People who are active online, especially on Twitter will have noticed something called Gamergate – which among other things includes a campaign of harrassment including driving people out of their homes and threats of terrorism. If you don’t know what it’s about, Wikipedia has a summary of the facts – and on the subject of the facts I’m with Cracked when they said “do you realize that if what they’re saying is true, then this is still the most pointless fucking bullshit anyone has ever forced us to read?” Which leads to the question of who they are and why they are doing what they are.
The first thing notable about GamerGate is that they don’t appear to be particularly notable as gamers. Most of the really big Youtube gamers are ducking the issue. The highest profile gamer I’m aware has taken a stance has been Felicia Day – who they promptly doxxed (i.e. put her personal details online). Most of the GamerGators are anonymous, more about that later. And those who are visible are mostly opportunists, embraced by Gamergate. The two worth pointing out are Milo Yiannopoulos (not a particular video game fan) and Jack Thompson (mostly known for being an anti-video-game activist). Among the anons most retweeted member goes under the charming handle of @farttocontinue
So what about the rest? No high profile gamers. Are there game designers? From the tabletop RPG world, we’ve contributed James “rape is a fucking awesome plot element” Desborough – although he’s pretty marginal; his Patreon, has since Gamergate started gone up from three backers for $8 to five for $10. He’s pretty marginal. More mainstream are the folks at The Escapist (who outright recommended their own tabletop RPG (Adventurer, Conqueror, King) without disclosing the conflict of interest. Ethics in Gaming Journalism, people!)
So the faces are at best pretty marginal. What about the crowd? Is there a decent reason to think they are less marginal to gamer culture? They even managed to get banned from 4Chan. And getting banned on 4Chan takes work and means you really are outside what’s considered acceptable. Which means the rank and file might (or might not) be gamers, but they are definitely on the outskirts of the community. And the numbers are tiny – including sockpuppets (multiple accounts) and opposition it’s less than 20k. Accounting for sockpuppets it’s probably in the thousands. (Which is still too many – especially when they are all aimed at you personally but is a drop in the ocean).
We know thanks to that Gamergate is a little incestuous (the visualisation has the Gators in the top right hand corner, with the newer accounts (more likely to be sockpuppets) in blue – and comes from Brian Keegan). And that unlike almost every other Twitter hashtag, almost two thirds of Gator tweets come through the web client (which of course makes juggling multiple accounts much easier). But this just tells us that they are inflating their numbers like a bullfrog and post from computer (you think I could write this on my mobile phone?)
So who are they and more importantly what do they mean by Ethics in Game Journalism given how they seem to oppose it? Firstly they are from 4Chan (now on 8Chan) and their culture shows it – and not only shows it, but shows its problems. In particular 4Chan culture praises anonymity. To expand on that, a lot of internet handles are pseudonymous; you might not know peoples’ real names but you know a consistent identity for them. Chans run normally under full anonymity; people don’t have history there. The only thing that can tell you about who posted something is a long ID. (The anonymity is enough that there’s someone dropping clues they are Taylor Swift who posts on 4Chan – I don’t think it’s Taylor herself).
Anonymity has its virtues. It means that you can strip context and evaluate arguments dispassionately, and it can let people say things they’d never dare to the rest of the time. It also has the problems of lack of accountability, lack of context, and people playing devil’s advocate – or saying “what everyone thinks but no one dares say”. (With that last in place, the 4Chan /Pol/(itics) board has a lot of white supremacists).
If you value anonymity, breaking it is gauche. Indeed it’s positively exhibitionistic. And breaking it to promote yourself is the worst crime of all (which is why Desborough is winning no friends – he’s obviously self-promoting). This is why Gamergate calls the people it dislikes the most “Literally Who” – what they are accusing the three individuals of is simultaneously breaking anonymity and having an identity that they don’t care about. Even worse than simple exhibitionism – you were exhibitionist and boring. And Gators seem to be people who spend most of their net time on 4Chan – where breaking anonymity is one of the few unacceptable things, while almost anything else is justifiable “for the lulz”.
And when your main ethical value is anonymity, everything makes sense (including their obsession with false flagging – it’s something both very easy with anonymity and that can shatter the herd). Gators go after Indy developers because the big corporations are effectively almost as anonymous as Anonymous. But the main selling point of Indy developers is their name. And the breaches in ethics the Gators worry about are almost all cases not where pressure has been applied, but where two people have both stopped being anonymous and their professional lives even vaguely intersect.
And although I personally think that that approach to ethics would be more at home in cloud cuckoo land, it is at least a coherent system of ethics which means there’s something there to reason with or at least to understand at an individual level. That the consequences are massively misogynistic is amongst other things correlated with male being the default gender so a woman who lets go of anonymity has broken the anonymity that much more heavily. (There’s also a lot of raw misogyny there of course). Of course pulling people out of a mindset when there are literally thousands of people passing it to them is hard – but I hope knowing where they come from is a good start.