GamerGate One Year On: Moving Forward

In our third and final piece marking the one year anniversary of GamerGate, John takes stock of the lessons learned and looks ahead to what more can be done

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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.

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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.

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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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
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