(Illustration by Stephen Maurice Graham)
It's easy to forget the great games that have emerged in 2014. The games that millions of players from across the spectrum have participated in. Because, frustratingly, GamerGate has managed to tarnish much of what was previously seen as a pastime for pleasure. The widely documented abuse began sometime in August, and the repercussions of those first shots fired are yet to be fully realised.
If you're looking for a snapshot summary of what GamerGate's been, and what it might mean, you're in the wrong place. I've already tried that, twice – once with perhaps the wrong steel-toe-capped boot forward, but the best intentions; and secondly in a more olive-branch manner, only to be accused of "bargaining" (oh please, strangers on the internet). This isn't that piece.
I don't think anyone can successfully condense GamerGate in a balanced way, as none of us can help leaning towards a side of the dividing line that's going to cause unrest on the other – or simply alienating moderately interested readers with terminology that most won't have the time or inclination to translate. The fact is that very few people actually care, actively, about GamerGate. Try talking about it with mates in the pub, or with a loved one. Unless they are fairly game savvy, they won't give less of a shit.
The Colbert Report : GamerGate – Anita Sarkeesian
Even after the New York Times, after Colbert (above), after the BBC had Zoe Quinn in tears, after everything else: the specifics of GamerGate remain of only limited interest to the kind of person who just wants to play FIFA and Call of Duty after a few Friday night pints. Sales figures don't collude, and these blockbuster games aren't about to be usurped commercially by more cerebral creations from the indie sector – whatever the coverage they receive from critics whose job it is to highlight progress in their specialist field.
"Pro"-side writer Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart columnist whose writing on GamerGate has been acutely antagonistic, is writing a book on the subject. Good luck to him, I say: it'll be the only publication out next year that'll be both outdated and issued too soon to appreciate the complete picture – as that'll remain imprecise until all games come to a grinding halt, which they won't. Games are worth too much – economically, socially, emotionally, culturally, cathartically, you-name-it-ally.
I see some relevance in the more measured side of the "controversy", which concerns itself with ethics, with what consumers want versus what they're told they should have. I think it's an aspect of proceedings blown way out of proportion, because the games press can successfully self-regulate; but I do see how gamers of a particular persuasion might feel "bullied", almost, by a literate, connected and friendly media that is interested in promoting a brand of game that they're not only unfamiliar with, but afraid of.
There's fear behind a lot of GamerGate rhetoric – fear that the rise of a more varied array of gaming options will in some way marginalise the traditional shooters and sports simulations. But to deny these smaller, more niche productions space to exist beside the big boys is to promote inequality and everything that carries with it, from attitudes on feminism to political persuasions. Nobody that GamerGate has been seen to attack wants to steal away the big-budget blow-up-everything affairs – not even Feminist Frequency's Anita Sarkeesian, who has repeatedly stated that games she identifies sexist shortcomings in can be enjoyed despite these factors – but everyone needs to be OK with a growing field of alternatives.
But we're on well-muddied ground here. Whatever side you want to consider yourself a part of, there's limited point in us persisting with the usual arguments. Public-facing "Social Justice Warriors" of the games press get time off at Christmas just as much as those who'd rather hide behind Twitter pseudonyms to publish their agendas. Christmas is a time for forgiving (if not forgetting, in this case), so perhaps we can all take a day or two to really assess our attitude towards games, GamerGate and what we want this great passion of ours to be going forward. Because whether you're "Pro" or "Anti" in all of this, there's a unifying quality apparent: you love games.
PlayStation Access offers eight reasons to love Dragon Age: Inquisition – all of which seem lost on "serious" gamers, according to Breitbart's Milo
Except Milo, actually. He's previously tweeted that gamers are " beta-male bollock-scratchers and 12-year-olds", "overweight, awkward and lazy" and, by his own admission, didn't even play games to any great extent until September of this year. His "review" of Dragon Age: Inquisition for Breitbart is laughable, with talk of "serious" and "ordinary" gamers – seemingly the same thing here – actually belittling the audience he's so eager to court. He's a limpet on the hull of a ship he can't steer, with ambitions of evolving into some kind of colossal squid and dragging the whole vessel under to serve his opportunism.
