bigger than that. Political corruption is when threats, coercion, ideological naivety, bribery and shaming are used to push an agenda and socially engineer.
What, I think, made this blow up so hard was that the indie scene (like many other indie scenes in music, tabletop games and elsewhere) had become synonymous with activism, not independence. The kinds of people making these activist, high-concept games were looking down on popular games and their audiences (as exemplified recently with the meltdown of hate and arrogance from Tale of Tales when their housework simulator failed to excite audiences). When people looking down on and criticising you for your moral failings turn out to have feet of clay, people get understandably upset at the hypocrisy.
One of the greatest tragedies of all this, for me, is that it was a massive missed opportunity for games media to sort its life out. Here was a massive consumer uprising which could have been leveraged against those companies offering bribes, threatening to remove early access, bullying for higher scores AND to assert press neutrality against egregious ideological corruption. Backing, using or surfing Gamergate could have allowed the press to assert themselves – with popular backing – against distributors, publisher and PR flacks and could have been used to regain trust.
And that exposes the first part of the problem in trying to separate these issues into two separate things. The big reason the games media didn’t do the right thing here is because whole wings of it ARE SocJus and that is seemingly the entirety of their identity and raison d’etre. When you ask for them to act ethically you’re asking for them to act against their core beliefs and personal identity. As we’ve seen, many think the ends justify the means and many think opposing their means, means that Gamergate is against their ends (Gamergate is not anti-diversity, anti-women etc, it is broadly very liberal on these things as a whole. It just values creative freedom higher and prefer organic, consenting change).
This entanglement of the ethical issues and the SocJus issues shows why the two are inseparable.
Another reason to include the fight against SocJus within Gamergate is that it builds alliances. There’s people in other communities who have, or are, facing the same kinds of issues that Gamergate has, from Sad Puppies in fiction, to ConsultantGate in tabletop gaming (and everything around it). There’s issues of this sort all over the place and things are starting to turn. Just as with Gamergate itself, internally, we’re stronger together.
Another aspect to this is that a lot of these other enterprises feed into games.
If writers are suffering in this way, generally, then writing for games will suffer by extension.
If artists are suffering in this way, generally, then art assets for games will suffer by extension.
If the internet becomes more controlled and legislated, then games are harder to sell and may fall afoul of the same legislation.
If shops are pressured into censorship then the same applies – and this is doubly true of online sales platforms and payment processors.
Let’s try an analogy.
Say your local political situation is horribly corrupt. The local council is full of shills for companies and they’ve all been bought off.
Voting them out won’t really solve the issue, money can buy whoever else is elected.
Changing the rules could work, but it’s almost impossible to change the rules in a system that is already corrupt.
Say you do manage to change the rules. Congratulations, you now have ‘ethics in local government’, but there’s still financial corruption everywhere else. Contractors that the government uses, the unions, companies are still offering bribes at every level, interest groups are still lobbying – sometimes via underhanded means, and on a national level the parties are still compromised – and they select the candidates.
Only fixing ‘local government finance sourcing’ does practically fuck all to repair the broader issue.
To point to another, analagous example, unwinding the Satanic Panic of the 80s (we’re now in an Ism Panic) came about because everyone came to reject it. The groups being attacked and smeared, the media, the science. There was a broad group – if not a full-on alliance – of people all saying ‘this is bollocks’, and they were able to prove it.
Trying to separate these two strands is impossible, because just as the threats to gaming used to come from a broader cultural movement of the religious right, now it comes from the authoritarian left. If you want ethical journalism and free expression, you have to take an holistic approach to understanding it.
If you don’t want to, then don’t, but you’re not going to be able to stop anyone else anyway – so the whole discussion is fucking pointless.