The monster to silence
Game journalism has had a bad reputation for a very long time, to the point that its corruption was already considered cliché ten years ago, before several of the most famous game journalism scandals took place.
In August 2014, gamers’ accumulated grievances with the corrupt, cronyism and agenda-driven press finally exploded — sparked by a sex scandal involving a Kotaku journalist, fueled by censorship of this scandal’s discussion and finally escalated when the press attacked its audience rather than discussing their shortcomings.
Rejecting calls for reform, game journalists instead launched a coordinated offensive, labeling gamers in unison as misogynistic harassers whose ulterior motivations were to attack women in the game industry — a claim later echoed by mainstream media.
Their biased coverage of the harassment involved in the — as of May 2015 — nine month old and still ongoing GamerGate scandal proves this claim to be a shameless lie.
There’s not a single game writer at the major sites with as much credibility as the lowliest newspaper movie reviewer […]
When Roger Ebert says a movie is great, no one — no one — thinks for even a second that he’s saying it because he liked the shrimp cocktail at the reception after the premiere. Where’s the mainstream published game reviewer with that sort of credibility?
When GamerGate supporters tracked down a notorious harasser targeting critic Anita Sarkeesian, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier wrote an article wherein, while recognizing their efforts, he accused them of creating a “culture of fear” and suggested that the “atmosphere” of GamerGate might be to blame for the harasser’s behavior.
By Schreier’s logic, he and the gaming media should be held to blame for the serious, well documented, and frequent harassment targeting these gamers — encouraged by the “atmosphere” created by their articles.
The media coverage of GamerGate has never debated, often not even acknowledged, the protesters’ message, focusing solely on a one-sided examination of instances of harassment. With no attempts at objective, impartial analysis, and harassment of GamerGate activists being ignored, the current media coverage of GamerGate amounts to nothing but a smear campaign by journalists against the people complaining about their dishonesty. “Every day, articles come out that say that #GamerGate is filled with inhuman monsters”, as summed up by prominent gamer activist Margaret Gel, interviewed by Breitbart. “There are so many people who keep getting death threats, and yet the media keeps on saying that they are the terrorists”.
In their dehumanization of gamers as misogynist white males hellbent on driving women and minorities out of the games industry, the journalists have also created an “atmosphere” where the harassment of GamerGate activists is not only proactively justified, but made easier. Female and minority activists refuted the media’s warping and dehumanizing of their identities by abandoning anonymity and revealing their identities in the hashtag #NotYourShield. As a result, far more harassment has been directed against the most prominent #NotYourShield women — including Julie M., organizer of the Matt Taylor charity that raised $ 23,000 for the UNAWE educational program, who was doxed on three separate occasions, and Liz Finnegan — now writing for the Escapist — creator of the #SockPuppetConfessions tag and perhaps the most recognizable #NotYourShield poster, who, after an extremely detailed and apparently professional dox, temporarily deleted her social media accounts and stopped discussing GamerGate.
I “believe” that there is (almost) no such thing as a bad tactic - only bad TARGETS
Nothing anti-GamerGate does is harassment. When you insult GamerGate you’re only insulting the tag. When you enter a thread saying “GamerGate people are also harassed” you are laughed out, mocked or ostracized, because to antis they’re not. When a member of GamerGate is harassed, it’s GamerGate’s direct responsibility. He faces the consequences of supporting a hate group. He’s the bad guy, it’s justice. I have friends who rationalize this, and I still find it absolutely disgusting.
Besides ignoring the many improprieties in game journalism exposed by GamerGate activists to instead focus on coordinating a skewed harassment narrative, the gaming and mainstream press show a complete lack of research even towards the one-sided narrative they have constructed. The overwhelming majority of their coverage consists solely of reprinting verbatim the anecdotal and often unverified accounts from controversial figures who directly profit from being considered targets of harassment — Zoe Quinn being a good example.
