Tag: games journalism

The Truth About #GamerGate

Courtesy FullHDWPP.com

“It’s actually about ethics in games journalism.”

To some, it’s an argument against inflammatory, despicable behavior that arises from and is associated with the GamerGate movement. To others, it’s the punchline of the bad joke the movement has become, in the light of threats of rape, damage, and even school shootings in protest of women speaking out. Evidence suggests that the movement has all of the markings and makings of a hate group. But hate groups tend to have a unified vision that, to the deranged, make perfect sense. Normally, you don’t see two narratives in a single group. You don’t have some saying the goals are one thing, and others acting in ways that completely undermine the legitimacy of the first. To this writer, it made no sense.

I backed away from the issue and looked at the bigger picture. What makes games journalism different from regular journalism? Reporters have had a very long tradition of seeking the truth, being offered rewards for hiding the truth, and risking a great deal in pursuit of the truth. Asking for ethics in journalism of all kinds is part of that tradition, and it hasn’t gone away. Even through the lens of comedy and satire – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – people are on the lookout for peddlers of corruption and misinformation. But there’s not a lot of groundswell for that sort of lookout in general. Not with the sort of momentum GamerGate has had.

So, I put the question to some of those people. I was, frankly, surprised with the answers I got.

Responses from Twitter

Now, it wasn’t the content of the answers that surprised me. It was the tone. I wasn’t expecting respect from people who use that hashtag. It got even stranger when I started putting questions to a young woman who is very proud to be a part of the movement.

Answer from Vivicool

Answer from Vivicool

I experienced what can only be described as a colossal amount of cognitive dissonance in the wake of these exchanges. This made sense. This was reasonable. This was, dare I say it, positive. I looked at the words in front of me, and then I looked at the words of others, from Chris Kluwe to Felicia Day, and I started to get a sinking feeling in my gut.

Are they talking to me like a human being because I’m a white heteronormative male?

Once the idea got into my head, I couldn’t shake it. It colored the majority of my interactions and I had to question everything I had just experienced. Too many people associated with the movement are rampant misogynists. I could not just ignore that fact and take it on good feelings that what I experienced was how they really behaved when they weren’t threatening to shoot up universities because they don’t like Anita Sarkeesian.

Answer from Vivicool

I must confess that, for a moment, I wanted to believe this. I really did. It seemed like there might be hope for the notion that this is, in fact, about ethics in games journalism. But I couldn’t hold onto that. Not for long.

Not when just one day later, I saw David Hill reporting on a teenage girl talking about her interest in game design. She had written about how GamerGate and other groups made her afraid to follow her dream. She was forced to delete her Twitter account and the article she’d written because of messages telling her she’s the problem, that feminism is at fault, and she’s irrational because GamerGate has had zero negative effect on things around them. A girl likely the same age as the one with whom I’d interacted.

The argument will likely be made that it wasn’t true Gaters saying those things, that the movement isn’t about harassment, so on and so forth. And that is if any argument is made in response to this article at all. Because it’s been written by a white heteronormative male. Even if I am a journalist, and a games journalist at that, I am not the target of GamerGate. I have not been doxxed, threatened, or even treated badly.

Somehow, that is even worse. If my question had been met with accusations of being a social justice warrior (I’m actually a social justice wizard, thank you very much) or implications that my mother performs sex acts for cash, at least that’d be consistent. But no: I was treated very differently from a Zoe Quinn or a Susan Arendt.

The origins of the movement are public and available. Its impact is palpable and overwhelmingly negative. Some in the community feel betrayed by the movement’s behavior, and many have an empathetic feeling of outrage at its treatment of women. So where does that leave people who are legitimately looking for ethics in journalism, and refuse to give up the tag?

It pains me to think that someone truly intelligent, truly well-meaning, and truly compassionate has been roped into the hype used to try and whitewash the movement. To such an individual, propaganda should be obvious and deplorable. Conspiracy theorists would put it that there is a deliberate smokescreen being used to try and obfuscate the true nature of every single person who uses that hashtag. I think the truth is far simpler, and far more terrifying.

Since human beings are complex and nuanced creatures, the movements they perpetuate are also complex and nuanced (for the most part: organized hate groups are not very complex). So, there is room for disparate narratives within a single polity. Especially when said polity is a disorganized, ill-defined, and relatively aimless one united under a label proposed by, at best, a very vocal and prominent public figure with inflammatory and very subjective opinions. The terrifying part is that some are so entrenched in their own intentions, positive though they might be, they will not divorce their quest for ethics from the majority of a movement. And the fact is, that majority behaves in a way that is not only unethical, but downright disturbing and deplorable. There are truly people within GamerGate who do not do this. Their intentions are good. They believe they can change the movement from within. And I want to believe in them so much that it breaks my heart.

