#Gamergate – Three Things off My Chest


Return Advice to Zen of Design (I’m more of an ‘Asatru of Design’ person myself)

Since you took it upon yourself to give #gamergate unsolicited advice, allow me to do the same for your camp, it only seems fair.

Lacking a central organisation or any true leaders is what has helped make #gamergate work and has given it the authenticity and power that it has. It is a genuine, grassroots consumer and resistance movement, despite claims to the contrary. The ‘leaders’ are emergent, the cause of the moment is emergent and it lacks a ‘head’ to be attacked, silenced or harassed. These tactics, contrary to what many seem to think, are far more characteristic of the AGGros than GG itself.

On the other hand, the AGGros do have leadership and public figures who are, indeed, shaping the debate and even abusing their position to misrepresent Gamergate. That’s something that can be used to help move things forward, not that I think this is what will happen.

Gamergate is addressing actual wrong, a ‘cursory’ examination of the facts would actually reveal that. It has also managed to create change. Ethical standards have been re-prioritised, there have been shifts in policies. It may be too little too late, but the positive reaction The Escapist has created by re-examining the issue and allowing an open discussion has been enormous.

So, yeah, here’s what YOU should do:

  • Take #Gamergate seriously: Our concerns are real (to us). Our complaints are real (to us). We seriously want them addressed and we take them seriously.
  • Stop misrepresenting us: The mainstream media is now reporting, but they’re mostly taking their cues from games media pieces which are hit pieces and not representative or accurate. The more this happens, the more pissed off people are going to be.
  • Muzzle your hounds: The trolls of Gamergate are not representative and they’re anonymous throwaway accounts with no authority or cachet. First, stop takig them seriously, second, muzzle your own trolls. Not forever, free expression is important, but we can’t have a productive discussion with people like Phil Fish, Ben Kuchera, Laurie Penny, Amanda Marcotte and Leigh Alexander, Pixie Jenni and oh Klono’s beard and whiskers, so many others, constantly berating and abusing gamers. If you’re going to have secret lists and communications where you all get together to control the narrative, use it productively. Which brings me to…
  • Sack Up: If you can collude and cooperate to promote games and political agendas, collude and cooperate to shake off corruption. We all know AAA development studios bribe and threaten journos to control reviews and we know politicised groups like Silverstring and DiGRA are pressuring in their own way. Be professional, declare conflicts of interest and COLLUDE to provide honest and apolitical reviews. If you all do it, AAA devs have no way to get purchase on you and politicised groups can be rebuffed in the same way.
  • Apologise: AGGros have been misrepresenting, smearing, hating and harassing since day one – longer in fact, which is why this has been building up for a while. Apologise, on your sites, on your Twitter and Facebook accounts and engage fairly and openly with people
  • Stop Using the Word Misogyny: At this point its a joke, an empty noise. Stop invoking it like a magic word to deflect criticism and smear your opponents. It’s not working any more. While you’re at it a moratorium on ‘Shitlord’, ‘Pissbaby’, ‘Fedora’ and ‘Neckbeard’ would probably also be in order. At least learn what it means (hatred of women) before using it again.

What I see in #Gamergate

People keep asking me what I see in Gamergate and what I see is what we’ve failed to do in tabletop gaming, card and board games, comics and numerous other geek media as well as pornography, SF&F publishing and other arenas. That is, we have failed to even really try to resist the latest in a long line of moral panics that have attacked our hobbies and interests.

I call this censorship, some people baulk at the term because they seem to feel that it can only apply to a little man in an office somewhere, acting on behalf of the government. However, given that some on the AGGro side have taken to complaining that a boycott and letter writing campaign are censorship, perhaps their definitions are more flexible after all.

For what it’s worth I don’t particularly back organised boycotts and the attempt to strip away sponsors, precisely because I do view that as a form of censorship. I’d rather see things develop naturally. However, the hypocrisy and whining now that the censorship shoe is on the other foot, does piss me off.

Anyway, as points of comparison that I’ve brought up before.

