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Things We Should Learn from GamerGate

Two months ago, game developer Zoe Quinn, maker of the decently received but kind of lackluster game Depression Quest, came to be the epicenter of the absolute mess that is GamerGate. We won’t rehash that story too closely; in short, her ex-boyfriend accused her of cheating on him with journalists and industry professionals in exchange for favors. His allegations turned out to be almost entirely unsubstantiated, and her games never made enough money to really justify the theory.

Gamer Gate has since moved on from detractors of Zoe to include genuinely misogynistic ass sweat like attorney, MRA activist, and adrenaline junkie Michael Cernovich (aka @PlayDangerously on Twitter); and a much less vocal group with very real grievances against the gaming industry and the actions of large companies like Electronic Arts and IGN. On the other side we have some genuinely wonderful women like geek icon Felicia Day, who’s found her personal information disseminated across the internet over her single comment on GamerGate; and whatever Anita Sarkeesian is. We’ll get to her in a second.

This article isn’t a summary of GamerGate, an analysis of who’s right or wrong, or a history lesson. This article is about Things I Learned from GamerGate.

Anti – Gaters Aren’t Always Helping

You know who I love, as an internet and geek culture personality? Wil “Wesley Crusher” Wheaton. Every time I see his face, I want to scream “SHUT UP WESLEY!…hey man don’t look pissed, I didn’t mean it.” Very few people in this industry have an associated catchphrase, is where I’m going with this. Unfortunately, as an “anti-Gamer Gater,” he feels he has to be civil and non-critical with just about everyone else who shares this label, and hostile to much of the other side.  And he’s wrong.

For those who don’t know, Anita Sarkeesian is the owner of Feminist Frequency, an online media dedicated to examing the roles of women in media and challenge traditional gender roles. She does good work, she makes some people feel better about the world, and she rubs others the wrong way. Kind of like if George Carlin had a female clone that wasn’t as funny or stoned.

She also may not be a paragon of tactful timing. This was her response mere hours after the Marysville school shooting:

I’m not dogging on her point of view, let’s get that straight. There are some SERIOUS issues in the United States where gender roles are concerned. But that was at 6:38 PM the evening after two people got straight-up murdered in the face until dead. Two young people, near Seattle, one of the best cities for gaming enthusiasts, a place where many have friends and former/current coworkers. Could she not wait just a tiny bit longer? Midnight, maybe. Don’t get me wrong, FOX didn’t, but if your goal is to be more tactful than FOX News, you’re setting the bar pretty low anyway.

Shortly after Felicia Day was doxxed for saying GamerGate had made her honestly, physically afraid, Sarkeesian had this to say:

Same day that Felicia made her comments, we did get this though:

What I’m saying is that Sarkeesian is a champion of women and humanist thought in gaming, and we should all applaud that, but her…style…isnt is open to criticism even from people like myself, who seriously enjoy her work. I’m not calling her opportunistic or mercenary – I’m certain that’s not her intention or how she sees herself – but I think it’s easy for detractors to paint her that way. Two years of being on the receiving end of some serious online harassment probably doesn’t do much for your desire to be Superman-eque, and it may be time for her to recoup. I’d argue that now would be a good time for her to step a little further out of the forefront (though I imagine she’d need a Faraday Cage to escape the online poo-slingers), and perhaps reconsider a few tactical decisions.  While this is going on, the internet should try this lady’s advice:

Brianna Wu. Sometime Bringer of Hugs. Other times Bringer of Twitter Kung-Fu.

Despite some reasonable explosions of her own (check out the crap on her @spacekatgal Twitter, where she couldn’t win for losing for awhile), Wu has said in a recent interview for 5by5 Live that antagonism or direct confrontation may not be the best way to go with detractors. Instead, nothing defuses and confuses an argument like a big ol’ hug. Even if it’s just an ironic one.

Or a fucking horrifying one. Whichever.

Or a fucking horrifying one. Whichever.

Developers and Journalists Aren’t Celebrities

Quick, how much money do you think a gaming developer makes? It’s not much: $73,600. Now factor in your cost of living in the kinds of places where game developers live. In Seattle it’s 1.543 times what it is in the rest of the country. In Silicon Valley, it’s far worse. Game developers are middle class.

