By Simon Giesen
If you have visited any large forum, image board or social network (such as Reddit, Tumblr or 4chan) over the last month, you will undoubtedly have encountered one of the largest controversies the internet has ever witnessed, involving some of its most (in)famous personalities and celebrities. The event began in August 2014, but is the explosive culmination of various long-standing issues in the gaming community and the larger internet.
In its basic form, the issues at hand are nepotism and corruption in the gaming press, conflicts of interest between press and developers, and calls of reformation.
A prime example concerns a game from 2007 called “Kane & Lynch: Dead Men”. Editor Jeff Gerstmann, rated the game 6/10 in a review for GameSpot. As a result, Gerstmann was sacked from his job. The rumors regarding his layoff mainly concerned the games publisher Eidos Interactive, who had an advertising deal with GameSpot. Apparently, the rating was too low, and Eidos threatened to pull the valuable advertisements. GameSpot gave in, and as a result Gerstmann was fired. A more recent item is an online donating system known as Patreon, which operates similar to Kickstarter with a pledge of monthly donations for people and ideas. It was later uncovered that several journalists had been financially supporting the people they were covering, a gross violation of journalistic ethics.
Another issue of GamerGate are allegations of sexism, in the community and industry. Centermost in this is controversial media critic Anita Sarkeesian, host of the Webseries “Tropes against Women in Video Games”. Sarkeesian’s central argument is that while male characters in video games are often the strong main characters, female characters are often damsels in distress, sex objects, and general background characters.
The reason why she is controversial is her “cherry-picking” of examples for her unpopular argument that the gaming industry is violently patriarchal. It is not hard to imagine the backlash these kinds of articles would receive as accusers of indulging oneself into male power fantasies, and oppression of women. That is the current state of gaming journalism.
QUINNSPIRACY: Nepotism, corruption …
As we have seen so far, the setting of the story can best be compared to walking around with a lit match in a gunpowder magazine. This lit match was an indie developer going by pseudonym “Zoe Quinn”. Quinn is known for developing a game known as Depression Quest, a text-based adventure game where the main character battles depression. Even though she was relatively unknown before the development of this game, the game was well covered. On August 14th, a blogpost was released online by Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, detailing that not only did Quinn cheat on him during their relationship, the persons she slept with were in a direct position to help advance her game and to secure favorable reviews. This involved a grand total of 5 persons she cheated on him with over a couple of months, all backed up with chat logs. It was even detailed that Quinn had won an award this way (by having an affair with a judge).
The explosion that followed was immense. This was the direct confirmation of what had been suspected for years, intimate ties and favoritism between developers, publishers, and journalists. The story broke on websites such as Reddit and NeoGAF on August 18th when Youtuber InternetAristocrat uploaded an accessible 20-minute recap of the events that happened before. However, discussion on the topic was not even allowed on these sites, as they banned people for simply discussing the video’s content by again claiming misogyny, which incited more protest when unveilings linked even moderators to Quinn.
#GAMERGATE: The Consumer Fights Back
The hostile discussions between the two camps only increased. On August 28th, two weeks after the start, over twenty different outlets with no formal links to each other (e.g. Polygon, Kotaku, GamaSutra) all ran different opinion articles with the same content: the gamer subculture and identity is dead, and GamerGate is the proof of it. And of course, the well known attack that white, misogynistic male gamers are the problem of it all. This effectively alienated the gaming audience from the press they believed represented them, and now outright claimed was not.
Meanwhile, others joined the investigations into corruption in the games journalism industry. Among these people is Milo Yiannopoulos, a respected British journalist and entrepreneur. Working for the normally conservative website Breitbart, he published a series of articles on the topic, most notably “Feminist Bullies are Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart”.
Let us return to the series of aforementioned articles. They were all published on the same day and carried the same message even though the authors and website shared no formal links. On September 17th, almost a month after the original articles were published, Yiannopoulos published a series of revelations about the gaming journalist industry. Most notable of these was the existence of a secret e-mail group called “GameJournoPros”. Approximately 150 members including senior editors and marketers from nearly every major gaming publication and publishers were included alongside staff from publications like VICE and USA TODAY. The exposure of this e-mail list meant the confirmation of a group responsible for pushing unwanted agendas on the gaming community.
The corresponds amongst this secret e-mail group openly mocked GamerGate proponents and further revealed the strong-arming going on behind closed doors concerning publication choices. Leaked e-mails further contained hypocrisy on the group’s so-called sensitivity to misogyny as members shared statements such as, “Who here hasn’t slept with a PR person or game developer? #AMIRITE”.
This is reminiscent of the Journalist debacle of 2010, when it was revealed that 400 left wing writers from mainstream publications such as the Washington Post, the Guardian, and many others, collaborated and discussed online which issues should be examined, and which withheld from the general public.
What both Journolist and GameJournoPros have engaged in is not journalism, but censorship.
GAME OVER for the press?
Ever since the publication of the GameJournoPros mails, several people indicted on the list have made sporadic comments on it, mainly commenting that it was more of an informal list rather than a professional discussion forum, contrary to the content of the leaked e-mails. Meanwhile, the movement for better ethical standards in the press continues two months after the original blog post went online. So far the press has not made the desired improvement. For how long will this battle continue? Will the gaming press run out of lives and reach game over? The timer ticks on.
For now stay up to date on coverage on both pro and anti-GamerGate news, by visiting https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction
Simon Giesen, class of 2016, is a Social Science major (Economics) from Bilthoven, the Netherlands.