Maybe you’ve heard of GamerGate.
Countless stories have been written about the controversy over the past two months—yes, it started that long ago—in outlets ranging from game-centric titles to our biggest national publications. GamerGate has gone mainstream in a big way, but it remains elusive and difficult to understand. If you’re someone who would like to know just what GamerGate entails, check out this exhaustive piece by Deadspin writer Kyle Wagner. It’s long, but it’s also evenhanded and nuanced. Anyone who tries to break the whole mess down in a bite-sized YouTube video or nifty imgur link is probably trying to mislead you.
To quote Wagner:
By design, Gamergate is nearly impossible to define. It refers, variously, to a set of incomprehensible Benghazi-type conspiracy theories about game developers and journalists; to a fairly broad group of gamers concerned with corruption in gaming journalism; to a somewhat narrower group of gamers who believe women should be punished for having sex; and, finally, to a small group of gamers conducting organized campaigns of stalking and harassment against women.
This post, however, isn’t concerned with explaining GamerGate. Instead, it’s about how we ignored everything that led to it.
For a very long time, video games catered, by and large, to a very specific kind of person. That fact is reflected in the sort of stereotypes we attach to those who enjoy the medium—basement dwellers playing hyper-violent shooters while hopped up on Mountain Dew. It wasn’t the most flattering of stereotypes—but it was perpetuated by people who didn’t want anything to do with gamers, and gamers didn’t want anything to do with those people either. So they ignored the typecasting, only bothering to speak up whenever pundits decided to blame deviant behavior on video games.
But the demographics of who plays video games have changed rapidly—and a vocal minority of gamers is uncomfortable with this. Instead of being happy about a long-stigmatized medium finally finding mainstream acceptance, they turn up their noses at all these new gamers. If women outnumber adolescent men, that’s because they’re counting phone games, they say. Not real games, whatever those are.
It’s the same belittling attitude they take when anyone has the gall to suggest that video games might portray women in a problematic way. Video games are just fine, they say. They don’t need your “politics” ruining them.
They’re ignorant of the fact that such statements are very political in and of themselves. Or that a game like, say, Battlefield 4 is extremely political—but no one questions it, because its politics are unquestioningly accepted as “neutral.”
GamerGate is proof that we need to pay closer attention to the culture that surrounds our entertainment. Because even before it had a name, GamerGate was always there. It was given shelter and permitted to grow off a steady diet of resentment, which was never helped or addressed. And now that it has a name, perfectly reasonable people are being co-opted by a movement with diffuse goals and a rotten core. They find others online—people who seem reasonable enough to refute the worst claims against the collective while also denouncing the people that give those claims credence. But that’s the problem with a “movement”: it’s all or nothing.
Non-gamers shouldn’t be concerned because of those who are being misled into sympathizing with GamerGate. In fact, that reinforces the “us vs. them” rhetoric that GamerGaters prefer. They’re playing a game with an unattainable win state, steeped in a deep misunderstanding of the games journalism they claim to want to reform. (Note that most GamerGaters have completely ignored real ethical problems in the games industry.)
Instead, non-gamers should pay attention because this is proof that we’ve ignored the culture surrounding our entertainment for far too long. It’s why we need to listen to women in tech. It’s why a controversy over a comic book cover is worth your attention. Video games are ground zero for a number of consumer issues; their relative newness as a medium makes them a flashpoint for many social issues, which is why they shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.
So don’t tune out—because these issues are very real, and art is a reflection of the world it’s made in. Because all it takes is the right group of people with an internet connection to scream their way violently into your life. Because women are being threatened and strongarmed out of the industry.
Because new people are plugging in and joining the conversation all the time, and they all have the same arguments and grievances because no one’s ever told them any different.