Sections

GamerGate's silver lining

Kicking off our 2014 year-end coverage by addressing the elephant in the room

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of features this week that look back at the biggest news trends of 2014.

As we begin our year-end coverage at GamesIndustry.biz, there's one thing we need to get out of the way first: GamerGate. The fumes from this online tire fire have been wafting over the entire industry since August, when an ex-boyfriend of Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn went public with a host of allegations of unseemly conduct, including an implication that she had slept with Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson for positive press of her game. Despite the complete lack of a "smoking gun" favorable review and minimal amount of Grayson-penned Depression Quest coverage of any kind, the gossip snowballed. What followed was an ugly and prolonged look at the worst aspects of online and gamer culture, as the people in question and numerous others were subjected to harassment, invasions of privacy, having their personal and financial information released online, and death threats.

"If nothing else, GamerGate has increased awareness of a significant problem in the gaming industry."

GamerGate has been a source of unparalleled shame for the gaming industry, and as some readers have argued, we've already devoted plenty of time and space to chronicling the details of a medium's collective failure. But as we wind down 2014 and hope for a better 2015, it's worth taking a moment to consider what good can be pulled from this whole sad affair, even if it can't possibly justify what happened to bring us to this point.

If nothing else, GamerGate has increased awareness of a significant problem in the gaming industry. While that was always the stated cause of its proponents, the problem the movement has made abundantly clear is that this industry has some profound issues in the way it treats women.

Anita Sarkeesian created a video series to highlight the numerous ways in which women in games are treated poorly. Many gamers disagreed with Sarkeesian, and in response, have treated her poorly (a sentence that would no doubt top our Biggest Understatements of 2014 list, if we had such a thing planned). One even threatened to go on a shooting rampage if she was allowed to give a talk at Utah State University. That particular attempt at silencing Sarkeesian may have been successful in the short-term (Sarkeesian's talk was cancelled because police could not legally prevent people from bringing firearms into the event), but it was ultimately counterproductive to the threat-maker's cause. The cancellation of the talk pushed the GamerGate fiasco into the mainstream and made Sarkeesian a popular interview target.

Sarkeesian wound up reaching the audiences of (to name just a few) NPR's All Things Considered, The New York Times (on the front page, no less), Rolling Stone, and The Colbert Report. Instead of preaching to the converted at Utah State's Taggert Student Center (with a maximum capacity of approximately 1,000 people), Sarkeesian's message went out to a cumulative audience of about 16 million people, many of whom might never have given the representation of women in games a second thought before. And that's to say nothing of the countless articles, blog posts, and TV interviews those appearances precipitated, all of which create new opportunities for people to hear Sarkeesian's stance for the first time, and new waves of backlash full of gendered slurs and reactionary loathing. And every time this happens, it only hammers home the necessity to consider what has allowed this ugliness to fester within our industry, and what each of us might do to help improve things.

But of course, "not all GamerGaters" harbor an irrational hatred of women or use the internet to actively harass people and send death threats. Lots of them just don't like where the industry is headed. They don't like that Grand Theft Auto V's portrayal of women has become a legitimate point of discussion for a review. They don't like that a comparatively low-budget lesbian coming-of-age story can receive critical acclaim that used to be reserved for M-rated AAA blockbusters. They decry the arrival of politics in games, though it would be more accurate to say they are upset that the politics in games are slowly diversifying.

"The discord means that games have outgrown their status as a niche within our culture, and are now a microcosm of it."

While it can be disheartening to see how these differences in personal politics manifest themselves online, it can also be encouraging on one level. The discord means that games have outgrown their status as a niche within our culture, and are now a microcosm of it. If everybody games (virtually true), and not everybody can get along civilly with one another (undeniably true), there's going to be overlap. People of all political leanings have long used books, radio, TV, and other forms of mass media to express their views; the population of gamers could only grow so big before it began reflecting these same tensions of the world at large.

Much of what we've seen from the beginning of GamerGate has been reprehensible and saddening, but it has also been the growing pains of a maturing medium. In the end, my (perhaps optimistic) belief is that the last few months have shed light on a problem the industry was all too happy to ignore. At the very least, virtually everyone in the industry, from executives to developers on down to the press, will be more aware of the way they treat women and minorities in the future. At best, they will actively work to give those groups the respect and the voice they have long been denied through negation or neglect. In either case, this will lead to greater diversity in the people being hired, greater diversity in the games being made, and a better, stronger industry for all.

This is progress. And if there's one thing history teaches us time and again, it's that progress is often painful.

