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It's not about ethics, it's about hate: The games industry closes the door on GamerGate

Our Mavens sum up the last few months
It's not about ethics, it's about hate: The games industry closes the door on GamerGate

Last week, Anita Sarkeesian went on The Colbert Report in the US to talk GamerGate, highlighting the unavoidably mainstream nature of the issue - 

Though the hashtag itself shows no sign of disappearing, the debate itself appears to have stalled, with attention instead focused on death threats and bomb scares from anonymous contributors.

So, now months on, we decided to ask our Mavens what their take on the GamerGate movement is. We asked:

Does GamerGate raise valid issues about games development and journalism, or is it simply a stick to beat those searching for equality within games with?

Harry Holmwood

Harry Holmwood

CEO at Marvelous Europe

I think, at its heart, it has very little to do with ethics in journalism, although I think it's succeeded in getting people who genuinely do care about ethics in journalism on board in the same way that Britain First manages to trick non-racist people into sharing their propaganda on Facebook.

It's very sad. Looking at it all from outside, what I see is a lot of people taking entrenched positions, and a handful of idiots lashing out with totally unacceptable behaviour which has nothing to do with whatever side of the arguments they consider themselves on.

We've seen this before over the years - I got an email death threat or two years ago for suggesting the Wii Remote wasn't the best possible motion sensor (something the launch of the MotionPlus some time later kind of validated!) and, while it's easy to laugh off one or two anonymous emails, the scale of abuse we've seen over the last year or so, whether to Call of Duty designers or media critics has taken that to a whole new level.

I can't imagine how horrible it must be to be on the receiving end, particularly considering that some of those who have have histories of depression and may already be very vulnerable.

It's a shame that abuse, carried out by a handful, drowns out any meaningful discussion and becomes the story in its own right. It's also a shame that bad behaviour of a small number of game players starts to be perceived as reflecting on the industry itself.

“I hate the idea that the image of the games industry as a haven of prejudice would put anyone off joining.”
Harry Holmwood

We've still got a way to go I'm sure, and maybe it's easy for me to say as a white, male, straight, middle-aged gaming exec - but I'm not convinced by the idea that the game industry is somehow more sexist/racist/homophobic than society at large.

I hate the idea that the image of the games industry as a haven of prejudice would put anyone off joining what I have always seen (checks privilege, or whatever it is I'm supposed to do at this point) as a pretty tolerant, inclusive if still male-dominated sector.

It's the nature of social media that the loudest voices can seem more relevant than they really are, and it's very easy for us sit in echo chambers of our own making which can self-affirm our beliefs and prejudices. I'm always astonished to find that, while the majority of people on my Facebook feed, on forums I frequent, that I follow on Twitter or that I spend time with in real life tend to back up my own world view, my surprise at election results suggests the whole world doesn't actually think like me at all.

As someone who's probably a good 10-20 years older than those at the heart of the GamerGate thing, I feel like I look at it with a sense of detached bemusement. I actually find it hard to believe people are _really_ that angry.

I don't, for a minute, imagine that people would be issuing death threats, attempting to close down arguments, or generally just being as rude as they seem to be to each other, were they to be doing it face to face. I must have met thousands of games developers and journalists over the years, and probably even more game players - and they've mostly been extremely nice, gentle, intelligent, thoughtful people.

I think our civilisation (and laws) haven't quite caught up with the pace of technology over the last few years, and aggressive or reactionary thoughts (we all have them) that, a decade ago, would have been forgotten in a moment or, at best, jotted down in someone's personal diary, can now reach a worldwide audience in a second. I think things like GamerGate will hasten the introduction of more stringent laws, and technologies, to make this kind of online abuse easier to trace and prosecute.

That will probably be a good thing, because nobody should have to suffer it, whatever their expressed views, gender, race or sexuality.

Will Luton

Will Luton

Founder/CPO Village Studio Games

At this point the Gamergate movement is so embroiled with misogyny and hate that if there's any genuine points to be made ethics they're lost by what has been done in its name.

I also think a lot of Gaters see the movement as a game where the win scenario is to halt or regress games culture's evolution. Digital, mobile, F2P, indie and all the associated changes we've seen over the last five years means that games are no longer for self identifying gamers. That's a scary prospect for gamers, I'm sure.

