Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On #GamerGate: the RAGE Chapter

This is the first of a pair of blog posts; the second, a slightly more temperate take on similar content, will follow shortly.

The following is solely the opinion of Vaulisel and is not intended to reflect the opinions of No Excuses or VtW Productions as a whole.

The corruption of video games journalism is by no means a new topic; anyone who watches the industry and the outlets that report on it has seen time and again that even major press outlets handle their professional ethics in a spectacularly slipshod manner. The revelation that this lack of regard for ethical standards extended just as thoroughly if not more so into their dealings with the indie development community was less of a surprise and more of a grim confirmation of something I had come to logically suspect. But it was the synchronised barrage of attacks on the “gamer” identity that galvanised me to plant my standard in the ground on #GamerGate’s side.

Most who observe the flow of news articles out of the major video games news sites had already noticed the trends in their thinking, and the decline of quality review in favour of pontificating about social justice politics(Mr. A. Groen’s laughably poor review of King of Fighters XIII comes to mind[1]). I’ve lost count of the number of times I would be doing research for my podcast and complain to my co-host, “Fern, where’s all the games news? They’re all talking gender politics again.” In light of the furore over Ms. Quinn’s personal indiscretions being exposed, and the tangled web of journalistic conflicts of interest they were woven into attracting attention, I had expected the likes of Polygon and Kotaku to adapt a combative stance just like they did in response to Ms. Sarkeesian’s detractors. Instead, to my astonishment, a phalanx of websites marched their rhetoric in perfect lockstep right through “Carthago delenda est” and into “Vae victis; here’s your diktat, listen and obey, all the non-misogynists are doing it,” all neatly wrapped up in a nice “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” style package, with a sprinkling of petty name-calling, all using Ms. Quinn being harassed by the lunatic fringe elements of the electronic wilds as an excuse. Gamers, they proclaimed, were dead. A putrescent and decaying vestige of a bygone era, struck down by popular demand.

I was, to put it bluntly, revolted. These self-appointed moral guardians only have jobs, only collect their paycheques because WE, the gamers, deigned to appraise their opinion on video games and graciously take them under advisement when making purchase decisions. And now, they have the arrogance, the gall to turn around and proclaim, no, you uncultured, backward plebians have demonstrated that you aren’t responsible enough to decide what video games to purchase and enjoy, so we will instruct you upon which products are appropriately “pro-social” and “inclusive” for you to play to become real members of society.

Fun? Fun is a “neurological trick”[2], a spurious objective. Enjoyment? Never mind what you enjoy, what about “inclusivity”[2]? That’s far more important. Choice? Your choices are all wrong. You gamers are, after all, all cis-het-white-male-basement-dwelling virgins, ignorant of your privilege, and therefore it falls to the mighty video games press edifice to correct your failings as an individual, you racist, misogynist scum.

Alright, so I might be exaggerating the strength of the invective (although to a troublingly mild degree), but it stands that those we entrusted to inform us have decided their role is to profile our loose demographic en masse and condemn us in accordance with the stereotype they have manufactured, referring to us as “…obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers”[3] and other such vile things. This they see as a mandatory step to ushering in their brave new world of “…“edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening””[2] experiences. To ensure they dominated the podium utterly, this was followed by deliberate strangulation of all discussion that might lead to criticism across as many sites on the internet as they could reach, making sure their narrative had time to take root undisturbed.

And take root it did. With their opposition driven to the periphery in the handful of places still permitting discussion, the message that any criticism of the new regime is a form of harassment and that any critic is by default a disgusting misogynist gained massive traction with casual observers. #GamerGate since its very inception has as a result been fighting an uphill battle against an entrenched opponent occupying fortified ground. The “truth” had been established in the minds of onlookers in accordance with the new regime’s fabricated narrative: #GamerGate was a campaign of harassment against females involved in videogames perpetrated by a disgruntled old-boys-club of misogynist nerds. No discussion was to be entered into because proponents of the #GamerGate movement were designated incapable of rational discourse. Any criticism they might level at the media was invalid because the media they criticised said so. The censorship of discussion continued to propagate throughout the converts to the new regime, until only a handful of major bastions of free speech remained.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most brazen and transparent attempts to engineer the forcible injection of an ideology into a demographic and industry that I have beheld in any context. The only bright spot is that it is also one of the clumsiest and most ill-advised. The true meal-tickets for these self-important ideologues are reader click-throughs and the companies producing mainstream, mass-market AAA games. But their zeal for promoting their agenda has driven them to publicise their deep disdain for the common gamer, disregard the existence of games enthusiasts who don’t fit their stereotype, and generally spit in the face of the people who might otherwise be giving them their click-throughs. It has led them to denigrate the AAA mainstream titles produced by publishers that are the source of their big stories, exclusives, and their shameful procession of industry perks, travel, meals, freebies and other miscellaneous tchotchkes.

