Community Piece: The Humanity of #GamerGate – 11/3/2014
By Lo-Ping - Mon Nov 03, 12:00 pm
My name is Nilkad Naquada. That’s not really true; my real name is Gabe Kraft, but my online handle is Nilkad Naquada. I’ve yet to reach any significant notoriety, but nonetheless I do try to keep up with writing about games for what little audience I have. When Lo-Ping put out an open call for writers to do guest features on his site, I saw an opportunity to reach a much broader audience than I currently have. So I’m making my best effort to bring across what I really love about this medium, and why the #GamerGate movement/revolt/whatever you might personally decide to call it exists, as it’s a very important subject to me and I will always jump at an opportunity to spread word of it to more people.
First, some background. I’ve been gaming since I was about 3 or 4 years old. I started out on the Sony PlayStation, a console on which I owned no decent games, a fact which did not in any way lessen my enjoyment. I’m sure many of you have gone through that stage; the stage at which any game is considered “good” by virtue of being video games. As I grew, many of my peers at my various schools (I moved around a fair bit) stopped really caring about games, disinterested in playing them or hearing about them. I, obviously, never hit that point. In hindsight, the reason for this was likely because, up until a bit over a year ago, at which point I was 16, I was dealing with what I have discovered to be abusive behavior from my stepfather. He essentially made it his business to convince me of my own inferiority and inability, my own conceit one could say, and he did so in a subtle, undermining kind of way.
I don’t want pity. I’ve removed myself from the situation and am dealing with the results. But I would be lying if I said this didn’t have an impact on my life, as it’s probably the biggest reason I continued to seek escapism and fantasy in video games through the years to the current day. Video games have been a refuge for me as long as I can remember, even if at the time I didn’t realize I was seeking refuge from anything. (I lived with my stepfather since I was about 2 or so; it’s difficult to realize there’s something wrong if it’s the situation you’ve been in since you can remember.) As time went on my tastes in games grew more refined and specific; I lost interest in the cheap tie-in platformers I had on Playstation and found myself captivated by games like Ocarina of Time and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on the Gamecube, I found old experiences such as Super Mario Bros 3 ported to the Game Boy Advance and fell in love with them, I made my way to shooters on the Playstation such as Call of Duty: World at War and Ratchet Deadlocked. As time went on I found my standards reaching ever higher but paradoxically found the horizons of my taste getting broader. I got my first laptop and immediately set to work emulating games from Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 64, Super Nintendo, etc. I started playing old abandonware titles like System Shock, timeless classics like Starcraft and Doom, and more recent titles like Tropico 3 and Team Fortress 2.
I’m aware my tale ran rather long; my purpose was to impress upon you how much games have impacted my life in the last 14 years and how much they mean to me. They’re my favorite artistic medium, and the topic about which I am most passionate. They’re how I hope to make my living one day and they’re how I spend a significant amount of my time. To me games are many things. They’re an escape, a world to inhabit. They’re art, an experience to share. They’re sport, a competition to win. They’re a link, a shared connection to bond over. They’ve been all these things and more for me. Games have been inextricably entangled with some of my favorite memories, from simple afternoons spent with friends play Smash Bros to bonding with my biological father over Portal 2’s cooperative campaign. Games are in my heart and they will not leave. The same holds true for the gaming community. Some of the best friendships I’ve ever had have been with gamers who I met through other gamers. And the community has never abandoned me, never scorned me for who I was. 2 years ago when I discovered that I’m bisexual, it didn’t have any effect on how gamers dealt with me. It didn’t change my interactions with them (aside from opening up a new avenue for friendly ribbing, from my friends to myself and myself to my friends), it didn’t affect how matches played out, it was just another aspect of me that wasn’t relevant in the arena, and it still is. The gaming community is one of the most accepting I’ve ever been involved in, and I frankly love it.
