One of the games I worked on while at Talonsoft was called East Front, which presented an interesting problem. Between Adolph Hitler’s Nazis and Joseph Stalin’s communists, exactly who was the player supposed to be rooting for? I did a good job on my part of the game and it was well received but that question is one that always stuck with me. In such a titanic struggle, a person naturally wants someone to root for and someone to root against. Our nature demands that there be a “good guy” and a “bad guy”. So what happens when there are just “bad guys” and no good options to be had?
In a real sense this is the situation we have with Gamergate. There’s a strong desire to declare one side or another ‘morally right’, or ‘the vile human beings to have ever existed on the planet’. Certainly cries of misogyny, death-threats, rape-threats, and other forms of vile internet communication would be emotionally swaying except for the fact that all sides of this controversy are rife with such examples. While there’s a certain expectation with the lowest form of internet trolls to engage in this behavior, when it becomes mirrored in professional sites like Kotaku, where writers state that “Gamer culture is dead, and rightfully so,” because “All gamers are nothing but would-be rapists that are thankfully too cowardly to leave their parent’s basements”, the problem is far, far worse.
There just isn’t a lot of moral high-ground to be found here. Even the well-documented victims of this controversy, Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, have engaged in their own hostile and hateful behavior, sometimes even to their own supporters (as evidenced by their own websites). Indeed both women have made large numbers of threats and attacks of their own.
So with all this hate and anger and lack of positive role-models to be found, how do we define the sides of this conflict and where they stand? Obviously the roles of ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ aren’t going to cut it, since you’re not going to easily find many examples of either.
It’s easy, and probably obvious, to say, that the internet trolls are the obvious bad guys here, but they’re not really the villains of the piece. They’re more like the looters that show up after a natural disaster. Spare them no sympathy and offer them no comfort, but do not endow upon them a level of importance that they do not deserve. The only ‘movement’ than can be ascribed onto them is one that should not be described in a professional-sounding article.
Zoe and Anita? Both of these women have screwed up in several ways, are passionate political advocates, and have well-earned reputations as being less than honest. Yet all of this actually describes most of the internet. While these two women have indeed become, for better or worse, poster children for whatever causes are thrown around, they are not all that unique. Again, that this whole controversy stemmed from either or both of these women is farcical.
Can we blame feminism? Certainly quite a few sites and reporters have attempted to lay this whole controversy down at the feet of misogyny alone and have even gone so far as labelling all gamers as ‘right-wing tea-partying cavemen’, which came as a shock to the four female gamers in my household, of course. But feminist concerns in gaming aren’t new issues either. And, indeed, gaming in general has made great positive strides at addressing real concerns about misogyny in gaming content in the past several years. Indeed, it seems a little odd to attack gamers as such cretins now after so much has been accomplished overall. In fact, GDA has recently announced that the majority of game-purchases are for and by women – making the claim that the whole culture and industry is misogynist rather bizarre.
So what’s actually changed? Why has this moment, above and beyond all others, caused Gamergate to be this much of a firestorm? After all, we’ve seen everything else before, and all the players have been around and considerably vocal at least since AOL first went online. If gaming survived Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Duke Nukem, and even Ms. PacMan, why are so many people declaring gaming and gamers ‘dead’? Why are things so horrible now? If you notice, I did leave one side of this controversy largely out of this article, and that’s because that’s where the heart of this controversy lies and they deserve an article all of their own.
Next: The Gaming Press