Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Five People You Will Meet in #GamerGate (And How They Are All Wrong)

Myself and #GamerGate

My first exposure to GamerGate (GG from here on) came largely through the wave of "Gamers are Dead" articles that were posted in the aftermath of some of the most serious abuse I've ever seen online. The history of the group is well documented at this point, I recommend this article if you want to get caught up: http://gawker.com/what-is-gamergate-and-why-an-explainer-for-non-geeks-1642909080

I began trawling the hashtag on twitter, trying to see if these people were really as bold-faced in their defense of harassment as it seemed. My interactions with GG range from real debate and discussion, to common trolling, to mockery, to decrying, to just talking about games. The truth was surprising, with layers of depth and complication that I never anticipated.

What I Found There

GG is a strata of multiple people groups, all with their own beliefs and causes, all layering on top of each other in substrata that range from the naive and foolish to the insidious and hateful. How these layers stay distinct and interact as a functioning whole is fascinating, with a complicated system of sharing and disseminating information.These different substrata shift and pulse and retract when needed to aid the overall body accomplish its goals and maintain its desired public image. The most bizarre part of this entire mini-culture is the willful blindness that is necessary for the movement to continue functioning. At any given moment each substrata must be willing to ignore and decry, or signal-boost and support the others, all depending on what the goal is at the time. In essence, people in GG can be divided into one of five groups.

Substrata 1: Naive Young White Male

This is GG's footsoldier. The cannon fodder. They are by far the most numerous group in the movement. Much of this group genuinely believes the line about Journalistic Integrity. They see the problems that really do exist in game journalism and take up the GG banner in that name. These are hardcore gamers, people who live and breath gaming and have been for most of their lives, and often they have faced pushback from family or society for their gaming habits. The gaming landscape has been changing in huge ways since the start of the last hardware generation and the widespread adoption of mobile gaming, and this change is a colossal threat to their very self-identity. As game companies shift further and further from pandering to this section of game-consumers, they grow increasingly hostile and defensive of their "turf." Unfortunately these people also often cross over into other, more problematic groups, such as Men's Rights Activists, rape apologists, and anti-feminists. I believe their reasons for holding these beliefs stem more from youth and a lack of genuine social experience, much less experience dealing with women. Remember that most of these people are very young, and are not (usually) worthy of the kind of scorn some other, more aggressive parts of the movement are.

How They Are Wrong

Their willful (or unwillful, depending on how smart of a guy we're talking about here) ignorance is their downfall. Like I said, many of them genuinely want better game journalism, and they have a fair grievance. Unfortunately they seem to be  incapable of realizing their role in the larger picture of GG. They believe they are the ones driving the car, when actually they're just along for the ride.

Substrata 2: The Minorities

The layer of GG resting on top of this angry, white, young, male base is comprised of different minority groups, racial and sexual. These people are also hardcore gamers, and have been identifying with gamer culture their whole lives. They've likely had positive experiences in the past within gamer culture when other social groups have rejected them based on minority status, leading them to identify with it even stronger and in a more tangible way than substrata 1. This layer is one of GG's most relied-upon shields. GG can easily deflect criticisms about sexism or racism by pointing at this small group, shouting "If these minorities support us, how can gamer culture really be so bad?" As we will see later on, there is a truly vile and discriminatory layer at the bottom of GG, so how can these two groups coexist? This is where GG's other great shield comes into play, the common cry of "Those people don't speak for us! Of course there are jerks, all movements have jerks, we can't get rid of them! GG is a leaderless movement, I don't take cues from anyone!" And many of this substrata genuinely believe this, not seeing that they are being used as GG's shield against criticism. (Ironic, considering the #notyourshield hashtag they are so fond of.)

How They Are Wrong

I feel terrible for these people. Again, like the last group, they fail to see their place in the bigger picture, however the tragedy is multiplied tenfold. They are being manipulating into supporting a system that is rigged against them, and they are being manipulated with catchphrases like "egalitarianism," "meritocracy of ideas," and "equality of thought." I understand that they want to be treated as just another person equal to any other in game culture, but they think the way to achieve this is to support the status quo: a system that is systematically designed to trivialize and rationalize real-life racism and sexism.

