If you’ve followed video-gaming in the recent months you’ll more than likely have noticed the hashtag “#Gamergate” as well as some extremely harsh words and tones thrown around it. Gamergate has dominated the gaming media for some time, and its presence is felt in pretty much every corner of video-game discussion. Yet despite this prevalence, it’s become increasingly difficult to get facts or a sense of history as to how this controversy came about, who the players are, and what the ‘right’ side of the argument really is.
I’m going to try to lay out the very basics of this controversy and hopefully explain the role of the players involved. In the interest of full disclosure I’m going to admit to the world that I’m a white right-wing male Protestant. I’m also a former game writer and developer, game resource developer and consultant. On occasion I’ve even been a member of the gaming press. In truth, I’ve been around pretty much every angle on this story, and not for just the couple of months that the hash tag has been floating around, but actually for nearly twenty years. So I do have some very strong biases but I will try, at least in this article, to keep to the very basics and rein my personal opinions in just a smidge.
So what is Gamergate and why is it so confusing? Well, at the very heart of the matter is that Gamergate isn’t just one controversy, but several mixed up into a perfect storm of outrage, politics, and posturing. Individually, each of these controversies is serious on its own, but when combined turned into a maelstrom of pure gaming angst. For someone just stepping into the battlefield, it can be difficult to learn just exactly where to start.
The first, and most covered, aspect of this controversy involved is the very real and ongoing problem of blatant misogyny in some aspects of gaming. More than a small number of video games, generally marketed to high-school and college-age males, can be extremely demeaning to women. Though video games, as a whole, have made dramatic strides forward in this department, there are still quite a few games being made which present women as nothing but sexual objects to be exploited, sometimes even violently so. The second aspect of this controversy concerns the corrupt and unethical behavior of the gaming media, including web-sites and in-print magazines. The gaming media has not been a stranger to scandal, with accusations and stories of bribery, collusion, and score-fixing dating back even well before I was in the industry. Compounding this is that many in the gaming media had gotten very used to no one covering their maleficence in turn, until the rise of independent reporting on the internet. The ‘established’ gaming media are now simply threatened by independent players.
The third aspect of this controversy is unfortunately an all-too-common issue when dealing with the internet. There exists a large handful of people in the world that live to cause trouble when they can get away with it, and the internet affords them some level of anonymity with which to perpetuate their behavior. These internet “trolls” do not care about cause so much, if at all, as they do about “stirring the pot” and enraging others. These are the people that, when something bad happens, can be counted upon to make the situation even worse.
The last major aspect of this controversy is the existence of political opportunists, proving that in this day and age, there is nothing safe from this corrupting influence. I already stated that misogyny was an aspect of this controversy, so its crusading counterpart, the political feminist, jumped into the fray with all the vitriol and divisiveness they’ve shown in the past. Suddenly there’s an attempt to somehow portray all of these issues in a ‘right-wing’ versus ‘left-wing’ light, despite political persuasions not truly being a factor previously.
As I stated, each one of these aspects would warrant a controversy on their own, and honestly have many times through the years. Gamergate, however, as a mash of all these things, has mired itself into a level of confusion, vitriol, and self-destructiveness that does indeed threaten both the hobby and the industry as a whole, and has already severely damaged the gaming media. No matter anyone’s views on any of these controversies, the nature of the whole beast has become so toxic that it seems impossible for it to be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.
Next: A bit more on the background and history of Gamergate.