Saturday, October 11, 2014

#Gamergate is not one debate, but two. Plus, it's a culture war.

In my latest post linking to Sarkeesian's latest video, I talked about her and the other "Social Justice Warriors" winning the fight. One reader then asked me the following: 
Stefan, i'm wondering where you're getting your sources on GamerGate because i've seen lots of one sided pieces on each side of the aisle and as someone without a dog in this fight I have to say that a lot of the feminists sites like some of the posts you've linked to don't talk about any of the negative things there side are doing. There supporters have done plenty of doxxing, threatening and throwing there weight around as well. I'm not even a video game player anymore but i've found this whole saga interesting. Anyway, read this interview today with developer Brad Wardell and I think it's one of the few examples of someone able to talk about the plusses and minuses of each side.
I initially wrote a comment, but my argument grew longer, and so I'm making a blog post about it. Advantage if you're the owner of the damn thing, I know. ;) So, on to the argument.

I'm not saying that they are not throwing their weight around (what's doxxing?). They do. And that's ok, for both sides. What's not ok is the massive harassment that so far only extends to one side of the debate. But be that as it may.

The thing is, however, that there are two discussions. That's also the problem with the Wardell interview, which I don't see as an example of someone highlighting both sides at all. The #Gamergate community entirely succeeded in its branding of the core problem, a branding that is also aggressivley promoted by Escapist and Wardell (seriously, this is not a critical interview at all. Not that the other side would provide them, but still). This branding is saying that the discussion is about transparency and corruption, and they are conceding to their opponents that some people have gone too far and that the harassment is bad; in Wardell's case with the disclaimer that there is a lot of bias that also needs to be adressed.

But the debate that Sarkeesian and others are engaged in is not about the harassment. That's a subsection of the argument, but it's not at all what they are talking about. For them (and me), the issue is the representation of gender cliches in gaming and the political stance of the gamer community as a whole. And while the Gamergaters especially make numerous claims to being apolitical, they're anything but. They're pretty right-wing in their politics.

So, on the one hand, we have the fight for transparency and anti-corruption measures in the tech-industry as a whole. While undeniably a problem, the claim rings hollow, since the Gamergaters - as I wrote in my initial article - have no problem getting into bed with the industry and the review magazines as long as they are on their side. And make no mistake, these two are way too close to each other, and always have been. It's almost as bad as in the cars and fashion business. So claiming that you are "against corruption" when you attack Zoe Quinn is a little bit smacking of hypocrisy, without judging whether or not the charges against her are true (I don't know, and I don't want to know). 

What really irks me about the linked Wardell interview, though, aside from the fact that he doesn't adress the issue concerning the anti-Gamergate side of things at all, is the underlying assumptions that Wardell's argument makes. First, he claims that while the harassment of Zoe Quinn is bad, it's not newsworthy. That is wrong. He makes the assumption that "as soon as a woman is harrassed", everybody is reporting it, as opposed to him as a man. That is bullshit. Zoe Quinn is the first case of the tech world that has gained widespread attention, and it only did because the Gamergaters themselves blew it into the minds of everyone. The harassment against Quinn is exemplary for a widespread problem. 

Another thing is his claim of "no serious gamer is thinking about who else plays their games". This might be true for him and surely a redeeming quality. However, as described for example here, this is not true at all. Since this phenomen can be seen in other geek cultures that gather more widespread attention as well (I personaly witnessed it in LARPing, for example), I would at least be very cautious about that claim that solely rests on personal experiences. 

The main argument I am making is also made in the linked article above: Yes, this is a culture war. Yes, it is waged by the side of the anti-Gamergaters exactly as such and has been intended as one from the start. And in my view, the gamers walked right into it. The dual barrage of the attacks on Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian in August and September 2014 blew a fairly obscure developer and a modestly known YouTuber to such proportions that the debate reached mainstream media, even in places as locally remote from the struggle (which is by and large an American one) as Germany, where the news magazine Der Spiegel reported the issue and the gaming magazines of course picked up on it as well.

