GamerGate and Internet Political Movements
Imagine being an Occupy Wall Street member who earnestly cared about the problem of TBTF/TBTJ among bankers, the moral hazard problems of the bailout, and the degree to which our political system cared primarily about preserving the profitability of the huge banks rather than the suffering of the poor and being dismissed as a disorganized bunch of homeless people. Maybe you disagree with OWS and think that the bailouts were necessary to preserve the system. But straw-manning and insulting the movement does not advance the discussion or inform anyone.
“You want video game reviewers not to take bribes from developers? Well, you must be sexist.” Are there sexists on the internet who go around harassing women? Yes. Do some of them call themselves GamerGate? Yes. Does that mean that Gawker writes unbiased reviews of video games? No.
Unlike physical world associations, there’s no way for a group on the internet to exclude someone. If I want to write a press release for Doctor’s Without Borders, I have to actually apply for the job and get their approval. If I want to say something as a member of GamerGate, all I have to do is add a hashtag to a tweet and I’m done. That means there’s no way for members of a group to rid themselves of odious hangers on.
Internet culture wars are highly open to false flag operations. There were several situations where anti-GamerGate advocates simply posted horrible things and then just added a GamerGate hashtag to it, then immediately went off to criticize GamerGate for saying horrible things. Anonymity is a powerful weapon for people to harass their own allies to make the other side look bad.
I strongly suspect the doxxing and harassment of Felicia Day to be a false flag operation. She is beloved for her many voice acting roles and support of the gaming community. She is a woman who makes high quality games, and is living proof that video gaming is not inherently sexist. There’s no reason why a gamer would go after her.
Who’s the first new organization to crow how horrible GamerGate is? Kotaku, the very organization under the most intense criticism for corruption. If that doesn’t scream false flag to you, you need to read more geopolitics.
What are the takeaways from this whole sordid affair?
Kotaku writes crappy reviews. Anyone paying attention knew this before GG blew up. I recommend watching let’s plays on Youtube instead of reading reviews anyway. If you feel you have to read reviews, read user reviews, not games journalist reviews.
There are assholes on the internet. That’s not going to change any time soon. If you look for them, you’ll find them. Some of them hate women. Some hate minorities. Some just like to ruin other people’s days.
That’s about it. None of the sound and fury is going to change those two points. Feminism is not threatened by video games any more than it is threatened by movies or books. Video games are so commonly consumed that any statement that “Gamers are like X” is basically identical to “People are like X”. Gamers are split fairly evenly between males and females (52/48), and tend to be younger than the general population. Because of the age bias, I would bet that the average gamer is more feminist than the average person, since age correlates with feminist beliefs more than sex does.
Furthermore, video games are far more likely to have realistic and capable female characters than other forms of media. While almost half of all movies fail the Bechdel Test, a significant number of video games not only pass, but have a female main character. It’s hard to compare directly, because many video games are not narrative, and thus don’t have characters at all. Is Tetris sexist? The question doesn’t even make sense. It’s hard to categorically state that “video games are less sexist than movies”, but in my experience, they are. RPGs especially go out of their way to make empowered, well rounded female characters.
Harassment of female gamers is a real problem. However, I see it as an issue that will take time, with individual people standing up to the culprits and using changing norms to fix. Cultural attitudes take time to adjust (although not as much time as some people think).