Gamergate: Undefined all the way down

It’s a serious challenge to figure out what “Gamergate” is all about. There’s far more noise than information about it on the Internet, and what information there is isn’t consistent. Here are a few pieces I’ve run into:

Sorting out the claims takes work, largely because the subject of the battle is an undefined term. Wagner writes: “By design, Gamergate is nearly impossible to define.” Bianco tells us that “Gamer Gate is three separate things clustered together under one name.” The starting point was an allegation that somebody had sex with somebody in exchange for favorable coverage. Depending on whom you believe, this is clearly false, clearly true, or more or less plausible. I could research it and form my own opinion, but by now it’s beside the point. The original question faded into the background in the face of threats against Anita Sarkeesian, including the threat of a mass shooting, which forced her to cancel a talk, as well as threats against Brianna Wu. Intel pulled its ads from the website Gamasutra; critics claimed this was in response to Gamergate pressure, while Intel says it was a marketing decision that it had made earlier. The article that provoked so much anger is a bit of a rant, but I can’t see why it, out of all the rants on websites, should have provoked a boycott campaign.

One thing is clear: There’s a segment of the Internet gamer culture that regards the most vicious threats as a useful way to intimidate people. How large a segment is it? It’s hard to tell. A small, persistent group that gets a strong reaction can appear bigger than it really is. But what do these threats have to do with allegations of buying favorable reviews with sex? This is where the undefined really takes over. “Gamergate” has become a rallying term for people with all kinds of grievances, from journalistic corruption to increased representation of women in games. Some of the really vicious people have picked up the banner. If there’s a coherent point to be made, it’s been lost, and when clear, principled positions don’t get heard, the quality of discourse spirals downward. As the Gamasutra article says, “When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.” The article by Yiannopoulos, who dismisses death threats as merely “ungallant” and “injudicious” and uses arguments like “It’s an unconfirmed internet rumour, but it illustrates Quinn’s credibility to gamers,” is a case in point. I saw it because Lew Rockwell recommended it.

People such as Rockwell who call themselves libertarians, indeed all reasonable people, should agree that whatever the truth of the original claim about reviewers, whatever the worth of Sarkeesian’s views, when someone resorts to threats of violence, it has to stop there. They aren’t “injudicious” but monstrous, even if they aren’t carried out, and debates need to be suspended long enough to condemn and if possible find the people responsible and to disavow their supporters.

Instead we’ve seen tribalistic behavior at its worst. Many people rallying around the #gamergate hashtag have dismissed the threats as unimportant, perhaps manufactured. Many who talk about “social justice” have come to treat Gamergate as a conspiracy behind the threats. Each side reinforces the other. If you want to get people really furious, call them on it when they treat the entire “gamergate” blob as the same as the people making criminal threats. No one is more self-righteous than a person caught making baseless accusations. John Scalzi tweeted: “Fuck everyone who thinks GamerGate is anything other than haters shitting on women.”

There we have it: If you don’t join the Two Minutes Hate of haters, we hate you. But justice is individual, not social, and treating people according to their perceived social group is injustice.

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