Yesterday was the one year anniversary of #GamerGate. So Happy Birthday, I guess!
On this very special occasion I would like to engage in a little Rogerian argument.
In 1951, the psychologist Carl Rogers gave a talk at the Centennial Conference on Communications at Northwestern University that changed the way we think about argument.
According to Rogers, the principle difficulty preventing people from settling their differences, indeed from communicating effectively in an everyday sense, was that people couldn’t stop evaluating one another. The more important a topic was to them, the more emotional the participants in a discussion became, and the more they were apt to judge what the other person was saying rather than giving it the best hearing they could. In short, Rogers noticed that when people argue, they tend to make judgments about their opponents’ positions before they really understand them.
Rogers’s goal, then, was to avoid this tendency to constantly evaluate and instead to “listen with understanding.” By this, he meant that people should not only try to understand that someone holds a particular viewpoint but also try to get a sense of what it’s like to believe that. “What does that mean? It means to see the expressed idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, to sense how it feels to him, to achieve his frame of reference in regard to the thing he is talking about.” Rogers himself acknowledged barriers to this kind of understanding. First and foremost, you have to be willing to try it, and not many people are. Rogers’s approach seems like you’re giving ground to your opponents and, what’s worse, sometimes you actually are. “In the first place, it takes courage […] you run the risk of being changed yourself.”
It is important to note, though, that this sort of Rogerian understanding is also itself an argumentative tactic. First, people will almost always refuse to consider something if they feel threatened by it, and Rogerian understanding reduces the threat to the opposition. Second, people reciprocate; they tend to treat others as they are treated by them.
In this little philosophical exercise, I am going to take #GamerGate’s claims at face value. I will accept that, in the wake of the “Zoe Post” #GamerGate’s number one concern really was that there were ethical breaches taking place in games journalism.
With this assumption in mind I ask a couple of important questions.
- What problem do you think is the bigger ethical issue within Internet culture: that there might be some corrupt shenanigans taking place within games journalism? Or that the Internet can become such a hostile place for women that they often receive rape and death threats from mobs of anonymous users?
- Is it possible to conceive of a platform that addresses both issues?
#GamerGate supporters will say that they do not condone abuse and harassment. But if they are really invested in solving ethical problems within games journalism, I would like to see #GG proponents actively reach out to feminists and so-called “Social Justice Warriors” and say “let’s see if we can think of some ways that we can come together to work on the issues in tech culture that are important to all of us.”
And if they won’t, I would like them to reflect on why it is that so many of us believe them to be disingenuous.
What is really important to you? Is it creating reform in games journalism? Or scoring points against your ideological opponents. And if it is the latter, then how sincere can you really be about your rejection of harassment? After all, one of the best ways to “win the game” is to convince the other team to give up and go home.
As we were discussing in Twitter, I don’t feel as if expanding the #GamerGate movement to the address of internet harassment is in its best interests. Bluntly, some members of the movement simply don’t care that much; that isn’t to say they think harassment is a good thing, it’s just that either they don’t think it’s a problem that’s as great as people say it is, they don’t think it’s a problem that has a reasonable solution or in soem cases both. I should note at this point that a lot of our opponents have conflated “I don’t care about…” with “I tacitly support…” which is exceptionally dishonest – the former is at worst apathy, which is not the same as condonation.
A large number of GamerGate supporters will have a different objection, and I would say I at least partially share in their concern. They’d say that the statement “the Internet can become such a hostile place for women” is unneccessarily gendered – the internet can become a hostile place for men, too. This is what proponents of social justice would call the “but what about the men” argument – they consider it to be a pointless diversionary tactic, and are altogether dismissive of it. But my personal opinion on this issue is that it’s important to recognise that internet harassment needs to be treated hollistically. I had a big wall of text that summed up my thoughts on this but it seemed to be getting off-topic, so I may post it later if this discussion seems to be productive.
