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GamerGate lives on, but attention fades

Feminist blogger and cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, at last year’s Game Developers Choice Awards.
Trish Tunney/file
Feminist blogger and cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, at last year’s Game Developers Choice Awards.

Is GamerGate still relevant? Has the loose, mostly anonymous movement, which claims to be about ethics in journalism but whose critics (myself included) see as more a reaction to increasing progressivism and diversity in gaming, lost its ability to garner mainstream headlines, let alone sympathetic ones?

Maybe it sounds like a rude question to ask given that not too long ago, GamerGate took on a very big foe and won. Last October, Gawker writer and GamerGate foe Sam Biddle made a couple of ill-advised tweets. “Ultimately #GamerGate is reaffirming what we’ve known to be true for decades: nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission,” he wrote in one. A minute later: “Bring Back Bullying.”

GamerGate’s fast-and-furious reaction may not have been politically coherent — the movement claims to be against uptight PC-ness and censorship, and here it was freaking out over jokes that weren’t going to elicit any phone calls from the people who actually advocate against bullying for a living — but it was effective. Gawker and its advertisers were flooded with complaints, leading to significant losses in ad revenue.

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This was also around the time GamerGate received lots of mainstream attention. The decentralized online movement arose, its founders claim, as a result of what they perceived to be lapses in gaming-journalism ethics, but it also led to widespread harassment of certain, primarily female, game developers and journalists. The attention last year provided an opportunity for GamerGate to get its message out to the teeming masses.

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It doesn’t seem like that’s happening as much these days. When I recently went to KotakuInAction, or KiA, the subreddit that serves as an unofficial GamerGate headquarters, I saw mostly small-bore cultural complaints and obscure, nitty-gritty issues about this title or that developer. One highly ranked post decried the idea that there’s an inherent connection between the Confederate flag and slavery or racism.

I popped into KiA to pose my waning-relevance theory to its denizens. It was no surprise that people there disagreed. GamerGaters insisted that they were still doing a lot of online activism, still influencing game developers, and so on.

There’s some evidence to at least support the idea that this movement isn’t going anywhere. I was linked to traffic stats for KiA, and since September, when GamerGate was in the news, KiA has hovered between 8 million and 14 million page views per month. GamerGaters themselves are not done with GamerGate.

But movements need to reach outside themselves to be effective, and I don’t think that’s happening here. A theory as to why: I’ve written before that it’s hard for a movement to call itself a movement when it ignores most of the rules movements tend to follow — having clear platforms, representatives, and so on. Anyone can use the #GamerGate hashtag, and anyone can claim a given use of that hashtag doesn’t represent “real” GamerGate.

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All this still applies, I think, and can account for the fact that even as GamerGaters continue visiting KiA every day, continue launching campaigns, and so on, GamerGate has faded from mainstream attention in a way its ideological opponents — those who seek to draw attention to harassment of women in gaming (and elsewhere) — haven’t. One side has media-savvy figures like Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist blogger and cultural critic, the other is still mostly a bunch of anonymous Twitter and Reddit users who take pride in their lack of traditional organizing.

GamerGate will, of course, say that this is journalists’ fault, that we never gave the movement a fair shake. But the few other anonymous online movements that have garnered mainstream interest and sympathy — think #Anonymous — have done so by popping up in big, attention-getting ways. GamerGate hasn’t, and maybe its participants are fine with that.

Related Coverage:

Perspective: Brianna Wu on why Gamergate trolls won’t win

Five takeaways from the year in gaming

GamerGate anger at women all too real for gamemaker

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Opinion: The Gamergate controversy

Jesse Singal can be reached at jesse.r.singal@gmail.com.