Which is why it rang false when I began to hear accusations that the gaming community is misogynistic and games are sexist. Hell, I know plenty of female gamers who have had pretty much similar experiences with the community that I have. For the most part I’ve seen gamers welcome other gamers, and race, gender, or sexuality has for the most part not been a factor. Granted, there will always be assholes. And as in any scenario, you need to discourage these assholes. And that’s what we’ve done. We don’t encourage bigotry, we don’t sit by and let it happen, and we don’t act in a bigoted way. But according to some, the games industry and the culture surrounding it is a hive of misogyny and sexism. The games perpetuate sexist attitudes and the enthusiasts hate women. These sorts of, frankly, baseless accusations really bothered me. I’m not saying there aren’t bigoted assholes in the community, I’m not saying there aren’t games which have frankly distasteful portrayals of women. But I am saying that games aren’t causing sexism, nor are they perpetuating that sort of attitude. I grew up with games, as I outlined above, and I frankly don’t bother with gender. It’s not important to me. Granted there will always be outliers, but I still hadn’t seen any of this supposed sexism and villainy. This was bugging me for a while, and then back in August it came to a boil.
Many of you probably remember the entire deal with Literally Who. Personally, I was loathe to assume that Quinn had the actual intent of trading sex for publicity, because frankly I don’t like to assume the worst. What was clear, however, and what I had no problem believing, was that there were things going on that shouldn’t have been. For this reason, I shied away from the more difficult to confirm or deny topics and instead spoke about her actions against The Fine Young Capitalists. As time went on, the internet forgot about Literally Who, despite her best efforts to stay in the limelight, and I did too. I went back to my normal, day to day life. I was a bit annoyed about the “Gamers are Dead” debacle, but at that point I really didn’t care about game journalism outside of Yahtzee Croshaw and Jim Sterling (cringe.)
And then a miracle happened. Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulis released the leaked conversations from the GameJournoPros list, and everything blew wide open. I started out rather moderate, but quickly moved to the GamerGate side as more and more evidence mounted and as more and more people against it made asses of themselves in their attempts to convince me of their side. The more I leaned toward GamerGate, the more disillusioned with many of the people I had previously followed and kept up with, including instigators such as Jim Sterling and those who I previously considered more respectable critics such as Chris Franklin and the folks at Extra Credits. I grew to hold a different view of game journalism, less inconsequential tripe and more anti-artistic-freedom propaganda, and as the scandal raged on they became more pronounced in their attempts to silence dissent. I saw people like Leigh Alexander and Ian Miles Cheong and Anthony Burch becoming nastier and nastier in their attempts to beat people down, I saw people like DeviEver feigning support of our movement just to eventually try to discredit it, I saw doxxings and harassment, and I saw demands that people prove they aren’t straight white males. That last one really rubbed me the wrong way. It bothered me to see these people supposedly speaking in defense of women and minorities telling minorities that they don’t exist when they disagree with them. Not that this was anything new, I was very familiar with modern feminism and its methods. But this time, I could be involved directly.
So I threw myself headlong into the fray, I took up the GamerGate and NotYourShield tags, and dedicated myself to providing rebuttals to flawed arguments, evidence to help our allies, and support for those who are discouraged. I’ve been active in the movement for close to a month now, and in that time my activity and interaction on Twitter has increased exponentially. I’ve met a lot of cool people of various genders, sexualities, and ethnicities, and I’ve made friendships that I truly believe will continue after whenever all this ends. That, I think, says more about our movement than any rhetoric I could put forth about our ethics. I do plenty of that on my Twitter account anyway, this article should be something different than what I usually do.
Which brings me, finally, to my main point. This supposedly hateful movement has been one of the most positive things for me I’ve been involved in. I’ve had issues with depression in the past, and sometimes I still do, but this movement and the people involved with it have truly helped me deal with it, both through activity in the movement giving me a sense of purpose and through people in the community showing me support and just generally being cool. My point here is very emotional and informal, but I’ve done plenty of formal logic in the tag already, and right now I just want to talk about the awesome people that keep me going. The people of this movement really do genuinely care, we have genuine conversations not related to the tag, we give each other advice, we support each other in our advocacy, and it’s beautiful. I look at the other side and I see a clique that has known each other for years and wants to crush opposition; I look at our side and I see a varied and beautiful crowd of people who came together for a common goal and lift each other up.
And that’s essentially why I’m here. I care about the issue, and the side that I tend to agree with is also the one that tends to be healthier to be around. I care about games, I care about free speech, I care about free art, and I care about honest journalism. And from what I’ve seen, the journalists we rally against are simply not honest, and are working to silence disagreement. So I intend to stick by my new-found friends.
