[This post was originally posted on my blog Superheroes in Racecars.]
I’m still having trouble dealing with what happened to the games community during the second half of 2014. A lot of really depressing stuff happened, and so it’s not surprising that that sense of depression still lingers.
Unfortunately, #GamerGate still isn’t over. When I say “post-GamerGate,” what I really mean is “post-(that-time-when-everyone-was-talking-about)-GamerGate.” The hate mob is still obsessively fixating on and continuously harassing the same four or so women, and they’re still coming up with new targets to attack every week.
I was surprised by how much I was emotionally affected by the whole GamerGate mess. I usually don’t get worked up over many things, since I generally try to be laid back and optimistic, and I also try very hard to stay mentally grounded, since I know that politically and emotionally charged events such as this one have a tendency to mess up one’s sense of perspective. And so I was genuinely surprised when I realized how cynical and depressed I had grown over this whole thing.
And frankly, I’m tired of being depressed about this, so I’m hoping that writing this post might help me to get some of it out of my system, or at least reach a greater sense of emotional clarity on this.
Too Much Staring into the Void
I never even came close to becoming one of GamerGate’s targets, nor was I close to any of the targets that GamerGate did attack. Rather, my first exposure to it was when I saw people talking negatively about it on Twitter. For the first couple weeks, I was very confused about what was happening, so I read tons of articles, conversations, and posts about GamerGate, and I looked for as many different perspectives as I could find.
Part of the reason why I was so driven to understand this properly was because I posted some of those articles to the UA GameDev Club‘s Facebook group, and I worried that I was misinforming our club members if I myself didn’t have a proper understanding of what was going on, especially since we had a few members who were terrified of what was happening. Out of the 200+ people who follow our Facebook group, there were about two or three who vocally defended GamerGate from what those articles were saying about the movement. Not only did this make me feel even less informed, I found myself reading more and more about GamerGate if only to just better understand these members.
And so, fueled by both curiosity and guilt, I probably ended up reading way too much about GamerGate during those first three months. And as things got worse, I found myself motivated by sheer terror and worry — the experience was not unlike compulsively staring at CNN when something particularly scary is happening in the world. I tried following the Twitter accounts of GamerGate’s major voices and targets, and I spent dozens of hours talking to our club’s GamerGate supporters. I also occasionally tried talking to the Twitter hashtag itself, though they were usually less interested in talking and more interested in gathering around to mock and insult me.
This whole effort to research the movement was truly and utterly exhausting, but I now realize that this was all part of my attempt to cope with what was going on. I kept telling myself that maybe GamerGate wasn’t as bad as it seemed — that it only looked bad. I believed that if I just kept looking, listening, and learning, maybe I would find some perspective or some piece of knowledge that would make the movement a little less horrible, and therefore, make its existence slightly easier to accept.
Failed Attempts to Persuade GamerGaters
If you were a member of our Facebook group during that time, odds are that you would have seen at least two or three mega-threads circulating about GamerGate. For the four or five of us who actually participated in those discussions, we posted literally hundreds of comments over the course of a few months. For the most part, I was proud of how civil we all managed to keep these discussions. It really seemed as though we were trying to get through to each other, rather than simply arguing for the sake of arguing. The civility, however, started breaking down after three months or so. We got emotional and our frustrations were getting the better of us, and our discussions eventually died down.
I had such a strong desire to actually do something about GamerGate, to make a difference about the horrible situation, but I felt powerless to do anything about the harassers at the core of the movement. So I latched onto the idea of at least getting through to the GamerGaters in my own club. I felt that if I could at least convince them, then maybe there was some hope for the rest of the movement as well.
And so the long conversations that I was having with our club’s GamerGate supporters became less about coming to a common understanding and more about me desperately trying to convince them that GamerGate wasn’t worthy of their support. I poured so much energy, effort, and time into crafting my arguments and showing compelling evidence, and there were so many times when I optimistically thought, “surely this will help him see the light.”
This was my main coping mechanism for the longest time, and so when I finally gave up on convincing them (which I’ll talk more about later), it left me feeling really depressed and powerless.
Spreading the Bad News
Because GamerGate was so inherently confusing, baffling, and hard to follow, it required a decent amount of research just to be able to confidently form your own opinion on it. And so it felt particularly fulfilling to spread the word about GamerGate’s terribleness, because it seemed as though confusion and obfuscation were GamerGate’s strongest defenses.
There’s also a huge amount of cognitive dissonance that builds up when you spend that much time with people who act like the horrors of GamerGate aren’t a big deal. It just makes you want to stand up and start telling everyone that yes, this is a big deal, the movement is causing a lot of real damage, and GamerGate is filled with nothing but lunacy. Even now, I still feel like I can’t say it enough, because of how many people are out there that still believe that GamerGate is a good thing.
