Warning: This piece contains some ableist and racist language.
For a short period of time last night, the subreddit KotakuInAction—a community ostensibly dedicated to “gaming, ethics, journalism, and censorship” but which in reality serves as a hub for members of GamerGate who want to complain about feminism, social justice warriors, and their relationship to games—went dark. But Reddit wasn’t experiencing technical difficulties. Instead, the founder of KotakuInAction, who goes by david-me on reddit, shut it down. This was joined by a post on another subreddit, drama, with a statement titled “righting a wrong.”
“KiA is one of the many cancerous growths that have infiltrated reddit,” they wrote. “The internet. The world. I did this. Now I am undoing it. This abomination should have always been aborted.”
Full disclosure, I guess: I’ve been a regular subject (target?) of KotakuInAction over the years. When my Twitter mentions turn to shit, it usually means they’re talking about me.
Though david-me founded KotakuInAction in 2014, the same year the hate group that would eventually be known as GamerGate came into being, “ownership” on reddit is nebulous. One of the other mods for KotakuInAction, HandofBane, immediately appealed to Reddit’s admins.
“Well, david, you dun goofed,” they wrote on david-me’s post. “Admins are being contacted, head mod going rogue and nuking an active sub is one thing they will get involved on.”
Soon, KotakuInAction was restored. Reddit did not respond to my request for comment, but told Motherboard it would be investigating the actions by david-me. Reddit’s official policy, under a heading called “respect the platform,” says Reddit “may, at its discretion, intervene to take control of a community when it believes it in the best interest of the community or the website. This should happen rarely (e.g., a top moderator abandons a thriving community).”
Given Reddit CEO Steve Huffman recently said hate speech is “difficult to define,” it’s not surprising to learn Reddit will bend over backwards to protect its most toxic communities.
If you head over to KotakuInAction, beyond enthused discussion of david-me’s actions, it’s business as usual—insomuch as KotakuInAction’s business often leads to the harassment of people, because it’s easier to believe in a media conspiracy reinforcing your own victimhood.
“What I don't get is why he's acting like this sub is so different from it's [sic] intended purpose,” wrote one user, before concluding david-me’s post was “autistic.” “KiA has always been about calling stupid shit out in games journalism and we still do that.”
It’s easy to take some smug satisfaction in david-me’s post, especially when he suggests people register to vote and donate to liberal election causes, but it doesn’t last. Given how much damage KotakuInAction has caused in the lives of various people over the years, how places like KotakuInAction allowed movements like GamerGate to thrive and multiply, you’d hope there would be deeper reflection on what prompted him to make it in the first place.
“I created KIA thinking no one would join,” david-me wrote, “and when I awoke, I had many hundreds of orange-reds. ‘Wow, WTF did I say or do that caused this?’ KiA began. I'm surprised and excited that we had over 100 users. So I began. So 'it' began. I created a few rudimentary rules and began enforcing them. The next days added a couple hundred and then a few thousand. This was becoming a monster.”
david-me has not yet responded to my request for comment, but their post speaks volumes.
KotakuInAction’s existence is intrinsically tied to GamerGate, a movement that, years later, never really went away—in fact, it’s been enjoying a fruitful resurgence lately. Though it’s likely someone else may have created something like KotakuInAction, and places like 4chan and KiwiFarms are arguably responsible for the most heinous of GamerGate’s actions, it remains true that david-me is the one who created the KotakuInAction.
But why? david-me doesn’t engage with the question at the heart over the whole matter, even after describing KotakuInAction’s overseers as “stewards of hate and divisiveness.” It’s a true statement, but one without meaningful ownership of what originally motivated these actions in the first place. You cannot apologize for what KotakuInAction became without acknowledging the original sin of its creation, which was explicitly predicated on a lie.
