Saturday, 6 September 2014

#GamerGate and #NotYourShield

I'll try to keep this blog from being as long as the last one and give a more basic overview rather than a comprehensive one. This is a story that seems to keep growing, so there's no sense in being comprehensive if there are just going to be more articles and developments. Also note that, for once, I won't be linking to any sites that ignorantly insult or otherwise dismiss gamers.

For anyone who isn't on Twitter or who has been out of the loop for the last week or so #GamerGate is a hashtag that spiralled out of the gaming press' reaction -- or lack thereof -- to the unethical behaviour from game journalists that we touched upon last time; Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson sleeping with Zoë Quinn being an association that damages his ability to remain impartial while reporting. The gaming press did one of two things; they either gave a collective shrug of the shoulders or they went on the attack, ignoring the story about corruption in game journalism to say how horrible all gamers were to Zoë Quinn.

#GamerGate is basically the name given to those reactions and the unethical behaviour from the gaming press. Although since then, the situation has become a lot bigger.

Surprisingly, KnowYourMeme gives a good overview of what #GamerGate is about. As before, InternetAristocrat made a video about all of this while it was happening. I recommend watching it if you haven't already:

Let's recap some of the problems that gamers had with the gaming press. To begin with, it was journalists refusing to acknowledge conflicts of interest and associations that could damage their integrity. Nathan Grayson and Zoë Quinn for example. However, lots of other examples came out over the coming days (and some were already available at the time my last blog was posted), including Patricia Hernandez having relationships with two developers whose games she went on to promote on Kotaku without acknowledging any personal involvement. She went as far as to directly link to where the games could be purchased:

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Since then, she's added footnotes on each piece, very briefly pointing out her relationship with each developer.

Plus, details about journalists contributing to developers' Patreons -- which, in case you didn't know, is a website where people can donate regularly to content creators, usually per month but also per video for Youtubers, per image for artists, etc. -- came out while I was writing my last blog:

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Then there was this comment from someone who works for Reuters, the world's largest news agency. Give it a read, it's an interesting little story. Amongst other things, the writer notes that during Reuters' 2008 review, they discovered that a staggering 0% of staff members for gaming news sites had degrees in journalism. That's not a misprint. Zero percent:

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There was also the friendship between Polygon reviewer Danielle Riendeau and Gone Home developer Chris Remo, going as far back as 2011. This raised some eyebrows when Riendeau review the game for Polygon and gave it a perfect 10/10 score:

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As this is such a big and far-reaching story, I'm sure I've missed some examples but these all came to light because of #GamerGate. Let's not forget Rab Florence's Eurogamer article about exactly this type of club -- taking aim at the Games Media Awards, Geoff Keighley and the relationship between journalists and publishers -- and Cinema Blend's article about publishers offering gifts to reviewers. As you can see, evidence of unethical behaviour is beginning to mount. Feel free to refer back to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics page if you're interested in seeing where, exactly, game journalists went wrong.

So what was the gaming press' reaction to all this? Calm acceptance of the whole situation and a pledge to reform what is evidently a broken system? Well, there is some talk of reform, which we'll come to later on but on the whole ... no.

Tom Hatfield - Writer for PC Gamer, Rock, Paper, Shotgun and The Guardian. Left-click for larger view.
Devin Faraci - Writer for Badass Digest. Left-click for larger view.
Helena Horton - Currently writing for the Daily Mirror's Ampp3d columns. Left-click for larger view.
These are just a few examples from writers. Being compared to ISIS and saying that #GamerGate was a reason to kill all men are some of the more severe examples but insults about "basement-dwelling virgins" and "manbabies" were thrown around regularly. Here are some examples of the types of ad hominem attacks directed at #GamerGate supporters:

Left-click for larger view. Note that "@Devin_Faraci" is a parody account ("@devincf" is the actual account, as seen in a previous screenshot).
It was the same story when a hashtag titled "#IStandWithJonTron" cropped up. I missed out on this hashtag while it was happening, so I can only assume that Youtuber JonTron -- someone who I only knew from his involvement in the cancelled Game Jam reality television show that Zoë Quinn was also involved in -- voiced his support for #GamerGate and faced this backlash for it:

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There are a few reasons for so many comments about misogyny but, as far as I can tell, very few of them had to do with #GamerGate. Some were still annoyed that the hashtag grew from the Zoë Quinn situation, which wasn't that much of an issue by the time #GamerGate was being discussed. Then there was the leak of celebrity nudes, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Dunst, that happened a few days ago. I have no idea how that was linked to #GamerGate. From what I see from the 4chan co-creator implementing a DMCA policy, it's related to 4chan. I also recall hearing something about them first surfacing on Reddit.

