one year header forward

I doubt many peo­ple thought the con­tro­ver­sy that become known as GamerGate would con­tin­ue exist­ing and gain­ing momen­tum over the course of an entire year. Many pre­dict­ed its demise as ear­ly as the 9th of September, pre­sum­ing what some per­ceived as the short atten­tion spans of Gamers being tak­en up by the release of the game Destiny. Its death has been loud­ly pro­claimed on almost a week­ly basis since its incep­tion, but twelve months on it is — stub­born­ly — still here and still being fueled by waves of increas­ing­ly poor jour­nal­ism meant to dis­lodge it. So gamers man­aged to sur­vive the full force of the games press and main­stream media’s fran­tic attacks. The ques­tion is: what now?

I’d like to use a quote from Maiyannah Lysander of Highland Arrow and her Editorial “Anti-Ethical,” which is, in my opin­ion, one of the finest pieces writ­ten about improv­ing stan­dards in any media:

So the ques­tion we ulti­mate­ly come to is: what now?  There is no self-evident or obvi­ous easy vic­to­ry out of all of this, no real end objec­tive we can hope to attain in the pur­suit of an eth­i­cal gam­ing press.  As the famous British politi­cian Leonard Henry Courtney’s quote goes: “the price of peace is eter­nal vig­i­lance.”  Ethicality is after all a moral code, and laps­es in it are nev­er guar­an­teed not to hap­pen.”  Maiyannah Lysander, Highland Arrow

I feel that being a watch-dog that is able to provide cor­rec­tions to the press and give rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion to con­sumers is a good role for the social media pres­ence of GamerGate — and for any­one else who wants to increase the accu­ra­cy and stan­dards of the gam­ing press. All you can do is give evi­dence that who­ev­er is writ­ing the arti­cle is being mis­led and hope they lis­ten. It’s not flashy, or excit­ing, but pro­vid­ing a counter-argument and hav­ing the facts to hand out over and over — even when you are shot down most of the time — and find­ing those will­ing to lis­ten is the best pol­i­cy to win­ning over the press. Be con­sis­tent, be robust and you will find peo­ple will­ing to lis­ten to your sto­ry.

When a prov­ably false state­ment is point­ed out to a jour­nal­ist, they have an oblig­a­tion to act on it by issu­ing a cor­rec­tion. When they fail to do so, there is a process we need to fol­low. First of all, we can con­tact an edi­tor or site man­ager or see if the orga­ni­za­tion as an inter­nal ombuds­man. This has pro­vid­ed some suc­cess with orga­ni­za­tions like ABC and CBC, but has not yet result­ed in full retrac­tions or sanc­tions again­st writ­ers.

When an edi­tor or site man­age­ment will not deal with an obvi­ous false­hood or con­sid­er evi­dence, we move onto things like Disrespectful Nod. Contacting affil­i­ates and adver­tis­ers to apply pres­sure on site man­age­ment to improve stan­dards and pre­vent basic errors and cor­rect wild­ly inac­cu­rate asser­tions.  This is Media Advocacy 101. Contacting adver­tis­ers is a last resort, but it is one that has proven suc­cess­ful. One year on and GamerGate is still, at its heart, a con­sumer revolt and boy­cott of shod­dy jour­nal­ism relat­ing to videogames that has been con­sis­tent­ly report­ed as a form of “ter­ror­ism” or recent­ly as a “Campaign of rape threats” by WIRED.

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Some parts of the press are, in every sense of the word, unrea­son­able. They have proven them­selves unable to be rea­soned with on more than one occa­sion. When evi­dence is placed right in front of their face — screamed so loud they can’t ignore it — they con­tin­ue to swear black is white. Here we reach the realms of the irre­deemable and those who act with delib­er­ate mal­ice and ill intent.  You can only reform some­one who is will­ing to reform; you can only edu­cate and inform those open to new infor­ma­tion. A huge chunk of the gam­ing press and the main­stream media have shown them­selves to be entire­ly uncon­cerned when what they are say­ing can be shown to be false. Those active­ly seek­ing out cor­rect infor­ma­tion and doing sim­ple research are even more rare.

