Enemy At The Gate

Enemy At The Gate

The misguided crusade that fails to end.

About a month ago, I wrote about the GamerGate movement in an attempt to enlighten its moderate members on some of the misinformed complaints they were, and are, regurgitating. Around the same time, overwhelming evidence of the crimes committed by the unimaginably vile people playing pied piper to these moderates was published (shamefully, not by any game site, but the developer they targeted), and for a while it looked like this misguided effort may give way to the “normal” level of harassment and general bullshit women and other marginalized folk still have to deal with in this industry.

Fast forward a month and the death threats and terror threats made in the name of this group have yet to stop. We don’t normally write about news on this site, but when the stories piling up are that our colleagues have to fear for their lives for having the audacity to do their job, or to simply exist, it would be irresponsible for us to remain silent. We want to use this opportunity to express solidarity with all those who have been threatened, attacked, hacked, doxxed, or were inundated by insults and faux-polite heckling in various social channels. You deserve better than this. We are against harassment, and GamerGate is a harassment campaign, pure and simple.

Harassment may not be its only face, but it’s a prominent one, and there’s no denying that. When confronted with the crimes committed in its name, GamerGate proponents are adamant that these are not part of the campaign, not what the movement is about. Yet this is exactly what people targeted by the group or voicing dissent deal with. It’s been my own experience with the group, and it’s been the experience of many others as well. The insistence that we are misunderstanding the group downplays the harassment we all witnessed.

I don’t doubt that some of you have a different experience with the group, that some of you only see it as a platform for talking to like-minded individuals about your goals, which range disjointedly from the reform of games writing to the destruction of lives. This is a blinkered view of the movement, and it doesn’t excuse its extremist parts. The movement doesn’t have to be entirely devoted to harassment for us to point out that it is irredeemably spoiled by the parts that are.

Let’s be generous here and say that only around ten percent of the group are taking part in the attacks on critics and developers. In absolute demographics, their number may actually be this low, though the intensity of their contribution and their tendency to use sockpuppet accounts makes it appear much higher. Moderate proponents of the campaign refer to them as bad apples, but they seem to have forgotten that the proverb they are borrowing the term from doesn’t suggest that you can safely ignore a few bad apples and the rest of the barrel will be fine. It says that just one will spoil the rest.

At this point, it is frequently suggested that “Anti-GamerGate” is just as bad. While I don’t doubt that prominent members of the campaign have had to deal with abuse (though many of them seem to consider critical reporting or disagreement tantamount to harassment), this isn’t part of a concerted effort of any opposite group: Anti-GamerGate doesn’t exist. It’s the rhetorical manifestation of the group’s “You’re either with us or against us” mentality, and is said to include everybody who crossed them at some point, a coalition ranging from feminist media critics to the admin of 4chan. However, consensus against harassment simply cannot be compared to organized campaigning against feminism in game spaces.

Anti-GamerGate has no forums or chat rooms in which it discusses how to ruin lives. It doesn’t announce operations with silly code names, or posts instructions for who to target, and how to do so most effectively. It doesn’t revel in causing economic damage to its opponents. It doesn’t unite under a hashtag, and it doesn’t show up out of nowhere to make excuses for harassers, and to tell people what Anti-GamerGate is really about. This is because Anti-GamerGate does not exist. There is GamerGate, and then there is the rest of the world.

Since I wrote this, the hashtag #StopGamerGate2014 has been created, so my argument is only 99 percent intact.

I have been asked many times in the course of this why I hate gamers, but the obvious truth is that I bear nobody ill will for enjoying this medium. Given my own enjoyment of it, it would be patently absurd to do so. However, if your identity is tied so strongly to what specific games you consume that you think it’s worth casting your lot with this hate group in order to shield these games from critical analysis and yourself from critical thought, I urge you to reconsider your position. It is insulting to my craft, damaging to games, and enables the abuse of my colleagues.

Daring to say that we do not support the group, and do not condone their actions will inevitably be seen as evidence of our corruption. In truth, we have been committed to a code of ethics long before the emergence of this movement, and we will continue to hold to it once it finally runs out of steam. Game critics are constantly discussing how to cover this medium responsibly, and I’ve personally taken part in many of these conversations. GamerGate has managed to ruin, undo, or freeze each and every single one of them.

It has put under siege, and driven away, some of our greatest voices. Those who persist are drowned out by their loud-mouthed combination of ignorance and open hypocrisy. Are we to take lessons in ethics from a man who was previously sued for refusing to pay his staff, and has shown more contempt for gamers than any writer now under fire for dissecting the label? How can you demand apolitical writing while championing professed right-wing sites, institutions and actors?

There are real ethical concerns in games and games journalism, but not only has GamerGate done an abominable job of identifying them, it has also made it impossible for more reasonable and knowledgeable people to discuss these without being accused of trying to cover up their own made-up crimes.

We cannot start addressing these issues in a climate of fear, where our friends and colleagues are driven from their homes, have their lives and livelihoods threatened, or, at best, have to wake up wondering when the misogynist hate mob will turn on them in pursuit of yet another fabricated accusation. And as talented people suffer, so will games and games writing, with each day that this depravity continues.

There is nothing down this path except scorched earth.