Ian Miles Cheong has written an outstanding GamerGate retrospective which should be read in full. A couple of excerpts:
GamerGate was not created in a vacuum. Disillusion with the gaming press had been brewing since the mid-2000s, especially concerns raised over the industry’s embrace of sponsored reviews.
Video game consumers were highly concerned with digital rights management (DRM), loot boxes, and “games as a service” (which is the game industry’s way of saying customers don’t own the products they pay for). Video game journalists, completely out of touch with the consumers they supposedly served, chose instead to focus on insular reviews of atypical games, brushed aside consumer complaints in negligent coverage of games with serious problems, and participated in press events that served as little more than all-expense-paid vacations for games journalists.
To add to this disenchantment with gaming journalism, consumers noticed a troubling trend in the early 2010s. The gaming press had become quite obviously partisan, injecting progressive political commentary into their coverage.
With the rise of broader social justice culture, political correctness was slowly injected into the gaming press through reviews and articles criticizing video games for their edgy humor or politically tone-deaf content. Case in point, the Japanese creators of Resident Evil 5—a game set in a generic African country—received heavy criticism for its portrayal of Africans as a host of stereotypes. Granted, these responses had some merit, but crucially, similar efforts were made to condemn less egregious “offenses”—games journalism just became an expression of “cancel culture” writ large.
The efforts to stifle conversation about the “Zoe Post” didn’t only revolve around censorship. They also took the form of a series of articles, now memorialized as the “Gamers are Dead” articles by GamerGate’s proponents. These pieces tactically vilified those attempting to discuss the “Zoe Post” as a manifestation of overrun misogynistic toxicity in gaming culture—deserving of cancellation.
Alexander’s piece set the tone for subsequent coverage. Gaming culture, Alexander and her co-conspirators decided, was misogynistic and childlike, and that the game industry needed to “grow up,” turning away from the “generation of lonely basement kids” who were its primary consumers.
GamerGate is important because I believe it was the genesis of a lot of the Democrat Party’s current political tactics and also the big jump-off point of internet social justice activism. As noted in Cheong’s article, the games media and its readership had an increasingly acrimonious relationship, mostly over its corrupt behavior and preaching about politics, and the media’s anger at being called out for it by more vocal gamers.
When the events leading up to Gamergate took place, the games press convinced themselves and their colleagues that video gamers were a collective seething mass of right-wing white supremacists who were somehow conspiring to “keep women out of gaming.”
Video gamers aren’t a “represented” group – meaning they don’t have any PR firms working for them, or prominent spokesmen or Washington lobbyists, so the gaming press (with a lot of help from the so-called “mainstream” media) was able to convince the country at large that video gamers were a bunch of right wing Nazis and a major threat to social order.
After the media successfully created this narrative, they then began applying pressure to social media companies and other internet companies to “deplatform” their critics. One of the earliest victims of this campaign was Milo Yiannopoulos, who was forced off social media. The first major wave of deplatformings on Twitter were of vocal gamers who criticized the gaming media about their bad behavior.
Most of the games journalists who were responsible for this found their fortunes declining, and many eventually lost their jobs. Many of the press outlets who were involved are also now struggling financially. However, the damage was done as the gaming community had its reputation ruined and was irrevocably politicized and split. The Democrats had also been watching GamerGate with great interest and learning from it.
As most of you know, deplatforming didn’t stop with GamerGate. The tactics which had been so successfully deployed against video gamers were expanded to be applied against Donald Trump and his supporters, who faced spurious claims of racism, sexism, and homophobia as a pretext for being driven off the internet.
This campaign has also been fairly successful, as the right is now constantly on the defensive struggling to defend themselves against charges that they are white supremacists. This smear has been successful enough that the authorities are beginning to passively support or even incite violence against Trump and his supporters. The media’s open support for Antifa is a great example of this.
I also want to draw attention to the last two paragraphs of this article, where Cheong discusses how the gaming industry essentially turned on its own customers.
