THE GAMERGATE controversy resists easy summation. It seemingly started with a jilted boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, who penned a 9,000-word jeremiad accusing his indie-game-developer ex, Zoe Quinn, of sleeping around, including with a writer for the gaming website Kotaku. Angry gamers responded by coalescing around the #Gamergate hashtag. Some went as far as to attack Quinn, including with rape and death threats — treatment that is all too familiar to women who play games, make them, or write about them. Gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian and developer Brianna Wu were soon targeted, too.
Gamergate’s proponents claim that this isn’t about misogyny but rather about corruption in the gaming world. And there are certainly large game-journalism outlets where the wall between promoting and reviewing big new games is paper-thin.
But Kotaku never even reviewed Quinn’s polemic title, “Depression Quest,” at the center of this so-called “scandal.” Plus, given this is a billion-dollar industry dominated by men at the highest levels, why do so many of the complaints seem to arise over lesser-known developers and industry commentators who just so happen to be female? It’s a question Gamergate supporters would do well to answer.
“Many have made the point that the gaming press generally does not adhere to traditional journalistic standards. Historically, games journalism grew out of what’s called the enthusiast press — meaning that it was (and still is) written primarily by gaming enthusiasts, for other gaming enthusiasts. . . All along, chumminess with the makers of video games has been the cost of access to the information you’ve demanded as a gamer. . . One group using the #Gamergate hashtag has figured out an effective plan for changing the gaming press. Their method is continual harassment.”
“There’s also a substantial, vocal movement that believes the generally left-leaning online gaming press focuses too much on feminism and the role of women in the industry, to the detriment of coverage of games. . . But those concerns have often been warped and drowned out by an army of trolls spewing bile, often at women.”
“The default assumption of the gaming industry has always been that its customer is a young, straight, middle-class white man, and so games have always tended to cater to the perceived interests of this narrow demographic. . . Gamergate, in the main, comprises an assortment of agitators who sense which way the winds are blowing and feel left out.”
“Gamergate is basically a group of boys that don’t want girls in their videogame clubhouse. Only, instead of throwing rocks, they threaten to rape you. And, if that doesn’t work, they’ll secretly record your conversations and release the lurid details of your sex life in a public circus.”
“It’s clear, in short, that some gamers are simply upset that there are now many games that deal with themes that aren’t entirely escapist, that in certain senses the worlds of literature and art and activism are colliding with gaming — gaming being their world, one they’ve seen as belonging to them and only them for a long time.”
“[Gamergate] began co-opting the language of social justice movements. . . #Gamergaters insist they speak for a victimized ‘demographic,’ and that anyone who opposes misogyny while making generalizations about gamers must be a hypocrite. Gamergaters demand to be seen simultaneously as a 70-million-strong market force, too big for the industry to ignore, and as a persecuted minority.”
“Why are the attackers organized in a loosely coupled, publicly leaderless, largely anonymous and pseudonymous movement centered around 4chan and Reddit? Because they presume that the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ they clamor about also exist in similar secret organizations, and emulating the devious structure of their enemy is the best way to avoid infiltration, compromise, and exposure.”
“Gaming — or at least who plays video games — is quickly changing, though. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 48 percent of game players in the United States are women. . .
“Kate Edwards [of the International Game Developers Association] said changes in games and the audience around them have been difficult for some gamers to accept.
‘The entire world around them has changed,’ she said. ‘Whether they realize it or not, they’re no longer special in that way. Everyone is playing games.’ ”
Jesse Singal writes about video games for the Globe’s “Game On” column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.