Anyone who considers themselves to be a part of Gamergate, and claims to be dedicated to its ostensible fights for free speech and apolitical artistic expression, surely cannot possibly care about Milo Yiannopoulos, a high-profile supporter of the movement, who, prior to its emergence, penned articles that called gamers "dorky weirdos," "frustrated beta males," and worse.
On his Twitter account (now closed, with Yiannopoulos banned from using the platform by Twitter itself), the Breitbart editor described himself as the "most fabulous supervillain on the internet." As part of an in-house interview regarding the ban, which resulted when he was accused by Twitter of contributing to and encouraging online abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, Yiannopoulos said, "Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans."
Gamergate sees no future in video games.
Gamergate's routine accusation is that people, nowadays, coerce video-game makers into representing and validating their own personal politics. People sympathetic to Gamergate's professed cause, who consider themselves part of the gaming industry's free thinkers, invulnerable to political or personal influence, surely wouldn't follow so nakedly a self-interested leader. Patently, the man is in this for himself.
But as illustrated by the "FreeMilo" and "JeSuisMilo" hashtags, which have appeared on Twitter following his ban, Gamergate has been nicely manipulated into gratifying the self-image, the personal perspective, of Milo Yiannopoulos. Gamergate argues politics ought to be kept away from popular culture. But here, in an act so rankly ignoble it demolishes the group's credibility, Gamergate and its sympathizers appropriate the language and memory of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, an atrocity that could not have been more political.
If it were true to its ideas, the rejection of politics, the reduction of personality in video games, Gamergate, as a collective, would not exist. It would recognize that gathering and uniting is an act of politics. It wouldn't band behind an individual, and certainly not one so unabashedly self-obsessed. A legitimate Gamergate would have no name.
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Anti-censorship and freedom of speech are two magnificent causes that Gamergate has used to smuggle through customs its squalid, base politics. It conflates people voicing their concerns with political dissent. It fails to separate governmental suppression of expression from the much less influential act of media critique. It's all censorship to them.
Such is the group's congenital hypocrisy: Gamergate repeatedly fails to acknowledge that campaigning for an absence of something from video games, be it feminism, quality representation of non-white characters, or other projects derogatorily described as "liberal", would also count as censorship—at least according to Gamergate's working definition of the term. Erroneously, Gamergate assumes that video-game makers are all like itself, that they could never truly want to make a game about, for example, women, and that if they are, it is because they have become a victim of something.
Gamergate claims to be for games and for game makers. At the same time, it campaigns to limit what both are allowed to do. And if it fails and a feminist game makes it to market—as it occasionally does and will continue to do, regardless of any opponents—Gamergate attempts to strip that game of its video-game status, variably claiming it is too short to be a game, too linear to be a game, too political to be a game or, most bluntly, not a true game at all. Using political language to campaign for apoliticism and censorial tactics to fight censorship, Gamergate claims to defend the game makers' right to free expression while simultaneously saying that what the game maker creates is illegitimate. In short, Gamergate is defensive not of other peoples' rights to express, but its own rights to consume. It is not for video games. Like Milo Yiannopolous, it is into video games exclusively for itself.
Gamergate will then tell people that to oppose it is to be opposed to video games themselves—either you sympathize with Gamergate's politics and goals, or you are not a true gamer. Ignoring the absurdly inflated value Gamergate places on the identity "gamer" and the ability of any mature person to enjoy games, movies, and art without relying on them for a sense of personal worth, it's rich of Gamergate to doubt anybody else's interest in, or love for, video games. Decreeing and attempting to limit what video games can or ought to be is pessimistic. It's the rough equivalent of telling one's child "you won't ever be president." Gamergate, rather than believing in or caring about video games as it claims to do, will tell video games they are not allowed to flourish, they must and will always remain the same. "Keeping politics out of games" almost always translates to "preventing video games from learning and maturing".
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A person truly fascinated by video games will welcome difference and change—they will recognize these things as fundamental to both video games' long-term critical and commercial survival. As the true patriot is engaged with his entire, modern, contemporary society, rather than an idealized historical version of it, the true gamer is heartened by variety and possibility—video games' potential and breadth, rather than a status quo. It is unfortunate that people who claim to be interested in video games would purposefully limit what of video games they may imbibe.
When thinking about Gamergate, one is reminded of Thomas Edison, the American inventor who, believing motion pictures to be a folly and a fad, neglected to patent his own pioneering film camera, the Edison Kinetoscope. Gamergate sees no future in video games. Moreover, it attempts to prevent a future already on its way. A contradictory group, the actions of which serve as endorsements for everything it claims to stand against, Gamergate has sought a moratorium on change. Against overwhelming historical precedent—from movies to music to painting itself, all human expression has slowly matured—Milo Yiannapolous, @Nero, is as futile a figure as his namesake, the Roman emperor who, legends say, watched and played his violin while Rome burned to the ground.
While Yiannapolous and Gamergate have unjustly done harm to individuals over the past two years, they have spectated not over the destruction of video games, but renewal. The COO of Electronic Arts, Peter Moore, has acknowledged that, in the wake of Gamergate, the company has been paying more attention to diversity when employing staff. Hugely popular games as different as Life Is Strange and Call of Duty: Black Ops III have given players female characters to assume the roles of—the latter might be slightly tokenistic, but that it's an option at all is a positive product of a sea change occurring right now, across the games industry. Tools like Unity and Twine and platforms like Itch.io offer new voices the opportunity to create and be heard.
Gamergate's vicious and contradictory messages, sometimes dictated by people like Yiannapolous and sometimes not, have been met by game makers, game players, and an articulate yearning for betterment. As the hashtaggers fiddle, video games flourish.
Follow Ed Smith on Twitter.