To me, #GamerGate looks a lot like a tsunami. Something, somewhere deep beneath the waters of the industry shook and created a shockwave of emotion that is mercilessly sweeping over the wayward independent voyagers and the bedrock mainlands alike. People are leaving their houses in fear and fleeing inland away from the Internet’s turbulent coastline. And while those unexpectedly caught in this perhaps unprecedented catastrophic event are mainly trying to come up for air, observers and onlookers (like myself) gape in awe of something so immense and destructive that we simply can’t help but comment on it, even if we can scarcely understand the extent of what we are witnessing.
I myself hadn’t become fully aware of the devastation until about the third aftershock, when the organized relief efforts that had swept in to help mitigate the mess were themselves being deluged and simply invoking the very hashtag of #gamergate on Twitter was a lot like playing Russian Roulette with a six-shooter half-filled with high-octane Internet rage. Simply trying to navigate and get ones bearings within the ‘event’ felt like striding against some heavy, wicked current. In such an environment it’s only natural to glom onto the arms of other people around and, as a unified mass, try to pick a direction in which to walk. Glomming onto one core for stability over another in this mess has been taken as choosing sides. As if one can choose sides against a perfect storm. As if being anti-disaster could do any good.
After jumping into the deep end in what felt a majority of the time to be an impossible task, I have finally absorbed enough of the conflict to come to a few conclusions.
Firstly, The most obvious thing that stands out to anyone within viewing distance of Topical Storm: Gamergate is the secondary “sharknado” of trolldom: a trollnado, if you will. As devastating as it is ludicrous, the ‘trollnado’ continues to rip through victims fairly indiscriminately (in my estimates), although the louder voices have put the spotlight on how many high-profile women seem to be finding themselves a target while some high-profile men are oddly unscathed.
And for the record, none of you fucking #Gamergate tools tried to dox me, even after I tore you a new one. I'm not even a tough target.
— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) October 23, 2014
There are many issues underlying Topical Storm: GamerGate, but the Troll/Sharknado is the source of the most (and most vicious) damage, and possibly even the most lasting damage. And while it is going on it does little good to debate the unlikelihood of an actual Troll/Sharknado’s existence; to assert that there will always be sharks/trolls and that they have the right to exist; or to point out that even though it does appear that people seem to be drowning in mass quantities of the water accompanying the Troll/Sharknado and Topical Storm: Gamergate, we mustn’t forget that water is a necessary element of life and isn’t inherently dangerous.
So until the Troll/Sharknado is mitigated, there will be no progress in any way beyond Topical Storm: Gamergate. And since the semi-automated regions of the Internet are the Troll/Shark’s native environment, the recovery efforts are going to have to shift away from the anti-social zones and into the social ones. Less Twitter and more Google Hangout. Less anonymous message board discussions and more in-person discussions at conventions, expos, and even arcades. Less texts and more contexts. Listen to voices, not words.
Secondly, whether a person intends or expects to wrapped up in Topical Storm: GamerGate, before reaching for the spearguns or life preservers, I highly recommend not making the mistake I made and instead going first to the site of the original seismic event: this blog by Eron Gjoni.
“Pro #GamerGate” people point to this deeply personal and private response regarding a breakup within a very public venue as an indicator of the overly chummy, perhaps even sleazy, relationships that exist within the murky overlap of game development and gaming media. They plant their banner here even though Gjoni never asserts such a thing himself. That is a peripheral element that they nevertheless see glaring at them.
“Anti #Gamergate” people point to this fiercely intimate exposé as a violation of the man’s ex and a symptom of a greater invisible force at work against women in the games industry. They have taken up the flags of feminism and gender equality even though this is a hurt person’s hatchet job on a single individual–not all women, not some women, but one particular woman. This baring of the soul could have come from anyone of any gender or orientation working in any field or any industry. There are web sites devoted to this very concept. Social media and blogs can become rife with ex-bashing from people can’t or won’t keep their emotions bottle up any more and need to express it.
It feels like what has somehow occurred is that Gjoni’s piece has become a sort of “dark side cave of Dagobah” manifestation. Similar to how Luke Skywalker discovered a darkness within that was (as Yoda warned or advised) that which Luke carried in with him, I think that when we look at the vein that appears to have been cut here, our own experiences seem to come bleeding out. When the dark, messy, imperfect yet imposing force revealed itself to us there may have been this one mask but many faces lurking underneath. Swimming upstream from some extended entry point into this mess is nearly a lost cause, as you will be entering in at a point already deeply saturated by the outraged lenses and filters of those it has swept over before you.
isThe feminists, the gender equalists, the white knights, the social justice warriors, and no shortage of Don Quixotes were brought to high alert by the sympathetic pains they felt as they perceived a woman being slut-shamed or attacked for her sexuality, a woman whose private relationship was being outed and displayed unfairly, a person whose personal life was being sharpened into a spear point being thrust back at her professional life if not the profession itself.
Conversely, there were certainly those who could sympathize with the jilted lover, whose intrusive look into the disintegration of a romantic relationship was built solidly on an array of screen captures, chat logs, and other evidence to support his weighty pronouncements. I myself wish even a tenth of a percent of diatribes on the Internet bore half as much a mountain of supporting evidence. The impartial jurists in the gallery might understandably side with the plaintiff. Those who cannot or will not separate a person’s beliefs or actions from their work or art likewise were brought to a deep froth.
On another hand, a sizable level of gaming fans, enthusiasts, journalists, and connected industry professionals perceived the inevitable result of something that they have been asserting for years: that maybe the gaming circle is too enclosed, too small–too inbred even–to accommodate a realistic degree of professional detachment and unbiased interaction, coverage, support, etc.
[Side note: On this I tend to agree. Leigh Alexander may not be entirely correct in declaring that the term “gamer” is over, but I do think that playing games is far too prevalent to think of such a thing as a subset of people. There may be people who read only Harlequin romances or historical nonfiction or murder mysteries or science-fiction, but it is pretty safe to say that close to no one spends time debating who qualifies as a “reader” and who doesn’t get to wear the label of reader. Like many other forms of art and entertainment, there are too many people producing too much of it for so many people that it is pointless to contend that it engages only some nebulous core of society.]
And then of course, the Troll/Sharks saw a feeding frenzy touched off by a wave of overreactions by perhaps over-sensitive people against an unforgivable slight they somehow took as directed at them personally within the event, requiring no less than a full retaliation and declaration of war that the Troll/Sharks were happy to feed on.
Thirdly, there are good people–moral, ethical, genuinely good people–working within nearly all contingents. They may not even be the minority within their respective contingents. However, they are being over-shadowed by the very real collateral damage being suffered in what most people are still categorizing as an academic debate about elements surrounding gaming culture in which those elements are what is purportedly causing existing real world harm. It is, however, the trust or distrust that forms for those people within “opposing” contingents that will ultimately determine to what degree and how many of those closest to ground zero for Topical Storm: Gamergate survive or drown in its fury. Not everything survives such a trial. I would argue that politics, with its impenetrably binary polarity hasn’t, for instance. So, as simple as it sounds, the only way the “gaming” environment emerges better and stronger is if everyone who feels strongly about it acknowledges and works to ensure that everybody who wants to gets to play and build in that environment.
Even among the troll/sharks.