But perhaps Milo will come to love games as a consequence of writing his GamerGate book. Perhaps, too, he'll appreciate that when the "gamers are dead" instance of "journalist collusion" occurred in late August, the sentiment was not one of confrontation, but of acceptance that a new norm has manifested. There isn't one type of "gamer", and all notions of there being such a stereotype should be dashed, now.
Gamers don't all spend their days in basements. They're not all spotty dorks, goofballs or geeks. They can be good at sports. They can have wildly attractive partners and make big money to spend on lavish homes. They can also be poor, struggling and desperate. They are everyone – and, as such, cannot be defined by a term as restrictive as "gamer". Nobody is a "musicer" or a "filmer" – you like punk and I like jazz, but we both contribute to something bigger.
The entry for "gamers are dead" on the evidently "Pro"-maintained GamerGate Wiki is a gift that keeps on giving, as is much of the site: "GamerGate is a consumer revolt aimed at addressing the collusion, corruption and censorship within gaming journalism, [and] the harassment of women is neither the point of the movement nor even tangentially related to achieving this goal."
Yes, we've heard the sales pitch. Say it again to the women frightened enough by the abuse they received over social media to quit the industry entirely. The harassment was the point – and the debate regarding ethics and the like came well after the puncture wounds had been delivered.
Nobody who's been singled out for sustained abuse as a direct result of GamerGate – to the extent where they've left their homes, feared for family and loved ones or lost essential income – will forgive their tormenters easily. They're still bleeding. Speaking to Giant Spacekat studio co-founder Brianna Wu recently, I asked if there could be a silver lining to GamerGate, that by receiving abuse (Wu has been one of the most persistently targeted women across this "consumer revolt") she's actually benefitted, as her elevated profile will direct more attention the way of her team's work.
"At a terribly high price," is her response, "for myself and all the other women targeted. It's undeniable that diversity in games is something that more people understand is more important than ever before. For myself, personally, it's no exaggeration to say that I'm one of the best-known women working in games today, as a result of being targeted. And, you know, I'm sure that'll eventually result in opportunities for my studio. So I think it came at a very high price, but I think that the people against diversity showed how they really are. And I think in doing that they made a really fantastic argument for diversity in games."
Giant Spacekat's debut game, Revolution 60
Even at its worst, then, GamerGate hasn't been without some sort of positives to pull from the wreckage of its worst instances of misogyny – which, it must be stressed, comes from only a very small percentage of those identifying themselves as "Pro"-GG supporters. And abuse has been dished out and received by players on both sides – so while the stories of Wu, Quinn and Sarkeesian have made headlines, we shouldn't forget that you can be a complete dipshit with access to a Twitter account and consider yourself an advocate for diversity in gaming. Besides, it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy many types of game: Wu might work in the indie sector, but at the time of our conversation she's put 80 hours into Far Cry 4, a wholly mainstream, triple-A title featuring dudes with guns and a good few bare breasts.
All that said, it's also important to remember that, of the celebrities on the "Anti" side who've criticised GamerGate's sexist slant, actress (and renowned gaming culture aficionado) Felicia Day suffered "doxxing", whereas the equally, if not more vocal, Chris Kluwe – a retired American football player and keen gamer – did not. It's definitely not about misogyny, then. Except when it clearly is.
Some of the very journalists highlighted as "SJW"s to avoid – including VICE Vs Video Games contributors Keza MacDonald and Leigh Alexander – have, in a quite perverse fashion, "benefitted" from the experience. Many will bear lasting scars – but I know of writers whose highlighted role among the tweeters and trolls resulted in, as Wu so eloquently implies, more work. Which is something to be thankful for after months of turbulence.
So what the hell: merry Christmas, GamerGate. Grab a mince pie and cosy up by the fireside. You know, we're not all so different. Sure, some of you need shutting down if games are ever to attain the artistic status enjoyed by music and movies, but games are young, and growing all the time.
Right here, we're generation zero for games – the first group of shared-interest individuals united by so much and divided by so little. We're adapting to live with gaming's expansion, ever-changing tastes and polar-opposite perspectives, like nobody before us. This isn't Sega versus Nintendo, or Clive Sinclair pub-brawling with Chris Curry – it's so much more multifaceted than that. It's too present to be understood, yet.
But I think we've all learned something from GamerGate, whether, in the case of those cashing in, that's to monetise the misery of others; or to accept that whatever any of us do or say, games will continue to diversify; or that "gamers", as a catchall collective noun, deserves to stay dead.