A Farewell Letter to GamerGate

A veteran game developer weighs in on the life, and apparent death, of GamerGate
Dear GamerGate,

I don’t really know what you stand for; you don’t have a very clear mission statement, but I do know you’ve been accused of some absolutely heinous hate-crimes. Whether you’re guilty or not, your name is permanently tarnished and it’s time to call it a day. I’m sure there are some fairly normal, reasonable members of your group that got caught up in this shitstorm, and this message is mainly for them. So as we put this GamerGate fiasco to bed, let me address some of the topics that got you riled up in the first place.

Art Criticism Won’t Ruin the Medium

The biggest, most influential Artistic medium of our time has finally been called out to pay more attention to the messages it sends. It was only a matter of time: all Art forms receive critical analysis, and video games are now joining that club. One of the main goals of criticism, at least from my perspective, it to help Art overcome it’s limitations by asking the hard questions.

Anita Sarkeesian, pointing out how women are often portrayed in games, is a perfect example of this. As a card-carrying dude, many of the tropes she brought up were new to me; ideas that likely never would have crossed my mind if she hadn’t mentioned them. Whether you agree with her research methods or not, the ideas being presented are still crystal clear: some of the ways we present women in games send potentially negative messages to players, and I’m glad I’m more aware of that now.

Her videos aren’t forcing me, as a creator, to remove these tropes, they’re asking me to think about what using them means. Do I want to add yet another kidnapped princess to the ever growing list? Am I ok with leaving that message in my game? Maybe I am, and if so that’s ok, because ultimately Art is about choices. Smart artists use every choice they have to add to an overall message or theme. As such, a kidnapped princess can be an INTENTIONAL choice; it and all it’s baggage can be part of whatever larger message an Artist is trying to send. Quentin Tarantino does this all the time; using tropes and cliches to subvert expectations, helping his messages resonate even louder.

And of course, he’s called out on using these tropes. It’s openly questioned whether some of his excesses are necessary, but he always sticks to his guns. He directly confronts these choices knowing that – while they may turn off some – they ultimately support his overriding artistic message. That doesn’t mean he’s suddenly above critical questioning, but to me, being honest about this kind of stuff goes a long way towards helping others understand his artistic vision, even if they don’t agree with it.

So don’t worry, simply asking these hard questions won’t make Call of Duty go away, but on the flip side, they could make it better.

“Gamer” Isn’t Going Away Either

Video games are bigger now than the tiny word, “gamer,” implies, but that doesn’t stop the term from being useful. To me, gamer is just another harmless tag one can give themselves. Sure, I’m a gamer; I’m also an Artist, a Canadian, a son, an explorer, a lover, a ninja, etc.  None of these words really describe ME, but they’re convenient for others to get a vague sense of what I’m like.  Besides, getting rid of, “gamer,” doesn’t suddenly get rid of the assumed problem with the word: that there are toxic assholes out in the world, who happen to play games, that spread their vile words/thoughts all over the internet. These people will still exist, even if we banned every word in every language. It would be nice if we could ban assholes, but that’s a problem FAR bigger than video games.

And ultimately, asking for a word to go away is a lot different then a word actually going away. Just because someone says the term, “gamer,” is dead, doesn’t mean that it is. We said painting is dead, PC games are dead, Nintendo is dead, but surprisingly they’re all still around. As long as the word is still being used, then it exists, and there’s really no point making a fuss over it.

Be Serious About Questioning Journalism

There may indeed be corruption and biased journalism in the game industry, but if there is, GamerGate certainly did nothing to expose this. It got hung up on the Zoe Quinn story, which itself was almost instantly proven untrue, and never substantially moved on. If you actually want to find shady deals then start looking for them, find the evidence, and present it properly. The proof, if it exists, will speak for itself; no spin required. This might require investigation and some good old-fashioned hard work, but if this was ever truly a cause for concern then certainly some of your members should be up to task.

I will say that if you go this route, make sure to ditch ALL ties with GamerGate before you proceed, lest you be dismissed instantly. I can’t take you seriously until you drop any and all hints of the lame misogyny that your current group evokes. Hell, you could even start a new group and do something really crazy like invite women to join. If your goal is truly to dig up the dirt on questionable journalism, this is the very basics of where to start. Spamming Intel with emails, however, is exactly what NOT to do.

Private Lives Are Private

Who cares what Brad Pitt, Angelia Jolie, Warren Spector, or Zoe Quinn do in their personal life? Their private activities are their business, not ours, and we have no right to judge them for what they do behind closed doors. Spreading people’s phone number and address is a similar breach of privacy. If you don’t like what someone stands for, publicly, then you bring that complaint to a debate, not to their Twitter accounts via death threats. It’s impossible to take GamerGate seriously when even one of your members acts this way, let alone several. Remember: you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and the weak links keep piling up.

Everybody is Allowed to Make Games; Yourself Included

All humans are allowed, (and encouraged!), to make video games. The skills required can be taught to, and mastered by, anybody; no group needs to be left out.  Sure, a lot of nerdy white dudes like myself got into it a bit earlier than others, but that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on the Art form. If you’re concerned that the games YOU like to play won’t be made, then go ahead and make those games yourself. This goes for everybody, not just the GamerGate fellas. The technology is becoming more accessible every day; it’s still a much higher barrier to entry than painting or writing, but the barrier isn’t insurmountable. It’s hard work, but the feeling of accomplishment when your work of Art gets played by the world is infinitely more satisfying than winning a shouting match on the internet.  Don’t begrudge others who’ve taken the time to learn the craft and made what they wanted to make.

The Games You Like Aren’t Going Away

The most bizarre part of this puzzle is that the games GamerGate seems afraid of losing aren’t going anywhere. Almost all AAA games are directed at white, middle-class, dudes like myself; and almost all upcoming games are the same. So what’s the concern, gents? That there may, one day, slip out a single game for ladies? That you might have to control a black character? It seems like a lot of fury being spent over a change that doesn’t even appear to be coming. We complain that AAA games play it safe, yet is there any reason for them to take a risk when playing it safe still equals huge sales numbers? If a change is coming, its coming at a snail’s pace, yet you would have me believe that Armageddon is at our doorstep.  Even if it was, it would just mean more variety, which is never a bad thing.

Too Short; Still Didn’t Read (TS;SDR)

So, GamerGaters, if I had to summarize your impact, I’d say you helped sharpen the resolve of almost all other players, developers, journalists, and critics in respecting games as an Artistic medium. Their disagreement with your methods and outlooks has helped move games forward by showing us how to identify and ignore the dark side of this industry. Your movement has had the exact opposite effect than intended: you’ve caused that snail’s pace to pick up speed.

So I say get out while you still can, while there’s still the slightest shred of deniability. A potential employer may see your pro-GamerGate tweets and have it raise a red-flag. Do you really want to endanger your future to cling to this rag-tag group of loudmouths? And remember: if journalistic ethics still matters to you, then do as I said: make a hard break with the extremists and start investigating. There are likely stories to be told, biases to expose, if you simply take the time to do legitimate research. Everything else from this movement, however, should die with this movement. There’s enough hate in the real world; please keep it out of my virtual worlds.


A Canadian Ninja Gamer

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