For those fortunately removed enough to not be in the know: A mildly controversial independent game developer allegedly cheated on her boyfriend, who, a little over a month ago, subsequently wrote a blog post detailing said alleged infidelities, ostensibly with the intent of warning potential future partners of said developer about her. Which would have been bad enough, save that some of the participants in said alleged infidelities were game journalists or other developers. You can imagine where this led.
Now that that’s out of the way.
What’s interesting about this whole mess isn’t what started it. Or even in the firestorm of misogynistic vitriol that poured forth as a result.
No, what’s interesting about this is what happened after all that.
Because it serves as a textbook example, nay, the veritable Platonic Form of media mismanagement of a crisis.
What was the media response, you ask?
Rational debate? Fat chance. Given the tainted nature of the controversy, a combination of basic human decency and enlightened self-interest would keep any self-respecting or self-preserving journalist from touching on it more than briefly.
Mention and move on? Arguably the smartest move in terms of managing the crisis, but perhaps unpalatable to the various editors and journalists watching the event unfold.
Silence, then? Too easy. If they’d just kept their mouths shut, the whole thing probably would have blown over by now.
No, they went with the stupidest of all possible moves: Suppression.
Don’t just refuse to comment. Shut down comments.
It’s almost as though not one of them had ever heard of the Streisand Effect.
So, naturally, the whole thing blows up and people freak out, scream “CONSPIRACY!” and in general wind up driving themselves into a foaming fit of impotent rage. Fringe elements of the “gamer” community engage in more than harsh language, and begin the sadly familiar campaign of harassment.
Now, where to go from here?
Out of an array of possible moves, imagine the worst one. The one most likely to not only continue the whole debacle, but make it ever-so-much worse.
The media, instead of attempting to calm things down, attacks.
A broad swathe of articles are published, trumpeting the death of the “gamer identity”. The problem, of course, is that at this point in the crisis, the average gamer had no idea that the crisis even existed. But now not only do they know, they find out that they’re being tarred with the same brush as a pack of maladjusted misogynists.
You’d think after Dubya’s disastrous “Mission Accomplished!” banner, people would have figured out that triumphalism is best saved until after you actually triumph.
Because now they’ve not only broadened public awareness of the matter, they’ve managed to offend a significant fraction of their reader base who was previously perfectly content to live out their days in blissful ignorance, playing games.
Battle lines are drawn, the “With Us or Against Us” mentality sets in, and the verbal sparring intensifies over social media. Eventually, Adam Baldwin, celebrity libertarian, coins the hashtag #Gamergate and things really start getting organized.
Theoretically, the “#Gamergaters” are pushing for transparency in game journalism, an end to nepotism, corruption, and collusion between journalists and developers, and the enactment of a formal code of ethical behavior not dissimilar to that employed by mainstream news organizations such as Reuters.
In practice, of course, given that it’s not a formal organization but rather a bunch of people posting on Twitter, the hashtag winds up getting used for all kinds of arguments, some of them downright vile.
At this point, the media had what may be their final out: Engage with the rational portion of the #Gamergaters, enact a code of ethics, and try in vain to put all this behind them before it gets any worse.
A very small fraction of them do. A few more make token efforts of appeasement but in general continue their attacks. Quite a few simply double down on their previous stance.
There’s a part of me that thinks that maybe the mismanagement was deliberate. That maybe a small faction of game journalists and activists saw this as an opportunity to drag the unpleasant underbelly of gaming into the light where it would, hopefully, wither and die.
And then that small part of me tries to figure out a worse way of going about it and subsequently fails, ultimately chalking it up to the sort of stupid, prideful arrogance that inevitably precedes a fall of epic proportions.
And, finally, you wind up where we are now. With a pack of entitled brats screaming their lungs out at a gang of hypocritical narcissists.
Oh, I’m sorry, were you a part of this mess and unable to figure out which label I just insulted you with?
That’s not an accident.
There are a few people in this whole mess doing what ought to be done. Recognizing that there are problems in game journalism, and gaming culture, that waving the banners of “Enthusiast Press!” or “I just wanna play games!” don’t excuse it, and discussing how best to rectify the situation.
The rest of it is taking place in entrenched echo chambers, occasionally lobbing volleys of vituperation forth across the contested field. Closed minds holding the triggers of ideological artillery, dehumanizing their detractors and calling for nothing less than total victory.
Because heaven forfend they ever admit that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong. That perhaps their opponents do have a point, that that nugget of truth in a pit of filth is worth picking up and rinsing off.
In a war of ideas, total victory is a lie. A sham. Even if you somehow were to achieve it, it would be the last thing you want.
Because if everyone has the exact same opinion as you do, well, we’d have nothing to talk about.
And that would just be… boring.
Disclaimer: Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother, but given the whole “media suppression” issue in this matter I will state the following: I do have spam filters engaged on my comments, and it’s possible that they could catch something you have to say. If they do, my apologies, but also be aware that I’m ridiculously lazy about checking my spam folder, so try rephrasing and reposting, otherwise it could well be lost forever.