This culture war is and has always been firmly embedded in the rituals and arguments of other comparable culture wars, such as on universities, the movies, religion or the workplace. This means that, of course, the discussion is politicized and that issues not directly related to gaming are brought into the discussion as well, because people are people. This may sound banal, but it isn't. Nothing is apolitical. To get back to my point, the forces of progressivism who may or may not have fired the first shot in the #Gamergate, but they have so far won most battles they engaged in. Movies, for example, have changed their attitude towards women dramatically in the last 10 years, as have novels and other types of media. The only exempt group so far has been gaming, and now, with their hobby firmly entering mainstream, they are caught in the same tidal wave that has gripped so many other media. This is why I am convinced that the culture war will be lost by the right wing in gaming too.


  1. By the way, an article highlighting both sides, albeit with more focus on the SJW issues:

  2. Awww, I thought we had a one year truce :-(

    >> what's doxxing
    Publishing another person's home adress, real name, tax reports, etc. on the net without their consent. Doxx = Documents

    >> What's not ok is the massive harassment that so far only extends to one side of the debate.
    Wrong. Pro-Gamergate is getting harassed as well. Check it out:

    >> (seriously, this is not a critical interview at all. Not that the other side would provide them, but still)
    Wrong. The Escapist interviewed some female devs before with very different views. Check it out:
    Some of these devs made factual incorrect statements, without being questioned. These are not critical interviews, but a collection of views. The reader is encouraged to form her own opinion.

    >> I would at least be very cautious about that claim that solely rests on personal experiences.
    Says the guy who claims video games reinforce real life sexism, based on personal experience with his pupils. SCNR

    >> Nothing is apolitical.
    Here's a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head. Politicise it.

    >> To get back to my point, the forces of progressivism who may or may not have fired the first shot in the #Gamergate, but they have so far won most battles they engaged in.
    Well, it is about time for a backslash. The frontlines here aren't gamers against feminism. It's equality feminst gamers against gender feminist radicals who happen to control the narrative for some absurd cosmic reason. Gender feminism's approach to discussion is entirely dishonest, here is one of the reasons:

    >> By the way, an article highlighting both sides, albeit with more focus on the SJW issues:
    Man, this piece is ancient and biased. You ARE aware that Vox owns Polygon and isn't exactly stake free in this kerfuffle, right? Here are two more recent articles:

    Sorry for infobombing you like this, but honestly, I'm a little disappointed. I like your stuff, because you seem to be pretty level headed, ready to see an issue from every angle and happy to engage with the other side. Here you have simply skipped the info-gathering part and formed an opinion based on some lazy articles in the media which is under attack for publishing lazy articles. Not your style.

    1. Doxxing: Thanks for the explanation.
      Interview: I was pointed to this interview as representing both views and it doesn't. I haven't read the others. Just making a point about the one.
      Experience: Well, you got me there.
      Bunny: The picture is a disturbing representation of the daily pressure that pancakes have to endure at the paws of rabbits. While it may seem to the casual observer like the pancake is actually opressing the rabbit, enforcing his views on him, in reality the rabbit should check his fur privilege, allowing him to carry the pancake whereever he hobbles. There. :)
      Cosmic Reason: Is not cosmic at all. As I described, the narrative is winning in all fronts of the culture wars. It would be rather odd if it wouldn't dominate gaming as well.
      Vox: Wasn't aware of the connection with Polygon. The article was recently updated, though, which is why I linked it.

      And no problem with the infobomb, and sorry about the truce. Couldn't help myself :D But really, I can see where you are coming from with the critique you're offering. For the moment, I think we have to agree to disagree, and still see what happens a year from now. Even if I lash out at the keyboard in the meantime. If you're ever in the area, I buy you a beer :)

  3. I'd really like to accept your peace offer and shut up for now, but you walked so beautifully in my carefully laid out bunny trap :D

    What you did ironically is exactly what is happening in gaming culture: Creating a political issue where there is not even agreement over if there is one. And no, if some fringe group of lunatics claim there is a "problematic" bunny/pancake situation, it isn't political automatically. The right tactic is not arguing over the pros and cons of pancake suppression, it is to call them out as lunatics (and to eat the pancake). Let me formalise this statement in a nice table, sorting the arguments:

    (a1) We need a discussion about social issues in gaming. | (b1) We don't need a discussion about social issues in gaming.
    (b1) We are anti-misogynist. | (b2) We are misogynist.

