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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.) SweeneyEditorialBirmingham Meetup,GamerGateImage 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…
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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.