Monday, July 20, 2015

Thoughts on #GamerGate

I've played games ever since I got an NES and Super Mario/Duck Hunt for christmas as a child.  I've played games for years without ever thinking it was an identity or lifestyle.  Guess I would be called a "gamer" but I'm not as hard core as some folks, and I've always stayed out of the politics of the gaming industry.  I don't really play indie games mostly because I don't have the time in my life to be trying out new games all the time.  I typically find one game I like, immerse myself into it, then move onto another game (with occasional wistful trips back to old favorites).  I like FPS, RTS, and RPGs typically.

So with all that said, I'm passionate about getting good games.  That's why when I heard about #GamerGate, I dived into it with gusto.  I'm both sorry and glad I did.  I'll explain my mixed feelings later, let's start with one simple question; What is #GamerGate aside from a widely used hashtag?  Well it's certainly a scandal (worthy of the "gate" title).  It started with a manifesto of sorts, from a jilted lover.  The manifesto wasn't kind either.  His ex lover was a game developer that had cheated on him with a game journalist to get a good review for her game.

Almost immediately, the responses decided people strongly into two camps in the gaming community.  I'm really not going to get into the back and forth, because it would require you figuring out who is who and even attempting to explain all the back and forth would take hours.  What I found most interesting about the entire debate around #GamerGate, is that the two sides seem to be saying something completely different.  The Pro side is demanding ethics reform in games journalism.  The Anti side is accusing the Pro side of being incredibly sexist and harassing women (in development and gaming).

The disconnect between the two messages is absolutely jarring.  It'd be like talking about China and one person discussing the pollution while the other side discusses the structure of the government.  The back and forth has pretty quickly turned into internet shouting matches.  There were also some incredibly loathsome individuals that emerged.

Perhaps the most ironic part of the whole affair is the Anti side which often complains of harassment, is extremely guilty of the very same.  People have been forced from the internet, and very real world consequences have befallen them.  I've become familiar with terms like SWATing, Doxing, and hell dumping, and it has turned my stomach.  I know death threats aren't typically acted on, but when someone calls your home phone and threatens your children by name over a post you thought was relatively anonymous you can see how far this thing has gone.

I'm not going to get involved in the whole damn thing, other than to say I've come to tacitly support the Pro side.  The more I learn about the Anti side of #GamerGate the less I want to do with them.  Whatever point they might've had has been lost in the morass of various message boards, and it's devolved int accusation and counter accusation.  The Pro side is still pretty consistent with the message that Games Journalism needs to have ethical standards.  Maybe the catalyst wasn't the best in the world, but why would anyone be against ethics reforms in any form of journalism?

There's a lot of money to be made in games.  Its an incredibly lucrative industry.  Some sources suggest the Gaming industry as a whole may make more money in a year than the porn industry.  There's crazy amount of graft that could exist.  The big developing houses could stand to lose huge investments, and indie developers stand to gain unbelievably large amount of money if they land a big hit.  The idea that journalists can be bought with favors, gifts, or sex should stop everyone in their tracks.  What if this were political journalism, or sports?  Would there really be a controversy?  Probably not to the extent that #GamerGate has seen.

I'll finally sum up why I was glad, and sad to delve into the whole controversy.  I was glad for the reason that I was completely unaware of all this going on.  I had my eyes opened to larger issues inside the games industry.  Maybe I may not just look through GameStop in the future, I may look for other places and sources for good games.  I'm sad because I got to see a side of the internet that really there are no words for.  People wishing a person suffering through chemo would have that cancer advance faster.  Organized harassment, calling a SWAT team on someone you disagree with (having police break down your door is in the very least a traumatizing event, at worst it could lead to deaths), releasing personal information and harassing employers and supporters.  Diving into even the surface details of #GamerGate has left me very wary.  I got to see the darker side of the internet, and I'm sorry to report that some of the denizens can be truly twisted.

But as I said, I've come to #GamerGate late in the game.  Whatever it was when it started it isn't that now.  Is it over?  that remains to be seen.  There's no real leader to either side.  There are figureheads that people gravitate towards, but in general this could go on as long as people want.  There have been effects in the mainstream and in the games journalism so it appears that at least on some level the Pro side won, but the Anti side is still going strong too, so where it ends is anyone's guess.  I think I'll just go back to playing Dragon Age.

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