Then, around the same time, Anita Sarkeesian tweeted about having to leave her home because of death threats. She showed a screenshot of another three-minute old Twitter account with only ten tweets as "proof". Only ten tweets, all being violent, sexual and threatening towards her.

Now, ignoring whether this Twitter account was legitimate or not (I'm skeptical), this made the news on gaming sites while other significant stories didn't. This unverified story about Anita Sarkeesian leaving her home -- it was based on nothing but her word -- was reported while stories like, say, the Fine Young Capitalists' IndieGoGo campaign hadn't received any coverage at that time. Since then, it's received coverage twice. Once on Vice, where they complained about the campaign for being born of misogyny (even though this project for women has raised $52,000 as of this writing), and once on Gameranx, where the writer said that just because the project supports women doesn't make it immune to criticism. Which is fair enough but hilarious when you take into account the fact that no gaming sites have published any criticism of Anita's supposedly good-for-women project.

Let's be clear; I'm sure there was harassment of both Quinn and Sarkeesian but thirty seconds of research into #GamerGate at any point while it was occurring would've showed that the vast majority of gamers cared about ethical behaviour and, following the insults and accusations of misogyny, some respect from the gaming press and that sexism didn't come into it. The fact that game journalists branded all gamers participating in #GamerGate this way was a damning indictment of their unwillingness to investigate and accurately report in itself.

Accusations of unethical behaviour cast a black cloud over games journalism but, since attacking gamers was suddenly the trendy thing to do, a bunch of gaming sites all coincidentally seemed to have the same idea; supposedly, but unconvincingly, independently from each other, about ten different articles sprang up declaring "Gamers are Dead" ... and they all showed up over the course of one weekend. I'm not going to link to them all here. A blog called Crotchety Old Gamer has a list of many of them but I assume there's more than that. And yes, they used the Anita Sarkeesian story to justify this "Gamers are Dead" claim in each one. There were similar articles about a petition being circled by developers about making an effort to stop harassment in games wherever they saw it. Some sites, like IGN, used an image from Anita Sarkeesian's latest video for that article too but, even worse, the moderators appeared to be censoring perfectly reasonable comments:

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Recapping all of this is starting to feel a bit stale and long-winded, so I'll give some of my thoughts on it and pick that thought up a bit later.

Let's start with the obvious; game journalists don't own gaming or the "gamer" term. Plenty of gamers have been playing games for decades. Game journalists aren't going to kill it in one weekend with some passive-aggressive articles and if they actually believed they would, it's incredibly arrogant of them.

Then there are the insults thrown around. The funny and sometimes strange thing about #GamerGate is that many of the people using the hashtag didn't dislike game journalism. Demanding ethical behaviour didn't mean that they disliked game journalists or suggest that any of them were bad at their jobs (outside of the unethical behaviour, of course). This may have been an attack on a corrupt system but it wasn't about the individuals. When names were mentioned, such as Stephen Totilo, it was because they were in positions to change things. So my question is this: how much must you dislike your own consumers to insult them in such a way? It disturbs me how comfortable game journalists were at branding people misogynists -- there's no two ways about it, calling everyone bigots -- when called out on their own actions. This kind of refusal to take responsibility actually has an acronym; DARVO, or "Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender". Or if you'd prefer something more relateable, a refusal to take responsibility is something children do when they've done something wrong. Game journalists did the same thing. Attacking people when your industry faces criticism is not a mature or rational response.

What I found amazing about #GamerGate was how game journalists -- through their conflicts of interest, attacks on gamers and biased/political/soapbox issue articles -- managed to annoy absolutely everyone. From all demographics. In spite of the claims that all the #GamerGate supporters were "straight white guys" who desperately wanted to maintain a boys' club, the gaming press annoyed men, women, transpeople, left-wingers and right-wingers, people of all races, all sexualities, the able-bodied and the disabled, feminists and MRAs. People from every demographic and group showed their support for #GamerGate for the simple reason that people from every demographic are gamers. We all care about accurate and unbiased journalism ... and the gaming press' arrogance concerning the matter didn't help them in the slightest.

