Extra Lives: #GamerGate

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It’s been sweeping the gaming community as a whole for about a month, yet many still don’t understand what it is or how it came to be. #GamerGate is a hashtag created to describe arguably one of the biggest controversies this industry has ever seen. What exactly it means depends on who you ask. Some call it a hate movement, while others claim it’s a force for good. Either way, #GamerGate has become almost synonymous with both sexism in the game industry and morally grey journalism.

The hashtag was created primarily in response to a series of major gaming controversies from the past month. It’s also representative of a drive to improve gaming as a whole. The members of the movement have even raised money for charity. In order to understand #GamerGate, one must understand just what started this mess in the first place.

“The Zoe Post”

The controversy began with a disgruntled ex-boyfriend. It’s strange to think about how small these things are in the beginning.

On Saturday, Aug. 16, Eron Gjoni made a lengthy WordPress blog post detailing his personal experience in a romantic relationship with independent game developer Zoe Quinn. The post chronicled in great detail the extent to which Gjoni felt manipulated by Quinn during a period of time when she was unfaithful to him. In the post, Gjoni goes to great lengths to document everything that happened, using chat logs and text message screenshots to back up his claim. Some of this documentation specifically showed Quinn admitting to participating in the aforementioned cheating.

Now, the problem with this is that none of it should really have gone public in the first place. It seems that in the age of digital media, everybody’s personal and private lives have to be broadcasted over the internet. Gjoni claims that he made the post to “warn you to be cautious of Zoe.” However, this really shouldn’t have been made a public affair. It would have been much better if Quinn and Gjoni had settled the matter privately.

At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with the #GamerGate controversy, but there is a connection: Nathan Grayson. One of the individuals with whom Quinn was having an affair with was Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson. (For those of you who don’t know, Kotaku is a news site focused on video games.)

Almost immediately, accusations were thrown at everybody involved. The implication was essentially that Quinn had traded sexual favors for positive coverage from Grayson. On Wednesday, Aug. 20, Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo released a statement denying all claims that Grayson’s journalistic integrity had been compromised.

The reason for the denial: Grayson never actually wrote about Quinn’s game “Depression Quest.” In fact, Nathan Grayson only ever wrote a single Kotaku article that even mentioned Quinn. The article in question was in fact about a failed reality TV show centered around the development of video games. Even according to Gjoni’s post, the timeline doesn’t match up. At the time the article was published, Grayson and Quinn weren’t even in any kind of relationship.

This begs the question of why this even became a huge controversy. What’s the big deal? This issue is resolved, right? 

The Response

Wrong. The controversy probably would have ended there, if it hadn’t been for the power of a little website called YouTube.

The further controversy stems from the idea that the Quinn scandal is representative of a larger problem within the industry. Game developers and game journalists are a small community, which makes it almost inevitable that friendships and relationships arise between the two. This is perfectly fine. However, the journalists must be able to separate their work from their private lives. If a critic writes a review of his best friend’s game, that review will be less credible, regardless of how objective it actually is.

This idea, which I strongly agree with, was the center of a YouTube video posted by online personality MundaneMatt. The video detailed specifically the Quinn scandal and how it represented what MunaneMatt described as an “incestuous relationship” between developers and journalists.

This is where things start to get ugly. MundaneMatt’s video was removed as a result of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claim that appeared to be created by Quinn. The content which supposedly infringed on Quinn’s content was a screenshot of the her he used with voiceover commentary. The problem with this: The images in the screenshot were stock photos which were not actually Quinn’s intellectual property. (The video has since been reuploaded with a different picture.)

Keep in mind that this was all happening in the days prior to Stephen Totilo’s statement on Kotaku.

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, popular video game commentator John Bain (aka Totalbiscuit) released a long tweet via TwitLonger about the issue. The essence of the message was a call to reason. If the false copyright claim was indeed filed by Quinn, her actions were deplorable. However, at this time there wasn’t a lot of information. Bain stressed this, claiming that the gaming community shouldn’t be quick to rush to judgment. Bain also exercised some authority over the matter, citing his run-in with Wild Games Studios, the developer of the game “Day One: Garry’s Incident.”

To me, Bain’s tweet sounds like the most reasonable statement in the world. If the allegations are true, then Quinn is taking advantage of a broken system to exercise censorship over criticism and dissent. If they are false, then it’s just some troll trying to stir up drama.

The response that followed was unacceptable. Bain was accused of being the head of a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) harassment campaign, and viciously attacked by many developers on Twitter. The most notable of these attacks came from “Fez” developer Phil Fish, who resorted to calling Bain “a gross nerd.”

