The following was written as a letter to a friend of mine discussing thoughts on Gamergate, years on. They thought it was a good piece of writing, and encouraged me to post it, so I am.
Then lets talk. I figure we may as well have it out on this--we've been edging around the bush for a while now. But I figure I should lay all my cards on the table here. This won't be a short reply, because my thoughts aren't a soundbite or a talking point. I honestly don't expect you to read this. So here they are:
Two travelers meet at a fork in the road, heading to the light. One path looks rougher, the other easier. Its hard to tell which is the shorter route, but one stops to look at the path, while the other goes down the path that's easier. The traveler who stopped finds a sign hidden behind an over grown branch, "Friend!" they yell back, "That's the wrong way!" but their companion is out of earshot. They walk down the trail to find their friend, but the light begins fading, and the road starts sloping down into a cave. With no light of their own, they turn back, going down the right fork. They can only hope their friend stops to read the sigh.
* * * *
I mean, it was literally about some guys harassing a woman because her ex-boyfriend was jealous she was dating another guy and said her wrote a review about her game...Which he didn't because that review never existed. I remember when the accusations were first made, when the videos first went up about it. I watched them and thought, "Well if that's true, that's quite the ethics violation," thing is, "if" is a mighty big word. I searched for the reviews that she'd apparently gotten, and they just...didn't exist. They weren't cached anywhere, they hadn't been deleted, they just didn't exist. And that made my skin crawl.
Because people just believed it. They didn't wait to hear the other side, they didn't look for facts, they just reacted. And it was awful.
I'm a nerd myself. My bestselling book literally went through every episode of Doctor Who ever. I dressed up as a character from a Star Wars video game when I was a kid and no one knew who I was. I love being a nerd. That doesn't mean I'm not going to sit by and let nerds be awful to people just because they're also nerds.
I've received lots of hate mail in my life, and a few death threats. I've even gotten death threats from feminists, even though I am a feminist, just like I've gotten the same from nerds even though I am a nerd.
Gamergate started based on a lie, and proceeded from there into massive hate and abuse to people. It crossed line after life, driving people into hiding and off the internet. People who strangely all happened to be women. Strange, how the men who supposedly wrote the reviews (that didn't exist) didn't get targeted. Strange, that they were all women. Almost like "ethics in video game journalism" wasn't really the point.
If it was, why wouldn't they be going after the companies that blacklisted Kotaku for reviewing their games honestly (and badly), and the gaming websites that posted positive reviews of games they hated to keep their clout with gaming companies? They didn't. They let that slide. That wasn't a big deal. But a woman making a game about her depression? Get her.
* * * *
In 2014, I received death threats about an episode of Doctor Who that had the Master revealed to have regenerated into a woman. These death threats were from trans-exclusionary radical feminists who hated trans people, and were sending trans kids, KIDS, death threats, encouraging them to commit suicide...ugh. It was awful. I spoke up about it, and received horrific abuse, threats... people trying to hack my accounts. False accounts made under my name. It was scary. Terrible. No one deserves to have to go through that.
But that's been Gamergate's modus operandi from day one. I don't agree with the views of all the people they've targeted--but honestly I could care less. When you resort to that kind of bare knuckled hate: to sending in threats you'll shoot up a school so they have to back out of an appearance, harassing their employers to try to destroy their livelyhood...I don't care anymore if you're "right". You're hurting people over nothing, and you're wrong.
That people these days defend people who agree with them who try to hurt and destroy other people's lives just because they agree with them is messed up. Is the world so divided that we can't look our fellows in the face and say "This isn't the way"? Well, okay apparently it is, but hey...
Not all gamers and nerds are jerks, but some are and I'll be damned if I'm going to turn a blind eye to it.
Not all feminists are jerks, but some are and Ill be damned if I don't see things are wrong when they are.
Not all, but some, and saying words when they are isn't a sin.
And if all is said, but some is meant, maybe we should be able to understand that sort of frustration.
People are afraid of being wrong, afraid of their beliefs being challenged, afraid of turning away their support from people who are awful just because those people agree with them and seem to have power. And that makes me sad.
Because I believe in people, as much as maybe I shouldn't. I believe we were created with goodness in us, and purpose, and light, and something worthwhile.
But things like Gamergate, or the harassment against me, its a crooked path to the holy land. The road promises purpose, uniting against a foe (but don't look to hard at the foe, if you do it might look human), but the path goes askew. Instead of the light, it leads down somewhere dark, and those pilgrims can only chant "I see the light" till they believe it, because otherwise they'd have to admit that the road they followed was the wrong one, and its easier to keep going down that dark road than to turn your back to it, and trek back to the fork to take a different path. Easy, oh that word, easy.
