My peregrinations about the net sometimes lead me to odd places. This post will retrace some of those steps, where they took me, and to be honest if you’re looking for something pithy and concise, you should probably come back next time. This one rambles over hill and dale like a damned hobbit.
A while back I was sort of half-heartedly doing research for a piece on anthropogenic climate change, revolving around the notion that denying it exists is silly since we’ve been changing the climate since the first hominid figured out how to securely fasten a sharp rock to a short stick, when I went off on something of a tangent.
Looking at Mesopotamia (good examples there of what happens when humans run amok in a local climate for too long, even with relatively primitive tools), lead me to Akkadia (for which we can blame The Scorpion King), which then led me to Sargon the Great.
Which is where things got weird.
See, I’m a fan of primary sources for the most part; if I read an article about something, I generally prefer to look at the original, particularly if the matter is somehow inherently contentious. I often find, particularly in the media, that what you wind up with is as much a game of Chinese Whispers as anything else, with outlets picking up a story, altering the writing so as to avoid accusations of plagiarism, and in the process seeing bias creep in. Sometimes when you get to the root of a particularly inflammatory quote, you discover that what really happened has almost nothing to do with what people perceive to have happened.
This digression exists solely to explain why I would up searching for Sargon instead of just following the Wikipedia link, incidentally, so if you faded out there for a second I don’t blame you. I’m feeling long-winded today; bear with me.
Googling (it’s a statement against WordPress by the way, that “googling” is accepted by their spellchecker, but “anthropogenic” carries a red flag) for Sargon the Great led me not only to the various Akkadian emperors of the name, but also to the YouTube channel of Sargon of Akkad. Sargon’s channel is… about what you’d expect from a social-libertarian/economic-leftist, which is to say that if you go through enough of his videos you will almost certainly eventually find something you agree with, and probably something that pisses you off, and it quite possibly might be in the same video.
Now, don’t take this as an endorsement of Sargon. While I certainly find his stuff interesting, I rather doubt we’d qualify as intellectual bedfellows. I will say that he seems like the kind of person that would be interesting to debate with on the topics where we disagree, however.
So Sargon is a reasonably active participant in the ongoing Gamergate discussion, which in turn had me wondering how the whole situation has changed in the year or so since I wrote my last piece on the topic.
Side note: Wow, 400+words before I even get to the point of what I theoretically wanted to write about. I do believe that that’s a new record for me.
So what’s changed?
Quite a bit, actually. And yet nothing at all.
You see, I stand by my original assertion that the gaming media, more than anything else, created Gamergate. That their ham-handed bungling, attempting to shelter someone they liked from the scorn and outrage of people they despised, only galvanized their opponents into something more closely resembling a unified front than the notoriously fractious and balkanized gaming community had ever managed before.
It’s where they’ve gone from there that’s interesting.
My first piece was written about a month or so after the whole mess started. In the intervening year, while the gaming media may have recognized the monster they created, they also clearly came to a couple key realizations.
First, while it’s often said that history is written by the victors, the saying tends to gloss over exactly who is going to be doing the writing. In this case, one side of the conflict controlled the majority of the podiums, almost all the links to the mainstream media, and as such could control the way the fracas was perceived by people outside of it.
Secondly, that while they may have created the monster that they feared so terribly, they could use the hell out of it. Once you’ve managed to demonize your opponents to a sufficient extent (and let’s be honest: an awful lot of people theoretically associated with Gamergate made that all too easy), well, if someone disagrees with you, or challenges you in some fashion, just tack the appropriate label onto them and throw them to the ideological wolves.
The random flailing and foundering, coordinated though it may have been, has largely subsided in the face of a unified front from many media outlets: Gamergate is about misogyny and intolerance.
(And yes, you can have coordinated flailing and foundering. Imagine a synchronized swimming team. Now imagine how they’d look if you strapped weights to one random hand and foot each, and then released a few sharks into the pool, while demanding that they continue their routine. It looked like that.)