William D. Volk

William D. Volk

Chief Futurist at Forward Reality

When the claim of lack of ethics in game journalism originates with a jilted lovers online revengeful screed, you're not on solid ground to begin with. Then add the hateful threats and misogyny and you really don't have a sound basis for any claims.

What GamerGate did was to get me to watch some of Anita Sarkeesian's video, and she makes good valid points. I say this as someone who has worked on some of the more sexist games published (Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2 as one example), but never on a game that exhibited violence toward women (as illustrated in her videos). That I find distressing as a man and as a father.

Where does 1992 title<em> Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2</em> sit in the current debate?
Where does 1992 title Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2 sit in the current debate?

I'm currently working on a somewhat sexist humorous mobile puzzle title, aimed at college age men, so I'm not calling for censorship ... but some restraint would be a good thing.

So maybe the end result will be a healthy examination of the role of female characters in games. There was a time when we had a good number of strong female characters in games (Kings Quest comes to mind), I think the marketing, particularly in triple-A, has become increasingly niche. That should evolve. As it is, in gaming overall, women gamers represent the majority.

Dan Gray

Dan Gray

Chief Creative Officer at Ustwo games

Top comments Harry and possibly the closest thing to my own opinion I've read anywhere since this whole thing began.

I do feel any decent discussion that even mentions the phrase GamerGate at this point is doomed to fail due to everything that's happened. It's pretty much turned into two sides:

  • You guys are a bunch of Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) who want to delete the games we like from the face of the earth and change everything about my favourite hobby. The world is turning into bland lifeless place where nobody is allowed to creatively express themselves anymore and there needs to be regulations on games journalist as all you do is sleep with each other.
  • You "Gaters" are nothing but a bunch of misogynistic basement dwellers who hate everything that isn't violence. You've all acted in a despicable way and I blame you all for the death threats.

It's a spider web of mess and doesn't actually get to the bottom of anything anymore, I wish we could just wipe the slate clean and discuss from scratch for the betterment of the industry.

Dave Castelnuovo

Dave Castelnuovo

Owner at Bolt Creative

I think that creators need to stay true to their vision. Whether you are a game news outlet or a game developer, I believe that you owe it to yourself to create something you believe in and not have it be overly affected by people looking in from the outside.

Even when it comes to making money, you can choose whether to put something out into the world that is just a statement and not meant to make money or whether you want to adjust your art based on the market forces and make it more palatable to the paying masses. In the end it should be your choice, it's wrong for someone to bully you into compromising your artistic integrity.

Games journalism is a subsection of entertainment journalism, in which lies a huge amount of diversity all the way from highly respected news outlets to outlets that are pure tabloid. It's really up to the game site to decide where they lay on that spectrum. This is not politics, this is not world news nor is anyone covering topics that influence people's financial future. Its entertainment, you have a right to be biased if you want.

That said, most game sites are a hell of a lot better than the bottom feeders in the entertainment industry and for the most part it seems like game journalists care about ethics. I mean heck, all the big game sites look a lot more like the BBC than FOX news (sorry, American here that assumes the BBC is credible and doesn't know the UK equivalent of FOX news).

“Every time I log into Twitter there is some new game drama igniting with people on both sides yelling at each other. I'm kind of sick of it.”
Dave Castelnuovo

When it comes to game development, I feel that a developer should be able to follow their vision. Of course there will always be critical feedback but a game designer should not get bullied because they choose to make a game that is targeted at the male demographic. For the most part game designers think creatively and especially with indies and smaller studios, they tend to make games that appeal to everyone and desire to throw out the tropes that Anita talks about in her videos. It should be up to the developer as far as where they fall on this spectrum.

It's a shame that we can't talk about these issues more. Discussing these issues would allow us to make the most progress in terms of the craft of game development. Instead we are part of a much larger issue that takes away from all meaningful discussion.

Although misogyny is a real issue and a big part of this, I don't think it's the main issue. We are hitting a point in internet culture where people feel like they can escalate things immediately to death threats for the smallest inconvenience. Individual entitlement is at an all-time high and along with the anonymity of the internet, makes for a really dangerous combination.

The Mavens just addressed video game entitlement and death threats when it came to Godus. Just last week there was news of an indie making death threats to Gabe Newell over the fact that their game page took a little longer than usual to reflect the availability status of their game. In the case of Gabe Newell, there was action that could be taken against the dev that made the death threat. In the case of GamerGate, there is really nothing that can be done without radically changing the way the internet works and removing the parts of it that we value most like privacy.

