Censorship’s a topic that is always on my mind as I’ve been subjected to corporate and social censure over writing and design involving sex and politics.
Over the past 5-10 years the source of censorship has been coming from what you might call the ‘regressive left’, people who are also called ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (The ‘W’ indicating extremism, the ‘W’ makes the difference between the Labour Party and Mao’s Red Guard).
The backlash against that has been good in some ways, socially, if not politically or economically, but we now seem to be entering an even more dangerous era. Even as the SocJus puritans double down in protest against the rise of the right wing (ironically, further aiding the right wing into ascendancy) that right wing itself now seems to think it’s their turn to crack the whip and to dictate to people what they can say or do.
Newspapers here just doxxed an – admittedly nasty – far right Vlogger, putting him in physical danger. The government is beefing up our already ludicrous libel laws and putting the screws on local newspapers as well as censoring and controlling internet access via scaremongering about pornography and human trafficking.
Discrimination threatens to become protected by law in the USA (and that’s a complex knot of ethics to untangle) and there are rumblings from the old evangelical right about ‘moral degeneracy’ and ‘think of the children’.
Now, I think, it’s more important than ever that both creators and consumers reassert their belief in free expression and resist the siren call of ‘I’m offended’. When we don’t like something, we can just not buy/rent/read/consume it. That’s not so hard.
I decided to stop active participation in #Gamergate from midnight on the first of January. It’s customary, when one ‘leaves’ the amorphous hashtag movement, to flounce off with great drama and an enormous speech.
So this would be that.
I’d stress, however, that I still believe very strongly in the original and ongoing issues of Gamergate which are, and you can eyeroll all you like but it won’t make it untrue, more ethical and consumer-serving games media, and an anti-censorship stance.
So why leave and why get into it in the first place?
Why I got Involved
The broader ‘Social Justice’ issues in the creative arts are something I’ve been aware of for longer, and one shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that it dresses itself up in the clothing of laudable ideas such as equality and diversity. The situation we find ourselves in, and which appears to have crested, is a moral panic. As relates to nerd media it’s a replay of the Satanic Panic or Jack Thompson’s crusade against violence in games, just with different actors and set dressing. There’s one important difference this time though, this time there’s ‘treachery’, in that many of the attacks – no less ill-informed and unscientific – are now coming from within the nerd community.
Going back to the 80s and 90s, even in my tweens and teens I was already fighting in the precursor war on D&D and other RPGs. Arguing in presentations at school from religious groups on ‘Doorways to Danger‘, making pamphlets to counter the propaganda that was going around as an English project. Writing letters to help school groups get set up. Running games for the D&D Schools Competition. Reassuring parents and later on arguing with people on the internet or arguing for the educational and other benefits of gaming.
The Jack Thompson affair didn’t require much of your average gamer, since the press was on-side and the claims weren’t taken seriously by most people. They were understood, even by most of those uninvolved in games, to be stupid, censorious and troublesome.
As a metal, goth and alternative fan I also watched the goings on with the PMRC with concern, not to mention the Columbine backlash as it went international.
All of this resonated with the Comics Code issues I’d learned about and the other things which, as an avid reader, I’d learned about growing up. The role of censorship and moral panics against everything from film and TV to comics and fanzines.
Mary Whitehouse was still going when I grew up. Section 28 was governmental policy and even at 13 and not entirely sure what a ‘bender’ was, I knew it was unjust. When I was at college it was the height of the anti-road and hunt saboteur protests, which prompted more attempts by government and tutting citizens who didn’t like ‘crusty jugglers’ to control protests.
In short, I have a long established love of free expression, and have lived through some of the key battles around nerd media and endured several moral panics. There was no way I wasn’t going to get involved in Gamergate when it crossed my path.
Gamergate emerged out of the scandal surrounding Zoe Quinn. I was following Quinn on Twitter at the time and, as a sufferer from depression, had previously passed around links to her game ‘Depression Quest’ as an imperfect but helpful tool to help friends and family better understand the experience of depression – from which I suffer. I had defended her against early trolls, encouraged her and even donated to help her out when she was mugged – which I hope was something that did actually happen.
