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Image from DoctorRandomerCam via @MaxDerrat

GamerGate still has an air of mystery and fear around it to some, its coverage in the press has left it akin to a boogieman ready to jump out and devour the unsuspecting. But as someone who has been part of the gaming community my entire life and as someone who has been involved with GamerGate since its inception, this notion is both humorously off the mark and mildly depressing in its pervasiveness. I spent last weekend immersed in this burgeoning community of much maligned gamers. Their friendliness and normality really brought home to me the dysfunction of the current discourse in gaming and the labeling and fear-mongering that keeps people apart.

This will be a very personal account these events, but since no members of the press were willing to attend the event, I find it falls to those on the inside to tell its story. It’s not an ideal situation, I don’t have the critical distance from this event — being an avid supporter and friend of many people I met — but I’m at least willing to acknowledge this subjectivity makes this accounting a biased bent. Even so, I hope to convey some of the personal feelings of this event and what it meant to me to be there. So here it is. The inside story of Gamergate in Birmingham.

Humble Beginnings

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Image via @nuckable

Even on the day of the event no one was quite sure how many would be turning up. Over the months since GGinBrum been announced it became clear it would most likely be the biggest UK meetup so far, due in part to the publicity boost given by the first in-person public appearance of popular YouTube personality Sargon of Akkad, but mostly due to the desire of people to gather on the one year anniversary of GamerGate’s inception.

I came down to the event a day early as I wanted to have a more low-key evening with others who would be arriving early; sending out some tweets and waiting for two people I had never met before in front of Birmingham Cathedral with nothing more than my rough description and Twitter handle to go on. Starting with just the three of us, our group grew like a Katamari ball until we filled a nice corner of the “Old Joint Stock” pub, the venue that had been arranged for the next day’s meetup with festivities taking place well into the night. It feels odd writing this up as some kind of grand event when really it was just a nice normal night out with a group of new friends. No one was “harassed,” nothing was endangered. The world didn’t collapse because some people got together to discuss a better gaming press and games industry over the span of a few pubs and bars in the midlands.

Saturday came, and coming out of my hotel I was immediately met by the unmistakable work of Ellie Prizeman, the Shirtstorm shirt, worn very well by one of the attendees. The venue has two rooms for our usage: a small one downstairs and a larger one upstairs. Even at 10am, before things had been set-up, a good number of us were mingling in the smaller room. As midday got closer and closer, the group began to swell and soon enough we all had to occupy both rooms. It was almost overwhelming meeting all these new, smiling faces and having the surreal moments where people recognize your name from Twitter or even my work for this site. The warmth of everyone who said hello was humbling.

Before this, it had always been a niggling worry in my mind that the ideas and concepts shared online wouldn’t translate into the real world. But with the first round of GG meetups it became apparent something special was happening, something beyond mere internet outrage. What I experienced on Friday and Saturday was not merely a meeting of people; it was a meeting of ideas. The depth of knowledge and passion about the issues almost everyone I spoke to had was pretty staggering. Even those who — from their own admission — didn’t keep up with the day to day minutia of events and controversies had a well-thought reason for their support of GamerGate’s core ideas. The stereotype of the incoherent conspiracy theory is made all the more laughable by spending all weekend meeting articulate and polite people.

The Growth of Something Special

An event going on at roughly the same time in Melbourne was met with a bomb threats, much like the GGinDC and the SPJAirplay events had seen previously, so some people were slightly on edge about that fact, others laughing it off — but the atmosphere that meetings of people who support GamerGate even have to worry about bomb threats felt really ridiculous. Even more so once you’ve met these people. So to have so many people come together, even with the possibility of threats hanging over them, is all the more encouraging.

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Image via @BinaryExplosion

I only realized how many of us there were when Sargon of Akkad arrived and people piled into the upstairs room for speeches and formal introductions. I’ve never seen a group of people so large become such fast friends. We recognize usernames but most of us had never met face to face. As the rooms filled up, overfilled and overflowed, any initial awkwardness was gone. There were some activities had, but most were just engrossed in the process of finally putting names to faces — learning about each-other without that buffer of a screen there. As we finally managed to wrangle some stragglers into the sweltering room, a video was shown with messages from people who couldn’t be there; Oliver Campbell and Andrew Gleeson, also known as Otter Jesus, and whom the otter plushie we see at many GamerGate meetups is in honour of.

We had a DnD game going in one corner, I played a couple of games of Magic the Gathering over the table, James “Grim” Desborough had brought some free tentacle sex card-games to generously give out. The mix of people was interesting and the room was alive with conversation, a real party atmosphere. One of the people I had spent the evening with previously was a rather hairy Muslim Irishman named Shahbaz, a man who stuck to his promise to wear a maid outfit if GamerGate even got to its one year anniversary — a glorious sight you don’t easily forget.

I had a very in-depth conversation with Carl (Sargon of Akkad) and Shahbaz, about how hatred and animosity become intractable between groups of people; notably between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This is a topic that can be seen as one that is hard to discuss, but there we sat, Shabbaz speaking passionately in his warm Irish accent, about the troubles his forefathers had left him with. Discussion this honest is hard to come by, and it gives me hope that the spirit of discussion about difficult issues — even in the face of attacks — can grow. Not just in the gaming community but in an increasingly polarized world.

