Sunday, April 19, 2015

The GamerGate Post

I was determined to keep my nose out of the whole GamerGate mess when it was still more or less limited to the gaming world.  However, recent events involving the Hugo Awards have convinced me that this is something I should be addressing.
It all started when a female game developer named Zoe Quinn was accused by an ex-boyfriend of sleeping with gaming journalists for good reviews last year.  Quinn was the subject of a vile online harassment campaign, and the campaign was held up as an example of gaming culture being hostile and sexist.  A particularly nasty group of gamers took offense and pushed back against this characterization, insisting that they were the ones being persecuted while fanning the flames against Quinn.  These were the members of what came to be known as GamerGate. 
Well then again, it's probably more accurate to say that the whole thing started a few years ago with Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist academic who used Kickstarter to fund a web series about the portrayal of female characters in video games.  Proto-GamerGate members were outraged both by Sarkeesian's critical examination of games they enjoyed and that she received so much attention and financial support.  Sarkeesian quickly became a harassment target herself.  Or maybe it was back when video games started becoming more mainstream and female gamers started arriving on the scene in significant numbers.   That was when we first started hearing about how how toxic and unfriendly the teen male dominated online gaming culture was to outsiders.
In short, GamerGate is the latest battle in a culture war between those who want gaming culture to be an anarchic place where the typical young male id is pandered to, where gamers never have to worry about being sensitive or even civil to anybody, and those who want gaming culture to become a more inclusive, mainstream place where sexism and racism are actively called out.  And boy has it gotten ugly.  GamerGate supporters are absolutely livid at what they perceive to be the invasion of their turf by meddling "SJWs," short for "social justice warriors," a derogatory term for anyone (but mostly women) who dares to advance progressive causes in media.  They're convinced that any and all attempts to tone down objectionable content and make video games and the gaming industry more female-friendly are part of some fiendish plot designed to destroy gaming as they know it.  The average GamerGate supporter is young, male, socially alienated, hates feminists, and has a massive persecution complex.  Their campaigns against SJWs, the mainstream gaming press, and anyone who disagrees with them has been dragging on for months, despite almost universal condemnation.  Some are still going after Zoe Quinn, despite the claims against her having been proven false.  GamerGaters have found few allies - the men's rights movement, vitriolic conservative publications, and a bunch of yahoos who are actively trying to wreck the Hugos.
Oh yes.  This is where I come in.  I've been a big science fiction fan all my life, and I'm very familiar with the Hugo Awards, which are given out by the Worldcon membership to celebrate excellence in science-fiction writing.  This year the awards were hijacked.  A voting bloc was organized by a couple of vocally right-wing authors who successfully pushed a slate of nominees specifically to counter what they viewed as "affirmative action" trends in recent years - too many women and minorities.  Many of the bloc's nominees came from a single tiny publisher run by one of the authors, Vox Day, who has proudly declared himself an anti-feminist and finagled two Best Editor nominations for himself.  There's no evidence that any of the GamerGate mob participated in this, but it's the same story.   You have a small group of fervent media fans who think that their clubhouse is being taken over by grubby outsiders who have changed the comfortable white male dominated status quo.  And now they're angry and lashing out using the destructive tactics of the most puerile internet trolls.  
The irony is, of course, that these efforts by GamerGate and Vox Day's minions have been entirely counterproductive.  Their win-at-all-costs behavior is so distasteful, their attemtps at discourse so tone deaf, and their goals so retrograde, they've proven exactly why continued efforts to promote diversity, to combat bullying and harassment, and to provide more support to women and minorities in these arenas, are all so necessary.   Far from driving women out of gaming or shutting them up, GamerGate's actions have given them the spotlight.  The meaner they are to their targets, the more obvious it is that the GamerGate mentality is the real problem.  And now Anita Sarkeesian is on the TIME Magazine list of the 100 most influential people of 2015, and Zoe Quinn went to Capitol Hill to speak at a congressional briefing on online harassment.  They have GamerGate's antics to thank for it. 
As for the Hugos, several of the suspect nominees have either voluntarily bowed out or been disqualified, and steps are being taken to ensure the voting can't be hijacked in a similar fashion again.  Conservative authors are probably going to find the deck stacked higher against them in the future than if Vox Day and friends hadn't meddled with the voting in the first place.  Maybe that was the point - setting themselves up as poor victims of the establishment to somehow prove they're being marginalized and discriminated against.  They can't be bigots and misogynists if they're the real victims!  I suppose they believe it's preferable to having to share their chosen identity - as gamers or science-fiction fans - with icky women or minorities or transgendered people who insist on being recognized and respected as such. 
Oh, fandom.  We still have such a long way to go.

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