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13 Jan 2015 20:35

How to End Gamergate

Decoding the tech world.
Oct. 28 2014 12:53 PM

How to End Gamergate

A divide-and-conquer plan for dissolving a toxic online movement.

Photo by Stockbyte/Thinkstock.
Gamers are people, too.

Photo by Stockbyte/Thinkstock.

Gamergate must end as soon as possible. The human cost in harassment, threats, stress, and sheer nastiness is too high. People, disproportionately women, are harassed and doxed on a daily basis—in a few cases, even driven from their homes under threat of rape and murder. The Gamergate “debate,” such as it is, currently boils down to people screaming “It’s actually about ethics in gaming journalism!” and “It’s actually about misogyny in the gaming world!” at each other on Twitter. People are forced to take sides or else get caught in the crossfire.

David Auerbach David Auerbach

David Auerbach is a writer and software engineer based in New York. His website is http://davidauerba.ch.

It is imperative to stop Gamergate because it’s currently a troll’s paradise, providing cover for a whole host of bad actors, whether they’re pro-Gamergate, anti-Gamergate, or simply wantonly malicious. Whatever a troll does under the cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but on Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc. Even some of the anti-feminist members of Gamergate still try at least to appear reasonable in order to get their distasteful points across. It’s the psychos, the hateful teenagers, and the diehard trolls who perform the scariest acts, and both sides of Gamergate serve them well. As a thoughtful IGN editorial put it, “[A]dditional visibility only encourages those who want to use the Movement as a means to stop rather than start discussions.” (For this reason, I will not be repeating the grisly details of specific harassment incidents here.)

I recently spoke to a number of vocally anti-Gamergate people and asked them how they planned to end Gamergate. Nobody knew. The standard reply was, “Gamergate should stop harassing people,” which is not an answer. The best I got was, “Gamergaters will get tired of it eventually,” but that’s not good enough. These people are watching a house on fire and refusing to dial 911 because they’re trying to shame the arsonist into making the call.

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(For those who think I have gone too easy on Gamergate, please imagine here the worst invective against Gamergate you can imagine, including comparisons to the Cultural Revolution, the Black Death, and Jeffrey Dahmer.)

You probably can’t kill Gamergate altogether, any more than you can kill misogyny. Even Gamergate’s own members can’t stop their movement, since there’s no central authority. They’re able to manage coordinated action to a point, such as with letter-writing campaigns and attempts to police harassment coming from their ranks. But they can’t stop trolls and lunatics from sending death threats. (Neither can the FBI, it seems, as Amanda Hess reports.) They can’t stop the frequent breaches in tone that go well beyond the bounds of civility. Because they can’t suddenly dissolve their movement, instead you need to reduce the number of active Gamergaters through a strategy of divide and conquer, until what’s left is too small and rancid to appear appealing or effective.

What I’ll try to present below is the quickest way to reduce Gamergate’s members from thousands to hundreds. It is a political plan, not an ideological one, designed to curb the harassment without promoting any particular agenda. You can educate people later not to be misogynists, once people have stopped getting hurt. This isn’t Stonewall.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK

Ending Gamergate will not happen by moral grandstanding. Let’s quickly go over tactics that have been tried so far to stop Gamergate, none of which have worked:

But how do you deal with an amorphous, leaderless, chaotic, and incomprehensible movement like Gamergate? There are no less than 16 factions actively involved on either side, by my count, each with their own particular agendas and resentments. At this point the sides are defined less by ideology than by a) antagonism toward some faction on the other side and b) the willingness to accept (or despise) the Gamergate label:

Loosely Pro-Gamergate Loosely Anti-Gamergate
  • Hardcore and “mantle” gamers
  • Revanchist movement misogynists
  • Heterodox social justice heretics
  • Disgruntled game journalists and devs
  • Heterodox feminists
  • Anti-identity politics liberals
  • Libertarians
  • Anti-librul media conservatives
     
