The Toxic Practice of “Gatedropping”

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.

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On the Alison Rapp/Nintendo Scandal

This scandal has made it all the way up to the Washington Post, and shows no sign of abating. For those not in the know, a PR rep from Nintendo got fired for moonlighting, blamed Gamergate, and everyone went nuts. In the ensuing fight, information became public that Rapp may or may not have worked as a prostitute.

People getting fired for technicalities is not new in any wing of the entertainment industry. Contracts are written to protect the employer, and no matter how much negotiation you do, these gigs are usually “at will”, meaning the employer can fire you whenever they want, with or without cause.

What’s unique here is the war that ensued because of the Gamergate accusation. As far as I can tell, the nastiest stuff came from a splinter of Gamergate known as GG Revolt, who spread some dox – personal information or documentation – on a service known as kiwifarms. I’ve never heard of kiwifarms before in association to Gamergate, so I think I understand why people got upset: the dox didn’t originate with the core Gamergate participants.  However, the people who claim the dox was spread by a “pro-Gamergate” faction aren’t wrong… they’re just not aware of how complex the divisions are within the ranks of these online crusaders against so-called “social justice warriors”.

Before we get into what I think about this whole mess, I want to outline my unique perspective. I was also subject to one of these supposedly “life ruining” data dig operations at the hands of Gamergate. In fact, certain people did it twice. They found some tweets that, taken out of context, looked worse than they were. People yelled at me about it. I apologized more than a few times, and most people moved on. Yeah, it was an unpleasant few months, but I’d hardly call it life ruining.

Some gamergate-related websites published some nonsense about me being a former stripper. They published photos of my husband and mother to call them ugly. That made me furious, but again, it was not life ruining. It was just underhanded and low.  Others active in Gamergate accused me of plagiarism. When asked to provide evidence, they didn’t. Because there wasn’t any.

Some of my personal information did get out.  It was handled quietly.  Alerting the world to the fact that you’ve been doxed is a great way to spread dox.  However, I know for a fact that some bad actors tried to release other information, and pro-Gamergate groups didn’t want to have any part of that.  There is some honor there.

The unsubstantiated accusations also flew fast and furious from the opposing, so-called “Anti-Gamergate” side, the side that has stridently backed Rapp in this latest dust up. Anti-Gamergate types called me “transphobic” because of a conversation I had on twitter with a parody account held by a cat.  A user on a subreddit called Gamerghazi described, in detail, the street I lived on, the contents of my house, and the general part of the city I live in.  It was an elegant not-dox that still disclosed personal information, and Gamerghazi didn’t see it for what it was.

They accused me of numerous other forms of bigotry, including the accusation that I abused a person with autism who turned out was lying about having autism. They accused me of fraud, non-payment in business dealings… the only thing that seemed to give some of them pause was when their compatriots started slut shaming me.

But to be fair, there’s just as many Pro-Gamergate types that legitimately oppose slut shaming too. Both sides have their hypocrites. Neither side is a monolith, and neither side has behaved especially heroically… nor consistently.

One side, however, decided to ostracize me. That was the Anti-Gamergate side. They’re very much a “you’re with us or we’re against you” type group. I’m on at least one block list used by people like Alison Rapp for the crime of following the “wrong” people on twitter. Heaven forbid I follow people I disagree with because I’m trying to keep an open mind.

So it’s no secret that I’m no fan of the clique that’s now rushed to Rapp’s defense, generating numerous articles that mention her alleged prostitution that are going to come up whenever any potential employer googles her name. I’m sure they mean well but, speaking from experience, game companies don’t care about things on a moral level. They care whether more people are going to start screaming at them. So this PR campaign, as well-intentioned as it may be, will hurt Rapp in the long run. The best play was to keep this as quiet as possible.

I know this because I wasn’t able to keep my own situation quiet. I was accused of “getting my tits out for a living” early on in the Gamergate controversy, and the ensuing war has made some game companies not just unwilling to hire me, but they won’t even grant permission for me to interview their developers. I’m “too controversial”. So all you have to do in the games industry now is level an accusation of a sexualized nature at a female professional to wreck their professional prospects. It doesn’t even have to be true.

