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.

looking forward insert 1

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.

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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.