    What the SJW are doing, is claiming the debate is between a1 | b2. Turns out that people identifying as gamers happen to be a rather diverse bunch and surprise, surprise are a little bit miffed to be called misogynist. Who would have thought? So why aren't the SJW prepared to debate a1 | b1? Pretty easy: They know exactly that this discussion would only make sense, if playing sexist games had real life consequences. Otherwise all you have is a gigantic movement for a more humane treatment of NPCs. And this is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.

    At least you play with open cards and flatly claim there are real life implications worth considering. The majority of the SJW side aren't and continue to play the blame game, because they know the evidence supporting their view is pretty thin. This is where we are. So if you say now that this is the narrative which is winning - even worthy of winning - we really have to agree to disagree here, because I'd find that statement cynical. I don't think that is what we are discussing though. What is winning, and has already won even in gaming culture, is the equality branch of feminism. Why do we need this strange, anti-elightenment, post-modern cult of gender social science based around little to none factual evidence, distorting words to fit their needs, to push beyond that? And luckily this didn't happen to mainstream culture either or did I miss the scene where Thor was reminded to check his cis white man privilege and stop oppressing the poor alien world destroyers in the recent movies?

    Let's have that beer in a year. But don't think I'll stop to call you out if you feel like lashing out on your keyboard in the meantime. ;-)

    1. Just to reiterate the point about the movies: my prime example are the Bond movies. Consider your average James Bond until Pierce Brosnan finally quit: after succesfully managing his adventures, Bond would receive a flesh thing to fuck as a reward. The Bond girls weren't women, they weren't even characters. They were boobs, there to be available to the hero once he "earned" them. This was as sexist as it gets, and you can't tell me that this attitude - women can be "earned" - didn't spell over in real life and vice versa. Compare this to the new Bond movies, where in the first one, Bond's discarding of Bond girls is shown as appalling, and the second one, in which there is no romantic subplot at all - a first in over 50 years of Bond movies. And you can see similar developments across the board and, yes, even in Thor and other Marvel movies. Women are being given a greater sense of agency in these movies (although, like in the case of Man of Steel, the yet untested method of storytelling is creating problems when not done proper) and are not regarded as mere attachments to the male hero. Is this already all sunny and shiny? Certainly not. But movies have matured a lot more than the video game industry has for sure.

    2. Oh come on! There is a gradual evolution between the 50s Bond bunnies, the cool hacker chick in Golden Eye and the recent interpretation of Monneypenny. To say nothing of M who emerged in the Brosnan era. And this evolution mirrors the social progress of the last sixty years. The development in the film industry doesn't need to be guided, it is happening simply by following the changing reality of life. It isn't a sign of "maturity" as much as actors in recent movies using smartphones isn't, just a different era with different (and of course better) ideals.

      Am I missing a big cultural discussion about movies, btw? I am not seeing #bondgate or #marvelgate. One could think the audience hasn't any problems with a gradual shifting of paradigms if it emerges from a free creative process and not blatant agenda pushing by a fringe group.

    3. No, it's not a guided progress, and this is exactly my point. Movies matured with society in this regard, and games did not.

  4. Stefan, I left the original comment. I agree with being inclusive, I agree progress needs to be made.

    My big problem is I see the liberal side of the media acting much like the republican media does and used to and as a liberal I don't like it.

    Cherry picking facts, justifying doing horrible things because you're on the "right" side and slamming everyone who doesn't tow the line.

    It reminds me of when I was against the war in Iraq and people would say I hate my country and don't support the troops.

    If you don't agree with X you're a misogynist is the same thing in a different package.

    Of course this is just video games but i'm seeing it in lots of other areas as well. Whenever you put yourself and your issue above balanced reporting those who feel slighted by it will eventually engage in a backlash slowing down progress rather then speeding it up.

    Anyway that's my last comment on the issue and i'm going to go read the theory hour now!

    1. I didn't think that I do that. You can of course disagree with all this. I'm not blaming you a misogynist then.

    2. Stefan, I don't think you do that at all. I think you approach most everything fairly and rationally even if we don't agree. I was saying that's what I felt the anti-gamer gate people in the media were doing, not you.