In the 1950s Fredric Wertham:

Seduction of the Innocent described overt or covert depictions of violence, sex, drug use, and other adult fare within “crime comics”—a term Wertham used to describe not only the popular gangster/murder-oriented titles of the time but also superhero and horror comics as well—and asserted, based largely on undocumented anecdotes, that reading this material encouraged similar behavior in children.

In the 1980s, as part of the Satanic Panic, Pat Pulling:

Pulling formed B.A.D.D. after her son Irving committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest on June 9, 1982. Irving was an active D&D player, and she believed his suicide was directly related to the game. The grieving mother first filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her son’s high school principal, Robert A. Bracey III, holding him as responsible for what she claimed was a D&D curse placed upon her son’s character shortly before his death. She also filed suit against TSR, Inc., D&D’s publishers. She appeared on an episode of 60 Minutes which also featured Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and which aired in 1985.

In the 1990s, as part of the general climate of fear around violence in video games, Jack Thompson:

Thompson has heavily criticized a number of video games and campaigned against their producers and distributors. His basic argument is that violent video games have repeatedly been used by teenagers as “murder simulators” to rehearse violent plans. He has pointed to alleged connections between such games and a number of school massacres. According to Thompson, “In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.”[38] Also, he claims that scientific studies show teenagers process the game environment differently from adults, leading to increased violence and copycat behavior.[39][40] According to Thompson, “If some wacked-out adult wants to spend his time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one has to wonder why he doesn’t get a life, but when it comes to kids, it has a demonstrable impact on their behavior and the development of the frontal lobes of their brain.”

There are other examples, such as the PMRC and there have been more modern attempts to claim things such as Harry Potter causing kids to turn to witchcraft or Pokemon being used to sneakily teach evolution to good Christian kids, but these stand – for me – as the big three examples.

The 1950s moral panic was about moralistic concerns of the time, though much of it is the same now other things are strikingly different. It was a concern that homosexuality, kids imitating what was shown in the comics (violence and horror). Less well known is that he also raised similar concerns to the modern moral panic – about the proportions and capabilities of female characters. Of course, Wertham’s concerns were shown to be absolute nonsense over time. No effect was shown, the moral panic he helped engender and sustain led to self-censorship – under duress – in the form of the Comics Code Authority which stifled and lessened diversity in the field for years.

The 1980s moral panic was in part due to the rise of the evangelical right in the USA and the increase in their influence over society and the government but also due to the ‘Satanic panic’. This was a witch hunt caused by – yet again – spurious claims about widespread cults of satanic occultists kidnapping children. Suddenly everything with occult symbolism was suspect and being blamed for anything and everything. Tarot cards, Ouija boards and Dungeons and Dragons. D&D was toned down, steps were taken to protect the hobby via the CARPGa and so it went on – and still does to some extent. Of course, the claims people made about D&D turned out to be absolute nonsense over time. No effect was shown. The moral panic and those who used it, however, led to a stigma that’s been hard to shake.

The moral panic of the 1990s seems almost laughable today, but a new generation of ‘realistic graphics’ and the real onset of the internet combined into a fuss which we’re still working through today. Concern about violence in games was more widespread than Thompson, but he became the poster child for it. Whether he genuinely believes in what he did or was purely exploiting the situation for notoriety and money we may never know, but the panic was real. Many of the more draconian game censorship rulings are in place from that time and, if I remember correctly, Australia’s are pretty bad. The Stick of Truth more recently had material censored, ridiculous given that (other than Mohammed) South Park has gone out without much restraint on television since it first aired.

In each of these instances there was resistance from within the community and the effects of the panic were blunted. In each case the moral panic came from outsiders. In each case we found out there was no basis to the moral panic and that people were reacting in an ill-informed manner.

Which brings us to today.

Today’s moral panic is a combination of anti-sex feminism and well-meaning ‘progressivism’. On the face of it the goals are all well and good, equality, diversity, representation but if you scratch beneath the surface you find a great deal of hatred, authoritarianism and speaking over and for the very people the panic is supposed to serve.