After SPJAirplay, it’s becom­ing increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to have poor report­ing go unchal­lenged and unno­ticed. Reporters like Rebecca Aguilar have wok­en up to Gamers and their con­cerns and peo­ple like her seem much more at home with the idea of press ethics and stan­dards, remark­ing that peo­ple claim­ing to know about jour­nal­is­tic ethics whilst not hold­ing any jour­nal­ism qual­i­fi­ca­tions is a “red flag.” Many jour­nal­ists at the event were impressed with the com­mit­ment and pas­sion of the pan­elists who were will­ing to endure a bomb-threat to keep a dis­cus­sion they were hun­gry to have going. By con­trast, not a sin­gle mem­ber of their oppo­si­tion, not one jour­nal­ist who had so round­ly dis­missed the ideas of GamerGate, was able to muster the courage to even attend the event.

The path of least resis­tance and least trou­ble is a men­tal rut already made. It requires trou­ble­some work to under­take the alter­ation of old beliefs. ” ― John Dewey

What we are work­ing again­st here are prob­lems sys­temic in the entire news media. Changing the way peo­ple read news and opin­ion, and remov­ing the built-in ten­den­cy we have that assumes a jour­nal­ist is knowl­edge­able on the top­ic at hand will take time. What is being attempt­ed now is noth­ing short of a root-and-branch re-examination of how the pub­lic inter­faces with all form of media. This is going to be a long process, and one that wasn’t start­ed just last year.

But once again, con­sis­tent use of the facts bares fruit; as more of the pub­lic slow­ly sees behind the cur­tain they become more dis­trust­ful of what the media has sold them. Ultimately, this leads to a pub­lic far bet­ter informed about video games, agen­da push­ing, and the short­com­ings of the media in cov­er­ing top­ics they don’t ful­ly under­stand. The patient dis­pelling of myths is a thank­less task, but one that hun­dreds of peo­ple under­take on social media every day. I would like to thank those peo­ple for their tire­less efforts in improv­ing the stand­ing of the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Even if in a small way, they are help­ing improve jour­nal­ism as a whole.

The con­cept of “lev­el­ing up” is used as a wink­ing ref­er­ence to the sur­re­al schlock of the “Law and Order” episode, but it has become an inte­gral part of what GamerGate has achieved and how it wants to pro­gress. The gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty has a chance to turn games media from a provin­cial back­wa­ter regard­ed with con­tempt by “real jour­nal­ists” to a lead­ing exam­ple of how the decline in press stan­dards and pro­fes­sion­al­ism can be reversed with the help of read­ers. Gaming is the biggest enter­tain­ment medi­um on earth, that is indis­putable, and we have an oppor­tu­ni­ty as gamers to make its cov­er­age a shin­ing exam­ple of robust, inde­pen­dent con­sumer advice, and analy­sis.

looking forward insert 2

I don’t think most peo­ple real­ize how far gamers have come. Through sheer per­sis­tence and grit we got an audi­ence with the Society of Professional Journalism. At every turn we have tak­en every oppor­tu­ni­ty to force our crit­ics to engage us. The smear pieces are mere­ly a symp­tom of an old press fight­ing an increas­ing­ly los­ing bat­tle. Hell, GamerGate could even impact the way the US con­sti­tu­tion is inter­pret­ed due to the case of Eron Gjoni hav­ing gained the inter­est of lead­ing civil lib­er­ties lawyers with a column in the Washington Post who are ami­cus for the case and advo­cat­ing on behalf of Eron.  We’ve helped shape FTC guide­li­nes, we’ve gained con­ces­sions from out­lets like PC Gamer who have removed bla­tant con­flicts of inter­est. This was all most­ly achieved by peo­ple you will nev­er hear of; GamerGate is often described as neb­u­lous but that is part of its advan­tage — the ideas broad­cast are instilled by an army of reg­u­lar gamers who just want to see their hob­by, their pas­sion, be a bet­ter place.

The attack pieces we’ve already seen on the one year anniver­sary are a reflec­tion of how threat­ened uneth­i­cal jour­nal­ists and devel­op­ers feel of the new­found activism of the gam­ing pub­lic. But it’s a con­fi­dence trick, a façade. Like Michael Koretzky, head of the Florida chap­ter of the Society of Professional Journalism said, there has been a wall of silence over SPJAirplay. They don’t cov­er it because its mere exis­tence dis­proves their nar­ra­tive.

Obviously, Kotaku and Polygon wrote noth­ing on pur­pose. This wasn’t an over­sight – their edi­tors know­ing­ly ignored the biggest gam­ing sto­ry of the week.