* * * *
There are a lot of places online that become echo chambers. And that echo is where thoughts often die. I'm sure you can think of a few. Where learning is memorizing the correct thoughts, and not the questions. There's plenty of it, in lots of circles. But Gamergate has been pretty egregious in that regard. From the moment I questioned its opening premise, and found it a blatant lie, and then realized that the people running it didn't care that it was, I knew it would be another forever. And it has been. Everyone who disagrees with it is a "SJW feminist cuck" and the like.
Its goals are ethereal, transient. They are firmly whatever it takes to get angry and harass someone this week. It asks for all gaming to fall under its list of approved thoughts, getting angry and offended whenever a game comes out that is meant for someone other than them to enjoy. They hold any criticism of what they believe as abuse, and any criticism of their precepts as heresy.
And its had serious consequences. Not just for the innocent people they've targeted with threats and hatred, but for gaming as an art form.
From the outside, Gamergate was perceived as exactly what it was, a viscous and immature attack on professional women. It made gaming look bad, and set back gaming's perception as a developing art form by years. Want proof? People having been trying to preserve old games for posterity: the history of gaming laid out for the future. Saving the code of games before the material they were saved on corrupts or wipes or blanks, saving the materials around their release...
Before Gamergate, funding for these efforts was increasing. After it, it dropped like a rock. Game archivists have been struggling since it, because why would you fund the preservation of a hobby when people are hearing about the awful things Gamergate did?
It should have been taken down swiftly, a slight blip that people realized was a hoax as soon as they googled to check the story and found it was a lie. But I don't thing Gamergaters wanted to know or believe the other side of the story. I don't think the people who sent me death threats did either. I think they were glad to be in the dark, whispering that they were in the light. Because not knowing was comfortable.
* * * *
In 2010 I was dealing with trauma. A friend of mine bought me an Xbox 360 out of his own pocket purely out of kindness, because he thought it would be therapeutic. It was. I was able to blot out my pain for a while with it. Later, I found I was able to blot out physical pain somewhat to. I could overwealm my senses. Take control of my body even as the massive aching pain creeping up my neck tried to blot out my ability to move. The injury hurt, but it helped.
In 1998, my teacher challenged me to get my math grade up. I was failing, and he said if I got it up by the end of the year to a B he'd give me his old NES. I worked hard, I studied. The math didn't make sense, but I kept working and I made it. He gave me the box, smiling, and told me that I'd earned it. He told me I hadn't actually believed I'd do it, but that he was so proud of me that I had. And I felt amazing.
I set up the NES in my basement, and hooked up some old record speakers to the sound output jacks. I played it on the old ripped couch, lovingly losing life after life in Super Mario, Zelda II, A Boy and His Blob... I actually didn't beat a single game. I didn't care. I had earned this.
In 2011 I became vice-president of my college gaming club. I organized "Games for Amnesty" the year before to raise money for charity. I brought the nerdy clubs on campus together to raise money for charity that year in my new role. I thought, being a gamer is good. It is objectively good. We're nerds, we're misunderstood, and so we know what its like to be misunderstood. I thought, this is who I am. I am a gamer.
In 2014, Gamergate happened, and every notion I had about what being a gamer meant was shattered. I was forced to confront so many things I'd ignored, so many dark moments. The boys we'd let stalk girls in our groups because they were just weird and that's how they were, right? The guy who led the creepy roleplaying group where he had his rpg character rape all of the women in the group's characters at the college. I looked back on all of these things with horror. Because we were nice, misunderstood, and we were not the people who'd bullied us, right?
But of course, we could be. And my eyes were opened.
Its 2017, and I love gaming. I love being a nerd. But I'm not innocent about it anymore: I've met vile people who are nerds and gamers, and I've seen what they've done. So it must be pointed out for the ill it is, not because I hate gaming, or being a nerd, but because I love it. Because I played that NES in the basement, because I played that Xbox and brushed away the pain. Because I know it can be good, so I won't simply accept what is bad.
Because in life there are roads, and someday someone will see a crossroad, and start down a fork where they think the light leads, and I can say, "Hello friend, I know that path looks easy, but why don't you come down this one? You don't have to stay with me the whole way, and it will be harder, bur I think you'll be happier in the long run."
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.