Over a year ago now I heard there was some kind of scandal involving Zoe Quinn. I was concerned for a number of reasons, not least of all that – as a depressive – I had been promoting Depression Quest as a way to help non-depressed people understand what it could be like. I’d bigged up her ‘game’ a number of times, I’d supported her against what seemed to just be ‘haters’ and I’d even contributed to her fund when she was mugged. So when this came up I was, initially, concerned for Zoe and secondarily concerned that I might have been backing and supporting someone who wasn’t what they appeared to be.
I briefly logged on to the infamous IRC chat that was discussing this to try and get more information, got a few links and comments and went looking around.
While I was getting to the bottom of things, it all kicked off.
It was obvious that there were problems here and while the sex scandal aspect gave people some prurient ‘lulz’ it was also clear that there was potentially a serious problem with regard to the games media. A problem that raised questions that needed to be answered.
We all knew games media was rubbish, biased and agenda-laden, but ‘being crap’ is not necessarily the same thing as being corrupt. We already knew that games media was full of bribery, threats and so on that were skewing reviews (the average review score is 7/10, not 5/10, showing part of the problem), but people had largely adapted to this and become suspicious.
Here, however, we had indie developers, who had been held up as the wave of the future for a new, more moral, more ‘progressive’ games world, showing to be just as riddled with conflicts of interest and other ethical issues as anyone else. This was only confirmed by the rampant censorship of discussion about these issues – by the games the media that was under scrutiny – and the steadfast refusal of anyone in a position to do so to address the issues. Instead the whole thing was reframed into the existing (also overblown) narrative of online harassment and (also overblown) hostility to women in technology, which was nothing to do with anyone’s concerns.
The ‘Gamers are Dead’ onslaught and the revelation of the GameJournoPros email list – and the shenanigans that went on there – only upped the ante and are the things that really launched Gamergate into a full blown event and ‘movement’. It’s also what exposed further corruption and got people digging and boy, did they find a lot of things that were wrong.
For me, though, Gamergate is merely one aspect of a much bigger culture war. It’s a microcosm of the broader issues where it’s ‘reals versus feels’, where genuine, very real and honest concerns about corruption and bad practice get misrepresented as misogyny and where that mere accusation is SO powerful that even after concerns have been vindicated by the Society for Professional Journalism, that misogyny and harassment narrative continues to be pushed.
The broader battle is similar, one of a rift and a split on the political ‘left’ between left-libertarian values (classical liberalism) and left-authoritarian values (what you might call an extreme version of progressivism).
Classical values of individual autonomy, choice, freedom of expression, artistic freedom, the value of reason and enquiry are not exactly being challenged, but being misrepresented by people who cannot see past identity politics – what a person is – to actions – who a person is.
- Gamergate wants ethical games journalism, and because some of the people they are concerned about are women they get tarred with a misogyny brush and shuffled into the ‘women in tech’ and ‘online harassment’ arguments, which are not what it is about.
- Sam Harris wants to criticise Islamic ideology and theology and to discuss the possibility of applying reason to questions of morality and ethics. He gets called a racist and ‘islamophobe’.
- Are you concerned about artistic freedom? Then you’re everything from a misogynist and racist to a rape apologist.
And so it goes, politics, art, music, fashion, comics, games, television, movies, science fiction fandom, writing. Everywhere there are these emotive attacks that bypass reason and force the moderate, intellectual side of the debate onto the defensive (because who wants to be called a racist, right?)
The discourse is damaged to the point of being virtually irreparable. Universities have become safe spaces, in that they’re now safe from the ravages of intelligent thought and free enquiry and those same, highly damaging ‘values’ are being imposed everywhere else.
To me, then, after a year, buoyed up by seeing Gamergate vindicated I see a chink of light in the clouds. A possibility that, perhaps, reform and change is possible not just in games, but everywhere. Those attacks no longer have the power they once did. We know we’re not sexist, racist, bigoted or whatever else might be thrown at us and without that power over us what reason remains to take these extremists seriously?
It has been a tough year. It’s cost me friends who bought into and couldn’t see past the harassment/sexism narrative to the truth. It has cost me work – I should have been anon. I’ve been censored, vilified, driven to the point of suicide by lies, libel and genuine harassment. There’s plenty of people who don’t understand and make no effort to understand but, on the other side of things I have made many new friends, found a like-minded community of brilliant, mutually supportive and very creative people and I’ve participated in making a huge positive change in games and beyond.
Moving post-gamergate – and I intend to cut down my direct participation after #GGinBrum I think the best takeaway is to start doing more positive things as part of this new community that has emerged in games – and further afield. Ignore the crazies and ‘get shit done’ because if there’s one thing we really have learned about the opposition, it’s that they don’t really make or do much of anything, and what they do make or do isn’t successful.
Perhaps that’s how we win in the broader context.