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Hate, lies and video games: Six ways #Gamergate poisoned gaming and ruined the online world for the rest of us

Gamergate: Literally prepared the way for fascism

By David Futrelle

I recently appeared on the Australian radio show Stop Everything to talk about the poisonous legacy of Gamergate. (You can listen to the archived episode here.) So I thought I would expand a little on some of the notes I made for myself before doing the show, and get into a little more detail on some issues I wasn’t able to talk about during the show itself.

It’s been five years since the supposed movement for “ethics in gaming journalism” began in the form of a harassment campaign against game developer Zoe Quinn. The movement, such as it was, faded out some time ago. But its unfortunate legacies live on.

So how did Gamergate poison online discourse? Let me count (some of) the ways.

One: It turned political and cultural warfare into a game.

You may remember the infamous — and much mocked — copypasta that made its way around the internet in the days of Gamergate.

They targeted gamers.

Gamers.

We’re a group of people who will sit for hours, days, even weeks on end performing some of the hardest, most mentally demanding tasks. …

These people … think calling us racist, mysoginistic, rape apologists is going to change us? We’ve been called worse things by prepubescent 10 year olds with a shitty head set. …

Gamers are competative, hard core, by nature … this is just another boss fight.

Like most people who read this overblown rant at the time– and this is a drastically shortened version — I laughed. But it turns out that people who treat cultural warfare as a game to grind away at turn out to be remarkably … persistent adversaries. Something to (sadly) keep in mind the next time you’re swarmed by sockpuppets on Twitter.

Two: Gamergate weaponized lying and bad-faith arguments, helping prepare the way for our current, and seemingly endless, “post-truth information warfare,” to borrow a phrase from New Yotk Times writer Charlie Warzel.

As Warzel points out in his recent overview of Gamergate and its legacy, the movement began with a lie — with easily disproven allegations that Zoe Quinn slept with a journalist to get a good review for one of her games. (The guy in question never reviewed her game.) And it thrived by portraying itself, dishonestly, as some sort of campaign for “ethics in gaming journalism,” when in fact it was little more than a harassment campaign writ large, an online lynch mob with memes.

Three: it helped to further blur the line between politics and harassment.

While Gamergate, in theory, was a crusade to improve game journalism ethics and, more broadly, to rid the game world of the allegedly sinister influence of so-called Social Justice Warriors, in practice it was a harassment campaign aimed mostly at a small number of women who had offended self-described Gamers in various ways.

Obviously, Gamergate didn’t invent the online pileon, or smear campaigns in general, but it did make these strategies central to a certain kind of reactionary cultural politics. It’s a small step from attacking Zoe Quinn for her alleged Crimes Against Gaming to attacking Brie Larson for her cultural crime of portraying a comic book superhero while female.

And you can see the legacies of Gamergate clearly in the online, er, actvism of reactionary disinformation warriors like Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec who have launched sometimes remarkably successful smear campaigns against political foes ranging from Hillary Clinton to John Podesta. It’s hard to imagine Pizzagate and QAnon taking off as they have without Gamergate.

Four: It weaponized white male nostalgia for a past that never was.

Gamergaters regularly hearkened back to what they saw as a lost utopia – the days when gaming was allegedly a “safe space” for (mostly white) male geeks ostracized by the larger society. Never mind that girls and women (and people of color) have always been a large part of the gaming world. Never mind that putting playable female characters in some video games is hardly a threat to any male gamer (and one of the most pathetic things for grown men to become exercised over).

Five: It created a new and potentially lucrative career path for right-wing ideologues and grifters.

Who could have predicted that a weird, fringe movement as Gamergate could make so many media careers? Well, Milo Yiannopoulos, for one, and a whole host of rising YouTube stars like Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin. These new “harassment influencers” — to borrow the language of Syracuse researcher Whitney Phillips — lived lavishly on the Gamergate dole, and helped to inspire a new generation of right-wing grifters. Gamergate also helped to revitalize the flagging career of old-school ideological hacks like think-tanker Christina Hoff Sommers, who reinvented herself as the not-quite-hip-but-trying “Based Mom.”

Six: It opened the door for fascism.

In 1995, writer Umberto Eco sketched out what he saw as the essential characteristics of “Eternal Fascism.” Gamergate ticked off almost every box on Eco’s 14-point list. It was at the very least a fascist movement in embryo.

Like the original fascists, Gamergaters were driven by personal and social frustrations. They were obsessed with what Eco called “the cult of tradition” (in this case, white male nostalgia); with the “fear of difference” (in this case especially the feat of the female other); “with “the rejection of modernism (or in this case postmodernism); with the notion of “life as permanent warfare” (“they targeted gamers”).

Gamergaters worshiped “action for action’s sake.” They were forever in motion, constantly on the lookout for things to be ostentatiously offended by. They were obsessed with conspiracies, and in retrospect it seems all too obvious that they were primed to go from imagining games journalist plots to embracing outright antisemitism and the mythical notion of a Jewish scheme to lead the west into “degeneracy” through so-called “Cultural Marxism.”