It doesn’t sit right with me that Alison Rapp may have trouble finding work due to allegations that she’s a sex worker. I’ve seen plenty of drugs passed around at or after gaming events, which is also illegal. But it’s not sex, so the industry turns a blind eye. If someone is caught using, say, cocaine, it’s seen as a “medical problem”. If they stop the drugs, they’re hireable again.  At least, they must be, because I’ve seen people do coke who are still working in games.  Illegal activity isn’t enough to make you persona non grata, provided it isn’t illegal activity that involves a vagina.

That being said, I think Nintendo is totally within their rights to hire or fire anyone they want.  The stated grounds for termination was moonlighting, not being a whore.  Yes, it’s very common for some people to play fast and loose with contracts and keep their jobs.  But when you knowingly violate the terms of a signed agreement, you do so at your own peril.

I don’t think, however, that Alison Rapp should be shamed out of the industry, nor do I think that she should be held up as any sort of hero. Neither of these outcomes help her find another job, because sadly, the worst thing you can be in gaming, walking into an interview, is too visible. Game companies want minions right now – little adorable harmless critters who are hard to tell apart. The minute you’re known for something, someone may not like that something, and game companies are so risk averse that they won’t take a chance on anyone with an unpopular viewpoint.

Throughout my career, I’ve had shows cancelled, positions eliminated, and offers withdrawn. A career in any sort of creative field is a house built on thin ice.  But in all this talk about promoting women in gaming, the message has really been “promote women in gaming except for the dirty sluts”. And that’s not promoting women in gaming, because any woman can be labelled a slut at a moment’s notice. I know, because it happened to me.

I’ve deliberately avoided seeing myself as a victim in this whole thing. I firmly believe that these online trolling tactics, these “life ruins”, only work if you let them. This isn’t easy for me to say in days when half the gaming industry doesn’t want to be seen with me for fear they’ll get bullied by the anti-Gamergate mob. Plenty of people like what I do privately, but very few industry types will actively and publicly support me, because they don’t want to be the next target of a pack of influential bullies. It’s cowardice of a sort, but it’s a form of cowardice I totally understand.

The narrative is that I’m supportive of a group that tore into my life. I’m not supportive of those actions. I’m supportive of the people who don’t do that crap, and if you lump everyone with a complaint into the “evil Gamergaters” group, then you empower the bad actors. It’s like a monster that feeds on hate. As someone who came through it with my head held high, and who is forging a business independently because I love gaming even though gaming doesn’t want me right now, I can say with certainty that Gamergate isn’t the big problem in gaming when it comes to women. The Gamergate Controversy is just a symptom of a great many problems that aren’t about women, but they do more noticeably affect women.

We shouldn’t care so much about whether or not someone is a sex worker. I can see a company not wanting to be associated with illegal activity, but this mess has gone beyond that into a condemnation of a woman engaging in sexual activities the collective sees as beneath a “decent” woman. Prostitution is a role that we’re told turns women into “background decoration”. The categorization is dehumanizing. The thing is, media attention is dehumanizing in its own way. The best thing Rapp’s supporters can do is buy her a few drinks – or more than a few – let this calm down, and quietly help her get her career back on track. A headline helps no one but the site that’s getting the click.

Now before you claim I’m hypocritical on that statement because I myself wrote an article, remember that I’m not a Rapp supporter. I can’t be: she uses the blockbot I’m on, so I’m blocked from contacting her even though I’ve interacted with her in person at the Nintendo booth at E3.

One could claim I have the right to feel happy that “now she knows how it feels to be rejected”. I don’t. I’m very worried that the video game community is so divided into factions based on what they oppose. The minute you identify as “anti” something, you’re a destructive force. Your intent is to destroy. And many powerful people in the video game community are successfully causing a lot of pain right now.

(Edit: This article was edited to correct a copy/paste error)

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