GamerGate has been fairly wary in the past of individuals who attempt to direct it, especially if those individuals attempt to broaden GamerGate’s purview beyond the scope of media ethics – David Draiman, for instance, the frontman of the band Disturbed, demanded that we unilaterally stand in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism. Now while I’d say the overwhelmingly vast majority of GamerGate decry anti-Semitism and a fair few of us support Israel (although not all of us, for sure), we scoffed at this demand. GamerGate isn’t about Israel or anti-Semitism. It’s about media ethics. Of course, trolls moved in and posted anti-Semitic garbage at Draiman and he came away with the inaccurate impression that GamerGate were a bunch of filthy antisemites, when what really happened is that we just weren’t interested in turning our movement into a vehicle for Draiman’s political views.
We don’t even really want to be having a conversation about harassment. Largely, the reason we’re talking about it is because it was forced upon us by the same media institutions whom we are accusing of corruption. We have faced a co-ordinated campaign of misrepresentation and defamation for an entire year centred around painting us as misogynist harassers and abusers with no legitimate arguments. We never wanted to become involved in discussions of feminism, social justice or misogyny – we wanted to get ethical games journalism and then go back to our video games. This wasn’t our fight, until the media dragged us into it. A lot of us feel resentful about that, and the suggestion that we should attempt to sway discussion of GamerGate more toward the subject of internet harassment would not go down well.
On a personal level I feel as if attempting to sway discussion of GamerGate more toward the subject of internet harassment would also be counterproductive from a public relations standpoint. Efforts on our part would most certainly not be acknowledged or appreciated by the corrupt media institutions that continue to defame and misrepresent us to this day, and in fact I feel convinced that they would twist this narrative – “you see, the gamers are admitting they have serious harassment issues in their community! We were right all along!”
At the risk of the ridicule this phrase may subject me to, GamerGate isn’t about harassment – it’s about ethics in games journalism. We have a narrow focus, and that’s served us well so far. I’m certain that a lot of GG’s members would be perfectly ameanable to a seperate movement that discussed internet harassment; indeed, although it’s rarely documented by the media, GamerGate members – women and other minorities in particular – have been on the receiving end of some pretty disturbing abuse from our ideological opponents. I just don’t think asking GamerGate to expand its scope is going to go down well.
“We never wanted to become involved in discussions of feminism, social justice or misogyny – we wanted to get ethical games journalism and then go back to our video games.”
That’s blatantly not the case. The chat logs documenting the start of the movement are available for all to see with a simple google search, and they show pretty clearly that Zoe Quinn initially came to the attention of the people who started Gamergate because she was perceived to be an ideological opponent (indeed, this was happening a full year or more before the Zoe Post incident, when Depression Quest first went onto Steam Greenlight). The focus on games journalism only came afterward as a way to give the burgeoning culture war legitimacy and attract a wider support base by playing into long-standing tensions between the gaming community and games journalists.
If you don’t believe me, just look at how many Gamergate supporters spend all of their time spinning conspiracy theories about cultural marxists taking over the industry, obsessively documenting everything Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Mattie Bryce, Tariq Moohsa (etc etc etc) say, and throwing tantrums about feminists and SJWs putting political agendas into games. No one is making them do that. They’re not showing up to cry foul every time a gay or trans character is included in a game because the gaming press somehow forced that role onto them. Hell, many of these people will openly tell you that they don’t care about games journalism and never have– the focus has always been on fighting the SJW menace.
Are there Gamergaters who only care about ethics in journalism? Sure! There’s probably a lot of them. But to claim that those people are representative of Gamergate as a whole is ridiculous. I would suggest disconnecting from Gamergate entirely and making a new effort that really is focused on ethics in journalism, but frankly, the assholes in your movement have so thoroughly poisoned that idea by using it as cover for their reactionary conservative political efforts that I don’t think even that will be enough.
I think the main reason most GGers don’t care about harassment is because they’ve convinced themselves that their opponents aren’t being harassed. That Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn and many others doxxed themselves and faked their harassment is asserted by many as a statement of fact, as though it’s been proven beyond a doubt.