This reaction is anecdotal to the main problem I have with the opposition to the #GamerGate movement. Yes, there have been massively misogynistic and inappropriate responses to Quinn and others about the issue (I’ll go more into this in a moment here). However, not every critic is sexist. This side of the argument seems to believe that any criticism of a woman is inherently misogynistic and should be treated as such. This is making the mistake that many do when it comes to just about any political issue: the reputation of the majority is smeared by the beliefs of the much more vocal minority.

In addition to attacking Bain, Fish spent a great deal of time defending Quinn on Twitter. One of other more prominent defenders of Quinn was well-known feminist Anita Sarkeesian. Both of them were also viciously attacked via Twitter. The reaction to these two was equally unacceptable, no matter how wrong they were. This led to Fish announcing that he is selling the rights to Polytron and his game “Fez” after being hacked and to Sarkeesian being driven out of her home by death threats.

With this, a controversy of astronomical proportions was born within the gaming industry. This didn’t all happen simply because of a blog post about Zoe Quinn. This has been years in the making.

A Trip Through Time

To fully understand #GamerGate, you have to travel all the way back to 2005. It was a much different time for gaming. For one, YouTube had just been created and personalities like MundaneMatt and Totalbiscuit weren’t around yet. Sarkeesian, Fish and Quinn weren’t even remotely in the public eye when it came to video games.

So why does this matter? The answer lies with (now disbarred) Florida lawyer Jack Thompson. Thompson was an outspoken opponent of violent and sexual content in video games. Thompson was attacked with death threats in a similar manner to Sarkeesian, which actually led to the arrest of a teenage boy. The real significance of this is that it demonstrates this isn’t the first time a public figure critical of the industry has been viciously attacked by people who call themselves gamers. Much of the response I’ve seen is simply the belief that people are attacking Sarkeesian and Fish out of sexism. This is simply not the case; although many of the comments are misogynistic in nature (telling Sarkeesian to “get back in the kitchen,” etc.) they’re not fueled by pure sexism.

The massive controversy that we’re seeing today can really be traced back to the history of controversy that has followed both Sarkeesian and Fish through their careers.

First, there’s Fish. He’s had what could be considered one of the most tumultuous careers in gaming. In 2012, he was accused of being racist for stating that Japanese games nowadays “just suck.” In 2013, he cancelled the sequel to his game after a public meltdown and Twitter fight with video game commentator and journalist Marcus Beer. In one of the tweets, Fish told Beer to “compare your life to mine then kill yourself.” Earlier this year, he caused even more controversy when he claimed that YouTube creators had no right to make money off of his game.

So, although he wasn’t entirely at fault in this scenario, Phil Fish is no angel. He has been just as disgusting and vile to other people as other people have been to him.

Sarkeesian is also no stranger to controversy. Her career began as a Kickstarter campaign asking for funds to help her buy games so she could analyze them for her show, Feminist Frequency. The videos were, to say the least, not very well received by the gaming community. Whether or not you agree with her points, it is clear that the response to these videos is unacceptable.

So, the massive conflicts arising about sexism in the gaming industry and the brutal attacks of these two are not new. They’ve been going on for years, and have culminated into this massive controversy we see today.

Representation in the Media and My Final Thoughts

With all of these things considered, I have a major problem with how this is being portrayed in the media. The story is being poorly represented on local games sites, where only one side of the issue is being represented. This is somewhat forgivable, as some of these sites are purely opinionated blogs. For an example of this bias, look no further than the slew of articles about the topic  on Kotaku, Techcrunch and other sites.

The representation of the issue in more journalistic publications, however, is absolutely unacceptable. Take, for instance, this article in The Guardian, which details the controversy surrounding Quinn. It represents only one side of the issue. Where is the right of Quinn’s critics to respond to the her? Quinn is the only source in the story, with no representation of any other viewpoints.

Gamers are being portrayed as a kind of giant misogynistic lynch mob that just spews out hate at anybody who dares to criticize them. This just isn’t what we are. The hate-filled messages at the heart of this controversy are the work solely of a vocal minority.

In the midst of all of this insanity, the hashtag #GamerGate was born. It began as a tag simply to describe the sorry state of affairs the industry is in, but has come to symbolize a hope that we can reform the current gaming industry. The very name is intended as a play on the word “Watergate.” This movement is a valiant effort in the end, but only time will tell if it results in something better. I certainly hope so.

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