We are in a new age where things like this will happen more frequently and overall anger is increasing daily. I don't know about anyone here but every time I log into Twitter there is some new game drama igniting with people on both sides yelling at each other. I'm kind of sick of it.

Scott Foe

Scott Foe

Chief Product Officer at Ignited Artists

GamerGate is terrible. GamerGate is simple.

GamerGate is about cyberbullying and its real effect requires the lobbying of legislatures. Real effect requires marches in force on nations' capitals. Real effect requires focused, impacting action toward changing the way in which cyberbullying is policed, prosecuted, and punished. Anything else is just masturbatory, and that includes the words that I am typing here.

GamerGate is about cyberbullying, and hashtags like #WeWontStandForThis, or, whatever, serve no utility. Tweets echoing off of tweets, signifying nothing ...

GamerGate is about cyberbullying, and no amount of "gamers are dead" articles are going to hush the mob. No show-offy ask-me-anything will do...well...anything. Do you really think that something short of incarceration and court-appointed therapy (or, my personal favourite, execution-therapy) is going to stop a SMALL GROUP OF PSYCHOPATHS WHO WANT TO COLLABORATE ONLINE TO DRIVE A PERSON TO KILL HERSELF!?


GamerGate is about cyberbullying, and the only way to deal with exploiters is to terrorize the bastards. Who will bully the bullies? Do you want freedom from cyberbullying? Sadly, as with any movement for civil rights, change costs blood.

Terrible. Simple.

Dave Castelnuovo

Dave Castelnuovo

Owner at Bolt Creative

Anger doesn't get rid of anger. In the Steam case it was a firm boundary that was placed. No anger, just “threaten the death of our CEO? You will have your privileges revoked and pay the financial price".

Incarceration and punishment is absolutely necessary (but hard to execute) if we want to stem this behaviour. But harassment of the harassers will only increase overall harassment.

After I wrote my post, I was thinking that the airlines have actually had success in dealing with this issue. Air rage was getting rampant back in the day. Now there is no tit for tat, no argument, no debate. You cause a scene, we land the plane and throw you in jail. We need a similar system that forces internet users to be responsible for their own actions, it's just anyone's guess on how to implement it.

But I do agree, hashtags are completely useless, it really just advertises GamerGate and gives them what they want. You are feeding the troll.

Kevin Corti

Kevin Corti

Principal at Spidershed Media

I have a confession to make. A few weeks ago I scribed a fairly uninteresting combo of 140 characters (expressing my annoyance that the whole GamerGate mess was so manifest) to push out onto the internet…hesitated for 20 seconds, then deleted it.

My reasoning? I wasn't comfortable expressing a counter view through the means of a personally identifiable channel. How's that for encouraging free speech?

My point; we need to stop referring to GamerGate as a 'debate'. This isn't a debate that's happening, it's a bunch of nasty people confusing their own angry prejudices with some weird sense of righteousness fuelled by the amplification of anonymous social media. They do not have a viewpoint that can be adjusted through open and reasoned discourse.

“GamerGate is a bunch of nasty people confusing their own angry prejudices with some weird sense of righteousness fuelled by the amplification of anonymous social media.”
Kevin Corti

In an era where consumers have almost perfect and unlimited choice of genre, platform and pricing of the things they so apparently love, it is patently ridiculous for anyone to claim to be somehow 'underserved' by an industry that is in fact desperate for people who will play and pay for their produce. You want 'it'? It's available!

When it is so easy to find the types of games you like elsewhere or to find and consume media aligned to your viewpoints, to make an argument that you are being somehow 'attacked' is utterly disingenuous and thus, to my simple mind, exposes the true nature of the kind so people that are fuelling this ridiculous 'movement'.

This isn't 'true gamers' standing up for their rights - not by any measure. If a normal, reasoned person disagrees with a particular games site giving 'Gone Home' 9/10 they would surely just question whether that particular media channel is the one that reflects their views, decide not and move on. I don't like the Daily Mail. I don't buy it. Simple.

Does anyone actually believe that an individual who posts on a forum something that combines references to both 'ethics' and direct threats to rape/murder someone has, in any way, a genuine concern about ethics? Seriously?