It’s important to look at the facts. Look at where the movement started. Investigate the origins of its hashtag. See the results of the actions taken by those who carry its banner. Yes, there are some who speak in a positive way and convey earnestness in beliefs that are not objectionable. But the vast, vast majority speak and act in despicable ways, and their outlook and behavior casts a pall on the minority who do not, to the point that even an outside observer has to question positive interactions. This is not how gaming, and gamers, should be. This is wrong. This is dark. And it has to stop.

The #GamerGate Post

This was pretty much inevitable.

It is foolish to paint any large group of people with a monochromatic brush. Human beings are individuals, even when they band together into groups over a common cause or belief. Sitting here and writing about how huge swaths of the gaming community are toxic, ignorant, vile pieces of invective filth is the easiest thing in the world to do. But justifying their behavior in any way, shape, or form is just as harmful and non-productive. So you will not find this post doing either of those things.

Better, more experienced writers than myself have tackled this issue extremely well. People who make games, and write about games for a living, have already held massive discussions on the state of our community. I neither make nor write about games for a living – yet – so I feel underqualified to write about this from those perspectives. All I can do is the following:

Hi. I’m a gamer.

I think games are transformative. I think that they can speak to us on a level other forms of media struggle to reach. The interactive nature of games pulls the player into more intimate contact with the message and ideas of the game. Well-made games, from huge productions like BioShock Infinite to small independent titles like Papers, Please and Depression Quest, can make the gamer think – to put down the controller or step away from the keyboard, and really mull over what was just witnessed and how it affects them.

Note the use of the word “can”. Not every gamer is like me. Not every gamer wants to have that level of connection with their entertainment. Some gamers just want to be pandered to, looking for distraction more than interaction. That’s okay; there isn’t anything wrong with that. Call of Duty and Madden make fucktons of money for that reason – bread and circuses for the masses.

I am not the first to point this out. Games journalism in general, and criticism in particular, have started to become very pervasive and even widely recognized. Lumaries of the art can look at a game from an almost entirely objective point of view, highlight its flaws (because every game has a couple), and describe for whom the game is best suited. Professionals like those at Rockpapershotgun, Joystiq, and Polygon do this extremely well, and make it look easy. Imagine me shaking my fist in good-hearted jealousy.

The problem – and it is a really big one – is when some gamers take it upon themselves to criticize the makers of games, and the critics of games, rather than the games themselves. Especially when said makers and critics self-identify and outwardly display as non-male, non-white, non-hetero, or some combination of the above.

Let’s look at the facts. Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Susan Arendt, and many many others have been bombarded with all sorts of bile simply by existing in the public eye of the gamer community. While some try to play it off as critiquing their work, it seems clear that the majority of this incendiary bullroar is based on the fact that these people happen to have vaginas. They’ve recieved threats of rape. Photos of their houses have been sent. Some even threaten death.

The fact is, the world is a large and diverse place. Half or more of its population are born with vaginas. I cannot speak to their orientation or self-identification as children, but as adults, people make all sorts of decisions regarding how they want to live and be percieved by others. They, somewhat reasonably, ask to be treated equally and taken seriously by the world around them. They explain themselves intellectually and eloquently, make artistic or critical statements, and accept actual criticism with grace and understanding. And the response from the community around me is – death threats?

Refraining from historical examples (look them up), attempting to assert control on a large population through fear and intimidation does not work. At least, it doesn’t work for long. The more a group attempts to build walls of terror around those they wish to corral, the more individuals will band together against that control, seeing it for the weak and foundationless position that it is. While there are people who do not necessarily have the wherewithal to realize domestic verbal terror assaults for what they are, and believe the rhetoric of those who threaten death and despair, experience has shown that game developers and games journalists are not among them. To continue the invective is to fight a losing battle. Attacking the people instead of criticizing their work or position is foolish and wastes everyone’s time. It is, objectively, idiotic.