Substrata 3: The Alarm-Ringing Policeman

This group primarily spends its time alerting other GGrs of when to engage and disengage in discussion. They will swoop into a any discussion using the GG hashtag that begins to stray from the group's desired public image, and begin shouting for pro-GGrs to disengage, calling the anti-GGrs trolls or "proven liars." They commonly use the phrase "don't touch the poop" to refer to this activity. Some frequent anti-GG users will even have extensive link and screenshot collections compiled on them for easy reference as to why they should not b engaged. This substrata is even more nebulous than the others, drawing members from other groups and dropping them at will. While there are some common faces doing this regularly, any member of GG can take up this function.

How They Are Wrong

One of the primary battlecries of GG is "No censorship!" However their definition of censorship boils down to "not being free to say whatever I want, wherever I want, without any flak or repercussion." Ironically this substrata functions to throw flak at those that engage GG in a way that might expose their own system of protection. GG seeks to end "censorship" by essentially "censoring" anyone who disagrees with them on their turf.

Substrata 4: The Common Troll

I found this layer to be surprisingly small. There are (relatively) few real trolls involved in the GG movement, and those that are involved are glaringly obvious. The reason for this relatively small population of trolls escapes me. Maybe GG is a cause that trolls take seriously. Regardless, there is not much to be said here about trolls that is new. They do it for perverse kicks. 

How They Are Wrong

Just ignore, block, and move on. Don't feed the trolls.

Substrata 5: The Insidious Core of GamerGate

The root of the problem. GG follows the will and word of an elite few. Rogue game developers, misogynistic gamers, minor celebrities, sympathetic journalists, and conservative bloggers, all the while denying that these people are "leaders" of their movement, or that their movement has a political leaning. "They don't speak for me, we have no leaders. Well of course we follow their work, no one else will post sympathetic coverage of us! We don't agree with the rest of what they say, just the stuff about us!" This is the way the lower substrata convince themselves that their cause is still righteous, while following their leaders down the path of their choosing. The true leaders of GG are invariably right-wing, anti-feminist, rape apologists. It began with a small group of people in gaming culture who genuinely hate women, and see the heaps of abused visited upon feminists as just. Then, other, sympathetic (and more experienced) anti-feminist groups saw in GG a group of largely privileged young people feeling oppressed, and as they have in other situations, they have swooped in to capitalize on it. All of these people have a vested interest in protecting and evangelizing patriarchy. When people say that GG is a conservative movement, this is what they mean. Note that much of the abuse and harassment heaped upon enemies of GG does not come from people waving the GG banner. Like a true shadowy overlord, the real abusers and harassers in gaming culture are frighteningly intelligent, and they use GamerGate as their cloak and shield, attracting the scorn of progressive members of the gaming community while they set about doing their true work.

How They Are Wrong

Fortunately this crowd is the easiest to defeat. Just Google their names. Milo Yiannopoulos, Adam Baldwin, roguestargamez, and Christina "Based Mom" Sommers are prominent examples. If their words and actions don't make your spine crawl, then you have a serious empathy problem. These peoples' hateful ideology is not hidden or secret, the display it proudly. This is why GG has the complex system of protections and deceptions to cover the overall group's allegiance to these bigoted people.

So What Can I Do?

Tackling GamerGate is daunting. As I have described, the movement is structured around defense of their own, making it very difficult to penetrate. Any attempt to call them out on their own hashtag, or to support someone else who is doing so, will inevitably receive twice as many replies back from pro-GGrs shouting you down. Repeatedly being exposed to their groupthink self-support system has a designed effect to break down opposition, leaving any attacker weary of the struggle and able only to make potshots at the group without engaging in real argument. How can a self-deceiving group that shifts and changes at the slightest pressure be tackled and wrestled down? The short and sad answer is, they can't. Engaging GamerGate in this way is ultimately a futile exercise, because while the movement itself is based in falsehood and deception, the feelings of its supporters are true. This sincere feeling, combined with a support system that is more concerned with defense of its own than the truth, is a potent and virtually unassailable combination.

The answer does not lie in direct confrontation with the group. Instead, game enthusiasts and developers who seek a better gaming culture have to redouble their efforts to create that better culture for themselves. Remember that GG has already exposed itself as nothing more than a very vocal minority among gamers. By fostering a positive and progressive movement in gaming, and by supporting creators who are assaulted by the insidious core at the heart of GamerGate, we can together create a gaming culture that is more thoughtful and welcoming to people of all kinds. This change will not happen soon. It will take years of hard work to supplant the harassment-enabler culture that is at the root of gaming now, but it is possible. Don't give up.