In short, I was invested.
When the scandal around her emerged I wanted information. Here was someone whose work I had supported and who I had helped out. Someone I had recommended to others. Her sexual peccadilloes and indiscretions are none of my business, though I felt sorry for Gjoni for the abuse and manipulation he’d suffered, but I was concerned – as were many others – by the revelations of undisclosed relationships, favours and corruption.
Trying to get information to confirm whether this was, or was not happening was incredibly difficult as all discussion was being shut down, everywhere, even – eventually – 4chan. A completely unprecedented level of censorship on an issue of genuine concern to consumers. Just how rotten was gaming journalism? We all knew it was bad, but exactly how bad was it? Why couldn’t proven, even admitted, bad actors be called out on it? Why were they being protected?
Then the ‘Gamers are Dead’ articles came out and the GameJournoPros list was exposed. Dozens of articles over a few days, in a coordinated attack on gaming media’s own audience.
Not only had gamers been censored, they were now under attack – by their own. Dismissed as misogynists, racists etc simply for pointing out problems, whether it be corruption or ‘criticism’ coming from the ideological overreach of people like Anita Sarkeesian. The ‘Social Justice’ attacks on gaming combined with the nepotism of the Indie scene and the collusion of a particular wing of activist journalism to create a perfect storm and a surprisingly effective false narrative of harassment which, combined with the censorship lock down, prevented the real issues getting discussed – for a while.
Revelation after revelation followed for those who cared to investigate, and lines were drawn.
Gamergate accomplished a great deal, and not just in its own niche.
Many gaming news outlets, albeit grudgingly, began using proper disclosure and adjusted their ethical policies, which was the first, major, underlining point. Bad criticism and ideological gatekeeping has continued, but it appears to have cost sites traffic and trust, and several people their jobs. New sites have sprung up, the audience has become more aware, there’s less trust and more demand for better reporting and the anti-censorship attitude has manifested in numerous other ways.
Gamergate has also helped inspire pushback in other areas, comics, film, TV, atheism and as university campuses have apparently gone insane, there too. It may be the turning point in a much larger culture war against censorious authoritarianism and moral panic on a broader basis.
Certainly I feel more optimistic about the future, coming out of it than I did going in. Despite lost friendship (and new ones made), the lies, the accusations, the nonsense and the hard lessons about just how bad even the general media has become, especially when reporting on technology and internet culture.
So Why Leave?
Why bring an end to my involvement then?
There’s still tons of good people involved and Gamergate has settled – mostly – into a sort of watchdog and ‘call out the stupidity’ role. It’s still doing good stuff and still has a lot of good people in it, but it’s a case of diminishing returns. The less obvious the need for Gamergate as a specific phenomenon, the less people are associated with it (and, I’m sorry to say, the demonisation and lies about Gamergate have had an effect as well).
The less people are associated with it, the more the hardcore fringe of horrible shits come to dominate the discussion and the less people there are to call them out on it. There are also less people to call out and point out trolls, and that further allows Gamergate to be misrepresented and probably, eventually, co-opted.
Lately the more extreme and paranoid elements, always there but previously marginalised, have been able to increasingly dominate discussions, drive away the more moderate and interesting people involved and to almost turn the ‘movement’ into the caricature it was always misrepresented as.
The fight for me was always more about the censorship issues and artistic freedom. Those battles are being fought elsewhere now and by a much broader coalition of interests, including genuine liberals, who are finally starting to speak up and make a difference to turn the tide.
Those issues are being fought in politics and universities now, in the public square as a whole. Even if the fight isn’t over in gaming and other nerd spaces (#1MillionGamersStrong and others), Gamergate itself is now a place of diminishing returns and more can be done in these other places and spaces and by creating. So that’s what I intend to do.
Doubtless I’ll cross paths with GG people down the line, doubtless issues will come up which I’ll help spread around, doubtless there’ll be battles we’ll share.