Here at Continue Play, we’ve been watching with dismay as a number of videogame critics, writers and game developers have come under attack in recent weeks.
The so-called GamerGate “movement” – taking its name from a tweet posted by actor Adam Baldwin – claims to be concerned with exposing wrongdoing and breaches of ethics in videogame journalism, citing all manner or things which it claims highlight a litany of problems within a number of publications, both print and online, and a corrupt relationship between their writers and members of the game development community. One specific, and widely-discussed accusation revolves around the claim that Zoe Quinn slept with a game journalist in order to receive favorable coverage for her game, Depression Quest. That accusation has since been conclusively proven false – no such favorable coverage exists. Of course, in true conpiracy-theorist fashion, the response is to claim that it no longer exists because it has been taken down in an attempt to debunk the claims.
This is nonsense. The coverage doesn’t exist, because it never existed.
Next, attention moved to an accusation that many editors and journalists collude to set the narrative and discourse around which videogames are covered. One right-leaning site claimed to have “exposed” a scandalous message board where a number of people who write about games for various publications chatted about work.
Yes, that’s all it was – a number of people chatting about videogames. It should not be surprising that people working in the same industry talk to each other; they meet at various press events and functions, and many become friends or later colleagues. Let’s be clear: this happens in any industry, not just videogame journalism. The idea that people in the same industry know each other and chat to each other about work isn’t a shocking scandal – it’s a commonplace and mundane truth about any profession. People in the health sector, in the film industry, in mainstream journalism, in the automobile industry: no matter what industry you work in, it’s easy to find people from two different companies or organizations discussing things amongst themselves. Birds of a feather flock together.
Now, let’s discuss the other side to GamerGate – the ongoing harassment and abuse being levelled at its targets. First thing’s first – GamerGate is not a centralized movement. Anyone can associate themselves with it, all it takes is a simple hashtag at the end of a tweet or email. GamerGate has no official spokesperson, no official website, it doesn’t exist as an organized body of people with clearly stated aims that acts in a a transparent manner (ironic, considering that its supporters readily argue it’s all about wanting more transparency in the games industry). There are plenty of more moderate supporters of the supposed goals of the movement who have not engaged in the routine abuse and harassment of journalists, critics, and developers. No-one is saying for one minute that every single person who has ever supported the movement is a rampant misogynist troll – and it’s also true that some supporters of GamerGate have, themselves, received abuse, behaviour which is equally unacceptable.
But the GamerGate movement, and the ease with which people can associate themselves with it, has led to a series of instances where women – and men – have been threatened with rape and murder, suffered persistent abuse, libellous claims about their public and private lives and their work, and has seen people driven from their homes out of fear. All of this culminated last week in the threat of a killing spree if Anita Sarkeesian attended a planned lecture at a University in Utah. The police and FBI were contacted and an investigation has been launched to find the source of the threat, but out of fear for safety and that of others, Sarkeesian cancelled the appearance.
This is the truth about GamerGate – it claims to want transparency, truth and to support freedom of speech, but the ongoing actions of many of its supporters have spread lies, false accusations, and actually denied the right of free speech to its targets through persistent malicious attacks and threats on their target’s – and others’ – safety and careers.
GamerGate – or at least many of its supporters – also say they want to remove politics from gaming. Let’s be clear – you can’t remove politics from anything. Indeed, saying you want to remove the politics from gaming is an inherently political statement. You’re stating a desire for a tonal shift in how something is discussed and evaluated. What these people really mean is that they want politics they don’t agree with removed from the coverage of games, and that’s a whole other thing entirely. It’s a desire for censorship.
The world of videogames is now one of the leading entertainment industries, enjoyed by countless millions around the world from all backgrounds, of all genders, ages, races, sexualities, and faiths. It’s perfectly natural for any industry to be examined and debated, and for its practices and failings in all areas to be scrutinised. Questions should be asked about whether certain ongoing issues such as the representation of women are appropriate in the modern day, and people should be free to ask them – and for other people to agree, or disagree. That’s healthy. That’s important.
Ethics is an important subject, of that there is no doubt. But so is the free exchange of views and information, and the ability for people to discuss those views without fear of having their lives torn apart by an unpleasant subset of people who are no more interested in behaving ethically than they are the real effect that their actions have on people’s lives. This is the true legacy of GamerGate, for better or for worse; and however genuine the stated interest in exposing ethical wrongdoing, it has become irreversibly tarnished by the behaviour of many of its supporters. So I urge anyone who remotely, honestly cares about videogame journalism ethics and greater transparency in the games industry to not support GamerGate. Start your own movement. Write about it online. Debate and discuss things, and reach out to like-minded individuals. But do so responsibly, without abuse and recognizing that games should be enjoyed – and discussed – by all, whatever their gender.
No-one deserves to be subjected to the kind of threats and abuse that have become commonplace as a consequence of GamerGate. No-one deserves to be hounded from their home, have their friends and family targeted, have to endure constant abuse every time they check their twitter feed, or emails, or phone messages. Certainly no-one deserves to have their career and ability to voice an opinion restricted by disordered individuals threatening to go on a murderous rampage should they attend a planned function. It is entirely possible to disagree and discuss the games industry without resorting to such underhanded and malicious tactics, and by employing these tactics the culprits achieve nothing beyond undermining their arguments and inflicting misery on those they disagree with.
So we will continue to discuss, and write about games, ethics, social issues and cover instances of wrongdoing in both games and games industry. But we will do so on our terms, and not allow the increasingly toxic environment that has been fostered by the whole GamerGate fiasco to set the terms of those debates. From now on, Continue Play will no longer discuss GamerGate by name.
Let’s all move on from the venom and get back to the real spirit of gaming: having fun together and accepting – and including – others.