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.