Yesterday, thanks to my friend and chatroom organizer/programmer Cranky T-Rex, we had quite a lively conversation on the Ed Morrissey Show over a controversy called GamerGate. CTR covered the broad strokes of the issue last week at his blog, but needless to say the topic falls outside my usual comfort zone for topics, as I have very little familiarity with the gaming culture and its nuances. CTR convinced me that this was in part a media ethics issue, as well as the kind of enforced political correctness that conservatives have fought in the political arena for years, and the subject looked intriguing enough to pursue. Veteran actor Adam Baldwin has been outspoken on the topic, and he helped arrange the panel for yesterday’s discussion. We did invite a few other figures in the controversy to join us, but they did not respond to e-mail, Twitter, and website inquiries. The panel included Adam, my Townhall colleague Kevin Glass (who’s working on a story about GamerGate now), and Internet Aristocrat, a gaming activist.
For those interested in the discussion, one of the gamers split it out from the show video last night (along with the chat display), and it already has almost 8,000 views:
This was one of the most watched TEMS shows ever. We had over 10,000 viewers live during the show, and the two YouTubes combined have almost as many. The chat room had nearly 400 registered Ustream users engaging in the topic, far above what we’d normally see on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even with Duane Patterson trolling them at the beginning of the show (for which I declared him the least-hip dude ever), the interaction was remarkably friendly, on point, and passionate. That was true even when Kevin argued that allegations of misogyny in the gaming culture aren’t entirely wrong, although not the norm but rather a fringier element among gamers.
That, and the avalanche of gratitude that followed after the show, strikes me as significant. One of the complaints of those arguing for GamerGate is that the gaming journalists that cover their community have become openly hostile to it, ridiculing their complaints and charges of ethical violations and corruption, which they then refuse to discuss at all. Even those seeking to rebut the other arguments in GamerGate acknowledge the problems in gaming journalism, such as L. Rhodes at Medium.com:
With nearly every gamer I spoke to, I started out by asking, “What do you see as the overarching goal of #GamerGate?” When, as was often the case, you answered “corruption,” I made a point of following up by asking what practices you had in mind. And it’s there, in your answers to that question, that I could begin to see the goals and imperatives of your activism begin to diverge. Some asked only for more prominent disclaimers whenever a writer had a potential conflict of interest. Others argued that disclaimers weren’t enough, and that writers ought to be recused whenever a relationship might be thought to go beyond the bounds of the professional. Still others felt that developers were capable of exerting too much financial pressure over the gaming press. Even while arguing that #GamerGate was not primarily about the accusations of a certain ex-boyfriend, yet others seemed primarily concerned that sexual relationships with developers had a rampant and undue influence on how writers report on games.
Regardless of which of those concerns you raised, many of you made the point that the gaming press generally does not adhere to traditional journalistic standards. You have a point. “The standard should be higher,” you told me. I’m inclined to agree.
Forbes’ Erik Kain, who noted my entry into this topic with some trepidation (and with whom I had a pleasant exchange afterward), also allows that gamers have a point about the conflicts of interest that have emerged in the reporting. Kain also gives a very good, if somewhat skeptical, recapitulation of GamerGate:
It was during this rising crescendo of malcontent that a sudden chorus of articles were published from numerous gaming outlets claiming, more or less, that the age of the “gamer” was over. Gamers as we knew and stereotyped them—white, male nerds with deep-seeded fears of both reality and women—were going extinct, and all this backlash over the Quinn scandal was a reaction to this fact. Foremost among these was a piece by Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander.
Game writers claimed that all cries of corruption in media were merely thin veils to give cover to what was, essentially, a misogynistic movement. In less than two days more than ten such articles appeared around the internet, on the one hand preaching to the choir, and on the other leading many already-upset gamers to cry foul even louder. This many articles at once all saying the same thing seemed fishy to many, though I would argue it had nothing to do with coordination and everything to do with like minds feeding off of one another.
I wrote a piece on the notion as well, criticizing both sides of the controversy: Game journalists for condescending their audiences and gamers themselves for their lack of diligence in how they critique the press and their insistence on focusing on Social Justice Warriors. …
Relationships between various indie developers, the press, and PR representatives led to more questions and theories on everything from the validity of the IGF awards, to the overall nature of the relationship between the press and the industry it covers, which many see as far too cozy. Lots of YouTube videos have been made about this. Lots of screenshots of tweets and various websites with lines drawn between various members of the press and the industry have also been created. It’s a maze of allegations and connections without a solid destination.
Whether any of these theories hold water is an open question and one that, in my mind, is secondary to one very big fact: Readers have grown deeply distrustful of the gaming press.
I start off with these two lengthy and skeptical articles because Rhodes and Kain at least did something that the hundreds of gamers who piled into the chatroom complained that the rest of the gaming-journalism world refused to do: cover the topic seriously. Kain laments that the political-media world (myself explicitly included) got involved in this debate, but that may be because we were at least willing to have the debate. As Kain notes, when gamers tried having these debates in their usual channels such as Reddit and YouTube, they found their debates deleted and censored.
