Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Boycotts Aren't Harassment

Didn’t expect to write anything on #GamerGate again quite so soon, but ever since Intel pulled their ads from Gamasutra, I keep seeing people pushing this notion that the boycotts constitute some form of harassment of the sites against which they are targeted, or at the very least they’re an extreme reaction where a more temperate measure should be applied.

First of all, that word “harassment” has been tossed around far too loosely when it comes to #GamerGate, and it’s one of the main reasons we are where we are today. Dissent, disagreement, and desire for change in media does not constitute harassment, and while harassment can occur in and around a boycott, neither does a boycott, even one that involves targeting advertisers. In fact the boycott is one of the greatest tools consumers have to affect change without having to resort to harassment or worse, violence.

Now like any other tool, it can be abused, which is what that more nuanced argument about “extreme reactions” is trying to get at. For example, we saw it used against the Mozilla CEO for having supported the passage of a particular marriage law years prior and outside his role at the company. There we had consumers trying to punish a particular individual for a particular political belief that didn’t have any bearing on his duties at the company or affect how the company would or did operate. To be clear, people were well within their rights to boycott, and that boycott was not harassment, but specifically targeting an individual over political beliefs that don’t affect a company is not the best use of that tool as it will punish many innocent people in an attempt to bring about a political change that could be best accomplished through other means.

On Erik Kain’s latest stream, Greg Tito from The Escapist expressed that kind of sentiment by lamenting the potential financial impact on people working at a website because of #GamerGate supporters being upset at one post by one writer. It’s true that some perfectly innocent people will be harmed as a result of the boycotts, but in order to determine whether that unfortunate consequence is necessary and where the blame for it lies, we must examine how we got to this situation in the first place, which was not due to one post by one writer.

It was actually many posts by many writers across many sites. It was many editors at many sites allowing those posts to go up. It was many moderators at many sites quashing discussion and kicking people off of forums and out of comment sections.

Moreover, the content of those many posts at those many sites was not simply some benign difference of opinion over a video game or a political philosophy, but a direct attack on the very consumers who now boycott them. The many posts also came in a suspiciously short time frame, which suggested the collusion that was later evidenced by the GameJournoPros list.

And perhaps most importantly, the many people at the many sites have refused all other avenues for the redress of consumers' grievances. They didn’t allow consumers to express their anger directly via comments and forums. They didn’t issue apologies, counters to the opinions of their writers, or public reprimands of those writers. Many of the sites’ employees even took to Twitter to poke the bear. They did not fire or otherwise reprimand those that did so, nor did they address the original conflicts of interest that started the discussions in the first place. By closing comments and refusing to address the issue, the many people at the many sites effectively eliminated all other options for consumers other than to boycott, and so boycott they have.

It’s rather ironic to hear Tito express the sentiment he did, since The Escapist proved quite clearly how the websites could have diffused the situation for themselves by taking actions that most gamers have lauded as appropriate. They allowed discussion on their forums, and on two separate occasions that I can recall addressed the issue loudly and clearly, and they made changes to their policies as a result. And I suspect if it came down to it, they would’ve terminated a writer rather than allow harm to come to their whole site.

Thus with #GamerGate, people are not punishing a whole company for the thoughts of one individual. They are trying to affect an industry-wide change with the only option left available to them as a direct result of the actions of the very websites they are boycotting. Not only are they not abusing the tool, they are using it for precisely the purposes it is best suited.

And it’s working.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What now, #GamerGate?

Well it’s been over a month now since the rise of #GamerGate, and if you’ve still not heard of it, I recommend scrolling back through my previous work to read this post, this post, and this one to get you started. Or for those TL;DR folks, #GamerGate is a consumer revolt by gamers who have gotten fed up with the corruption in the video game industry and the utter lack of journalistic ethics in a gaming media that seems hell bent on pushing a progressive sociopolitical narrative into gaming.

I sat down to write this post in the midst of the natural lull one might expect in an Internet-driven conflict lasting this long. People had begun to wonder if this whole thing were coming to an end, with both sides staking claim to victory. Gamers noted the decline in readership of prominent sites, the rise of alternatives like TechRaptor and 8chan, and the tag itself reaching the milestone of 1 million uses suggested the certain demise of the opposition; journowarriors pointed to the lull and general lack of interest on the part of bigger media sites as evidence the tempest in a teapot would soon peter out.  The question on everyone's mind seemed to be "what's next?"

Then Intel went ahead and blew everything up all over again. Responding to requests by gamers, Intel pulled its ads from Gamasutra, one of many websites that contributed to the barrage of “Gamers are dead” articles that really put this whole thing into full swing. That in turn has provoked the same kind of vitriol and journalistic malpractice as those original articles, and so the smoldering embers burn anew.

Fortunately that demonstrates handily how the cycle of lull and victory is the path #GamerGate will take going forward, so long as gamers choose to continue to fight. It’s a war of attrition that can only end once one side has been metaphorically wiped out. With each victory, the losing side will go quiet for a time to regroup and reposition, but another battle will wait just around the corner.

As long as the journowarriors have their sites and their positions, they’ll keep pushing their particular agenda. Calls for #GamerGate to drop the tag “tainted by its misogynistic origins”, appoint leaders, and focus on specific goals will continue as well. On their face, those do seem like perfectly logical and reasonable suggestions. After all, leaders and goals help to focus efforts and reduce the possibility of some random troll trying to speak for the community at large just by slapping the tag on their tweet.

In reality, it’s just a bit of pernicious concern trolling. A leader can be smeared, threatened, bullied, and otherwise taken off the field of battle to leave an army in disarray, and known goalposts can be more easily defended or moved if necessary. As some gamers have noticed, that kind of targeting is precisely the kind of thing called for by the social justice bible of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

A disparate swarm of people each with their own particular targets, however, can dig their stingers in again and again until their enemy runs screaming from the field. No one sting will be a decisive death blow though, and therefore if gamers wish to have a more honest, open media bereft of the moral proselytizing of our social betters, they will just have to keep up their pressure from all directions despite the lulls. Whether it’s writing sponsors like Intel, digging into DiGRA as Sargon of Akkad has been, or even the simple act of using the #gamergate and #notyourshield tags in a tweet, each attack is one more bit of damage to the narrative.

That #GamerGate has evolved from a mere hashtag to a full on community of new friends should certainly help with the long road ahead, especially given the opposition already was a tight-knit clique of backscratchers. Thus if any one top priority should exist among #GamerGate supporters, it should be to continue to make connections and further cement the existing ones.

That includes the “right-wing” voices whose attention has been piqued by this conflict and about which many gamers have expressed some concerns. They fear the further encroachment of politics in gaming and/or that the Right simply doesn’t have gamers’ best interests at heart. Personally I think people like Milo Yiannopoulos over at Breitbart have done great work dispelling that fear, but to still apprehensive gamers I would merely restate that every ally attacking the enemy is useful, either as distraction, fodder, or genuine damage dealer.

Whether we fight for political reasons or not, what lies ahead is a long and brutal campaign on perhaps the last front in the larger culture war. There will be endless waves of enemies bent on our collective enslavement to their particular ideology. We're gamers; let’s see how high of a score we can rack up.

Round 2. Fight!

*this post cross-posted at