Often described as an indie developer, Quinn has produced very little aside from the low-effort, unpolished free text adventure Depression Quest. More notable about Quinn was the disproportionate attention she got from the gaming press despite her limited accomplishments, from journalists such as her financial backer Ben Kuchera of Polygon and her friend Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku.
Quinn’s relevance to GamerGate follows the same pattern — while her role in the controversy is minimal, the press she received after the controversy’s inception was grotesquely disproportionate to this role.
Quinn was already controversial before GamerGate brought her fame, claiming to receive regular harassment — the main reason for the press she received. The most well known incident was the harassment she claimed from anonymous community for male virgins that suffer from severe depression — claims that garnered her sympathy and the press coverage to help with her game’s approval process on Steam, but also suspicions of their legitimacy due to several details in her account contradicting available evidence. Months later, a former admin of that site stated that the posts that allegedly were the source of Quinn’s harassment had been made by Quinn herself and trolls from other websites — posts speaking favorably of Quinn were made by a user with the same unique IP address as the posts that were used to claim harassment.
In August 2014, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend released a blog about his life with her, describing how he had been subjected to Quinn’s continuous lies, abusive behaviour, and numerous sexual escapades — offering both exhaustive and irrefutable proof. This blog gained immediate traction, since the people Quinn had affairs with were game media personalities who had advanced Quinn’s career — most notably, Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson, who had given her extremely positive coverage.
The press and GamerGate
Grayson and the other implicated people stayed relatively silent, but Quinn immediately claimed that she was facing harassment due to the blog’s diffusion — stating she had been doxed, and her Tumblr hacked. The data in the dox appeared fake, pointing to a to a Hawaii landline number and to a Motorcycle shop — although later research gives some evidence they may actually have been correct. Quinn’s Tumblr, though, seems to never have been hacked — while a post published the dox and the blog’s update-by-mail address, Quinn appeared to maintain control of it through the whole ordeal.
The press reported that the protesters were an unruly mob harassing Quinn, parroting all her claims as fact — coverage that again involved journalists with friendly or financial ties with Quinn. Discussion of the scandal was banned from most gaming forums, which claimed to be defending Quinn from this harassment. Websites and videos actually discussing the scandal were silenced via methods ranging from spurious DMCA claims to DDoS attacks and even getting pressured by their hosting. People speaking about it faced personal attacks and even harassment and doxing.
The scandal itself saw very little coverage, with mainstream press simply parading around unrelated and suspicious acts of harassment, claiming that Quinn’s ex-boyfriend was lying or stating that the claims were debunked, their proof being the response by Kotaku’s Editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo — who never actually debunked the claim. He simply stated that he didn’t see impropriety in the affair between Quinn and Grayson because it had taken place about one week after he wrote about her and that Grayson wrote an article rather than a review. Totilo even omitted discussing the then already very strong evidence that Quinn and Grayson had a friendly relationship preceding the event. As the protests continued, and gamers kept unearthing new improprieties — for reference, as of May 2015 DeepFreeze lists ten conflicts of interest on Grayson’s page and thirty-five on its cronyism article — the press kept focusing solely on this specific episode, and kept closing off discussion by relating it to Quinn and these claims of harassment.
The perceived censorship escalated the protests, leading activists to believe that people behind the scenes were colluding to censor legitimate discussion of corruption in game journalism. A theory that turned out to be correct with the discovery, just a few weeks later, of the secret mailing list GameJournoPros, which saw the participation of a huge chunk of game journalism’s elite, including Grayson, and where, at the list founder’s behest, journalists had agreed to censor or condemn discussion of the scandal, while pressuring and threatening those few who were reluctant to do so.
Quinn still states that she is harassed daily. She claims to possess extensive recording of said harassment, but has not released any of it to the public and actively blocked requests for information. This, in itself, isn’t proof that harassment of her hasn’t taken place, but is significant as there has never emerged any proof connecting GamerGate activists to her harassment — whereas Quinn herself got involved in some cases of doxing.