When thousands of gamers sit through an hour of unrelated political talk to watch a 51-year-old political blogger host a roundtable on GamerGate, then something is clearly dysfunctional with the media relationship to the community it covers. And while Kain argues with plenty of justification that I’m not part of that community, media condescension towards its audience looks very, very familiar to conservatives who engage the media that covers politics, complete down to the lecturing and assumptions of them based on the fringiest elements it can find.
David Auerbach writes at Slate (hardly a gamer haven or a conservative bastion) that gaming journalists have brought this on themselves:
Trying to sort through GamerGate is like sinking into quicksand, but the general tenor of the discussion has been: A fair number of gamers hate the journalists who cover them, and the journalists hate them back.
The attacks on the press have ranged from well-reasoned to offensive to paranoid, but the gaming journalists unwisely decided to respond to the growing, nebulous anger by declaring that “gamers” were dead. Such articles appeared concurrently in Gamasutra(“ ‘Gamers’ are over” and “A guide to ending ‘gamers’ ”), Destructoid (“There are gamers at the gate, but they may already be dead”), Kotaku (“We might be witnessing the ‘death of an identity’ ”) andRock, Paper, Shotgun (“Gamers are over”), as well as Ars Technica (“The death of the ‘gamers’ ”), Vice (“Killing the gamer identity”) and BuzzFeed (“Gaming is leaving ‘gamers’ behind”). These articles share some traits in common besides their theses: They are unconvincing, lacking in hard evidence, and big on wishful thinking. A good number of them link to an obscure blog post by academic Dan Golding, “The End of Gamers,” which argues, again without evidence, that “the gamer identity has been broken” and that the current unrest “is an attempt to retain hegemony.” Kotakuwriter Nathan Grayson linked to a similarly obtuse piece of academic argot (“ ‘Gamer’ is selfish … conservative … tribalistic”), which in Grayson’s words “breaks down the difference between ‘gamer’ as a manufactured identity versus loving games on multiple levels.” I’ve written essays comparing games to the work of artist Kurt Schwitters and poet Kenneth Rexroth, and even I can’t muster this level of vacuous self-importance on the subject. …
It is understandable that online gaming journalists would be uncomfortable in this situation. The antagonism of the gaming press toward its audience stems partly from justified outrage at the horrible behavior of a small subset of it, but also from helpless resentment toward the entirety of the press’s shrinking audience—hence the self-defeating attempt to generalize the former into the latter. Rather than stressing that the vast majority of gamers are reasonable people who don’t harass women, hold reactionary, protectionist views, or start vitriolic online campaigns against the press, the websites trashed the entire term “gamer” and, to no one’s surprise, earned 10 times the enmity overnight.
These articles were additionally unseemly because gamers were being preached to by the very same people who have been commodifying them. As Florence said, so much of the game journalist’s job has indeed been glorified PR, and the rest is not reportage but cultural think pieces, like the ones that have earned so much opprobrium over the last week.
The cultural think pieces to which Auerbach refers are part of what Kain calls the “social justice warriors” who push political/cultural activism as part of their critical look at games and the industry. There is nothing illegitimate about cultural and artistic criticism in any art form; there’s been plenty of such analysis aimed at the film and television industries by all sorts of commentators, from feminists to family-values conservatives. The problem, at least as it’s been perceived by the gamers, is that the media covering the industry has taken sides, and has done so in large part because of undisclosed relationships between the journalists and their editors and the activists who want to make a point of finding misogyny in gaming culture, and to paint everyone in it with the same brush.
It would also help if the criticism was informed and accurate, not just in dealing with the gamers but also the art itself. For instance, YouTube activist Thunderf00t put together this lengthy video about the hypocrisy of Hollywood “rushing” to the defense of the so-called social justice warriors … or at least one particular well-known Hollywood producer (NSFW – language):
And while the comic book industry hasn’t been part of GamerGate, the same effort to shame the industry took place this week when a Spider-Woman cover got roundly reviled by the broader media for objectification of women. The problem, as YouTube activist Maddox explains, is that the critics didn’t have the first clue about the topic … as Spider-Man has been posed and drawn similarly in the past without any complaint at all (NSFW – language):
Political writers such as myself may not be part of the gaming community, but the politics involved in GamerGate look pretty familiar nonetheless. Christina Hoff Summers put it well earlier today:
College deans,news editors,politicians–ran for cover when gender hardliners made strident demands.Gamers–male & female–fighting back.
— Christina Sommers (@CHSommers) September 5, 2014
The gender warriors made a huge tactical error when they went after the gamers. Wrong group to irritate.
— Christina Sommers (@CHSommers) September 5, 2014
Be sure to read Kain, Rhodes, and Auerbach in full, as they have done a good job in presenting the issue and their own perspectives to it. Perhaps when the gaming media gets its act together and starts offering an honest debate on the politicization of their work and the marginalization of their audience, voices like mine won’t matter at all. In the meantime, though, I’m happy to have them as readers and viewers, which might be a different experience for them.
Update: From Ganner in the comments: “[W]hat it is though is a noteworthy event of gaming media bias, hypocrisy, and censorship that is opening the eyes of young people at the similar tactics used by leftist on conservatives.” Yes, that may well prove very interesting.