Here’s my oppression passport: I pass as a straight white cisgender male. I’m 24 years old, bisexual, and living with ADHD and depression. I’ve been playing video games regularly since I was fifteen years old. I estimate I’ve invested perhaps five or six thousand hours of my life in playing games. It started at age twelve when a friend gave me a CD at school. I put it into my Dad’s computer when I got home, and the Starcraft splash screen came up on the monitor. I played through the campaign, thought it was pretty cool. Then I played the online, and I was hooked. About six months later we moved house. I lost the Starcraft disc during the move, so I didn’t play much in the way of computer games for a few years.
When I was fifteen, I received a gaming computer as a birthday present, something I’d been begging for for years. My uncle was a gaming enthusiast and recommended a game called Total Annihilation, which even today is still my favourite game of all time. This is when my true love of computer gaming began, and it hasn’t abated since. In high school I found tabletop and roleplaying games – Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering – with some of my friends. More than eight years later I still play various roleplaying games with that same group of friends, and it’s no stretch to say those games keep that friendship group together. Through gaming communities, I found 4chan around the time I turned 18. I considered myself part of that culture (up until recent events killed 4chan). In university I discovered the draw of MMOs, and in short order I was a core raider in Rift with a leading guild. After I left university, I was introduced to board games, with Pandemic being perhaps my favourite.
Gaming has been a core part of more than a third of my life. Not a day goes by where I don’t play at least an hour or two of games – some days go by where I might spend just one or two hours *not* playing games. Despite currently being financially incapable of owning a gaming computer, I push my little old MacBook Air to its very limits, mostly playing indie games. I have gone so far as to de-compile game assets to manually reduce the texture sizes below the lowest offered setting in order to make a game playable!
Why do I care so much about games? It’s the way games actively try to engage me – it is the only medium where I feel *respected* by the art. I’m an avid reader; when I read a good book I feel a sense of respect for the author’s skill, but when I play a good game I feel the game is respecting *me*. I think this sates a very deep need in most people, not just me. I think respect is very interesting in video game communities. Accomplishments in a video game are respected by other gamers in a very pure way, because they are very pure achievements: even if you’re lazy you can get into Harvard just because your parents are rich – but you cannot beat Smough and Ornstein in Dark Souls unless you get good.
Dara O’Brien has a joke about this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WOAte_M7yw):
“I love video games because they do something no other art form does, you cannot be bad watching a movie, you cannot be bad at listening to an album, but you can be bad at playing a video game. And the game will punish you, and deny you access to the rest of the game. No other art form does this, you’ve never read a book and 3 chapters in the book has gone ‘what are the major themes of the book so far?’ Well, I dunno I wasn’t playing attentio– FUUMF *book closes* aw Jesus, come on!”
And I think he nails it. This is a medium that makes demands of you, challenges you, and rewards you for overcoming adversity. And I really like that.
There are two reasons why I am here as part of #GamerGate.
The first is that the corruption and cronyism I’ve seen in games journalism, with games being promoted or tanked based on industry friendships, disgusts me. I look at my games library and I think, would I have bought Fez if I hadn’t seen it win Indie Game of the Year? Are there games I would deeply enjoy but are missing from my library, because their publisher didn’t grease the right palms or have the right friends? And that infuriates me, so I’m active on the #GamerGate tag to hopefully bring about a reform.
The second and deeper reason is the particular political agenda that is being pushed by the major games journalism outlets. In some areas of my life, in some intellectual circles, I engage deeply with both social justice and critique of social justice. But recently I’ve started to become aware of a trend of social justice inserting itself into *other* hobbies and interests I have. And I didn’t think it was a problem, because I think social justice is a pretty good thing. But when social justice came to rationality, people said things like:
“Feminism in particular has a bad history of leaning on a community to make changes – to the point where the target becomes a feminist institution that no longer functions in its original capacity.”
I saw they were *right*, that social justice is drawing the focus of nerd culture’s hobbies away from the hobbies themselves and towards feminism and social justice *instead*. I saw that the kind of social justice that was creeping in showed all the hallmarks of being the worst kind, that the traits we criticise most over in the social justice movement are the very same traits most on display here. I saw that one day I’d wake up and realise video games were about social justice, roleplaying games were about social justice, atheism and skepticism and open source and tech and rationality were about social justice. I’d wake up one day and realise all my rich, vibrant, engaging hobbies had blended together into one big inoffensive beige mass.
I don’t want that. Social justice and nerd culture are two great tastes, but mix them together and you can only taste the social justice. The nerd culture disappears. I don’t want that, so I’m here with #GamerGate to halt their advance into gaming.