I've been having a bit of back and forth with a pro-Gamergate colleague, and here's my take, fwiw.
My problem is there seem to be two groups of people who call themselves gamergaters. One is a small group of people who'd like games journalism to be more, y'know, like journalism. The other is a vast warren of trolls [hmmm, what's the noun of congregation? a grunt of trolls?] who jumped on the bandwagon in order to harass women.
I take your point that if games critics want social justice, then mocking gamers by using social stereotypes is not OK. But getting the majority to feel victimized is always the first page in the right-wing playbook. I mean, why now? Folks have been calling gamers neckbeards and virgins since -- well, at least the 70's? D & Ders didn't have a big social reputation at my high school. Any why, particularly, aim at "social justice warriors" mocking gamers, when almost everybody mocks hard-core gamers.
I suspect that what's really going on is that young, socially inept gamers now feel their "gamer" identity is threatened by soccer moms who play Farmville at the field. And they're transferring that fear onto a small number of "social justice warriors." (People who make that an insult worry me. It's like people who use the word "feminazi.") Because obviously they can't do anything about the soccer moms, who either don't even know they exist, or cook dinner for them.
Really? I think mainstream society is always going to poke fun at geeks. When I was an active witch, neo-pagan geeks were always complaining about portrayals of witches in the media. C'mon, guys, you use the word, people think of you in a pointy hat. Bondage geeks complain that people (especially Jian Ghomeshi) don't understand that it's all done with carefully negotiated consent.
What seems to have got 'gators up in arms are some silly articles about "gamer" as an identity being "over." The very premise of the articles is ridiculous. They remind me of the sort of "trend" articles the New York Times prints whenever a reporter knows three friends who are doing some new thing. The NYT had an article about how beer bellies were becoming sexy. Um, what?
"Gamer" will be an identity so long as people self-identity as gamers, the way "queer" will be an identity as long as gays and lesbians share political needs.
I don't believe there ever was a "conspiracy" against the "gamer" identity. I know journalists, and they talk, and they're usually desperate for something to write about. If there were 10 articles, I can believe a few emails were passed around, but that's in the nature of a meme. A meme in the sense of "what are we going to fill our column inches with this week?" That's laziness, but that's not Dr. Evil. I don't believe a meme is the same as a conspiracy.
Your sympathies are important (no one disagrees with you about creating great work environments for [female] developers), but compassion has to go to both sides...
Okay. Good point.
But I think Gamergate projected a heap of frustration onto a tiny number of previously unknown people. Who ever heard of Zoe Quinn before? That was not constructive. The real question is not "what do we do about some minor female devs and/or anthropologists whom we feel insulted us," but "how do we deal with our precious identity being submerged in a vast welter of games that are not made for us."
If that's a real question. I mean it's not like we're never going to see another Grand Theft Auto game if Zoe Quinn gets her Kickstarter funded.
And, in return, the 'gators riles up a bunch of trolls, who in turn got mainstream feminists like Joss Whedon to come down on the whole Venn diagram with mockery.
Which, in turn, solidifies the gamer identity
by defining the social borders better. The quickest way to answer the question "who are we" is to create a ruckus that crystallizes everybody into "us" and "them."
Kai Eriksen wrote a fascinating sociological book (that's not an oxymoron) called Wayward Puritans
. His theory was that the Puritans were used to being an out group. But then they came to the New World where they had no neighbors to compare themselves to. (The Natives didn't count, obviously.) They had no "us" and "them."
So they created the witch trials, so they'd have a "them." It was subconscious -- Cotton Mather really through he was fighting the Devil -- but deep down they needed an enemy.
#Gamergate might have accomplished a subconscious purpose. I submit to you that a bunch of white, male, socially inept kids had "gamer" as an identity. Then along come soccer moms who play "Farmville" and call
themselves gamers. And people make games about coming home and discovering your sister is a lesbian in the 90's. And the game press jumps all over these games, which are not actually very good games, because lesbian content practically guarantees a good review. (When was the last time you read a seriously negative review of a lesbian-themed film outside of the gay press and the Westboro Baptist newsletter?) And you hate Gone Home
and you don't want people who like Gone Home
to call themselves gamers, because "gamer" is your identity
Or even worse, you proudly self-identify as a geek, and now all these mundanes come along and say, "Hey, we're geeks too!" And they're better looking than you, and go to the gym, and really spend very little timing geeking out. Where previously nerds were proud underdogs, now mainstream society fawns on Bill Gates and cosplay has its own reality show. Your culture is not your own any more.
So, you, as a group, pick a fight with some women developers and feminist intellectuals. There's no point picking a fight with Kotaku or Ubisoft, because they won't pay attention. But if you hurl abuse and death threats at some women (or give other, crazier people who share your politics the excuse to hurl abuse), you will provoke a lot of people to come to their defense.
In short order, you and your buddies are the laughingstock of the Internet. People are calling you neckbeards and virgins, and making memes
, and #Gamergater becomes an ironic Hallowe'en costume.
But all that, perhaps, is full of win
. Your identity is secure. Once again, it's clear who is "you" and who is "them."
The point of #Gamergate, subconsciously, was to provoke a witch hunt. But not against feminists. Against themselves.
Deep down, perhaps, the point of #gamergate was to provoke a witch hunt in which they were the witches.
Now, I have no idea if the above is true, and it's unfalsifiable if it is. But I think it's an interesting way to look at it. A retcon, if you will.
And that's my take on #Gamergate after my conversations with my articulate colleague.