#GamerGate and Ethics

#GamerGate is about ethics in videogame journalism.

Like many of you, I’ve heard or seen these words repeated many times over the last month or so throughout social media,  in conversation, on TV, even the old print media has gotten in on the fun.

And like many of you, I’ve at least made an effort to try and figure out what the hell they mean. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t make any sense out of them. Each individual word, taken by itself and considered in isolation, I can understand. Force them together, otoh, and you have an unstable, explosive mess straining with all of its might to fly apart. It’s like watching seven feral cats with their tails taped together trying to escape a Costco bag.

But I’m nothing if not a good sport about these things, so I continue to try. The best approximation I can come up with is that there are a surprising number of people who are really upset that the journalistic standards of neutrality and disclosure they learned about back in college aren’t being lived up to among today’s corps of reporters covering the critically important videogame beat.

I have come to understand this based on no less an authority on the topic than “Pixel Knight,” who mere seconds after I shared this tweet, posted this helpful graphic:

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See? It’s not about violent misogyny, or death threats, or driving people from their homes, forcing public speaking engagements to be cancelled, or doxxing anyone who dares to speak out against these acts of cyber terrorism. It’s about cleaning up the feted swamps of biased videogame journalism and bringing integrity to the system.

Never mind that Pixel Knight there is a fake profile without any real name attached to it, or that the account’s tagline reads, Feminist and an Elite Social Justice Warrior.  Defender of Equality and Bearer of Truth.  Tri-Honor Bound Follower of Listen and Believe. No, this is all about transparency, and you’d have to be an idiot not to see that. (BTW, has anyone written up the stats and feats of a Social Justice Warrior prestige class yet? I know some people who would love to play one in 3.5 or Pathfinder.)

Well, here’s my problem with that claim. Just like the Tea Party magically appeared to complain about government spending and the debt just as soon as we elected a black man President, so too have these fine defenders of journalistic integrity only now come out of the woodwork to take up their noble fight at the same time women and other historically marginalized groups are beginning to shape the conversation and direction of the videogame industry.

And just like the President didn’t create the enormous deficit he inherited from his predecessor, neither did the ladies of the videogame industry create these “problems” with journalistic integrity.

I put problems in quotation marks because, not to put too fine a point on it and without trying to offend, THEY’RE FUCKING VIDEOGAMES! They are a form of entertainment and escapism. They are promoted and marketed like anything else destined for the massive consumer market. Does anyone really believe that reviews of music, movies, books, cars, etc are really intended to be completely unbiased, objective sources of information on these consumer goods? Really? Of course not. They are part of the promotion machine. The people writing the reviews are usually fans of some stripe or another, and are content creators themselves just as often as not. This was never, ever intended to be serious journalism.

Hell, even reviews themselves are marketed as a form of entertainment. Who didn’t used to tune into American Idol to watch Simon Cowell tell some arrogant, unprepared, talentless hack that their singing sounded like an off-key piano being slowly fed into a wood chipper? Or read some of Roger Ebert’s simply brutal takedowns of terrible movies over the years?

Get a grip, you guys. This isn’t journalism, and it never was. Further, videogames, much like publishing or comedy, is a relatively small industry. It’s not true to say that everyone knows everyone else, but it’s not far off either. So, yes, eventually a game dev and a reviewer are going to meet up at a party and start banging. That’s the sort of thing that happens when you leave the god damn house and start interacting with other human beings.

If you want to go on a crusade for ethics in journalism, why not start with, oh, I don’t know, actual fucking journalists? Why not spend that same energy you’re throwing into terrorizing video game reviewers into tackling the problem of sponsored content being passed off as legitimate articles on the websites of even our oldest and most prestigious newspapers? Or the shuttering of almost all of our networks foreign offices? Or the brazen partisanship and nearly fact-free content of our most viewed news channel? Why not use all that anger you’ve obviously got stored up to combat a problem that is actually having a negative effect on our way of life?

But okay. Maybe you are so self-absorbed and cut-off from the outside world that you really believe one of the most important problems affecting your life is the lack of completely objective reviews of the new Super Smash Bros game. Fine. To you, you shut-in unicorn, all I can say is this:

If you’re so invested in this fight for ethics and integrity, that you are comfortable aligning yourself with the sorts of people who are willing to use threats of rape and death, or who reveal personal and confidential information of their opponents, placing them and their families at risk, then it’s your ethics which are coming into question. It’s your integrity that is being tarnished. And frankly, it’s your priorities that are well and truly fucked up.

It’s not enough to quietly distance yourself from their vile, often criminal tactics. You must denounce them loudly, repeatedly, and make it known that no matter your opinion on the matter, their behavior has no place in a civilized society.

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David Steffen

5 years ago

Fuck yeah.