No one has ever been arrested or prosecuted for harassing Quinn. Although she has obtained a restraining order for her ex-boyfriend, she falsely implicated him and other activist figureheads in doxing to do so — claiming it was a mistake on the police’s part when these reports were leaked.
In my year and a half in the group, I was often the only dissenting opinion in specific topics and most of the time I got totally ignored. Sometimes I was criticized or told I was off-topic. Sometimes I was warned I was “creating a hostile environment” to specific people for disagreeing with them in an unapologetic way, and a couple times I was told I’d be kicked out of the group. The informal pressure to “fall in line” with the groupthink was very strong.
Lack of research
Despite the gravity of their accusations, journalistic pieces about GamerGate mostly show a glaring absence of factual data. The only major outlet to attempt this was Newsweek, which analyzed a large number of the hashtag’s tweets and concluded that gamers harassed women because the tag was tweeted more often at involved women than at involved men.
This study doesn’t identify its methods, making replication impossible, and, more mundanely, doesn’t consider the fact that the sampled women chosen have all frequently attacked GamerGate, whereas the sampled men have all been relatively quiet. Even ignoring these factors and working just with Newsweek’s cherrypicked data samples, their conclusions can be thoroughly debunked by showing that #GamerGate tweets directed towards these people were a tiny fraction of the hashtag’s total, and, even then, that about 95% of the tweets examined were neutral or positive, with females receiving relatively more positive and less negative tweets than the average.
A more rigorous content analysis of 5000 sampled tweets over 50 days shows harassing tweets by gamers to be a very small percentage, overshadowed over three to one by the ones made by their opposition — a number that appears even more impressive when considering that GamerGate’s vocal opposition are speculated to be significantly less numerous than GamerGate, and are much more reluctant to use the hashtag.
A network analysis of #GamerGate, performed by data scientist Chris von Csefalvay, shows that the tag’s population is “relatively egalitarian”, with a comparative large diversity of sub-communities that, in his words, “certainly contradicts the much-reiterated meme that #GamerGate is largely ethnically, socially, and racially homogeneous”. His results also are “incompatible with the description of #GamerGate as a hate group” and with “the assertion that #GamerGate is regularly harassing particular personalities”, as the activists’ lack both centralized leadership and focus on external targets, though he specifies that a definitive conclusion on the issue can’t be reached with such an analysis.
Von Csefalvay temporarily deleted his Twitter account when prominent anti-GamerGate activist and GG Autoblocker author Randi Harper directly targeted him with harassment — something that also happened to cainejw, debunker of the Newsweek article, who never reactivated his account.
Speaking of the the Autoblocker, in May 2015 a study by Women Action Media! proved that only 0.66% of people blocked by it have been involved in harassing behaviour — despite the heavy scrutiny GamerGate supporters are subjected to.
The lack of reporting on the documented harassment against women, minorities, LGBT and every other person, individual and consumer bringing awareness to the corruption within the media under the GamerGate hashtag makes enthusiast, games and mainstream press either incompetent or complicit in the corruption.
Journalism / on topic
Other / Off topic
Protest / Boycott
Spam, bots, trolls
Mainstream media blitz
The media’s focus on a harassment narrative encouraged opportunistic parties to create numerous false flags, further stifling discussion. When gamers continued protesting after an unprecedented and unexpected two months, mainstream media got involved, with both television and newspapers expanding the harassment narrative, focusing this time on iOS shovelware developer and controversial figure Brianna Wu.
Wu, uninvolved in GamerGate but but already making very farfetched claims of harassment months before it, inserted herself in the discussion by attacking gamer activists with vicious insults and an admitted sockpuppet accounts. While she got nothing but mockery in return for her attacks, a post publishing her personal information — apparently, coming from her website’s whois, which she left public — appeared on a GamerGate forum, in a thread she was proven to be browsing, and was immediately accused of false flagging, with other posters getting the post reported and deleted and even reporting the doxing to the police. Wu, minutes afterwards, received a series of nasty tweets from a just-created account and immediately blamed the activists, despite the lack of proof tying them to the incident. She multiplied her social media following, received massive publicity and financial support as a “victim of GamerGate”.