I do hope that some genuinely positive things can come out of this though…

  1. That the leaders within the industry (game makers, game 'sellers' and games media) realise that they cannot now stand idly by and allow their staff, colleagues and peers to face the force of this with anything but total support. In the battle for eyeballs, product and advertising revenue it is too easy to sit back and hope this all blows away without taking strident action to stand up to it. Any organisation that panders to the low life cowards making violent threats damages its own brand in the long run.
  2. That the police and prosecution services take this seriously and take active measures to track down and punish the worst offenders. Without any shadow of a doubt that will be extremely difficult if not nigh on impossible in many cases but examples need to be set that this is not acceptable. Can you imagine if this was a different context where, say the violent threats were originating in the US from people within Middle Eastern communities? Does anyone think that SWAT teams wouldn't be smashing down doors and thrusting a dozen M16s at the suspects' torsos?

I think that this is probably the greatest opportunity that this amazing industry has to show it's true colours and finally cast off the stereotypes of the past to show it is a mature, responsible and positive force in society.

Patrick Liu

Patrick Liu

Senior Product Owner, Spotify

It seems most of us here are in agreement what GamerGate stands for, and if there ever was any genuine concern for ethics it's long gone by now.

“Most people I have spoken to just need some explanation, and once they understand they actually agree.”
Patrick Liu

What I can't wrap my head around is what is it they are so afraid of losing really? Is it any specific sexist element that is so very important for their favourite games? As far as freedom of speech goes, most people would accept that mainstream games don't include for example racist or pornographic content, but sexist content is sacred?

At the end of the day, I think most people have yet to truly see the unhealthy patterns in society and understand what feminism/sexism means. Most people I have spoken to just need some explanation, and once they understand they actually agree.

It's like the Matrix, as long as you're in it it's impossible to comprehend what the problem is. Once you take the red pill you will understand and fight for it. Or maybe you want to get back and live in blissful ignorance and status quo.

Adam Telfer

Adam Telfer

Consultant at MobileFreeToPlay

Much has already been said and I agree.

This is not a debate about ethics or a community's identity being attacked. Anita has said it again and again - this is solely about a group of individuals being bullied for putting forth progressive views on an industry that needed to hear it. Any spin offs or discussions about ethics in journalism or reviews being adjusted based on political stance are distractions from the core issue.

As this dies down I hope that it turns into permanent change in the industry. Developers and publishers must recognise that the market does not want games that objectify women or play to these male fantasies. The mainstream market wants fun games that don't play to these stereotypes.

I hope that Anita and the many other progressive minds continue to speak out and do not back down.

Keith Andrew

Keith Andrew

Like Adam, I agree with much – if not almost all – of what has been said here.

The only thing I take issue with is any assertion that games journalism or journalism that covers any entertainment industry is afforded a certain amount of bias. That should never be the case.

It doesn't matter whether I've spent the last eight years covering the games industry, confectionary, theme parks, toys, or any other supposedly 'light' non-life-changing matter; the long and short of it is these are all industries, and people's livelihoods rely on their existence. Consumers, too, have rights, whether they're buying candy, queuing up for the latest rollercoaster or paying out for an in-app purchase in Clash of Clans.

“GamerGate could be the perfect example of modern day people power. Just a shame that those behind it actually have nothing worthwhile to say.”
Keith Andrew

Yes, reviews and editorials are subjective, but the base of games journalism should be no more or less biased than someone covering a major conflict. I've said before that games journalism is very green – it attracts a lot of new writers and the structure of it means many have to find their way on the job rather than via any kind of training, but their goal should always be the same – to convey the truth to their audience as they see it.

That's all you can ask of any journalist and the entertainment industry is absolutely no different.

The joke about GamerGate, however, is that it isn't focused on this at all. What GamerGater label as 'bias' actually means 'any view that differs from their own'. These so-called lists of SJW journalists simply lists notorious journalists who (some more successfully than others) like to write about issues beyond simply giving the latest Call of Duty an eight out of ten. It's an incredibly narrow slice designed to turn a few select people into hate figures.

Why? Because, I suspect a lot of Gaters are quite young and all this seems quite fun. It's exciting to talk conspiracies. It's exciting to – thanks to social media – punch at the same level as these writers and developers.

In short, the GamerGate movement is evidence that the internet gives people the power to get their voice heard. It could be the perfect example of modern day people power, in fact, if it weren't for the fact that those behind it actually have nothing worthwhile to say.