What Is GamerGate? No, It’s Not About Harassing Women

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 4:24 pm, October 14, 2016
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The Verge describes GamerGate as “a campaign generally focused on harassing women online.” CNN Money calls it “the controversial movement that views female gamers as ruining the gaming industry, leading to vitriolic online attacks on women,” and TechEye says it is “about hassling women online.”

Over the past two years, GamerGate is a topic that gets brought up as an example of cyberbullying. In many recent reports about 4chan, it has been used as an example of one of the many movements, memes, and processes spawned by the anonymous imageboard. Like earlier coverage, the recent pieces don’t hold back in their negative descriptions of the movement.

But is GamerGate really as bad as all that? To understand GamerGate, it is best to begin at the beginning.

When the ex-boyfriend of a lesser known, but well-connected independent game developer named Zoe Quinn published an expose detailing every sordid detail about their relationship leading up to their painful breakup, the Internet went ballistic. He called it the ZoePost.

Quinn’s ex, Eron Gjoni, alleged that she was cheating on him with others in the game industry, including a game journalist at Kotaku. This detail caused many to question his coverage of her games. Apart from that, the ZoePost could be described as nothing more than a very detailed r/relationships post.

In the few hours after it went viral on social media, moderators responded by removing threads, banning users, and generally silencing anyone who tried to discuss the topic.

Quinn was not very well known, but gamers wondered why her free text-based choose-your-own-adventure title, Depression Quest, received more coverage than many other, more popular video games. The issue cast her into the spotlight, and many members of the games media took up her defense by penning a series of articles now referred to by gamers as the “Gamers are Dead” articles. The game journalists argued that video game culture had become rotten to the core, and that game developers didn’t need hardcore gamers as customers anymore.

That video game culture was an unsalvageable mess was a sentiment that had been permeating for some time within the progressive game journalist clique, and the ZoePost was the catalyst to making open condemnations of their own audience. Gamers, am I right?

The issue itself would’ve very likely died down on its own, but moderators on websites like 4chan and Reddit’s most popular gaming communities responded to each discussion of the topic by banning users, closing threads, and deleting comments. In other words, they tried to silence the conversation.

As the issue of censorship blew up on Twitter, actor and outspoken conservative Adam Baldwin, who voiced many video game characters, coined the term #GamerGate to describe the game journalists’ betrayal of their own audience.

Gamers were painted as misogynists who hated all women in games. It was a powerful narrative, and one that coincided with the backlash towards Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency video series. Within a week, opportunists came out of the woodwork to claim that they too were harassed, wanting some of the media spotlight being thrust upon Quinn. The games media was more than happy to promote them, and the mainstream media followed suit.

In the meantime, gamers who aligned themselves with the movement undertook a few successful e-mail campaigns with far-reaching consequences. It led to the FTC’s new disclosure rules for journalists and YouTubers, and former Gawker editor Max Read blamed GamerGate for the site’s untimely demise.

If I had to describe GamerGate, I’d call it a loose coalition of gamers tired of the media’s spin, whether in the form of collusion with game developers at the cost of the consumer, or through attempts to push social justice politics into video games.

Women who play video games and work in the industry are told to be scared and fear for their lives. But given the reality of what GamerGate actually is, the only people responsible for scaring women away are the journalists who keep feeding that bogeyman they’ve invented to signal their virtue.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken game critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.