Gamers and Gates, and Deaths Thereof

Given the other, far weightier issues this blog takes on, this little op-ed is almost ridiculous on its face. However, this is one of the many things that affect my online life, and I think it adversely affects the lives of others I care about. I’m hoping getting this all down in one place will let me put it to bed for myself once and for all.

I’m not going to go into the origins of ‘gamergate’, since its origins are as much a subject of contention as its intent and impact. There are any number of places you can go for background, and I suggest you look at several, because like most social issues today, there’s a hell of a lot of polarized writing. I’m just going to give you my perspective on what I saw and see. I watched it unfold from virtually the start, and no matter what the amorphous movement claims to be or effectively is now, it’s origins are, in my analysis, toxic, rooted in the vengeful aftermath of a relationship gone bad. What should have just been spiteful melodrama has become a many-headed beast.

One of the big claims of gamergate is that it’s all just about ethics in ‘game journalism’ and freedom of expression. And exposing ‘corruption’. And against ‘politicization of games and game journalism’.

Having watched the online momentum grow, I know this to be both true and false, and will unpack one example – there are a lot of ways you can verify this yourself. I went through two recent weeks of twitter posts using the gamergate hashtag to find references to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Coalition Against Censorship, and Society for Professional Journalists. For the CBLDF and NCAC. I found less than a handful of references combined, and no calls for support of these organizations. For the SPJ, I found a few dozen. Sadly, the ratio of ‘gaters even mentioning the SPJ or the SPJ code of ethics (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) to ‘gaters calling other people cunts (with no reference to ethics at all) was about 3:2. I looked at a couple other terms of attack as well. Enough to conclude the 3:2 ratio is charitable. The ‘gater movement is indeed many things, and there may well be some honest agents in it. But the lemonade they are trying to sell has shit for ice cubes floating right on top.

Thinking about ‘game journalism’ itself’ – Game journalism. Writing about games. Evaluating gameplay, story, entertainment value, graphics. Writing about game styles, systems and companies. I’ve seen accusations of reviewers, magazines, websites, youtubers etc. being ‘bought’ by game promoters for years. The ‘gater community ascribes to these elements more power than they deserve. A good game with bad reviews may not do as well as it could – unless its players realize it’s actually good and buy it anyway. A crappy game with fantastic reviews may get a big boom at the start, and then bust – and potentially take down that company’s future games with bad rep later on (and reduce the trust in the writers who lauded it). To some degree, game journalism is self-correcting. To some degree it is held in check by the power of the purse – the power of the individual to buy or not buy a game. Whether a given writer or website or ten is doing some kind of payola is in the noise, and the most any player/consumer has at risk is their leisure money and a couple hours of their time. Caveat emptor.

For the devs, especially small indies, ‘corrupt’ journalism may well be more make or break. A dishonest positive review of a bad game? That’s pretty damn self-correcting. Heaven forbid you get sold enough to shell out a few bucks on an indy that disappoints you. Lesson learned, avoid that dev, and that reviewer in the future. Caveat emptor again. A dishonest negative review of a good game, on the other hand could snuff, or slow an indy career, and that’s a risk, and a good argument for honest reviews. What else can snuff an indy? A dogpile of trolls.

Trolls will be trolls, I’m told. Bull. Trolls will do whatever damage their community lets them get away with, and they are currently getting away with chasing people from their careers and homes and drowning voices they don’t want to hear. Gamergate was built by trolls, and its greatest successes has been convincing so many people otherwise, and disavowing those that fire poison arrows from within their ranks.

Some ‘gaters feel that their ‘identity’ as a gamers are under attack. The whole “death of gamers” set of articles created quite a bit of loathsome backlash. But that ship sailed long, long ago. The ‘gamer’ identity has died and been reborn already at least once, maybe twice in the last 40 years. Being a gamer used to mean D&D, Talisman, Cosmic Encounter, OGRE, Car Wars and dozens of others. It used to mean sitting around a table with your friends and pushing lead, pencils, chits, cards, and dice. To some of us it still does. To some of us it is that and also video games, off- and online. But the rise of the (computer) Gamer identity was essentially the death of the (tabletop) Gamer by sheer displacement and force of numbers. For the last decade plus, when I’ve said ‘I’m a gamer’ I get asked what console I prefer, not what I think of the newfangled d20 system. The fact that identity is changing again with the rise of social, -phone and -pad games and is neither surprising nor a bad thing. The market grows, devs and players adjust. The identity changes. That makes some people feel threatened, and some of that threatened subgroup would rather burn the new world than live in it.

This whole thing makes me feel old. My favorite D&D campaign from almost 30 years ago lasted two years and had eight people, half of them women. I made, and still am friends with most of the players from that game. This was around the time when ‘gaming’ itself was under existential threat from the 80’s ‘moral panic’. To equate the breathless accusations and counters going on today with that just makes me laugh. What doesn’t make me laugh is that people are using this froth as a cover for the vilification and threatening of individuals for the crime of having opinions and saying them out loud.

If ethics in gaming writing, and freedom of expression are really what you’re after, there are places where your energies would be more effective. Support these organizations:

CBLDF: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund – cbldf.org

NCAC: National Coalition Against Censorship – www.ncac.org

SPJ: Society of Professional Journalists – www.spj.org

“Gamers” will always die, and will never die. Devs will rise and fall on their merits, on the beneficence or wrath of the market, and under the vendetta of the socially organized. Gamergate itself serves neither gamers nor devs in the long run, and though it shows no sign of it at this writing, cannot die soon enough.

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