I could keep going, but you get the point: Gamergate was, in its very essence, a deeply fascistic movement. It helped to bring about the revival of fascism in American and world politics today, and gave the new fascists many helpful techniques to use in promoting their brand of hate.

Gamergate takes Karl Marx’s famous pronouncement on history repeating itself and turns it on its head: It began as a farce, at least for those who were not its direct victims — but its legacy has been one of outright tragedy.

NOTE: I did a somewhat more extensive catalog of the ways Donald Trump matches up with Eco’s 14 points here. It’s a little outdated in terms of examples (I wrote it just after the 2016 election) but its general points still stand.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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kupo
kupo
1 year ago

@Naglfar
Yeah, I’ve been following a lot of it. Pretty awful.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 year ago

I decided I should see what all of the Gamergate fuss was about, so I watched the first four or so Tropes vs. Women In Video Games videos.

Nothing in them seemed to warrant anything like the magnitude of controversy that erupted. My own reactions to the points Sarkeesian made tended to be nods of agreement and the odd “hmm, interesting”. The videos certainly attack patriarchal norms and assumptions, and deservedly so, but don’t anywhere seem to attack all men.

If these videos were the putative flashpoint, then Gamergate is the Everest of mountains made from molehills.

Then again, there certainly seem to be a lot of men out there who behave as if an attack on patriarchy is an attack on all men, and/or an attack on them personally.

Two amusing things that happened, though: one, at some point in the “damsel in distress trope” videos I thought “Princesses being kidnapped back and forth … in the battle of the sexes, women really are the ball!” Twenty seconds later Sarkeesian referenced that exact concept, and later exhibited an example of a game where fat women were literally the ball, being picked up and carried around by opposing teams like in football.

And second, the description of how “Ms. Male Character” is constructed (take existing character and add feminizing traits: pink bow tie, pink shoes, red lipstick…) had me thinking how, ironically, biology itself works the opposite way: men are, biologically, Mr. Female Character. The default human biology is female; masculinizing traits are activated during development and growth by a single master switch, known as SRY, located on (of course) the Y chromosome. So biology makes men by starting with a default female template and adding masculinizing traits here and there. The male chauvinist game designers (and other media persons) who default everyone to male and then add feminizing traits to a select few are getting things exactly backwards. As is the Biblical origin story for Eve.

kupo
kupo
1 year ago

If these videos were the putative flashpoint, then Gamergate is the Everest of mountains made from molehills.

It was definitely a major focus, but the start was the Zoe post and the thing I felt really kicked it into gear was the Gamers Are Over article. But you can see the whole timeline here if you want to know more.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
1 year ago

Regarding libertarian paradises, yeah, all of them I’ve heard of (and there have been several) have failed. Most of them never even got off the ground, as they turned out to be purely grift with the supposed founder of the town just absconding with the money without ever really even setting anything up. The closest thing to this that has actually worked are basically militia compounds, which are hardly much on the freedom unless you’re at the top.

You might even include Fordlandia as a borderline case, especially as we’re already talking about Brazil. (Short version: Henry Ford bought territory from Brazil in 1928 to build a ‘company town’ to produce rubber. The locals were promised good wages, but treated as captive labour, with all alcohol, tobacco, and even football playing forbidden in town. Needless to say, it failed utterly, had riots, and any attempt at keeping it up ended after synthetic rubber was developed.)

I have no idea what to do about any of them, but considering the number of countries in which the same sort of person as Trump, Bolsonaro, or Modi in India, has taken over… I just hope enough people wise up before things fall apart irreparably. Though I’m pretty sure it’s far too late for ‘no damage’ now, especially as the Trump-like folks are shielded by the same system they’re abusing, and the best we can hope for is ‘minor damage’.

@kupo:
Gah, that twitter thread is horrible. There are, unfortunately, several folks that actually are the sort of ‘White Knights’ that the MGTOWs assume everybody nice is, where they only pretend to be good and support feminist causes in order to get people to open up to them. (See also: Jian Ghomeshi up here, who started off helping set up a ‘Walk Safe’ program at York University when he was a student there, and who along with the rest of Moxy Früvous did benefit concerts for Dr. Henry Morgentaler.)

Allandrel
Allandrel
1 year ago

@Jenora Feuer

Regarding libertarian paradises, yeah, all of them I’ve heard of (and there have been several) have failed. Most of them never even got off the ground, as they turned out to be purely grift with the supposed founder of the town just absconding with the money without ever really even setting anything up. The closest thing to this that has actually worked are basically militia compounds, which are hardly much on the freedom unless you’re at the top.

Isn’t it funny how an ideology that stresses self-interest seems to attract people who exploit others for their self-interest? It’s almost as if all that talk of “personal freedom” is a smoke screen for “I’ve got mine, screw you.”

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
1 year ago

@kupo:

Wow, that timeline. A good chunk of it seems to be people riding a tiger then eventually falling off and getting eaten by it. How many of their “own” people did they turn on and doxx in the end?

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