Unite against harassment and stop the pointless fighting over GamerGate

Oct 18, 2014 in
I'm very sad to have seen the way the GamerGate controversy has been evolving and the way it has been tackled by both sides.

I should say that I don't support GamerGate myself, though I'm not particularly against it either. I am completely against threats of death, rape, harm of family and other harassment of course, but I'm not against everything that everyone using the GamerGate hashtag stand for, because that is a whole lot of different things.

The harassment is more important than anything else in this controversy. I'm absolutely not apologizing or defending it, if anyone should be in doubt. On the contrary I want the fight against harassment intensified and made more effective - I just believe that fighting GamerGate as a whole is actually counter-productive to that end. Hear me out...

Several different subjects

I can't claim to have a complete overview of the GamerGate controversy, but from what I've understood so far, it encompasses many different separate subjects (though they get ever-so-easily entangled). On each subject, different people express a wide range of different opinions.


A sample of possible stances:
  • Harassment in the form of threats of death, rape, harm to family etc. are never ever justified. The widespread harassment of women and those supporting them must stop now!
  • Harassment is not okay, but some or all the harassment in this controversy was faked by those claiming to have been harassed (ugh, ugly conspiracy theory!)
  • Harassment is justified when the game culture we identify with is threatened (just ugh!) 
I've seen people using the GamerGate hashtag argue all of these points.

Journalistic integrity

All people who claim to represent GamerGate seem to claim it's about journalistic integrity, but the specifics of what it is they actually want is quite diverse. 
  • Some people ask for game news sites to adopt a set of ethical guidelines similar to that of The Escapist. 
  • Some ask for the abolishment of using numerical scores in game reviews, since scores can have a very direct effect on bonuses for game development studios. This, they argue, increases the temptation and risk of bribes (e.g. journalists receiving swag for certain minimum scores).
  • Some claim that game critics such as Anita Sarkeesian are representing games in a distorted way, showing things out of context.
  • Some claim that there are too strong ties between game journalists and game developers, and that these ties are used to obtain favorable coverage of certain games. (People behind the hate campaign against Zóe Quinns argued this. I've seen people who are outspoken against harassment also making these claims.)
You can agree or disagree with these points, but they are all points that can be discussed in a civil manner. Needless to say, turning to harassment is absolutely a horrendous tactic. Accusing all people who want to discuss any of these points of harassment is not helping anything either though.

I've seen the argument made that GamerGate people can't point to any specific thing they want changed, and this presented as indication that it's all about harassment. Even if we ignore the request for ethical guidelines etc. and assume they can't point to anything, I don't think that a lack of a clear solution or the inability to express it, is any proof that they really just want to push for harassment when it comes down to it.

Depiction of women in games

Anita Sarkeesian's video series on Tropes vs Women in Video Games has a significant role in the GamerGate controversy. I personally think there are a lot of misunderstandings involved.

Anita's videos mainly criticize games without proposing specific solutions, and this leads to some people assuming the worst and thinking that she wants to take the games they love away from them, or is just hateful against people who play these games.

In reality, Anita makes clear that "it's possible to enjoy a game while simultaneously being critical of elements of it", e.g. no one is taking them away. What should be done is still ambiguous though and largely up for discussion. Various possible standpoints:
  • The industry should aim to create games with a broad representation of people and represent them respectfully. It should also realize the role games have in broader society in creating the cultural ideas we live by, and take on that responsibility.
  • Any legal game has its right to exist if there are people who want to buy them, regardless of what it depicts. Artistic freedom, freedom of speech and so on. Games representing women more broadly is fine; go ahead and make those games, but don't dictate that the other games shouldn't be made.
  • The industry should strive towards more balance as a whole, but no individual game should be held accountable for not living up to certain imposed standards.

Gamer as a term and assertions about gamer culture

In August, a handful of articles on game news sites announced that the term "gamer" is becoming irrelevant; that "gamer" is dead. Some people who considered themselves gamers and in love with gamer culture were offended by that. This is another case of different sides trying to "own" what the meaning of a word is, which I personally consider pointless. It sure did add fuel to the fire though. Different standpoints in the controversy:
  • As videogames became mainstream, the male-dominated gamer identity clung on to its idea of hardcore gaming being the only true form of it, and had no room for people playing match-three games, games with no challenge, and so on. Becoming a smaller part of a growing and diversifying culture, these gamers fight against the change with hatred and a sense of entitlement. So let's stop the use of the irrelevant term 'gamer' and talk about 'players' from now on.
  • "'Gamer' isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad. These obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers -- they are not my audience (at Gamasutra). They don’t have to be yours." (From this Gamasutra editorial)
  • "'Gamer' as a label can stretch, can evolve. It's not something you are born with, or even forced upon you. It's a choice. You label yourself a gamer because of a passion for games. Don't want to be label one? Good, you are not! This is a label you choose for yourself, not one applied to you by others. Claiming 'gamers are dead' is simply having no idea what this label is about in the first place." (From this Gamasutra member blog post)
  • Gamer culture is vile and toxic space of privileged white males that creates the kind of threats we've seen.
  • Gamer culture is a wonderful space for people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations to share their love of games.
The articles arguing for the "end of gamers" is probably some of the most direct attempts at linking "gamer culture" and "harassment" intrinsically together, and in doing so, most likely alienated a large group of diverse self-proclaimed gamers, the majority of whom is opposed to harassment.

