People have spent quite a few words writing about #GamerGate in the past month or so. The debate on whether it’s a hate campaign or a true push toward more ethical journalism rages on. I’m here to approach this from another direction: It’s both, and that’s why it needs to end.
#GamerGate marks, as I see it, one of the first times that anger over a game journalism scandal has been largely misguided and mistargeted. The fight for ethics in game journalism and gaming is nothing new, after all.
When Jack Thompson was calling video games tools of hate, people rallied against him, but their anger was solely directed at Jack Thompson alone. When Gamespot fired Jeff Gertsmann for giving Kane and Lynch a bad review, we fired back, letting them know we wouldn’t stand for an outlet that allows game publishers to push reviewers around. When Capcom pulled ads from Electronic Gaming Monthly back in the 90s because EGM gave their games bad reviews, we directed our rage at Capcom for being shallow and attempting to hide the truth. Moreover, when any game publisher or developer refuses to send out a review copy to an outlet that gave them a bad review in the past, we target our rage at that company and try to force them to live up to better standards.
But #GamerGate isn’t focused in this way. In fact, it’s not really focused at all. #GamerGate has been used to rally for increased ethics in reviewing, a renewed reliance of factual journalism instead of blogging-style journalism, decreased interactions between journalists and game industry professionals, and more. It doesn’t have one purpose so much as a general “make gaming journalism better” goal.
At the same time, some people are using #GamerGate to spread a message of hate. Yes, there are some good #GamerGate people out there, but there are also people who are using the hashtag to make death threats. I spoke to a #GamerGate supporter yesterday who called Anita Sarkeesian a “whore that needs to keep her mouth shut.” I’ve seen people say that Zoe Quinn should burn in hell. You don’t really need to try too hard. Just search the hashtag and you’ill find tons of death and rape threats directly at anyone who dares to besmirch the #GamerGate name.
These people are, admittedly, trolls that don’t stand for the amorphous core of what #GamerGate stands for. Still, the fact that there are so many of them marks the difference between #GamerGate and every previous fight for game journalism ethics. #GamerGate is splintered between people campaigning for a kind of fluffy, amorphous idea of journalistic integrity and people who truly are using it for hate.
USU was threatened with a school shooting because Anita Sarkeesian was going to give a speech there, and Sarkeesian herself said that one of the threats came from someone who claimed they were affiliated with #GamerGate. That’s a literal act of terrorism. When I bring that up to #GamerGate supporters, the answers I get are, “That’s not what #GamerGate stands for,” or “I don’t believe it; Anita Sarkeesian is lying.”
It seems like any sane person would want to distance themselves from a cause that also has people routinely threatening death, rape, and other atrocities to people who disagree with them. But #GamerGate has a no hashtag splintering policy, which means, whether you like it or not, rational supporters of the issue have to lump themselves in with people spewing hate speech. That is what scares me the most. People would rather hold on to this hashtag than abandon it and continue fighting the good fight for game journalism ethics without it.
That is the problem here. #GamerGate and journalistic ethics are not synonymous, and for some reason, #GamerGate supporters seem to feel that they are. The fight for ethics in game journalism raged on well before #GamerGate, and it will rage on well after. But #GamerGate itself isn’t just about ethics; it has also come to stand for a hate campaign. You might not be using it for hateful purposes, but there are people using the tag who are being awful.
This isn’t hidden knowledge; the common perception of #GamerGate is that of a hate group. Half of the gaming community knows it — including hardcore gamers, pro gamers, game developers and more — who say they don’t want to stand for the horrendous acts that have been done in the name of #GamerGate. The world outside gaming knows it. Outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times have published articles condemning the movement. Comedians like Patton Oswalt and actors like Mara Wilson have rallied their voices against the #GamerGate crowd on Twitter.
There are people who believe that if #GamerGate ends, the fight for journalistic integrity ends as well. That, my friends, is bullshit. The fight goes on, #GamerGate or no.
One common counter argument made by #GamerGate supporters involves the hashtag #KillAllMen. People claim that #KillAllMen spouts hatred and violence toward men, and that’s probably true. Does that mean all feminists support violence and hatred? Of course not. I’m a feminist, and I don’t use #KillAllMen, because I don’t like the things it stands for or the hate that it has been used for. #GamerGate supporters, on the other hand, are still using the #GamerGate hashtag even though it has has a history of being use for hate in the past.
What’s even scarier is that many people think this is all a conspiracy, and the gaming industry, game journalists, mainstream press, celebrities, and a good portion of gamers are all “in on it.” They believe articles in which people say they don’t want to be associated with a hashtag that has come to stand for hatred are nothing more than clickbait. To them, we’re all in each other’s pockets, writing false articles to make big bucks.
To that I say: “Hah, I wish!” My closet-sized apartment and ramen noodle dinner says I haven’t sold out to anyone. #GamerGate is reluctant to believe that there are people who just don’t agree with them. They’ve created a scenario in which everything they stand for is good, just, and spotless, and anyone who disagrees with them has to be part of something big and corrupt. As such, counterarguments die before they are even heard.
Consider Men’s Rights. Men’s Rights as a concept, divorced from the current political climate, is honestly fine. Men should have rights, just as women should have rights. But Men’s Rights Activists and Men’s Rights movements have become synonymous with misogyny and bigotry, and they are typically steeped in hate. People who are actually campaigning for both “Men’s Rights” and “Women’s Rights” have taken to calling themselves allies or supporters of equal rights, because they don’t want to be associated with the hate perpetrated by the Men’s Rights movement.
Here’s my message to every well-minded #GamerGate supporter out there: I support the fight for journalistic integrity. I support a push for improved ethics in game journalism. I urge you to abandon the #GamerGate hashtag and continue fighting the fight, just as we did before #GamerGate came along, and just as we will afterward. Because — whether you like it or not — your righteous indignation is being used against people you don’t want to fight against. It’s being used for anti-feminist, prejudiced, and bigoted reasons, and it’s being used without your permission. It will continue to be used as such as long as you continue to support the #GamerGate campaign.
Blinding yourself to the bad things your movement has done does not make them go away, nor does saying “well that’s not what #GamerGate really stands for.” #GamerGate’s hands are dirty, its cause is soiled, and its presence is toxic. If #GamerGate was, at one point, a good thing, it isn’t anymore. It’s been hijacked, and it is now a vehicle for hate. If you continue to support the movement, you too will be looked at as a supporter of hate and bigotry.
So let #GamerGate die, and let the fight for ethics in game journalism live on. I think that’s the best thing any of us can do.