In an attempt to satisfy my urge to speak out against GamerGate more, I ended up publishing a blog post that I just wasn’t very satisfied with. The premise of the article was to present an assessment of the movement from an unconventional perspective, with the hope that it could offer yet another way for someone to conclude that GamerGate is an inherent failure. Unfortunately, it was posted very near GamerGate’s peak of awfulness, so it came off sounding really detached and cold during a time when so many horrible things were happening. In fact, my dissatisfaction with that post was perhaps the main reason why I felt such a strong urge to write this one.
I also briefly appeared on Digital Drift‘s podcast on GamerGate, which was a huge honor since I’ve been a big fan of their show for years. The purpose of the show was to help people understand and make sense of what was happening, so I leaped at the opportunity to participate and help people get through this. And yet, I still came out of it feeling like I wasn’t doing enough to help fix this mess. I found myself in a vicious cycle of wanting to do everything I can to help but never feeling like I was ever doing enough.
I assumed that not many people bothered to read the long discussions on our club’s Facebook group, but when I did speak out in more visible areas, it was a constant internal struggle in which I repeatedly asked myself, “am I talking too much about this?” Some of my concerns were legitimate; I didn’t want the content of our club’s Facebook group to be dominated by one particularly depressing topic. I also feared that my few Twitter followers would grow sick of me retweeting something GamerGate-related every once in a while. Basically, I was afraid that I was coming off as “uncool” for getting so worked up about this (which I must point out is rather petty, considering that so many others in the games community were silent because they were terrified of being targeted by the hate mob).
Today, however, most of my regrets aren’t with respect to how much or how little I spoke out against this mob. What bothers me more is that my voice and actions are basically a drop in the bucket compared to everything else that’s going on. This is likely just me being too hard on myself, though. I’m clearly not in a position to make much of an impact across the entire games industry, and so I really should be more satisfied with the impact that I made in the little communities that I’m involved in. Some of my club members have reached out to me to thank me for speaking out on some of these issues, both during and before GamerGate. And I have to remember that I’m definitely one of the more respected voices in our club’s community, and so the mere fact that I spoke out against these issues probably had more of an impact than I tend to give myself credit for.
It’s also worth noting that speaking out against GamerGate has very little value these days. Mostly everyone knows how horrible the group is, and their credibility has pretty much hit rock-bottom. There’s an effort to shift the focus towards more productive measures, such as helping law enforcement track down the movement’s worst stalkers.
Finally Acknowledging Reality
There’s a running theme present in almost everything that I did in response to GamerGate. As much as I was trying to convince its supporters about its horrors, I was also trying to convince myself that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. I was always telling myself things such as, “These guys aren’t bad/stupid/evil/crazy people; they just don’t realize how bad/stupid/evil/crazy their actions look.” It seems like I was trying to be fair and optimistic, but in retrospect, it feels more like I was in denial. One of the reasons why I put so much energy into this was because I was frantically grasping for something that would prove that the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
The event that kinda woke me up was GamerGate’s psychotic response to the death of Brianna Wu‘s dog last month. When people heard that her dog was dying, she received a ton of vicious and deeply hurtful personal attacks from GamerGaters, presumably because she dared to complain about GamerGaters using her dog’s death as an excuse to harass her. I was so horrified by their behavior that I decided to talk to the person who I felt was the most reasonable GamerGater in my club. I was desperately hoping that he would tell me, “of course I don’t think this is cool,” but instead he defended it! He kept arguing that the while the harassers were clearly stepping out of line, he thought they were raising valid concerns that Wu should have addressed. I spent over an hour trying to explain to him why asking such questions was incredibly rude and insensitive in that situation, and as far as I can tell, I just couldn’t get through to him.
This was just the last of a series of situations that forced me to realize that these guys just don’t care at all about people. I couldn’t find the slightest shred of sympathy from a single GamerGater, not even the most rational one that I had found. That was the first time that I finally let myself truly acknowledge the darkness that I had been staring at for all those months. I had to acknowledge that things really were that bad. GamerGate’s supporters really are as heartless and as stupid as their actions suggest. They really are perfectly okay with all of the horrors that the movement is responsible for.
That realization made me feel utterly depressed and hopeless. I thought that if GamerGate was going to end, it would be because its supporters would finally come to their senses. I chose to believe in the humanity of its supporters, because that’s what gave me hope. That’s what made me feel like I at least had a chance in all of my attempts to get through to them. But now it was as clear as ever that they were simply way too lost for me to be able to reach them. I had neither the skills or resources to be able to help someone in that situation.
I had always imagined GamerGate as being just a temporary thing. But now I had to deal with the very real possibility that GamerGate wasn’t going to leave any time in the foreseeable future. I tried to walk away from all of this depressing stuff for a few weeks, deciding that perhaps time was the only thing that can solve this problem. I still feel torn up about all of this, though, so now I’m writing this post in an attempt to help myself cope with it.