KotakuInAction’s slogan—”gaming, ethics, journalism, censorship”—is part of a larger gaslighting campaign about the true nature of GamerGate, a movement predicated on false information about the relationship between a video game developer and a media publication, one that spun into a sexist, often racist, harassment campaign against a variety of people that’s lasted long after the media stopped paying close attention to it. It never went away.
"I've been captive my entire life and now I have the ability to make my own decisions and to correct my mistakes," said david-me. "KiA is a huge one. I think about this daily and dream about it. It's a boogeyman. The monster under my bed in my head."
This flowery, hyperbolic language is nothing more than a smokescreen, a way to distract from a truth david-me continues to hide behind: he agreed with GamerGate’s mission. GamerGate didn’t become something awful over the last four years—it was always there.
Reddit didn’t do anything extraordinary when it handed ownership over to another set of mods; it was following existing policy. Surely, david-me knew this would happen, but their rhetoric shines with the confidence of a person holding a copy of Donald Trump’s pee tape. KotakuInAction disappeared from the Internet for less than an hour, from what I can tell, and the only thing that changed between then and now was someone grandstanding on reddit, singing a woe-is-me tale over something they could have done more about years ago.
Nowhere in david-me’s post is there evidence of a person realizing what they were doing, as if the influx of sexism and racism wasn’t evidence the movement was fueled by bad actors:
“Free speech needs protection, even unwanted and hurtful speech,” they wrote about moderating. “Hate speech was allowed, but I was having difficulty defining everything. Does saying 'nigger' 'cunt' as a noun, the same as using it as a verb. So I began seeking help from users that I believed had the subreddit's purpose and shared my own vision for it's [sic] future.”
Reading between the lines, david-me didn’t care why people were paying attention to their subreddit, the attention was the draw. Racism, sexism, harassment? If it meant more people were subscribing to KotakuInAction, nothing else mattered. This was often true of people who participated in GamerGate writ large, based on my reporting over the years: the sense of community, even a community where hate drove cohesion, was hugely important to them.
KotakuInAction, like GamerGate, was trendy amongst a certain class. It attracted people not by the dozens or hundreds, but thousands. The subreddit has nearly 100,000 subscribers.
“This is when I handed over supervisory control,” said david-me. “I really wanted to close the sub. I was in the process of until I was superseded not to. I've been wanting to close every day since. I was just too scared of the backlash. How ironic is that? I've been trying to please everyone when I should be forcing my wants and visions for the subreddit to be executed. I rolled over and played dead.”
What’s ironic is how much time david-me spends wringing anxiety out of their own narrative, while multiple women are dealing with the fallout from a new GamerGate skirmish. Rather than coming to terms with their own actions, david-me deflects. KotakuInAction did not, and does not, exist outside the rest of the Internet. It works, and worked, in concert. I doubt the long list frequent targets of discussion on KotakuInAction, are shedding tears over david-me finally realizing that “users have created content that should not be.”
Part of the reason KotakuInAction and places like it flourished was game media’s centrism problem, a desire to “see both sides,” which granted undue legitimacy to GamerGate’s wildly successful gaslighting campaign. I was there, and just about all of us could have done better.
It’s not that any one person or publication could have snuffed GamerGate out—the genie was out of the bottle. They refused to speak plainly because they were so damn worried about looking “biased.” By the time most outlets got around to issuing “statements,” too many of which were about updating their ethics policies instead of asking reporters to investigate what was happening beneath the surface, it hardly mattered. It was too late, with the conspiratorial-minded GamerGate crowd able to handwave them away as the result of pressure from social justice warriors inside the publication. (I was, of course, one of them.)
It’s heartening, at least, to see a variety of publications, including ones who fumbled GamerGate, handling the ArenaNet situation with clear eyes. (It's less shocking knowing there are more women in high-profile reporting positions now.) It’s late, but it’s progress.
david-me’s statement reads like someone trying to atone for their sins without knowing what exactly they did wrong. Without that, it’s hard to imagine why anyone should begin forgiving them.
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