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Image via @nuckable

These aren’t just a random group of gamers who I just happen to agree with; this is the community that helped me overcome a very difficult year. We have become a network of people that cares deeply about one another. Gamers have always been great at creating environments where everyone feels welcome based on their love of the medium. That’s one of the ideas GamerGate has tried to instill: that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with gamers and gaming, that it is a unique space where politics and identity should not and does not matter. The banter and shit-talking gaming shares with other competitive activities is just that — friendly rivalry. If you can pick up a controller and join in then you are equal. Who you are does not matter and I think that is a beautiful idea. Gaming is a leveller and its community reflects that. Shemmie, the event organizer, said in his very poignant speech, “This meet-up encompasses people he never thought he would be friends with; it tosses aside the divides of right and left and breaks down strongly held animosity that is traditionally supposed to be there between different classes and belief systems.”

Then it was time for the now slightly infamous rush to “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” that caused some on social media to subsequently get their knickers in a twist.  If you can’t handle Gamers having a burger and making an irreverent nod to past events I would suggest investing in a sense of perspective and humour.

Not so Anonymous Heroes

As the day wore on and we moved to our second venue. The lack of the flamboyant Milo Yiannopoulos, who had to miss the event, wasn’t too much of a blow to moral. GamerGate has always been about the ordinary gamer. Those who only have small visibility on social media but never the less make up the bulk of the gaming community interested in reform. It was very nice to have fellow journalist and staunch cultural libertarian Allum Bokhari in attendance in the evening. Sargon set up shop in one of the function rooms recording a marathon session of rather drunk interviews from the attendees. Shahbaz had his own rousing words to give on this occasion which are very much worth a watch:

It was also a pleasure to meet the man behind the event who give me this quick statement on how he thought GamerGate in Birmingham had gone:

 “I’m absolutely delighted, having never organised an event, to see the community donate £365 to set it up, £100 for charity, and have a turnout of over 100 people on the day. It was hugely rewarding for me to see the time and effort we put in pay off.

My reason for setting up the event was simple. I understand these types of events often occur in London, but they’re not the easiest or cheapest for people to attend from the rest of the country. So if you can’t make it to the event, bring the event to you. I thought I might get 20 or so together for a meet up, tops. But the numbers slowly crept up and up, resulting in the event we had.

It was also a proof of concept. Can someone who’s never done anything like this before do it? All those times you see people say “There’s no meet up near me!” – can we DIY? In the end, I’d say it was a pretty big yes. If there’s anyone considering doing this for the first time, who’d like to talk to someone who’s now ‘been there’, I’d be delighted to assist any way I can.” Shemmie, event organizer.

At about one o’clock in the morning I was starting to regret going out the night before and began to think about my long train-ride home. But I won’t soon forget all the great men and women I met at GGinBrum and the work of those who put their time, money and effort in to make this event come from nothing to be one of the best weekends I’ve had. The “Legit looking passes” we had were especially great, with a hilarious parody harassment policy printed on the back. 

Human After All

The biggest take-away from GGinBrum for me was this: if you want to debate GamerGate then put your money where your mouth is. Get out from behind the keyboard and converse with people on a human level. Dehumanization is easy at a distance; snark and bile are the main lubricants that keep the wheels of the social media hatred train turning. Once you are presented with an actual person it’s harder to be unreasonable and close your mind off to reality. I found myself surrounded by ordinary gamers who had taken that extra step to put themselves out there, who have enough passion to travel from all over the UK, and in some cases Europe, to meet a group of strangers. These disparate people were united by one thing: the urgency of the idea that there is something rotten at the heart of the way the gaming and mainstream press covers games and the gaming community.

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Image from Sargon of Akkad

If you came and met these gamers, I doubt you could reasonably describe any of them with terms like “terrorist” and “misogynist” so often used in the press. Even if the 100+ people at the event was the entire contingent of reasonable, rational GamerGate supporters, why not take the time to engage with their concerns?

During Airplay, journalists spoke of their frustration at the difficulty of talking to a nebulous hashtag. But what we have in these meetups is an opportunity to talk in a physical location to men and women openly identifying as “GamerGate,” complete with lanyards and “legit looking passes.” There is no easier way to gauge who they are and what they believe than a face to face conversation. There is no mistaking someone belongs to a community that way, no chance of the confusion online anonymity can bring — but not a single member of the UK gaming press opposed to GamerGate were willing to take that simple step.

To be frank, Birmingham isn’t some great attractive destination; it was chosen because it is accessible and relatively central within the UK. It seems extraordinary to me that a group of average gamers can create an event that attracted over one hundred people based simply on a set of ideas that didn’t really exist a year ago and openly and proudly associate with a group the press has done anything and everything to shame, bully, and slander out of existence. What seemed like a largely online and American affair has a large enough British and European contingent to put on a substantial real-world event. What’s even more astonishing is that not a single person who opposes the ideas of GamerGate has managed to show their face outside of the internet and actually meet with us person to person. If that were to happen, the idea of faceless monsters would inevitably crumble in the face of the warm, diverse and welcoming people I met on Friday and Saturday night.

I believe in press reform, and so did every single person I met over that weekend. But in our subsequent conversations Shemmie said something I think serves as reminder to a gaming press and sections of the industry dragging their feet in bringing this basic reform: “This shows if things don’t change, we’re more than capable of doing it ourselves.”

Header Image Picture from DoctorRandomerCam via @MaxDerrat

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the staff and/or any contributors to this site.)

(A previous version of this article was published with some spelling errors that were corrected.)

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a terribly British man with a background in engineering. He writes long-form editorial content with analysis of gaming, games media and internet culture. He also does the occasional video game retrospective with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good measure. He also does most of our interviews for some reason, we have no idea why. A staunch supporter of free speech and consumer rights; skeptical of agenda driven media and suspicious of unaccoutable authority but always hopeful for change.