Why? So far, I can’t muse a rea­son that’s both inten­tion­al and eth­i­cal” –Michael Koretzky, SPJ

When some­one with­out an agen­da or who is act­ing in good faith comes into the core ideas and evi­dence of GamerGate, they can’t help but con­cede that the con­sumer revolt may have a point. This hap­pened repeat­ed­ly at SJPAirplay, and the fruit of those encoun­ters and ques­tions that arose will take months, even years, to bare out. But the fact that the core ideas of GamerGate have mer­it has helped to make fur­ther inroads into the jour­nal­ism world. There is no dirty trick or obfus­ca­tion of the truth need­ed to con­vince peo­ple, only an artic­u­late expla­na­tion of GamerGate’s core con­cepts.  Gamers don’t need to fall into the same traps and poor prac­tices of those try­ing to attack them. This fight can be won with­out com­pro­mis­ing the integri­ty of the idea that there is a bet­ter way to do news and edi­to­ri­al.

An out­let shouldn’t be able to avoid calls for improve­ment by mak­ing a few token con­ces­sions and putting out a few opin­ions that agree with what the out­let feels are the sen­si­bil­i­ties of “Gamergators.” Substantive change is need­ed, we shouldn’t have to set­tle for sim­ply “less shit.” Professional and eth­i­cal games jour­nal­ism is pos­si­ble, and it should be the norm.  Accepting the same flaws in cov­er­age because some­one is “on your side” is the exact thing we are fight­ing again­st. Standards don’t have a “side,” they just are. Sometimes that will mean a hard­er fight and less easy vic­to­ries; some­times that will mean you have to harm your own argu­ment to point out where things have gone wrong in the past. Self-reflection isn’t weak­ness  — it is a strength. The fact that the press can’t admit it has done a sin­gle thing wrong after a year of per­pe­trat­ing eth­i­cal breach­es to cov­er up ear­lier eth­i­cal breach­es is frankly stag­ger­ing, but it is one of the fac­tors lead­ing to their demise.

looking forward insert 3

I often see peo­ple say­ing “this isn’t the same GamerGate I got into a year ago.” Well good, it shouldn’t be. It’s learned and refined and grown whilst its detrac­tors are mak­ing the exact same blun­ders that caused it to exist in the first place. At the core of it, a canon of pow­er­ful ideas has tak­en shape.

Ideas about free­dom of expres­sion, fair­ness, and stan­dards. Whatever inter­per­son­al dra­ma may take place, the­se ideas remain in place.

To use a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

Great minds dis­cuss ideas, aver­age minds dis­cuss events and small minds dis­cuss peo­ple.”

The ideas of GamerGate are sound and they have changed many minds already. When you explain them to aver­age gamers, the respon­se is almost uni­ver­sal­ly pos­i­tive. All we can do is ignore the bull­shit and keep instill­ing the­se ideas, with rel­e­vant evi­dence and log­i­cal argu­ments, until the dis­eased insti­tu­tions that try every­thing to dis­cred­it them either reform or are replaced.

I know “Be the change you want to see” is a cliché and a cheesy quote, but it applies so much here. You want eth­i­cal jour­nal­ism and a bet­ter dis­course with­in the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty? Create it. Become it. Write, make art, make videos, make video games, make mods, fos­ter com­mu­ni­ties. No one can stop you from being a gamer or a devel­op­er and choos­ing to do so your way.

So move for­ward safe in the knowl­edge there is a huge num­ber of peo­ple who want to see con­tent done bet­ter and are will­ing to fight for that over the long term. As I laid out in “The Death of Games Journalism – Part 7,” the end­point of this her­culean effort on the part of gamers would be the con­struc­tion of a press and indus­try that bet­ter reflects them, that is pop­u­lat­ed by them. Even if GamerGate as a hash­tag goes away overnight, what it has set in motion, and the peo­ple it has inspired won’t go away.  The idea of a rot­ten indie scene and gam­ing press is an idea that has tak­en deep root in the gam­ing con­scious­ness, and you can’t kill an idea.

John SweeneyOpinionGamerGate,OpinionI doubt many peo­ple thought the con­tro­ver­sy that become known as GamerGate would con­tin­ue exist­ing and gain­ing momen­tum over the course of an entire year. Many pre­dict­ed its demise as ear­ly as the 9th of September, pre­sum­ing what some per­ceived as the short atten­tion spans of Gamers being tak­en up by…
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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.