My Post on Gamergate at First Things

An example of typical response to my piece from Gamergate supporters on Twitter.
An example of typical response to my piece from Gamergate supporters on Twitter.

I forgot to mention that First Things ran a piece I wrote on Gamergate last Friday: Gamergate at the Beginning of 2015. I was pretty proud of the twin analyses I did for that piece, one explaining the reason for the radicalism of the social justice movement and the other explaining the tensions in the gaming community as it reacts to being mainstreamed. The loudest response to the piece so far, however, has been from Gamergate supporters who really don’t like that I wrote the phrase “Gamergate is dead” in the article.

I can understand their anger and, based on the Topsy charts they provided, they might have a point. It’s possible that I (and the folks I talked to) were premature in writing the movement off entirely. That would not be a bad thing at all in my book. There are times when you hope that you’re wrong. This is one of those times.

3 thoughts on “My Post on Gamergate at First Things”

  1. One of the things which didn’t get much play in your piece, but which I’m quite interested in your thoughts on, is the role of anonymity in the gamergate dynamic and the reactions those who identify with the tag get from the wider world. I have the impression that the maintenance of anonymity is important to many of the users of the chan boards, and this seems to connect to some related behaviors and beliefs which much of the rest of the world just doesn’t seem to deal with very well.

    For example, journalists are used to being passed directed to an official spokesperson, then building a working relationship with this person which allows them to both continue making news and put their comments in the context of prior comments and interactions. That’s very difficult for groups which reject official roles and whose members are anonymous–even when a handle is used often, any context not specifically associated with that handle is lost, and it’s difficult even to be confident that there is only one user using the handle. As a result, reporting on such groups tends to be relatively rare, unsympathetic, and poor. Anonymous seems like another group which is poorly understood by the media (I judge from the inconsistency of media coverage, not from any personal knowledge), for similar reasons, though that seems to be getting partly addressed. I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on the intersection between personal responsibility and anonymity.

    Finally, one minor quibble. This sentence, “Video game journalists as a group aggressively took up the social justice advocates’ perspective on the problem and rapidly used their near absolute control over the media portrayal of the story to launch a coordinated and ruinous attack on Gamergate supporters,” appears to assert that video game journalists control the media about video game players. This is severely problematic. If you mean the gaming press, while many of them reacted quite negatively to the threats and those who chose to associate themselves with them, some game journalists were quite sympathetic to the concerns of about ethics, and many have made substantial changes as a result. ZTGD, a metacritic-listed site for which I used to write, has taken the consistent position of continuing to write about games. Outside the gaming press, the person who has had most visibility about the story is Anita Sarkeesian, who isn’t a game journalist. Indeed, a surprisingly small proportion of those discussed under the gamergate tag are game journalists, which is part of the reason that the legitimate concerns expressed by many are wrongly taken to be insincere.

    All of that said, I do think it’s an extremely difficult topic to report on, and am glad enough that you’ve given it your attention that I’m happy to excuse any failure of omniscience with respect to the topic.

  2. Kelsey-

    First, as to your quibble, can you give me some more info on this? In my research, I found numerous examples of the video game media coming down on gamergate quite harshly and giving every possible evidence of colluding to do so (including the existence of a secret, journo-list style email group). For example, you had Gamasutra and Kotaku leading the way in the “gamers are dead” narrative that seemed almost like a coordinated soundbite. This included both the actual writers, and also the editors and even owners. The biggest example of that was when Gawker Media appeared to direct anti-Gamergate coverage in a non-video game subsidiary (Deadspin). The only major video game media outlet that I could find that didn’t seem entirely anti-gamergate was The Escapist.

    Once you factor in the boycotts and other responses by Gamergate supporters, the extent of this negative coverage is really astonishing. I’ve never seen a subset of the media so openly hostile to anyone, let alone their own audience.

    I do think, however, that your point about how anonymity would warp the media’s attempt to cover the story is insightful and relevant. It just doesn’t go all the way to explaining the near universal and apparently coordinated negative coverage that I found.

  3. The Escapist was the most openly sympathetic outlet I had in mind. IIRC, Kotaku and Destructoid changed their ethics policies following the initial gamergate outcry. It’s also the case that, if there’s a unifying thread to the accusations, it’s that politics invaded game coverage. So the many authors and outlets which reviewed and reported on games without addressing social/political ramifications gave implicit support to the ideals of gamergate.

    One of the things I find interesting about the narrative that the “gamers are dead” articles appear coordinated is how implausible it is upon close inspection, yet how frequently it has been repeated. There’s an image going around of roughly twelve headlines which is offered in evidence of this claim, yet when you read the articles (or, really, even the headlines), they’re saying very different things. They seem like a diverse set of reactions to the news that video games have finally achieved the sort of cultural recognition which spawns commentary on their cultural impact, which we’ve all sort of assumed was something gamers have wanted for years, and the reaction to that commentary by (presumed) gamers was strikingly negative.

    That’s an interesting narrative twist, and people would be writing about it in any medium. If the reaction of dog show fans to Best in
    Show was to threaten the life of the people who made it, that would be unexpected, and we’d expect publications which cover dog shows to comment on it. In the case of games, wider public acceptance naturally makes one question what it means to be a gamer–if almost everyone plays games, it doesn’t pick out a distinctive type. So the closest thing to a theme many of those pieces shared was topical and more nearly obvious than insightful, which makes some similarity in their content very poor evidence of coordination. The existence of a private (not secret) industry group without any actual record of such coordination is similarly very poor evidence.

    All of which said, what little I know of Gawker leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable even appearing to defend them. That information is pretty slight, though, so I’m open to the possibility that they sometimes display impressive journalistic integrity and respect for their audience, and have some really impressive and moral employees.

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