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.

21 comments:

  1. "The true leaders of GG are invariably right-wing, anti-feminist, rape apologists."

    And it was at this point that I officially realized you have no idea what you're talking about and are labeling people what you want them to be to feed your own victim complex.

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    1. True. He should have said "All members of Gamergate are juvenile idiots who really need to get lives, instead of sitting around whining whenever a game review doesn't exactly mirror their own opinion."

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  2. Ooh look, you've caught one already!

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    1. The cadre of GG trolls are always quick to spam the comments on any anti-GG article.

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    2. And the arrogance and ignorance of the anti-GG shines through again, showing you two are of a kin with the vile man who wrote the fascist thoughts in this article down, thinking people would accept them.

      It is not trolling, nor spam to object to such defamatory, dishonest, bigoted writings.

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  3. Buddy, as a Chinese-American, I can only say this: Fuck you.

    I'm perfectly capable of thinking for myself and I can most assuredly tell you that this system you claim to speak out against is in no way shape or form "oppressive". I know oppression. Oppression is not some trolls on twitter. Oppression is not sexualized female characters. Oppression is not lack of PoC characters on TV.

    Oppression is a man standing in the street opposing a column of tanks.

    The very notion that you think people like me are oppressed in the US when our family has escaped being shot, beaten or arrested for merely disagreeing with their government is the paramount of idiocy not to mention, well, racist.

    Stop complaining about first world problems, troll.

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    1. I too am Chinese American.

      You have my greatest sympathies if you or your family have directly suffered under the rule of the Chinese Government. (My own mother participated in the Tiananmen protest, thankfully, she was not there on the day of the massacre)

      It may be so that the smaller and more subtle issues of discrimination in wealthy country seems trivial to you. I do not blame you for this, you have every right to feel this way given what you have gone through.

      However, there will always be "bigger problems" that make other problems seem trivial. There is no harm in addressing the smaller issues alongside the larger ones. At any rate, people tackling smaller issues instead of the larger ones should not be upsetting to you.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. I have to ask what exactly the problem is. I cannot see one. Could you perhaps explain what the issue are?

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  4. Basically #2 is saying that minorities are too dumb and stupid to make their own decisions, and they need white progressives liberals to guide them to freedom and equality.

    6/10 made me respond

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    1. No, it isn't. I'm not the least bit offended by that statement.

      Minorities can be wrong too, just like anyone else. Sadly, the minorities following GG are very much being misguided. Minorities too, can feel irrational fear that video games are being threatened by some scary outside force.

      Honestly, had GG happened a few years ago, back when I was very insecure and easily threatened, I probably would be among them.

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    2. >Minorities can be wrong too, just like anyone else.

      Yes, they can. Which is why I'm kind of confused about the part of SJ where everyone needs to shut up and listen to the minorities. Give them an equal voice? Of course. Diverse backgrounds breed diverse ideas, and sometimes good ideas come from obscure sources. But "shut up and listen" implies that there is *nothing* arguable about what they're saying, which, as you yourself have noted, is a load of horseshit. Trying to refine it to "oh no, it's only the minorities whose beliefs and values in are in line with mine" is not only arrogant, it shows your true principles as being far from what you claim them to be. You fight to give a voice to minorities, but only the ones whose ideals line up with yours. That's not giving minorities a voice at all; it's giving your own opinions a voice, while using the plight of minorities to add credibility to it.

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  5. "The true leaders of GG are invariably right-wing, anti-feminist, rape apologists."

    "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."

    By calling these people "rape apologists" you show your true colours. You are not a liberal, but an extremist, and a bigot.

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    1. See, in order to conform to the dictates of conservative correctness, we must refrain from calling right-wingers what they are but instead use euphemisms like "defenders of individual liberty and traditional values."

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    2. Associating everyone who shows even the slightest whiff of conservative (or even just non-liberal) ideals with the beliefs of the most far-right nutjobs in America is not an argument. It's the fallacy of Guilt By Association at best, and McCarthyist fear-mongering at worst.

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  6. Thanks for this analysis, spot-on.

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  7. Alot of unironic, straight-faced projection. I understand the meta-irony of saying this is typical of the antis, but there you are.

    I think my favorite part is between 3 and 4. A call to block and ignore trolls, just after complaining about getting blocked and ignored for trolling. That is what it boils down to, though. "It doesn't count when we do it."

    I'll not get how they can just gloss over that kind of twisting hypocrisy. Then they call us delusional. Haha, oh wow.

    8/10, it got me.

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  8. It what sense is gaming culture (IE the 'status quo' in your mind) rigged against me? Do you have any evidence of this claim?

    There actually is a mindset that's harmful to minorities; we're told that there's a glass ceiling. When people are told that there are limitations on what society will let them do, they aim to fulfill their maximum potential. No one can exceed their potential, after all. So people aim for the glass ceiling, and no further. You can see this effect in test scores; students perform significantly differently on standardized tests if they're prompted to record their race before a test.

    It's another white male power structure, but it's one that isn't even aware that it's harmful. You promote the status quo by reminding people to 'check their privilege,' while convincing yourself that you're doing the exact opposite.

    I'm a part of GamerGate because a bunch of media bullies tried to convince me that I didn't belong in a culture that I've endorsed. That attitude will absolutely drive minorities and women out of game development in the future. Meanwhile, a bunch of self-congratulatory white trust fund babies will pat themselves on the back for their 'inclusivity.'

    I'm not some jackass embracing the status quo because I don't know better. I'm some jackass fighting against the least self-aware system of white oppression in recent history.

    You can argue that I'm wrong, that internalizing a sense of preemptive failure just magically won't happen when people are advocating for benevolent racism. I'm open to changing my mind. It wouldn't be the first time. But don't try to tell me that I'm stupid for thinking that your ideas work against me rather than for me. The "white man's burden" dressed in sheep's clothing doesn't benefit me.

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    1. So in response endorsing a group that's actually affiliated with MRAs, actual Nazis, transphobes, and people dealing in kiddie porn? LMAO. Of course people who are concerned about such fine specimens are all "White trust fund babies", as if you have to be White or well funded to realize that using online harassment to get your point across is utterly despicable.

      I never liked Kotaku or related tabloid media, and I response I refuse to read them at all, and they aren't going to change my gaming habits anytime soon. Getting so butthurt over a series of opinion articles to the degree that you have to lash out and attack individuals with threats says a lot about Gamergate.

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    2. what? ok, so you say that gamergate are "that's actually affiliated with MRAs, actual Nazis, transphobes, and people dealing in kiddie porn" can you prove that please. also its kind of ridiculous that anyone leaning to the left would use guilt by association, considering we have long been accused of associating with Stalinists and Nazis.

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  9. "The true leaders of GG are invariably right-wing, anti-feminist, rape apologists."

    lol, this brouhaha wouldn't have started in the first place if you hadn't treated them in this stupid way.

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