Coming to Terms with It All
This is the hard part. This is what I was talking about when I said that this post was about me struggling to deal with post-GamerGate depression.
While writing this, I was reminded of the fact that Film Crit Hulk wrote about how he faced the exact same form of depression:
SO HERE’S THE QUESTION HULK KEEPS GOING BACK TO AFTER ALL THAT:
… HOW THE FUCK DO YOU RECONCILE IT?
REALLY – ISN’T THAT THE ONLY QUESTION HERE? HOW DO WE SPIN LIFE, WITH ALL ITS TANGIBLE HORRIBLENESS, INTO SOMETHING GOOD? HOW DO WE LOOK AT THE MOUNTAINS OF HOPELESSNESS? HOW DO WE STARE AT THE VOID AND COME OUT OKAY?
His full piece is definitely worth the read. He went on to write about how he was able to find hope and strength again, how he was able to be just as amazed and moved by all of the acts of kindness that he received during GamerGate as much as he was horrified by the hate of those who attacked him.
I understand that the darkness kinda sucks you in if you look into it too much, and I understand that GamerGaters are an absolutely tiny minority within the larger games community, and yet I still can’t seem to find complete closure on all of this.
I think I’m just sad that all of this garbage ever happened. It’s like looking at the destruction left behind by a big natural disaster. Of course, what happened here wasn’t anywhere near as serious as that, but it’s almost the same kind of sadness. I’m distressed by the damage that I’ve seen and I’m surprised to find myself frantically trying to help in whatever way that I can. In addition to all of the horror, hopelessness, and disappointment that I feel about this, intertwined with all of those feelings is a strange, complicated form of regret. The first 2,000 words of this piece were essentially a self-interrogation in which I asked myself: “Did I do enough to help? Did I really help as much as I could?”
And there are plenty of things that I regret. I regret the fact that it took me so long to figure out what GamerGate was, that I let myself be fooled by their diversion tactics and attempts to obfuscate what was going on. I regret not sending more words of support and encouragement to GamerGate’s targets, and I regret that I often stopped myself from doing that out of fear that my messages seemed more like fake spam than genuine support.
But like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m tired of feeling depressed about this, so I’m just going to take a deep breath and make a genuine attempt to stop being so hard on myself. Writing this post has really helped me put a lot of this stuff into perspective, and I’ve realized that, aside from all the petty regrets that I have, I’m also extremely proud of everything that I did in response to GamerGate. I need to have the strength to let myself be satisfied with what I’ve done, rather than kicking myself for not doing enough.
Yes, where we are right now is awful. I want it to end, and I’ll work to help make that happen. But I wanted to say to those standing alongside me, those who can speak out and those who wish they could but can’t: it’s not about who we are right now, but about who we’re becoming. It’s not about where we are right now. It’s about where we’ll be when it’s done.
I agree that it’s much healthier to focus on what we want this community to become rather than dwelling on the darkness that we want to separate ourselves from.
When I think about what I want our community to grow towards, I think that all of my aspirations can be summarized by the single “design theme” of making the community about fun, joy, and love for the hobby. That’s really what games are all about, isn’t it? Even though we’re trying to grow past it, we still see “how much fun a game is” as being one of the most important metrics to judge a game by, because that’s what we’re all looking for at the end of the day.
It’s also important to remember why people even get involved in the larger games community in the first place. It’s usually because games were so awesome that we just wanted to share our joy with other people:
In a way, we’re all like the Jellyfish Sandwich Guy from Spongebob. We love these silly little things so much that we pour tons of creative energy into it, we form entire communities to celebrate them, and we cherish the way in which they’ve enriched our friendships and our lives. I want to see us become strong enough to feel this joy despite the nastiness of the world, despite the darkness of events like GamerGate. I also want to see more communities that promote healthier relationships with our hobbies, using it as a medium through which we can grow and become better people, rather than treating game culture as a tiny escapism bubble.
One of the things that struck me about the way that GamerGaters see game culture is that they have a remarkably pessimistic outlook on their own hobby. They’ve stopped celebrating games and started criticizing people for having opinions on them. They saw reviewers acting like the Jellyfish Sandwich Guy around unconventional titles such as Gone Home and Depression Quest, and they determined that their “bias” had to be punished. Their intolerance and skepticism is the antithesis of what a games community should be about. It’s the antithesis of what it means to love something.
I don’t think we’ll ever completely remove that kind of negativity (there will always be unpleasant people to deal with in any community), but it’d be nice if their pessimism didn’t have such pervasive effects on the larger games community. It’d be nice if gamers were known for their enthusiasm rather than their cynicism. And until we get there, I’m going to continue doing what I can to help the communities that I’m involved in to grow towards this healthier direction.