Tech & society

#GamerGate: a much delayed primer

The hashtag #GamerGate went mainstream in the past week, with commentary and reporting at the Boston Globe, CBS, CNN, Entertainment Weekly, TIME, The Guardian, the Washington Post.

Simple summaries are hard to craft: #GamerGate is complicated hashtag that grew out of a discussion of game industry journalism and morphed into death threats against women. I’m not a gamer, and I’ve resisted writing about this mess; the first I recall it entering my consciousness was when Intel pulled its ads from Gamasutra after a concerted campaign.

Appending “gate” to a word implies political scandal (and a reminder that the source, Watergate, was itself a proper noun). But a hashtag is not a movement or group; it’s shorthand geared towards findability. However, movements and groups create and use hashtags which can then also serve as badge of affiliation. But here?

Anchor points in the #GamerGate timeline

August: From the MotherJones explainer:

The conflict first blew up in August after a programmer named Eron Gonji wrote a revenge post about his breakup with developer Zoe Quinn, the creator of Depression Quest, a critically acclaimed game whose purpose is to illustrate the challenges of coping with depression…

[N]asty attacks against Quinn—including the circulation of nude photos, death threats, and rape threats—quickly flooded sites like Reddit and 4chan … [Anita] Sarkeesian experienced similar threats just a few days later, after publishing a new video in her series on women and gaming.

Adam Baldwin, one-time star of Joss Wheadon’s FireFly, is credited with creating the hashtag:

September: Five weeks ago, ArsTechnica reported:

A set of IRC logs released Saturday appear to show that a handful of 4chan users were ultimately behind #GamerGate, the supposedly grass-roots movement aimed at exposing ethical lapses in gaming journalism. The logs show a small group of users orchestrating a “hashtag campaign” to perpetuate misogynistic attacks by wrapping them in a debate about ethics in gaming journalism.

What’s 4chan? An online community that is “widely viewed as a nasty sort of place for anyone not straight and male.”

Game developer Briana Wu got death threats after joking about #GamerGate on Twitter:

A mob telling you they will castrate your husband, make you choke to death on the parts, murder any children you might have and then rape your ass until it bleeds has a way of scaring the hell out of you.

Also this week, popular culture and media critic Anita Sarkeesian — who produces a web series “Tropes Vs. Women” — canceled an appearance at Utah State University on Wednesday. From the University:

A number of personnel at Utah State University received an email regarding the scheduled presentation by Anita Sarkeesian tomorrow, October 15, 2014, at USU’s Taggart Student Center. The email contained threats to Sarkeesian and those who attend her presentation…

Sarkeesian is a Canadian-American feminist, media critic and blogger. She is the author of the video blog “Feminist Frequency,” and she writes often about how women are portrayed in video games. In 2012, she was targeted by an online harassment campaign following her launch of a Kickstarter project to fund the Tropes vs. Women Video Games series. Extensive media coverage placed Sarkeesian at the center of discussions about misogyny in video game culture and online harassment.

The email mentions the École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre. Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine shot 28 people while claiming that he was “fighting feminism.” He killed 14 women and injured 10 others.

Anita Sarkeesian death threat

Because Utah’s concealed weapons law meant that it was not possible to prohibit or check for guns at the event, Sarkeesian canceled her appearance. In 2006, Utah became the first state to legalize guns on campus.

And then, there’s this:

It’s not hard to see how any legitimate concerns about journalistic practices would get lost.

And Sunday, here’s Joss:

Silver linings and explainers

Tim Bray finds one upside:

It dragged a part of the In­ter­net that we al­ways knew was there out in­to the open where it’s re­al­ly hard to ig­nore.

While Jesse Singal at NYMag finds another:

[T]hese [new] titles really are going to make the world a better, more tolerant, interesting place. We just need to get past the terrible adolescent tantrum some gamers are currently throwing.

And the verdict is …

I’m not a gamer and at a core level I’m not concerned with what goes on in “gamer journalism.”

This sums up my attitude:

Part of the problem here is that the world of “gamers” simultaneously want to be treated as a monolith and as individuals. But you can’t have it both ways. If you see yourself as a bloc of people who call themselves “gamers,” to outsiders you are only as good as your worst representatives, and the past month have shown those representatives to be racist, homophobic, misogynist, and threatening.

I am deeply concerned when individuals — fringe though they may be — use this medium to viciously attack women. I applaud the thick skin and tenacity of critics like Sarkeesian. My optimism for the medium is on the wane, with my view much more along Bray’s pessimistic one than Singal’s optimism.

:: Cross-posted at TheModerateVoice

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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