Last Friday, developers working for Respawn Entertainment went to Reddit to answer questions about their game, Apex Legends.Apex Legends is a “battle royale” multiplayer game, and it has recently been embroiled in controversies over in-game microtransactions and loot boxes, costing players hundreds of dollars to unlock. Those who have read my previous work on loot boxes will know they are a form of gambling.
Most gamers hate microtransactions and loot boxes, because it forces a player to pay over and over again for a game they have already spent money on to purchase. Loot boxes are such a significant controversy that Congress is talking about banning them..Respawn’s developers, when they went to Reddit to talk about the game, had to be aware of player anger, but nonetheless seem to have been unprepared for it.
The developers proceeded to have a public meltdown in the thread when angry gamers asked them hard questions about the loot boxes and microtransactions. The lowlights:
“I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember when players weren’t complete ass-hats to developers and it was pretty neat. I forged a bunch of long lasting relationships from back then,” he said in one comment. “Would be awesome to get back there, and not engaging with toxic people or asking ‘how high’ when a mob screams ‘jump’ is hopefully a start.”
In reply to user who called the devs “money-grabbing fucks”, McCoy said: “Hey everyone—found the dick I was talking about.” Later in the discussion, he said: “I think technically I was calling gamers dicks? I dunno. I had a spicy lunch, feelin’ it.”
McCoy also joked that most players are “freeloaders”: “The amount of people who spend is crazy low, most of ya’ll are freeloaders (and we love that!) and a change in price doesn’t move the needle.”
Community manager Jay Frechette came to McCoy’s defense when fans jumped on the comments, pointing out that players had slung personal insults at the team. “So it’s fine for you all to call us liars, full of shit, and other personal attacks when we communicate an apology and update to the event but we’re ‘immature’ when we call people out on it. Got it,” he said.
Unfortunately, in the wake of GamerGate, this behavior has become all too common in the video game industry. When an industry figure behaves badly and is called out for it, the figure now inevitably complains they are being attacked by “toxic” “entitled” fans and make claims about “receiving death threats” to justify their awful behavior. This is essentially what Respawn’s developers did.
I’m always extremely skeptical of the claims of “death threats.” Whenever people behaving badly on social media start complaining about death threats, they always fail to approach the police about said death threats, and almost never produce any evidence of actual threats received. I tend to be very skeptical of people who claim to be “terrified” of death threats yet refuse to approach law enforcement or even produce evidence they’ve actually been threatened.
As someone who has been writing on this blog since 2016, I can say flat out that if you are unable to develop a thick skin, are unable to handle some criticism, and are unable to deal with personal attacks, then you should not be interacting with the general public as a representative of your company on social media.
While some Reddit posters may have been rude to the developers, the developers are supposed to be professionals and behave in a professional way as representatives of their company. The people on Reddit who are talking about this game are going to be the most fanatical and devoted of the fans. They are likely to provide free advertising and sell your game for you, and they are the most likely to spend money on it.
Attacking customers and fans collectively, especially as a way to dodge hard questions about your highly questionable business practices, is incredibly foolhardy and damaging to your company’s reputation.
In my opinion, Respawn should have disciplined or fired these developers, but there’s no evidence at all that this will happen. Essentially, the company seems to be doubling down, with the CEO saying that while he was sorry for the tone the developers took, he felt that they were speaking out in reaction to “nasty comments.”
I’m amazed these developers are going to get away with this. I can say with complete confidence that if I ever attacked any of my company’s customers the way the developers did, I’d be out of a job, no matter how important my position in the company was or how well liked I was by my bosses.
Unfortunately, GamerGate has popularized the view of gamers as “toxic entitled misogynist right wing Nazis,” and has created perverse incentives for video game businesses to attack their own customers to gain social credit on social media, while at the same time doing financial damage to their company and sometimes even to themselves personally.
It’s worth noting there’s another industry which is self-immolating in a very similar manner to the video game industry, and that is the so-called mainstream media, which sheds readers as the media’s politics become increasingly radical and the media becomes increasingly out of touch with its potential customers.