Monday, November 3, 2014

Illuminations 11.3.14

Where Ethics Go To Die

"Gamergate" is the name given to a recent series of controversies in the video gaming world, ostensibly over ethics in gaming journalism and the idea of the "gamer" in today's culture, specifically the idea that the image of the hardcore gamer is largely outdated and the professional gaming community has become a more diverse one. It began in August when a game developer was accused of having an affair with a video game journalist and reviewer and has since exploded to encompass almost any general grievance with the direction of modern video game design.

Okay. Objective, non-confrontational, watered-down-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness summary over. Let's actually talk about Gamergate. Buckle up, this is going to get rant-y. The movement may seem sort of nebulous and hard to define. Well that's because it has no rational ground to stand on.  Gamergate is bullshit. Gamergate is a thin veneer of fool's gold over a rabid froth of misogyny, fear tactics, and insane conspiracy theories used to justify attacks on women.

First Zoe Quinn, the accused game developer, was sent numerous attacks, varying from simple verbal assaults against her to texting her father that his daughter was a whore to death threats against her and her family. Her private information was hacked and spread around forums multiple times, in an ordeal known as doxxing. Oh by the way, she was accused by her ex-boyfriend and the accusations have since been proven false and CRAZY. Feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian spoke out in support of Quinn and received similar treatment. (You may have heard about her canceling a speech she was to give to Utah State University because someone threatened to perpetrate "the deadliest school shooting in American History" and highlighted the absurdity that USU wasn't allowed to, or didn't care enough to, restrict gun carrying on campus, despite the death threats. But that's a whole other can of worms.) Brianna Wu, another game developer, also spoke out and, again, received similar treatment. The actress Felicia Day also posted an article about how frightened these acts had made her. She was doxxed in under an hour. Both Sarkeesian and Wu left their homes at one point due to threats of violence made against them.

Notice anything about these people being targeted? Yeah, they're all women. Oh a couple men have been included in the party (Phil Fish, another developer, for instance), but for the most part the brunt of the attacks have all focused on women. Chris Kluwe faced no real threats for his scathing denouncement of Gamergate. In fact, most of the people being attacked are not only women, but they are independent game designers, not the giant-corporation-controlling-the-world-conspiracy that many Gamergaters are seriously suggesting. And my god, what is it that this clamor over ethics is over? Game reviews? Reviews that are BY DEFINITION SUPPOSED TO BE SUBJECTIVE? Yeah. Makes sense.

The other point the Gamergates apparently want to clear up is the claim the Leigh Alexander (Oh hey another woman. Surprise...) makes, that the image of the hardcore, friendless, basement-dwelling gamer is dying out, that games can and should be designed to appeal to a larger group of people. But the article, while admittedly a bit incendiary, is pointing out a good thing! Gaming has become something socially acceptable! At long last gamers, you don't have to be pariahs! An influx of inspired gamers is coming and should be welcomed into this community you all cherish so much, because it welcomed you in when no one else would! New ideas! New kinds of games! Instead, they view it as an attack on their way of life! It's like they've watched "Revenge of the Nerds" so many times that the nerd-archetype has become infallible in their eyes. Everything else is wrong because us nerds are always the victors, always the downtrodden geeks with the hearts of gold and the brains three steps ahead of everyone else. Well, congratulations you've gone full circle - the ubernerds are now the bullies. Bullying the girls that they were so frustrated with for not paying attention to them! OY.

And the toxicity is just mind-bendingly nauseating. Scrolling through pages of #Gamergate Twitter feed is reminiscent of the conditioning scenes from "Clockwork Orange." For example, here's a list of actual comments made on a Gamergate forum after Ms. Sarkeesian appeared on The Colbert Report. Just a crazed blend of pseudo-military, pompous, delusional accusations and threats.

And this is not something you can dismiss and say "oh it's just trolls, ignore them." The internet isn't just loops of dancing hamsters anymore, you can just ignore it anymore. Your entire life is online, your reputation is online and if you depend on any sort of online interactions for your job you can't just walk away. Kathy Sierra recently posted an article about going through this gauntlet a few years ago. These aren't simple drive-by commenters, popping in to say "die in a fire whore," and bouncing off, chortling into the abyss of the internet. These are people spending hundreds of hours hacking into your accounts, photoshopping your face, or your family members' faces, into grisly murder/rape photographs, composing rambling manifestos denouncing you and posting them to your wikipedia page.

I was even going to say that sure, not all Gamergaters out there are misogynists, I'm sure. But you know what? Fuck all of them, even the probably-OK ones. Riding the momentum of these sociopaths to convey your own message is almost as fucked up so no, you don't get a pass on this one. It isn't trolling, it isn't some noble crusade against the feminazis who want to take your video games away, it isn't a stirring rebellion endorsing freedom of speech that's going to make the world a better place. This is modern terrorism against women, pure and simple, and it's completely unacceptable. But remember, it's not about that...

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