The thing about this unified front is that it’s difficult to reconcile the image of Gamergate as portrayed by its opposition with the other images of Gamergate as portrayed by its opposition, to say nothing of the way that some Gamergaters tend to portray themselves.
To elaborate: Gamergate is, according to the people who want me to hate it, composed of a seething mass of hate-mongers, the foul underbelly of the gaming community dragged out into the light for us to see, thousands and thousands of intolerant monsters that need to be drummed out of my hobby.
It’s a small cadre of the aforementioned bigots masquerading as the aforementioned seething mass by the use of hundreds and thousands of sock-puppet accounts, spending their days drumming up imaginary support for their heinous cause.
It’s that small cadre of charismatic bigots swaying the ignorant, unenlightened masses of gamers by the usual tactics of demagoguery, wielding their influence and army of followers like a bludgeon to further their agenda of hate.
Of course, if I were to ask some of the people in Gamergate to describe their opposition, I’d get fairly similar remarks from a lot of them, which is itself rather enlightening.
From the outside looking in (because let’s be clear: Gamergate, much like the Sad Puppies and SF, is something that the vast majority of gamers are at best aware of in a rather peripheral fashion), I’m not sure how I’d classify anyone. It’s difficult because, well, trolls exist. And while the way Gaters tend to describe the games media often seems to be pretty damned accurate, the media’s description of Gamergate can seem fairly accurate as well, because there will always be people out there willing to stir up shit with an industrial blender so long as it makes them laugh.
It’s a culture war, and while the media may laugh at Gaters who accuse them of corruption, because they’re clearly not making any money taking bribes from ambitious indie devs, let’s also be clear that to a lot of people, there are things more important than money, and that’s something that they can get by pandering to those devs.
It’s not exactly a surprise when progressive journalists shill for progressive game developers. Aligning ideologies aside, the people who make things will almost always carry with them more glamour than the people who write about the things they make.
They get to sit with the cool kids. Even better, they get to feel as though they’ve contributed significantly to the cool kids’ success.
On the flip side, what’s the percentage for Gamergate in fighting against the progressive agenda? Is diversity bad enough to warrant the sort of vitriol I’ve seen flung around?
It’s harder to judge the motivations there, because the movement is so fractured. It barely manages to agree on what it wants (see: Things That Have Not Changed In The Last Year), much less why it wants them. I expect you’ve got a handful of genuine bigots (handful being a relative term when dealing with tens of thousands of people), a large number of rabid free-speech advocates, a soupcon of conservative and libertarian shills, a dash of paranoids, well seasoned with people who just want to be able to read a good game review that’s not being bought in some fashion by some one.
All liberally whisked by to a fine froth by trolls at regular intervals, of course.
The thing is that when you have this many people screaming at each other, pretty much any accusation either side cares to level can be “proved” if you dig deep enough into the dark depths of Twitter.
Think of it in similar terms to the gun control debate. While it’s all well and good for gun control advocates to say “Nobody is trying to take your guns away, we just want rational gun control laws”, they really ought to be aware of the fact that they’re often standing next to someone who openly states that their objective is to take all the guns away, and a number of game journalists and critics find themselves in exactly that situation. You may be saying “Nobody is trying to take away your Call of Duty games”, you’re standing next to, and de facto aligned with, someone saying “Call of Duty games are bad and should be changed or banned outright”, or at least saying that once you pierce through all the bullshit, equivocations, weasel words, and double speak.
The most shocking thing about Gamergate is that it still exists. Not in the sense of “hah, nerds, still arguing over games journalism” (which oddly enough is one of the most often used defenses by the journalists targeted by Gamergate), but that they’ve managed to keep this whole thing going for over a year now, in an even vaguely coherent form. I’m not entirely sure that the whole kerfuffle over Catholic priests molesting children managed to maintain its momentum that long, and that was about priests molesting children. It’s mind-boggling.
Gamergate has had some positives, of course. Disclosure policies and conflict of interest rules are significantly more common in games media than they were a year ago. But some of the things stirred up in this ongoing mess have the potential to spill out onto the rest of us.
Which I’ll get to next time, since holy crap this is over 1700 words now and still says almost nothing.