Dear reasonable #gamergate (er),
This has probably already been said, but I’m boiling over so I’ll say it anyway… Video games are going through a pivotal moment. In the popular consciousness, games are coming into the mainstream and its happening right now. The standard for games is shifting from disposable niche market commodity to a universally recognized form of media. Up until now, during games disposable commodity phase, the notion of credible game journalism was laughable. There simply wasn’t enough interest to be able to fund journalistic coverage. The attitude was that games were a small niche and ‘free journalism’ existed only within a small group of amateur users: fans reviewing things for fans. Advertisers – and to an increasingly smaller extent, subscribers – are who fund “free/unbiased” commercial and large-scale journalism and its distribution in western society. Up until this point, the only groups who cared enough about games to pay for anything to appear in print were those who stood to most directly benefit from their circulation. The biggest such group, the ones with the most invested commercial interest and the ones with the most funds to invest, were and are the game producers. This is more than a little problematic. Game publications that are funded almost exclusively by invested parties are in a clear conflict of interest. There WAS no game journalism in a broad sense: it was game advertising. There are plenty examples of this: Jeff Gerstmann and Gamespot; Nintendo Magazine; developer funded infomercials in mainstream tabloid press; etc. If you’re a gamer, you’ve seen it. But this isn’t an issue unique to gaming. If you look outside the gamer niche, these ‘controversies’ abound. Travel resort review publications, wine reviewers, shoe and skater mags (online and in print), among many others, accept premiums from producers to feature and assess their commodities. The honesty of reviews varies, depending on editorial policy, but you can usually pay a little more if you are confident in your product. This premium might allow you to run an ad featuring the review quote opposite the review, or bump your column into a feature. The justification is: we are a niche market with a niche audience based on a PRODUCT – we have expenses and limited resources to draw on. We need the extra cash.
This is a problem and the discussion about game journalism needs to be had. But how its being done and what its being conflated with is messed up. The GamerGate banner is at odds with its own cause. Lets look a little deeper. Because you are a reasonable GamerGat(er) I’m going to assume some background knowledge.
Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (controversial figures in this story) are both doing something new – they are treating the game medium as a standalone creative platform. Anita is critiquing games as a text (applying all the methods of gender studies and textual analysis that have been applied to film and written narrative since the 1960’s). Zoe, as a developer, is messing with the conventions and expectations of the medium. Agree or disagree with their intellectual arguments, or their personal actions, what they are doing is the highest form of flattery. These people are IN LEAGUE with the idea that reasonable GGers claim to purport: holding the medium of video-games to the standard of analysis and accountability that is expected of any other mainstream artistic platform. Presumably, this is what you’re asking: you want good press ethics, those that match external journalistic standards. Yet the GG hashtag is historically based around attacking these producers. Through mental gymnastics many arguing for this movement towards serious analysis and reporting have flipped the switch, arguing that the conventional standard of universal decency is some kind of social justice censorship of free expression. Free? The freedom referred to in this logic is the freedom to be untouched by the common standard, free to stay as they always have been. A minority groups within gamer culture perpetuates this logic. They are a territorial, exclusive group and they consider themselves the core of the community and the gatekeepers of the cultural realm. For this group games are a sacred space, a fantasy escape from broader social expectations and daily realities and responsibilities of society. They have been drawn to games as games have been until now and they are invested in keeping games from becoming what they can be. The GG hashtag is, subsequently, arguing the OPPOSITE of what its reasonable proponents claim: for games and game communities to remain niche, adolescent, market driven commodities. This may not be what the reasonable people under this banner want, but it IS the historical base of the GamerGate movement.
Some reasonable proponents of the gamergate hashtag are worried about abandoning the movement towards good gaming journalism to the marginal, violent, vitriolic fringe. That without reasonable people under the GG banner the very idea of advocacy for good press and representation will be left to the reactionary, self-ordained gamer ‘core’. Don’t do it. You certainly can (and should!) campaign for games, good press and gamer communities. I’ll do it with you. But in doing so under the GG banner you are empowering the faulty logic and the empty narratives of those who want the opposite of games being taken seriously. What will happen if we leave the crazies unregulated under this hashtag? They will not be taken seriously. Dear reasonable GGer, the only reason nut-job ranting, misogynistic vitriol, harassment and the conflation between sexism and game journalism survives is because of you. In being there you create a shield of false solidarity for this fringe to hide behind. You justify their logic and their actions. If you restate your aims and abandon the reactionaries they will be revealed for what they are: an insecure, territorial and reactionary minority on the wrong side of gaming history.