It’s simple, really. I’ve been worried about standards in journalism for a long time, since before I started practicing it myself.
I believe in the idea of a free press. I believe all opinions should be heard – regardless of how much they might or might not align with my own. I believe that all journalists have an important duty: to inform and promote discussions, and to open up new areas of thinking and perspective for their audiences.
When the #GamerGate hashtag surfaced on Twitter, like a hulking Midgard Serpent of the internet, I wasn’t entirely clear on what it stood for. I doubt many of its followers really knew at the time either.
I read a number of impassioned arguments from #GamerGate supporters. I watched, listened and waited for the initial fiery uproar to die down. It still hasn’t, but a number of things have occurred during the last two months that have made one thing abundantly clear.
The #GamerGate hashtag isn’t about standards in gaming journalism.
I don’t doubt for a second that a large number of its supporters believed that’s what it was about. Many still do. A great deal of effort went into muffling the core ideologies in #GamerGate and projecting an aura designed to appeal to the moderate crowds of concerned gamers.
#GamerGate is needed. #GamerGate is reasonable. It’s OK to be confused about how you and the industry you love are being represented by the press. We’re here to help clean it all up, but we can’t do it alone.
At the centre of the storm: an academic who makes videos critiquing how women are represented in games, a feminist games developer who had a sexual relationship with a journalist, a female journalist who wrote an opinion piece on ‘gamer’ culture and a mailing list used by prominent journalists to discuss ideas.
The proposed underlying themes linking this all together are corruption and an ultra-liberalist agenda in gaming media. Favours for favours. Biased attitudes towards people who deserve to be ashamed and/or vilified for their unscrupulous actions.
What these actions are, I really couldn’t tell you.
The academic, Anita Sarkeesian, is guilty of…well, doing what academics do with cultural artifacts (that is to say, critiquing and analysing them). Nevertheless, she remained in #GamerGate’s crosshairs and was forced to leave her home due to death threats.
Zoe Quinn, the feminist games developer, was accused by her ex-boyfriend of shamelessly promoting her game through her journalist lover, Nathan Grayson. This accusation didn’t hold water for long, as Grayson never wrote any articles promoting Quinn or her game. So Quinn’s basically guilty of having an emotionally unhinged ex-boyfriend. A nice man who disseminated private photos of her around the internet. Nevertheless, she remained in #GamerGate’s crosshairs and was forced to leave her home due to death threats.
Leigh Alexander is a respected games journalist. She decided to write an opinion piece declaring that “gamers were over” in response to #GamerGate and the ongoing hostility towards Sarkeesian and Quinn. She said that the cultural hub of gaming was shifting and that games were gradually becoming more inclusive, despite the protestations of “a few bad apples”. She pinned the blame for the abusive climate on “angry young men”.
Alexander wasn’t the only journalist who published opinion pieces on #GamerGate and the ongoing civil war within the industry. Other journalists from other sites stepped into the fray with their own voices. Some pieces were less tempered than others – to put it lightly – but the general point was to provoke discussion and declare in no uncertain terms that the harassment of women in the games industry was a shitty thing that had to stop.
#GamerGate supporters disagreed with some of what they were reading. Boycotts for sites associated with the leftist ‘Social Justice Warriors’ was called for, but for a few that wasn’t enough. That was when ‘Operation: Disrespectful Nod’ began.
An enterprising #GamerGate supporter wrote detailed instructions on how to send an email of complaint to major games site advertisers. The objective: to deprive mainstream games press of their advertising revenue. Anyone remotely aware of how journalism works will know that it’s hard for practitioners to make a living at the best of times. Operation: Disrespectful Nod was designed to do the maximum amount of financial damage possible against sites singled out by #GamerGate supporters. Sites whose opinions did not align with theirs.
This was a coordinated attack on free speech and it was partially successful. Intel pulled advertising from Gamasutra after they were flooded with emails. #GamerGate blamed Alexander’s opinion piece (among others) for it.
Finally, the mailing list. #GamerGate assures its followers that this is a sign of media manipulation and conspiratorial goings-on. The truth is much less exciting. Journalists know each other and talk to each other regularly. They discuss article ideas, ethical conduct and what’s in the public interest ALL the time. This is no ‘secret’.
This article covers only the biggest problems I have with #GamerGate, but here’s the thing. I’m concerned about ethics in games journalism, just like I’m concerned about other stuff. Like immigration. Immigration is a huge issue in the UK right now. The reason I don’t support #GamerGate is the same reason I don’t support the British National Party or English Defence League. They claim to have my interests at heart, but I’ve seen them in action and I know better.
Written by Alex Lemcovich (MA Journalism Student at Birkbeck)Illustration by Alex Lemcovich