Rather than focusing on the seven tweets, the press focused mostly on Wu’s claim that she had fled her home as a result of the threats, claiming she didn’t know when she’d be able to come back home again. However, it was soon proven that, aside from an already-planned weekend trip to ComiCon, Wu had actually never left her home, and the videos where she made that allegation were taken from there. Wu continued to claim she was being harassed, and a lot of them garnered suspicion due to their suspicious timing, or other strange circumstances. Among her claims, she stated that a fictional character was a credible threat to her and pressured the police for not acting on a report she hadn’t actually made. She was also caught baiting for hate comments on Steam, seemengly without realizing she was still logged in on her account.
While most outlets never reported on Wu’s claims following these incidents, no one retracted or amended their articles. As of today, no GamerGate supporter has been implicated in serious harassment claims, while some of GamerGate’s opposition have. Leaks seem to show that the press is aware of malice in their reporting — the most recent instance being when game developer Christian Allen was refused an interview about GamerGate, with the reporter claiming that he was looking for people who “condone and support” doxing and harassment, claiming he was aware it was a “tall order” to find such people. The scandal-mongering appears to be profitable, at least for the short term — ABC’s January video criticizing GamerGate received over 400,000 views on Youtube, although this also involved a staggering 97% dislikes, with a staggering amount of deleted comments.
Made into acceptable targets by their dehumanization in the media, into easier victims by being pushed out of anonymity, and saddled with the impossible task of showing their innocence in anonymous harassment, GamerGate activists have proven their good intentions with over $ 150,000.00 of donations to charity. Their donations to The Fine Young Capitalists — a feminist game development initiative whose profits are donated to cancer research — yielded the creation of the now-iconic character Vivian James, who became the activists’ mascot.
Another positive initiative was the GamerGate harassment patrol, which mass-reports harassing accounts that are signaled to it, and whose efficiency has been recognized even by the most fervent opposition of the gamer activists.
The overwhelming majority of news media have never reported on either these charities or the work done with the harassment patrol by people such as Gel: “When I get called a terrorist for months, and all I’ve been doing is actively protecting people online, I have to wonder what’s going on. It’s baffling”.
As of May 2015, the GamerGate controversy has gone on for almost nine months, with an overwhelming amount of conflicts of interest discovered, as well as large other improprieties like GameJournoPros. The American Federal Trade Commission updated its affiliate links guidelines, explicitly stating GamerGate was responsible for this change and frequently uncovering huge swaths of advertorial content. A large number of gaming websites introduced changes to their ethics policies during GamerGate, as GamerGate’s “Disrespectful Nod” email campaign appears to have been extremely successful, with every original advertiser seemingly having dropped the sites criticized by GamerGate activists.
Several GamerGate-criticizing journalists and public figures have also lost their position since the start of the controversy. These results are even more impressive considering the subhuman portrayal of the activists by the games media and their mainstream media friends.
“If GamerGate loses, smear campaigns like what’s been going on for two months may become the norm,” concludes Margaret Gel. “Imagine a world where journalists could call anyone a terrorist, and no one could do anything about that: everyone would just blindly listen to the journalists and believe what they said. That is a terrifying outcome.”
An outcome that might not come to be. Continuing seven months since Gel’s interview, and still strong in numbers and spirit, GamerGate proves its critics wrong with every result it achieves — with even its stronger opponents softening their stance as the narrative portraying GamerGate as misogynist harassers becomes more and more difficult to uphold. GamerGate has already brought huge changes, and its results might go well past gaming — certainly dealing a critical blow to the reputation of the journalists that slandered it.