Back in September, I wrote an article suggesting that Zoe Quinn brought #gamergate to a halt after she published the IRC logs offering proof of its origins. I wrote that knowing full well that people were still using the hashtag, and I’ll confess that the campaign has had a longer tail than I would have expected.
But I still stand behind my initial conclusion. Sociological phenomena seldom have fixed end dates, so I knew #gamergate wouldn’t stop immediately. That’s not how it works.
More to the point, it gets at one of my more deeply held beliefs about civilization. I’ve been reading Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat, and there’s one passage that bears repeating:
Everyone knows history is written by the winners, but that cliché misses a crucial detail: Over time, the winners are always the progressives. Conservatism can only win in the short term, because society cannot stop evolving (and social evolution inevitably dovetails with the agenda of those who see change as an abstract positive). It might take seventy years, but it always happens eventually. [Emphasis in original]
That more or less sums up my views on #gamergate, a variation of the point I was trying to articulate in my original column. Quinn’s publication of the chat logs is the moment that #gamergate became inextricably linked with the misogyny that would come to define it. Anybody who wanted to support the movement would have to acknowledge that it was rooted in hatred, sexism, and terror.
Not coincidentally, that’s also when any chance #gamergate had of making a positive change evaporated. It became a reactionary conservative movement fighting against a culture that is changing. Sure, it’s had an impact. But as with the Intel/Gamasutra debacle or the despicable death threats that forced Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian, and Quinn from their homes, that impact definitely hasn’t been positive.
Before Quinn went public with the records, there was a palpable sense of damage control within the gaming press, a fear that the anger would have real consequences for people’s jobs, or that advertisers and parent corporations like Gawker would cave to the pressure of the mob. Nobody really knew what #gamergate was, so for a brief moment the claims about corruption read as legitimate.
The same was not true in the aftermath. More and more non-gaming publications – The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Cracked, The Verge, Jezebel, Deadspin, Vox (everyone, really) – came down against #gamergate because most of its claims made no sense and those claims had little to do with its tangible output. That’s what its more naïve supporters have struggled with ever since. Some people may be in it for noble reasons, but they don’t get to define what the movement is or the way it gets perceived. That was done with documented evidence of nefarious action and intent.
In the long run, #gamergate is fundamentally untenable. The culture around it has progressed too far to sustain it. The reactions of the mainstream press – stern eyebrows from exasperated parents wondering why the toddler won’t stop crying about the chocolate milk – are proof enough of that. The behavior of #gamergate is utterly ludicrous, an idea that is already coalescing into consensus for everyone not drinking the Kool-Aid. As illustrated in a telling Business Insider headline, the outside world is either oblivious to #gamergate or they’re looking at us like we’re crazy (a not unreasonable conclusion).
Yet while I know #gamergate won’t last forever, I desperately wish the short term wasn’t so traumatic. It seems that there are people who won’t be happy until someone dies, either because they’re psychopaths or because they don’t realize that the Internet isn’t a video game and there are real people with real lives on the other end of every tweet.
I truly can’t fathom the level of malice, insecurity, and immaturity needed to view doxxing and rape and death threats as a valid form of discourse. Causing physical harm is always a worse crime than expressing an opinion. It doesn’t matter what Leigh Alexander, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, or anyone else says about video games. Threatening to kill them in response – or allying with those who do – invariably makes you the bad guy.
It’s really not that complicated.
That’s why I find myself writing about #gamergate again, even though I’d rather be talking about almost anything else. I feel like I have to do something to accelerate its demise, because the longer this goes on the more afraid I become that something terrible is going to happen, a concern that resurfaced this week when a terrorist threatened to massacre a school to prevent Sarkeesian from speaking. Enough is enough. #gamergate is a hate campaign, a petulant, despicable tantrum whose primary achievement has been the harassment of women, and that’s not something that we should tolerate in any form.
So to anyone reading this, please don’t support #gamergate. As a consumer movement it’s conspicuously absent of any practical ideas about what it’s going to do to help consumers, and it’s done far more harm than good under that banner. There are healthier ways to open a discourse about integrity, ones that don’t involve gendered violence against people expressing opinions.
When you stand for #gamergate you’re serving as a direct mouthpiece for a group of angry misogynists who would rather erase women than deal with reality. If you’re truly concerned about corruption in video games, you’ll get much further speaking for yourself.