Based on the trends in sentiment amongst the content producers of these major sites, it seems reasonable to suppose that engineering a change in reader sentiment in favour of their ideological agenda may have been a long-term goal for these publications long before anyone had heard of Ms. Quinn or what she gets up to on her own time. Part of the clumsiness of this campaign is likely due to them going off half-cocked in a scrambling attempt to deflect the laser-focused scrutiny suddenly directed at their habitual apathy toward basic standards of journalistic ethics. This aim, at least, has failed spectacularly.

The accomplishments of the Gamers Are Dead campaign are mixed. They did in fact manage to establish their racist, sexist, slanderous narrative that only cis-het white males are gamers, and that those individuals are without exception, vile people. They did manage to convince a large number of onlookers that #GamerGate is a targeted campaign of harassment and misogyny aimed at women in the video games industry. But in exchange they poked the sleeping tiger, already fed up with their needling, one too many times. Their revenue streams are now at risk, with some sites showing plunging popularity[4][5] and advertisers are pulling out[6][7]. Their careers are now at risk, their bitter vituperations prompting people to put them under a microscope and dredge the skeletons out of their closets. There’s no telling how much damage they may have done to the public opinion of gamers in general, who were finally beginning to crawl into the light as an acceptable hobby and marketable demographic. 
Alexa rankings for Rock Paper Shotgun

But above all the trust many gamers had for them has been shredded into pieces by the sacrificial knife of their anti-consumer ideologies. Business is booming for the prominent YouTube games critics and enthusiasts like PewDiePie and TotalBiscuit. The Fifth Estate got ideas above their station and believed it could dictate terms to an audience who frankly do not need them anymore. It remains to be seen what will be standing at the end of all this, but many of these self-important agenda-pushers may find that declaring their audience to be dead may have simply been hammering another nail into their own professional coffins. Regardless, I have no problem denouncing the authors of these articles and the editors that approved them as completely unsuitable for their presumed job of keeping gamers updated and informed about the industry, so long as they view us as repugnant obstacles to their supposedly progressive agenda.

I could write at length on the nepotism, collusion, cronyism and occasionally outright racketeering that certain elements of the video games press have recently been alleged to be embroiled in. However, there are much sharper minds than mine who have poured large amounts of time, and occasionally even money into investigating such matters, and while I would be duly pleased for every last concealed professional indiscretion perpetrated by these elements to be dragged into the light of day that their audiences might scrutinise them and hold their perpetrators to account, I do not have high hopes for such a thing. For the time being, I will satisfy myself by helping to distribute the information we have to allow people to draw what conclusions they may, that the wheels of consumer justice might turn and, if necessary, exile from the industry those who do not deserve a place in it. A collection of resources, blog posts, articles and discussions from a surprisingly diverse range of viewpoints may be found in the #GamerGate megathread[8] hosted at The Escapist, one of the few major sites which, while they might not agree with the views held by #GamerGate supporters, believed in the value of free speech, and are experiencing a surge in traffic in response[9].

Alexa rankings for The Escapist
Gamers have been and will remain a culture which, while often fractious, unruly and prone to bickering, care little for petty differences in gender, creed, race and suchlike; in the end we hold in common our abiding love of video games; the experiences of playing, the memories they give us, the connections we form with others through them, and the things we learn about the world and ourselves through them. We are a culture raised to learn from our setbacks and seize victory; our resolve has been forged in the fires of conflict defending our passion from a long succession of critics and detractors. The events surrounding #GamerGate are just the newest challenge to overcome. Once in a while we might falter for a round, but we’ve never lost a match yet.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, come on Vaul, tell us what you REALLY think ;)
    I can almost feel the emotion that this subject has brought up in you through this post. I think that all of us "Gamers" are thoroughly disgusted by the way all of these various, so called, news sites came together to denounce all of us. The more I read about the back and forth of it, the more angry it makes me. Whenever I try to find a post or article about the other side of #GamerGate, I am again disappointed due to the continued attack on our culture. They just keep making it worse. Preach on brother.