Once upon a time, a large number of angry video game players were up in arms about perceived corruption in games journalism. They took their outrage to social networks, joining in with the existing outrage going on under the hashtag #gamergate. And yet every time they tried to discuss the injustices demonstrated to them in infographics and YouTube videos, they were dismissed as harassers or misogynists.

This confused and angered the gamers further. Why were they on trial for something they had not done? They had serious concerns about cozy relationships between developers and the press, yet that means they hate women? WTF?

The thing is, they got played. If you’re a gamer, and recognise any part of yourself in the first two paragraphs, you got played.

Good doggie!

There’s a term in politics called “dog-whistle“. Dog-whistle politics are where you want to achieve A, but can’t tell the electorate “let’s achieve A” as they would not approve of it. So you talk about B instead. B has the side-effect of achieving A. You enlist all sorts of people who truly believe in the promise of B, and who reject the concept of A – but their support of B just happens to achieve A anyway.

The famous quote about dog-whistle politics comes from a former senior Regan administration staffer:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*****, n*****, n*****.” By 1968, you can’t say “n*****” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*****, n*****.”

Those who go along with B and inadvertently help achieve A are known as – and this is the term, not a personal attack, so don’t freak out – useful idiots.

In this instance, B is the discussion of games journalism. There are a whole lot of people who truly believe, in their hearts, that there are causes for concern in the games journalism industry, and they’re right – but those people are being orchestrated, without their consent, to help achieve A. And in this case, A is stamping out “social justice warriors” from all areas of the games industry – ending their careers, or invoking suicide, or both. The main targets singled out for attention by #gamergate are not selected at random, nor are they especially corrupt – they’ve been selected because attacking them serves aim A, and attacking others would not.

This was never your pool in the first place

You stand in a swimming pool. Many others are here, splashing about. You try to have a serious discussion with someone on the edge of the pool, as a turd floats by.

“Dude, what the fuck, there’s shit in that pool”

You don’t know what they’re talking about. You didn’t shit in the pool, none of your friends shat in the pool, why are they changing the subject, and attacking you?

Wispy, misshapen scraps of excrement float past, knocking your arm.


“Seriously, that pool is literally filled with poo. It’s those guys in the corner, with their trunks down. They’re just squatting and shitting, non-stop. You’re getting covered in shit.”

“I really have no idea what you’re talking about, why are you attacking me?” – you recruit some friends to join you in the pool, to prove that it’s not full of shit.

Small, rabbit-pellet crap squelches underfoot.

“Okay, really, I’m not talking to you now, you stink of shit” – and they walk off.

You turn to your other friends in the pool outraged. “How DARE they imply these things? We have *nothing* to do with those guys in the corner, they have *nothing* to do with this pool!”

They nod in agreement, as a wave of brown water splashes over you.

Not your personal army

So who’s orchestrating things? And why? 4chan, basically. This all started in an effort to destroy the career and/or life of indie developer Zoe Quinn. Here’s some of the original planning work – trigger warning, for those that applies to. From there, it moved on to anyone else labelled as a “social justice warrior” by the 4chan crowd – anyone who brings up issues of discrimination, race, gender, sexuality, etc. The 4channers and their allies (hey, a few people independently agree with cause A) are terrified of a world where there might be a reduction in the number of eviscerated prostitutes in a game – kicking out the people who might cause that shift is an important step in saving the future of “vidya”

And, sweet gamer, you may insist that you have nothing to do with 4chan – but the evidence shows that whether you know about it or not, it’s their tune you’re singing to. That’s why you’ve been directed at so many “corrupt” journalists who happen to be women.You’re not the one sending rape/murder threats to the few women journalists, you’re just accusing them of corrupt practices. It’s those *other* guys you know nothing about, sharing the same banner and discussion space, sending those threats.

As a thought exercise, listen to this podcast. It’s quite long, but it’s a good example. You’ll know when you get to the relevant part – unless you’re a sociopath, incapable of forming human emotions. And you’re not – you’ve just been played. This is the result of you being played. People who have devoted decades of their working lives to the hobby you both love, driven out by unbridled hate.

The truth about games journalism

A number of articles popped up in the opinions pages of various games (and non-games) sites, in the early days of #gamergate, saying things like “gamers are over”. This certainly helped convince plenty of those who believe in cause B that games journalists are not only corrupt – but hold them in contempt too. Fuelling anger. Justifying angry responses.

The problem with an era where attention spans don’t go past 6 seconds or 140 characters is nobody really understood the point any of these articles made. In 2014, what does “gamer” even mean? Every retirement home has a Wii, every smartphone has Angry Birds, everyone on Facebook plays Candy Crush Saga. What does it mean to be a “gamer” when you spend fewer hours a day playing Rust than a businessman spends playing smartphone games on the train? The “gamer” identity meant something when playing games was something unusual, but now? Would you describe yourself as “food eater” or “TV watcher”? Because it’s about as meaningful.

And you know what? All those “corrupt” games journalists there’s been work to evict? Those guys are gamers too. You know why a journalist might back a Kickstarter or Patreon? The same reason you might, as an individual gamer. You know why they’re getting paid $50 an article and barely keeping the lights on? Because they love gaming, because they’re you. Yes, even the “social justice warriors”, even the women. They’re gamers like anybody else.

“Games journalism” comes from a sector known as “enthusiast press” – the same space that has, say, car magazines. Do car journos and car company PR folk know each other? Of course – that’s where most of the magazine content comes from! Does the journo have bias? Of course! They love cars, and drive one too! You don’t want unbiased reviews – you want to read reviews from a reviewer whose biases match your own. The same goes for games journalism. Game reviews don’t need to start every page with “video games are totally fun and worth your time, weird as it may seem”, the way the occasional review in the mainstream press & newspapers do – because you, and the reviewer, are on the same page.They don’t hold you in contempt. You speak a common language about a common interest. That’s their entire value to you – they know the right people to get access to the info you want, and you don’t.

A great example of why this has nothing to do with ethics? Part of #gamergate called “Operation Disrespectful Nod” (everything is an Operation to 4chan). This aims to put pressure on “corrupt” (employs a hated “social justice warrior”) sites by putting pressure on that site’s advertisers. Advertisers like EA. The idea is that EA has enough sway over a site to get disliked journalists fired and that’s fine and a source of allies – but the true corruption is over who is backing whose Patreon campaign for the price of a beer a month.

The idea that there’s a problem about the relationship between the press and their sources isn’t new in the enthusiast press. Which is why most outlets have a strict division between editorial and advertising departments. Lapses happen – but they’re rare, and heavily covered by other sources, because those lapses are news!

In conclusion, I’m always right

Everything I say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – but so does everything anyone else says. And the “I don’t support harassment” gamers of #gamergate need to ask themselves why they’ve swallowed every word wholesale from meaningless infographics and videos, but insist that any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of their movement is fabricated.

Most gamers, including those caught up in #gamergate, are good, ordinary, decent folk. At worst, gullible. And what a good, ordinary, decent gamer should want is for interesting people to make interesting content – be it games or articles or art or mods or soundtrack remixes or Let’s Plays or cosplays or game-themed bakery or whatever. How does driving interesting people out of the industry achieve that?

Image courtesy of BrandonSigma at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An exception to the sitewide license is used for this post – it is under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales. The main difference from the site license is that this article may be re-posted, with attribution, as long as the text is unaltered, even on commercial for-profit sites.

One Response to “#GamerHate”

  1. For those interested in how manipulation also happens in a wider context, Trust me I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday is a good book

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