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Escaping the echo chamber: GamerGaters and journalists have more in common than they think

Let some noise in
Escaping the echo chamber: GamerGaters and journalists have more in common than they think

As I discussed in last week's Stateside, it's not hard to find people online criticising the GamerGate movement.

However, for all it's troublesome elements, it's served as a powerful reminder to developers and journalists alike that, ultimately, both groups are separated from their audience.

Let's look at the gaming press.

The number of foolish "gamers are dead" stories that were published in such a short amount of time gave rise to the GamerGates keen to talk up the notion of a conspiracy across the games press, and the suggestion that several competing publications discussed how to cover the scandals that result – casually or otherwise – suggested a lack of objective distance.

The idea that new jobs are also kept 'in-house' – freelance gigs awarded to journalists already in 'the circle' as it were – also paints a picture of an industry closed off to new blood to an unhealthy degree.

Tap into stories like this and it's not hard to come to the conclusion that GamerGate isn't completely without merit. Talk of a conspiracy may be a little far fetched, but there's definitely a suggestion that the games press has become far too casual, both amongst itself and with the industry it's attempting to cover.

The GameJournoPros group cited by Breitbart is hardly exhaustive of the entirety of the gaming press, but it does show that it is highly prone to that echo chamber effect.

Closed off

The problem is that in these closed-off echo chambers, it becomes easy to only hear agreement from like-minded people.

This is natural – birds of a feather flock together. What's more, to a certain extent, covering games successfully requires a certain perspective of the industry - you by nature have to know a lot about a lot of games, and it becomes difficult for many to tackle any one specific topic because the aggregate is always moving and shifting.

As such, it becomes easy for something like saying the gamer identity is dead because of a few miscreants when the people you converse with are in the echo chamber telling you what to hear.

It's easy to think that you're diverse and welcoming. It's another to actually be so.

Game development communities suffer much of the same problem. Social media has empowered marginalised voices, but there are cliques that form from people who are friends, who amplify each other's voices and shape the discussion, to the point where others may feel a need to fit in.

The press, who may be friendly with these people, may be afraid to vocally disagree with them. I know I am. It creates that very same echo chamber effect. As a result, suddenly insulting gamers – your customer base – en masse can make sense once a large enough voice agrees. Dismissing any criticism along with the legitimate abuse for being 'neckbeards' and 'virgins' is pretty much accepted.

There are also plenty of ironic misandrists who wind up reinforcing the neologism they regard as illegitimate and wind up insulting transgender men in their wake. Whoops! Oh, and Xoxo Fest? For a festival that featured Feminist Frequency's Anita Sarkeesian and plenty of progressive voices, it was quite the lily-white affair and helped serve as another one of GamerGate's moments of actual brilliance.

It's easy to think that you're diverse and welcoming when you say you are, and everyone around you agrees. It's another to actually be so, and not just a bunch of sarcastic bullies on a moral high ground.

The wrong fight

Nevertheless, GamerGate is by no means a perfect movement. It is perhaps the most compact echo chamber of them all. It is so obsessed with social justice warriors and how they're corrupting the media, and its continued hangups with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn that most valid points the movement makes are accidental.

They're punching wildly and occasionally get a body blow in, when they could get some shots to the face in with actual controlled strikes.

It's especially sad when communities become too caught up in agreeing with themselves, believing that they're inclusive to think that the might not be. I think the most powerful example is in what Maddy Myers wrote earlier this year criticising "Powerful Journalist Men" right before Giant Bomb got flak for hiring industry veteran Dan Ryckert instead of a more diverse hire.

In the piece she criticises almost the exact same thing as GamerGate: the deep rooted homogeneity of the gaming press. However, she and other progressives are too busy shouting down and mocking the GamerGate folks to really move the debate forward.

Meanwhile, on the other site of the fence, GamerGate supporters do much the same thing, obsessing over conspiracies and Milo Yiannopolous' latest lurid 'revelations'. Both are too wrapped up to realise that, perhaps, they have a lot in common. I mean, chances all involved probably don't like Ben Kuchera. That's probably a good place to start.

The signal, the noise

The fact is, it can be difficult to get both the benefits of a like-minded community whilst also avoiding the echo chamber effect. However, what members of communities - from developers to journalists to customers who are critical of those establishments - can do is to ensure that they let some outside noise into the echo chamber.

One is for communities to always seek out and welcome critical voices. There are concern trolls, but it's better to engage with them rather than to disregard them entirely. We should all realise that, often people don't often say what they mean and mean what they say.

Communities should always seek out and welcome critical voices.

If someone's mad, seek out the core of their anger. It's often something that can be solved. Developers should listen to their customers' complaints. At times, if they send you nasty emails or tweets, there's something there you can address by talking to them as reasonable humans.

And game journalists can perhaps take GamerGate a bit more seriously, because even we can be critical of ourselves when necessary. Yes, there's many problematic elements to GamerGate, but there's enough validity that we should take them in stride. I check in on #GamerGate, Milo Yiannopolous' Twitter feed, and r/KotakuInAction not because I want to or because I agree, but because I disagree, and want to maybe understand the people critical of my livelihood a little better.

I think others should as well, because if you seek them out, they absolutely have valid things to say about the homogeneity of opinion and double standards in the media.

We could also do a better job at explaining how as an enthusiast press, mingling can be beneficial to all parties, though monitored so that unethical behaviour is prevented.

Fresh blood

When you're in a community, make sure that you are ensuring that fresh blood can enter it and that fresh ideas can grow. Especially in local development and press communities – just because someone is in the same city doesn't mean that they aren't part of that city's community. Find ways to include others when possible, and seek out ways to be more diverse, not just wish for it.

Finally, the best thing you can do is to get out and interact with other people and communities, in person if you can. When I was at Chicago's Bit Bash, organized by the Chicago gaming community (including, for disclosure, one person that I consider a close friend), there was no worry about GamerGate. It was just people coming together to enjoy games.

I know plenty of pro and anti-GamerGate folk had friendly interactions at PAX without even knowing. Too often, we can become insular in our echo chambers. Step outside. Let some noise in.

Carter Dotson is a freelancer mobile/games writer. You can follow him via Twitter.