There’s a continuing practice in some articles about “harassment in gaming” that is… I’m gonna go there… Toxic. I’m referring to the practice of “Gatedropping” — referencing Gamergate in an otherwise unrelated article because it’s a “current event” in “current year”.
Gamergate, is, of course, a hashtag everyone likes to claim is about something else. For some it’s about ethics in games journalism. For others it’s about a culture war. For still others it’s about combating harassment. And yes, for some, it’s about perfect conditions to troll for massive lulz.
There was also a cadre of political opportunists that raised the temperature on Gamergate much higher than it had to be. Games journalists were an easy target for some e-celebs’ unwitting personal armies. Other untrained “anti-harassment advocates” seem most skilled at advocating for media attention for themselves instead of their issue. In the end, the gaming industry was temporarily left a less hospitable place for women, not because some gamers got angry, but because anyone who attempted to take a proactive stance got targeted by some special interest group.
Gaming is still nursing the wounds from the Jack Thompson era in the 1990s. When I tried to ask Ed Boon about violence in video games, a Warner Bros publicist shut me down. When I pitch alternate viewpoints to the established narrative in services like the New York Times, I’m met with deafening silence. When I try to point to scientific consensus and free speech rights, activists have some outlier study or biased poll ready to be brandished like Oppo Research.
Freelancing as a game journalist is less lucrative these days than unpaid internships. Freelancing is frequently a pay to work paradigm where the measly bits of money you get paid never really cover your costs. The reality is that, except in a minority of circumstances, games journalism isn’t seen as valuable enough to really pay for. It’s satisfactory for monetized websites to get by on a churn of content via regurgitated press releases.
Gamergate had some positive impacts in that regard — the Society for Professional Journalists has taken an interest in games journalism, founding the Kunkel Award. The SPJ has probably been the fairest handler of the Gamergate controversy, because it believes in reporting the story before offering an opinion on that story.
As an analyst, however, it’s my job to offer my informed opinion, and my opinion at present is that continuing to mention Gamergate in any article about a woman in video games is dehumanizing that woman by turning her into a statistic instead of telling her story. But worse, it’s turning gamers into gremlins, instead of remembering that gamers are not trolls. Gamers are people.
The latest round of Gatedropping has been the Alison Rapp/Nintendo scandal, and the brouhaha over an anti-bullying initiative called Social Autopsy. I haven’t written about Social Autopsy here because I have not been able to get a response from its organizers. Apparently they’ve been so deluged on social media that they’re unable to get back to people. Though they did an interview with, of all things, a website with a direct connection to a troll group, I’ll take Social Autopsy at its word that it’s missing requests, including my own request for further details on their methodology, as well as their decision to agree to an interview by a known bully. I’m not naming that bully here because this particular bully thrives on attention, and I won’t give them that.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have to comment on Social Autopsy: the service isn’t live yet, I have no informed access, and it has nothing to do with gaming, gamers, or Gamergate. The link has been made between Social Autopsy and Gamergate because special interests wished that to be so, including a competing initiative that claims to fight online harassment.. Competing services are not neutral third parties, for obvious reasons.
I get why a lot of people are worried that Social Autopsy is too close to a dox site or a blackmail site for comfort. I don’t have an fully formed opinion on this, however, because to quote Sherlock Holmes, “Data! I can’t make bricks without clay.”
What I do know based on their blog posts is that Social Autopsy’s creators are not informed or even aware of the details of video game community scandals. Nor should they be. Gaming doesn’t own the cyberbullying issue, despite all the politicized attempts to make “gamer” synonymous with “harasser”. It seems like Social Autopsy is most concerned with people who know each other in real life who decide to go Jekyll and Hyde on the internet. They’ve said they’re not connecting real life names and information shared on social media with online pseudonyms, and until I’m given reason to believe otherwise, I’ll take them at their word.
Naming and shaming hasn’t been an especially effective tactic regarding bullying in the video game community, since it tends to become a tool of bullies who falsify “evidence” and twist words. According to these name and shame tactics, I’m a bully. But according to these name and shame tactics, it’s also okay to publish unflattering photos and nasty comments about my mother and husband and claim these photos were used under”fair use” internet principles, ignoring a private person’s rights of publicity.
In other applications, however, outing bullies has had some success has a harm reduction strategy, but tougher laws based on this principle have run afoul of free speech protections. Free speech, however, applies to services like Social Autopsy having the right to make their attempt, provided they stay within the bounds of what is legal. So-called “pro-Gamergate” advocates have this same right.
I’ve had practically every nasty thing under the sun said about me on the internet, and I’m still here, albeit as something of a pariah in the games industry. Bullying works, because bullying makes people who are “minding their own business” afraid to be around a “controversial” figure. Most of what was said and done to and about me has been 100% legal, because the media is a bloodsport. Some of it wasn’t legal, and got taken down. Some things were legal simply because the defamer had more money than I did, and it’s a sad reality that you can buy justice in a legal system driven by lawyers’ fees.
But the point is that I’m still here. I’m still trying. And I’m still talking. And I won’t give up my right to express my views as long as I’m willing to accept the consequences of those views. I’ll also defend to the death the right of any other person to express their views, even if I disagree with them. This goes for services like Social Autopsy whom I disagree with, and this goes for people on both sides of the video game culture war with whom I have profound disagreements.
Only one side, however, has become synonymous with evil, and I have a problem with that. It’s regressive politics at its worst. Therefore, Gatedropping helps no one, and writers and editors should stop doing it.