By way of example:

I do not necessarily agree with every point Anita Sarkeesian makes in her videos. I think her presentation tends to be rather dry and impersonal, which can make engaging with her material difficult. She definitely has points to make, and some of them are good, but others could use more drive to get them to hit home for someone like me. But, that is my individual position, and while I acknowledge her videos are imperfect, the videos are made with the intent that future games can be better than those that came before, and in that, they have a chance at real success.

In the example above, points are made about the videos produced by Anita Sarkeesian and their content. Mentions of the content creator herself are imited, as the critique is aimed at said content, not said creator. This is the sort of thing that can be used to make future content better, and instead of seeking to silence the voice that is tackling a hard issue, encourages it to speak louder.

I could go on about how ad-based journalism sites will always have problems with objectivity or the tragedy of journalists becoming disengaged from and desensitized towards the community around that which they love, but I think I’ve covered a good amount of ground for now. I leave you with the following.

Winston Churchill once said “I have always felt that a politician be judged by the animosities he excites amongst his opponents”. When Theodore Roosevelt came under fire for taking on big business, he said “I welcome your hatred”. Like it or not, games development and games journalism have political aspects, and by Churchill’s standards, people like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Susan Arendt are luminaries of their fields, based solely on the animosities they excite amongst the masses. In addition to being short-sighted, ignorant, and terroristic, the threats and bile do not disprove the points being made by those being attacked; rather, they give those points more visibility and turn more people on to the viewpoints held by those who would remain silent through fear and doubt. The perpetuators of hatred in the gaming community are doing a wonderful job of defeating themselves, and though I do not think their hatred should be condoned or encouraged, I have to smile at the irony that they are doing such an excellent job of shooting themselves in the kneecaps.

I know it’s scary. I know it’s vile. But as a community, as a part of the human race, as gamers and game makers and game critics who are more interested in better games than we are in sharpening daggers and hating that which is ‘other’ – we got this. You’re not alone. And it won’t last forever. Look at history. It never does.

The future is ours. And we will get there together.

An Open Letter to Online Gaming Fans

Dear Mr. or Ms. Online Gamer:

I’m writing to express my disappointment in your behavior towards games journalists and reviewers. How you behave within your games is your business; if I object to how people are treated within a game, chances are I won’t play that game, unless I find it really compelling on its own or several friends of mine play. However, how you behave outside of games is something that needs to be addressed, especially when it comes to people trying to inform and protect you.

Let me be perfectly clear. Yes, games journalists and some very fortunate reviewers do, in fact, get paid. They get paid to report on games, to discuss them and inform you of their merits and flaws. And 95-99% of games have both: few and far between are truly peerless games like Portal or true ludonarrative abortions like Ride to Hell: Retribution.

The crux of this letter is, however, the following:

Video game journalists are not paid by video game companies to write particular reviews.

There are a lot of reasons a particular feature is not mentioned in a review. The review could have been rushed. It could have been based on an early build of the game. The feature in question, for example the number of maps in the game or the available customization options, might not have factored into the reviewer’s reasoning and therefore was excluded from the review. You know what none of these things indicate? Greased palms.

Roger Ebert never got a payout from MGM for a positive review of a film. Rolling Stone doesn’t get sacks of cash from record companies or bands to talk up a particular album. Amazon reviewers aren’t given gift cards for five star reviews. I could go on.

Games journalists do have privileged positions. Nobody would deny that. Press passes and junkets do exist, and in some instances, companies will hold events or parties to try and ingratiate themselves. That’s part of business. But direct payouts between companies and journalists rarely, if ever, happens. And when these incidents do occur, any journalist worth their ink would scoff at the offer and stick to their wordy guns. I think you can look at the back history of any games journalist out there to see evidence of said journalist’s integrity.

I’ve had the privilege of working with a few of the people in this industry. I can tell you first hand that they work hard. They often have to work uphill against public opinion to discuss the truth. And as much as fat sacks of industry cash would make paying their bills easier, the ones I know wouldn’t take it. Their dedication isn’t to making money. Their dedication is to the truth, and to you, the video gamer at home, and whether or not your cash is going to be well-spent on a particular game.

Shame on you. Shame on your inflammatory words and questions of journalistic integrity. Stop being blinded by your loyalty to a particular game, and look at the situation objectively. Remove your inflated ego from the equation and realize that not everyone is going to share your opinion. There are other, more positive ways to get the attention you are clearly seeking, and all you do when you accuse an establish games journalist of this sort of unscrupulous behavior is come off looking like an absolute prat at best, and a bullying cretin at worst.

You can do better than that. And you should.

Best wishes, etc.

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