You can civilly argue for or against the relevance of gamer as a term, but to claim that people who consider themselves gamers are also the people who harass or support harassment is not going to help anything.

What GamerGate really means

I've covered four distinctly different subjects above and a list of different stances for each. Different people assume all kinds of different stances on these different subjects - any talk of there being "two sides" to this controversy is failing to understand the complexity and nuances of it.
Yet many people are claiming to have the truth about what GamerGate really means.

Some GamerGate people say that they were around (under different banners perhaps) arguing for reforms in game journalism long before the harassers used the GamerGate term for pushing an agenda of harassment.

Some anti-GamerGate people say that GamerGate was orchestrated by harassers from the very beginning, and that harassment is thus the true purpose of GamerGate.

The only objective truth as I see it is that GamerGate means different things to different people. Who cares what the history of it is; we know that there are lots of GamerGate people who are for inclusion, against harassment. In particular, the NotYourShield hashtag was created to put emphasis on that. How is them using the GamerGate hashtag supporting harassment when they are speaking out directly against it?

The fact that people against GamerGate are constantly trying to educate the moderate people under the GamerGate banner that supporting GamerGate is supporting harassment seems to point to an acknowledgement that not everyone may share that view from the start. You could say that the anti-GamerGate people are helping creating and reinforcing the notion that GamerGate equals harassment, and that while other people are trying to break down the links between GameGate and harassment, anti-GamerGate people are constantly working to reinforce those links in the public perception.

Regardless though, I'm not seeing any signs of either side budging. I think that the fight over owning the meaning of GamerGate is a lost cause regardless of what side you're on.

What you may inadvertently communicate

GamerGate as a term is meaningless since it represents many people with completely opposite standpoints.

Representing more than you meant to

Claiming to be part of or in support of GamerGate will be interpreted by many as supporting harassment against women regardless of whether you agree with that or not.

Claiming to be against or fight GamerGate will be interpreted by many as being against making any changes to improve journalistic integrity, and against contemporary gamer culture, gamer as a term, and as being scornful towards people creating or enjoying certain types of games, whether you agree with that or not.

Pushing different agendas

Insisting on using the GamerGate hashtag will be perceived by many as complying in pushing an agenda of harassment under the ostensible agenda of journalistic integrity. Whether that's correct or not doesn't matter, the damage to the GamerGate word is done and beyond repair unless you're only addressing people who considers themselves part of GamerGate too.

On the flip side, insisting on antagonizing people using the GamerGate hashtag will be perceived by many as complying in slipping in an agenda of deriding gamers and certain types of games together with the agenda of stopping harassment. Whether that's correct or not doesn't matter; hordes of people supporting GamerGate will interpret it that way. After all, if it's only the harassment part of GamerGate you're against, why don't you just oppose harassment directly instead of opposing GamerGate as a whole?

For anti-GamerGate people, it may just happen that you in fact do agree with those other agendas too. Maybe you do think we should retire the word gamer and so on. But if you're taking the opportunity to push those other agendas together with the agenda against harassment, then you're responsible for adding more fuel to the fire and pitting people against each other who are all against harassment, just because of those other less important differences.

What to do

GamerGate is pointless to fight both for and against. All it does it create enemies out of people who would otherwise be on the same side on the subject of fighting harassment.

I suggest for all involved to drop the focus on GamerGate if you want to be taken seriously as a person who wants real change rather than just mudslinging. So stop using #GamerGate and stop using #StopGamerGate2014, but on the other hand, don't waste time scolding other people for using them. Just drive the conversations towards the real issues.

To put focus on non-harassment related issues, use other hashtags to discuss that under, whether it's about journalistic integrity, depiction of women in games, gamer culture, or other.

For the fight against harassment, I'd suggest to use the hashtag #UniteAgainstHarassment - this is meant to indicate stark opposition to threats of death, rape, harm to family, and other harassment, while acknowledging that people are most welcome to join regardless of their stance on GamerGate, as long as they're against harassment.

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