  • “Middlebrow” gaming media
  • Indie gaming scene
  • Social justice orthodoxy
    (Tumblr, ShitRedditSays, etc.)
  • Gawker, Vice, and other “hipster” media
  • Progressive media (e.g., Vox, Verge)
  • Geek-culture celebrities
    (e.g., Joss Whedon, Wil Wheaton)
  • Gaming studies academics
  • Mainstream progressives   

With such outsize personalities involved as ex–Occupy Wall Streeter-turned-neoreactionary Justine Tunney and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange (both pro-Gamergate), as well as footballer/gamer Chris Kluwe and #CancelColbert creator Suey Park (both very much anti-), each side has members who, under normal circumstances, would despise and loathe each other (and sometimes still do: there has been sniping between factions on both sides). The confusing online social justice movement has undergone a schismatic split during the conflict, with a heretical offshoot joining Gamergate—and there’s no way that LGBTQ social justice advocates want to associate with the likes of Breitbart News for a second longer than they feel is necessary. Then there are those—such as advertisers, gaming companies, game magazines, and much of the mainstream and conservative media—who have yet to take a definite side.

The key to reducing the movement’s size lies in the little known but surprisingly numerous species I call the Gamergate moderate (Gamergater moderabilus), which by my estimate constitutes well over half the movement. They are the people who make up Gamergate’s Harassment Patrol, which polices Twitter and has identified and reported some egregious harassers. Three of them appeared on HuffPost Live. Several talked with the Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama. They have spoken (mostly) respectfully to those with whom they disagree on Twitter, Reddit, and blogs, and they tend to self-identify as social and economic liberals (really!). A Gamergate moderate a) genuinely opposes harassment and does not commit it (except inadvertently); b) is upset primarily with the gaming press rather than women per se; and c) feels sufficiently disenfranchised to support Gamergate anyway. That last quality has led science-fiction writer John Scalzi to write that moderates are Gamergate’s “useful idiots,” building up the movement’s numbers and momentum while providing cover for harassment. I won’t comment on their politics, because they’re irrelevant for our immediate purposes. You don’t need to make them into progressive feminists—you just need to get them to leave Gamergate. Let’s make these idiots less useful.

You can see the moderate psychology on display in the two posts below, by trans lesbian gamer Sophia Eris and an anonymous Gamergate member, respectively. The dynamic is not male vs. female but consumer vs. media and victim vs. bullies. The moderates feel that they are unjustly maligned victims, and that Gamergate is their unfortunate port of last resort. It is possible to change that feeling without a cost to diversity and inclusivity in gaming and society: a non-zero-sum solution. The moderates started to fall into the movement’s self-reinforcing narrative when gamers en masse were deemed “obtuse shitslingers,” “misogynerds,” and other epithets in a dozen contemporaneous “gamers are dead” articles; every inflammatory comparison and slur since then (such as Gawker editor Max Read calling Gamergate members “neuroatypicals”) has boosted their numbers. Apologize for these exaggerations and they will start to fall out.

Courtesy of @hiddentranny via Twitter.
The psychology of a Gamergate moderate.

@hiddentranny via Twitter

Anonymous comment via Twitter.
Another Gamergate moderate.

Screenshot of anonymous comment, via Twitter

Above: A member of the gaming press thanking the Harassment Patrol.

The press has the most power to make Gamergate moderates drop out, because Gamergate moderates oppose the press more than they do any other element (yes, including women). The press has understandably not wanted to be seen as “giving in” to Gamergate, but reduced hostility hardly constitutes giving in. If the press acts in good faith and extends a hand to the moderates, they will break free of the Gamergate echo chamber and leave the movement. But the press may first have to admit that some Gamergaters have one or two valid concerns, even if they’ve gone about addressing them in a repugnant manner.

WHAT MIGHT WORK

1. Talks with No Preconditions

As long as Gamergate members are demonized from all sides as harassers and nothing more, moderates and extremists alike will band together. One reason moderates are reluctant to abandon the Gamergate tag is because they’d rather be hated than ignored. But those aren’t the only two options.

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