Going back to the story and the "Gamers are Dead" articles, the problem was that by trying to derail the goals of #GamerGate and turn it into an issue of sexism rather than journalistic integrity, the gaming press pulled all of their soapbox articles into the firing line. Although there are people like me who have always had a problem with gaming sites promoting a political stance, others began to speak out in objection to gaming sites using arguments about misogyny, sexuality, minorities and "straight white guys wanting to keeping gaming as a boys' club" in order to derail topics about their own corruption.

So we had objections to Kotaku's Jason Schreier insulting George Kamitani for his character designs in Dragon's Crown:

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A freelance writer named Jenn Frank wrote a scathing attack on gamers in The Guardian, again saying that it was all about hatred of women and using Anita Sarkeesian and Zoë Quinn as examples. Then it came out that Frank is a friend of Quinn's, funds Quinn's Patreon and Quinn's PR agent funds Frank's Patreon:

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Bear in mind that throughout these many accusations of misogyny on the gaming community's behalf, female gamers are speaking out against unethical behaviour in the gaming press ... and having their opinions ignored. Frustrated female gamers didn't fit the "misogynist" narrative the gaming press was weaving. Same for non-white and non-heterosexual gamers being ignored by the writers claiming these were the acts of "straight white guys".

So basically, the same game journalists who claim to be all for progressiveness and equality in gaming are the same people ignoring the voices of women and minorities. The same people writing about Zoë Quinn and posting Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs Women videos are the same people who refuse to give publicity to the Fine Young Capitalists' IndieGoGo project. People who don't represent women or minorities feel as if they have the right to speak on behalf of women and minorities.

This is when the #NotYourShield hashtag started being used.

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Left-click for larger view. Tweets are still difficult to make out in this one.
Gamers from every demographic other than the "straight white male" group that game journalists were singling out used #NotYourShield to object to the gaming press' use of their sex/race/sexuality to shield themselves from accusations of corruption.

#NotYourShield opened up an extra can of worms. Pictures like this one started to do the rounds, showing that 4chan -- the site that game journalists loved to single out as a misogynist haven that #GamerGate sprang from -- actually had a lot more female members than visitors to the gaming sites accusing #GamerGate of misogyny:

Although I suspect these images already existed, they were brought up as part of #NotYourShield to protest how everyone other than straight white men were being ignored the gaming press:

And there was also a great video by this female gamer. Can't embed it here for some reason, so make sure to check the link. There were blogs by black gamers and feminist gamers too.

It was all very inspirational to watch if you followed it at the time.

#NotYourShield didn't change anything, of course. Game journalists and developers went on ignoring women, transpeople, non-whites, LGBT and other gamers just as they did before, except maybe suggesting they were white guys using "sockpuppet" accounts (faking it).

There has been some support for #GamerGate and #NotYourShield on a few different sites -- Gamer Headlines, Games Reviews and Slate -- and their analysis compared to that of, say, Gamasutra is like night and day.

As for reform, Polygon and Kotaku have revised their policies regarding support for developers. CinemaBlend covers the story and it seems that while all Polygon writers have to do is disclose whether they fund a developers' Patreon, Kotaku writers are prohibited from funding them entirely. Kotaku seems to be making greater strides but looking at both the comment from the Reuters' employee from earlier and the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics page, I'd say both still have a long way to go. There isn't much mention of avoiding other potential conflicts of interest, such as relationships, and there is zero acknowledgement of the lack of respect game journalists seem to have for their audience.

The Escapist's general manager also mentions revised ethical guidelines:

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That about covers all I'd like to cover. I suspect I'll take a break after this, with my next blog at the end of the month at the earliest. Until then, I recommend supporting #GamerGate and leave a few images here that I couldn't fit in anywhere else.

Devin Faraci of Badass Digest saying arguments against Anita Sarkeesian are as ridiculous as Holocaust Denial.
Adam Sessler, former X-Play host, president of a consultancy firm for entertainment and media.
Support #GamerGate image.