GamerGate and Male Feminist Bullshit

There's a thing happening right now called GamerGate, and it's too complicated — maybe more accurately, too long — for me to summarize here. Brendan Keogh tries and Garrett Martin writes about why it's difficult to write about. (I usually prefer to link to women writing about issues like this, but in this issue most of the summaries are coming from men, and women are too busy making the actual arguments being summarized and ensuring their personal safety.) If you're confused as to why destroying 'gamers' is important, I recommend Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra, Ian Williams at Jacobin, and as usual, Liz Ryerson is incisive and right about everything. 'Gamer culture' devalues games, developers, critics, and players. It's a PR and marketing tool used to delineate and manufacture a demographic, then encourage them to spend lots of time and money doing, well, exactly what they're doing now.

There is massive corruption in games and games journalism. The actual corruption is stuff like taking $750k from the company you're supposed to be covering or trying to call out Ubisoft's bad practices but then participating in its drip feed of PR junk anyway or that one of the biggest publications is literally owned by GameStop or how videogame developers fund arms manufacturing or how YouTube reviewers (including ones backing GamerGate) are directly paid by developers for coverage etc. There's no end of real corruption and effectively none of it involves the few women and other people fighting marginalization in journalism or development.

I'm also not going to write more about that, because it is actually complicated, in a way that takes skilled journalists and writers and editors providing them with sufficient resources (& that last bit is the missing part now) to sort out. I'm not that.

Instead I am going to write about the bullshit most men get away with when things like this happen. That's something I am familiar with, because it's how I spent much of my life.

Plenty of mainstream male press and developers publicly lament the harassment and other toxicity associated with GamerGate. But their lamentation is quiet, and out of the way (mostly on Twitter, not on their sites or their games), and above all irrelevant to what they're doing with the rest of their life.

What exactly "standing up for feminism" is can be debated but it's surely not accusing a woman of lying about sexual assault because your friend is too "nice" to have done it. Rather the opposite - a key idea in most feminisms is that we currently live in a culture which lets misogyny run rampant even among "nice" people. (And no, it's not even close to 100% - plenty of people posting earnestly in the hashtag, and even more straddling the fence of false equivalency, are developers.)

It's hard to take pushback like that seriously when he runs an all-dude site. It's harder to take it seriously when he passed over several excellent women to hire a guy who doesn't know what Dungeons & Dragons is. The vitriol of GamerGate's sexism is more visible, but overall less damaging, than the structural sexism he's perpetuating.

But things can stay the same, as they have for a long time now. They can even get worse. And these people are responsible for the fact they've stayed the same for so long. They hire, work with, write, publish, and defend articles about how we're just too mean to racists or articles without an iota of basic empathy and journalism, the writers failing upwards until they can be taken seriously claiming (now deleted with no redaction) that offense is "always a choice".

Their outrage may not be fake, but their commitment sure seems to be. This change doesn't magically happen, it happens because people in influential positions make material and structural changes to their real life and environment. Fuck petitions. Put women and minorities in your games. Don't buy, don't praise, don't talk uncritically about games that can't even get basic humanity right. Don't make vague statements like "everyone should be nice" when your buddy used a slur and didn't like the tone of the person telling them to stop. Fire your friends and hire some women. (I'd say "be friends with women" but I'm not sure how many men are ready for that yet.)

Most men find it difficult to be patriarchs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, even the men who perpetuate this violence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriarchy changes. So they find it easier to passively support male domination even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong. bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

In one way the misogynists behind GamerGate have a better grasp of feminism than "most men" mounting a weak defense of it: They understand that feminism does involve discomfort as men lose something. That "something" is hard to see, and much of the ground-work of feminism is trying to identify and describe it. It's the combination of assumption and complacency and situatedness and expectation usually wrapped up the terms "privilege" and "patriarchy." It's something men should not have because it comes from the exploitation of women. But we do have it, and it does no good to be upset about misogyny without being willing to actively work against it.

I try not to talk about how great a feminist I am, because I'm often not. (Even this essay is too grounded in the one emotion made comfortable to me by hegemonic masculinity, anger.) But I have walked away from friendships and job opportunities and communities because I refused to work with bigots and the people who defend them, explicitly or tacitly. That doesn't make me great, because that 'sacrifice' is the baseline, not the brass ring, for male feminism. And yes it hurts. It's stressful. It sucks.

But it also sucks a lot less when other people, other cisgender white men, make those same sacrifices. And as much as it sucks for us, it sucks even more for all the people who can't walk away because they were never invited inside to begin with.

Our medium and the culture surrounding it is still in its adolescence and we’ve been experiencing a lot of growing pains lately. Those of us in the games community who are a part of marginalized groups have been going through hell lately. You can help us. You can do more than just express sympathy.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." You have a chance, right now, to shorten that arc. You are in positions of power and privilege. You have the luxury of being able to effect change at a level that we can only dream about.

Samantha Allen, An Open Letter to Games Media - 15 months ago

That arc was not shortened. If anything, we have lost the few gains made at the time. Allen praised Stephen Totilo for working to dispel conspiracy theories. A year after that she was forced into silence by harassment, and now Totilo has no qualms about capitulating to similar nonsensical demands, with plenty of questionable editorial decisions in the interim.

What men in those positions need to understand is that this doesn't end when GamerGate is "over." It's not like Adam Baldwin or Milo Yiannopoulos or even Davis Aurini are going to suffer from this altercation at all. We don't "win" when this group of jackasses inevitably gets bored and moves on. They have already caused emotional distress; financial issues; driven some people out entirely; they have already won this round. Our chance to win starts when things like GamerGate stop happening because we refuse to countenance them in the first place. We don't win until we see equitable treatment inside games and outside in the communities that make and talk about them — and even that is a state we'll need to work to maintain, not a fixed point.

So I'm past the point I can tolerate those who aren't putting their hand-wringing into daily practice. You are as harmful and reactionary, in your own ways, as the loudest elements of GamerGate. And unlike them — and me — some of you have enough power in the community to speak loudly, clearly, and effect immediate and long-term positive change. But you're not, and you haven't been, and yet you still want to act like you're somehow separate from this.

Fuck you guys.