What’s different about this moral panic, unlike previous ones, is that the people within the pastimes and hobbies, especially in production and journalism, have bought into the hype. Why that should be I do not know, but like before there’s no actual substance to any of the fears and concerns of the lobbies involved. Games – and comics, and books and everything else swept up in this current panic – simply do not have as profound an effect on behaviour as people appear to like to think. It’s hard to discern that it has any effect on anyone whatsoever and the largest scale experiment we have – modern society since the 90s – at least suggests that there’s no massive, negative impact on society from any of this material. The hugely diverse gaming audience and the increasing diversity of games and fiction rather suggests there’s no need for this harassment driven and abusive push by the ‘social justice’ crowd.

What’s not clear is why people have bought into it this time and, as has become depressingly usual, there’s no evidence that any of the ill effects that they presume to take place – actually do.

Is it a desire to be seen as open and inclusive, being exploited to gut the very breadth of imagination and willingness to tackle hard subjects that marks out these hobbies and genres?

Is it genuine, but misguided, belief that forcing everything to be the same will somehow lead to a better world?

Do people really believe fiction cannot be a safe space to examine difficult ideas or to hold ideological and other principles up before the light?

Are people scared of being tarred and feathered for questioning the claims being made? After all, most of us are against sexism, racism and all other forms of discrimination and it is painful and nasty to be accused of being those things, even when you’re not, even when you’re just questioning some damn fool nonsense some idiot with an agenda to grind has said on Youtube.

What’s going on?

When games designers, games journalists, writers, artists, directors and creative people of all types are getting behind a policy of censorship and enforcement – across multiple media – something is wrong, and it’s not the media. Free expression is still a fundamental human rights and it is still the cornerstone of any and all artistic enterprises. Without free expression we have nothing.

So in this moral panic, across media but most notably, recently, in video games, I see the ghosts of moral panics past. Wertham, Pulling, Thompson and I worry that if we do not resist – as creators not just consumers – then we stand to lose a great deal. I am especially disappointed in fellow writers and designers who buy into this authoritarian, bullying, censorious agenda simply because it dresses itself up prettily as progressivism.

I think we have to resist. It’s possible to commit to BOTH progressive values and free (and ‘problematic’) expression. There’s no contradiction. To a ‘true’ liberal you can’t be progressive without free expression.

Is there a place for criticism? Yes, absolutely. Actual criticism that is. Dressing up your personal taste as a desperately important social issue is simply disingenuous and pointing and screaming like a pod person or subjecting any and all cultural artefacts to a once-over for deviation that would put Hopkins’ needle to shame is not it.

I don’t want to take these people seriously, but they’re dominating the discourse, bullying creators and bending the public narrative about games, fiction and art. It has to stop.

More on GG’s Politics

I forget who it was that said this, or quite how they phrased it, but it was something like:

“Every social justice warrior tweet on Gamergate creates a new, freshly minted conservative.”

That would be a desperate pity and it betrays a serious problem that gamer gate has, being either a) co-opted by a political group or b) being painted as being of a particular political slant.

Truth is, there’s people from all over participating in Gamergate, but there’s a strong concentration in the left/liberal side of things.

That’s not really that surprising, all things considered and it rather counters the myth that everyone in Gamergate is some kind of reactionary conservative. One need only look at #NotYourShield to see how diverse and inclusive Gamergate is. By and large everyone’s very much behind diversity, not against minorities of any kind.

They’re against corruption, nepotism, the politicisation of games and reviews and attempts to censor and control anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the ‘SJW’ extremist version of ‘progressive’.

Please don’t let the AGGros paint you as something you’re not. Resist it as hard as you would being called ‘misogynist’. Please don’t let others co-opt you into their political pigeonhole, whatever you really are or think of yourself as.

Meanwhile, here’s a really cool timeline.

Also, please go and vote here to help counter the false narrative being aggressively pursued by mainstream media and games journos.