Related stories

Twitch: "We're almost ready to go full-blown Hunger Games"

Co-founder Kevin Lin is excited for a new age of games development where streaming audiences can interact with the players

By James Batchelor

Jobs Roundup: Green Man Gaming hires former EA, Activision marketing boss

Also this week, Keza MacDonald leaves Kotaku, a Mythbuster joins Giant Bomb, and Unity hires Insomniac developers

By James Batchelor

Latest comments (13)

Craig Burkey Software Engineer 2 years ago
Also a lot of people, not just Gamergaters don't like the assumption of moral superiority that some media commentators place upon themselves when they comment on these topic. The smug self congratulatory tone of some articles does feel sickening at times, while basking in the notion of being on the "right side" of a debate it just fuels the fire and emotion of many people.
24Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Keldon Alleyne Developer, leader, writer, Avasopht Ltd2 years ago
Nothing good can come from over polarised viewpoints, which is really the fuel that gave light to Gamer Gate in the first place. If we learn anything from this, I hope it's that a balanced viewpoint should be our first priority in all cases.
15Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (13)
Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus2 years ago
Why are we giving these pieces of shit more oxygen?
15Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Kenny Lynch Community Rep/Moderator 2 years ago
It would also be fair to mention the greater attention given to potential conflicts of interest within the industry and the attendant media. Also the potential negative effects of the incestuous nature of the industry. These are both positive aspects of the positive parts of the gamegate saga (coming to mobile platforms near you!).

I could expand on the negative aspects of it but given the context I won't.

I hope everyone had a great 2014.
11Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship2 years ago
Come on Chris, tell us what you really think!
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up2 years ago
How to catch an elephant:

First, you dig a hole in the ground that is capable of holding an elephant.
Fill the hole with ashes.
Place some bait at the bottom of the hole.
When your elephant reaches for the bait, you kick him in the ash hole.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rashad Foux Character Artist, Hi-Rez Studios, Inc.2 years ago
I disagree with the entirety of Gamergate, from the lies the movement was spawned under, to the threatening actions taken (and continuing to be taken) by too many people operating under it's name.

But I'm glad for it's existence precisely because it gave some of the best examples of gaming a much broader audience than they would have received if there hadn't been such violently disproportionate push back to the idea of: "Maybe games and gamer culture can be kind of sexist sometimes."

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rashad Foux on 15th December 2014 5:52pm

4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Brendan Sinclair Senior Editor, GamesIndustry.biz2 years ago
Sorry Tom, "Freelance Idiot" doesn't meet our posting criteria.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief2 years ago
Brendan, I agree with you. While Gamergate has abjectly failed to shed light on corruption in the press, through the bizarre oversight of not chasing the money or power, it has raised the issue of how our medium and our industry views other groups, particularly women.

The Streisand Effect has been beautifully, brilliantly in force for Gamergate. While, as you say, the journey has been horrible, I am much more optimistic about the destination than I was.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
We will have a real Gamer Gate once a big publisher gets hacked as bad as Sony Movie Entertainment.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Iain McNulty Software / Game Developer, Yanxen2 years ago
Indeed this article was correct, this year was the year where a lot of people heard Anita Sarkessian speak about the treatment of women in video games from outside of games culture. Previously, Feminist Frequency did a decent job of drawing attention to feminist issues in video games when the Kickstarter campaign for the Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games video series first hit, as feminist-critique in video games was something not really heard of much until that particular video series. However, sadly it has become apparent this year that since then so many regard her as the only voice of feminism in video game culture, or the only voice in feminism in video game culture which should be listened to.

However, this year it seems that as a result of GamerGate that people have been introduced to other feminist voices speaking about video game culture, those with an alternative view to to that of Sarkessian et al, for example Liana Kerzner to name but one.

It is important that the video game industry continues to build upon this by considering feminist critique in video games, but at the same time bearing in mind that one singular person (no matter how wide their message is heard due to television and media appearances) could not hope to represent on their own everything which embodies feminism.
6Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 2 years ago
If nothing else, GamerGate has increased awareness of a significant problem in the gaming industry. While that was always the stated cause of its proponents, the problem the movement has made abundantly clear is that this industry has some profound issues in the way it treats women.
Just one small quibble with the quoted paragraph. Gamergate really had very little to do with the gaming industry itself, with the exception of one or two developers who came forward to make public that they're still not over the fact that some women won't sleep with them. Mostly what Gamergate brought to light is that there are some profound misogyny issues among isolated young men who get their feedback on the way the world works from the MRA Hate Groups (as distinct from MRA groups that actually do promote the awareness of male-focused issues and male wellbeing) that have nested on Reddit and 4-Chan.

i.e. The horrors of gamergate came from a proportion of gamers, rather than the industry.

What I've seen of the industry itself in this troubled time... well, I've seen some good people look all the more amazing against the backlight of frothing hate, and the fact that those voices tend to come from the same companies has made me trot out my list of "Games Industry Good Guys" and extend it
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.