But your average gamer doesn’t know that. For some reason, people tend to think that public visibility equals higher pay, though gaming doesn’t work that way and it never has. This becomes a problem when people assume that figures like Felicia Day can just up and move, buy another Death Star to live in, and be over whatever harassment was attached to the old address. Felicia Day’s net worth is only $ 1 million. You know someone worth that much money. You have shaken hands with them, I assure you. She’s worth about 8 normal people, but with expenses associated with business (they scale as you get better pay, I promise) and the ever-present friends-with-hands-out that I assume exist (because people are terrible), it probably balances closer to being worth 4 normal people. It’s upper middle class. That means when humans whose mothers recently attempted cross-breeding with man’s best friend do something like doxx her, revealing all of her personal information, it hits her about as hard as it would hit the average gamer’s families, financially, and that’s not including the mental  blows.

In this scenario, Rocky is hundreds of Internet trolls screaming at once.

In this scenario, Rocky is hundreds of Internet trolls screaming at once.

So before you shrug off the damage done to these people’s livelihoods and personal lives, imagine that happening to your mom. Yeah, feels crappy.

Our Cybercrime Laws Suck

As far as I’ve been able to find, no one involved in GamerGate harrassment but Zoe Quinn’s former boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, has been brought to court or charged. That’s a tad pathetic, because the number of people who have had their personal information leaked online is staggering.

That’s not a problem unique to GamerGate. Though the US Government did update statutes in 1996, the situation in video game culture is prevalent enough for Wikipdia to include gaming culture in their Cyberbully entry. Even the well-known suicide of Tyler Clementi didn’t end in any charges for the suicide itself, only the illegal use of his webcam against him. Even a cursory look at American cyber crime statutes show that most are targeted at financial crimes, and methods of prosecuting cyber-harassment on a personal level are slow in being perfected.

GamerGate has really brought this to the forefront. As Brianna Wu considers the wisdom of slander and libel suits against harassers, it’s become more apparent that those harassed online don’t have a better reliable recourse. Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Zoe Quinn, and several others on both sides of the GamerGate discussion have apparently contacted the police, who were apparently less helpful than Blinkin from Men in Tights. What’s the solution? I don’t know. Probably a comprehensive review of cyber crime laws on a federal level, without attaching specific industries like gaming to it, done by a panel of actual tech-heads.

Yea, we're so screwed.

Yea, we’re so screwed.

It’s All a Facet of a Larger Issue

The most common criticism of GamerGate is that it’s about keeping women silent in the gaming industry. The most common cry of GamerGaters themselves is that corrupt women-folk are pushing their agenda on the gaming community. Today, I’m not getting into that. Except for this picture. Make what you will of it.

Pictured: One of the most important moments in my life.

Pictured: One of the most important moments in my life

The entire controversy is part of a larger issue that will be covered in more depth in a later article: the Internet has changed. Compare the actions of Anonymous today to the Anonymous that committed the Habbo Raids. The hacker collective is now basically the most pervasive group of so-called Social Justice Warriors on the web. And I’m not gonna lie; I’m glad they’re on the side of angels, proving Good Is Not Nice.

In 2000, only 7% of the planet had regular internet access and only a third of the developed world. In 2006, when I graduated highschool, only 18% of the planet gained regular access. The 2014 numbers? 39% of the planet has regular internet access, and SEVENTY-SEVEN percent of the developed world. It’s no tremendous secret white guys make up the least disadvantaged part of Western populations. But white folks (as I will call us from now on, as I am not from the Caucasus Mountains and have never met anyone who is) only make up 72.4% of the population of the United States, and males tend to make up less than half of the human population. If every white guy in the United States accessed the Web, we’d still be…about 34-36% out of that 77%. That number isn’t perfect; I’m not a statistician, just a Victor Hugo nut with a blog. Still, we can use ballpark figures to assume around half of Internet users today are not white dudes. Changing demographics mean if a business needs to stay viable and appeal to the largest possible group of customers, it’s going to have to cater to a lot more niches than in 2006. The same logic applies to blogs, journalists, video game companies, tabletop games, any Web-based media.

To us white dudes, it really looks like media catered to us is simply being pushed aside to make way for other groups. That’s certainly a prevailing attitude of GamerGate and right-wing politicians. Due to a few flaws in the human brain (Confirmation Bias and the Hostile Media Effect), humans tend to take things like that as a personal attack even when it stretches credulity further than Reed Richards’ crotch in a bad slashfic. But humans (who aren’t Third World dictators) have little control over how those demographics changed, that’s just the inexorable spread of technology. And if media is seriously starting to cater to minority groups, it’s not a personal attack on the majority or an attempt to marginalize anybody. It’s just business. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. Everybody needs to stop taking the changes in media so personally, because it really is largely media creators trying to pay the bills.

It’s just business.

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