The Two Camps
It would be hard to classify the Gamergate fiasco into distinct “organizations,” because the conflict didn’t begin that way, and never really coalesced into concrete organizations fighting each other. However, it would be appropriate to call the opposing sides “camps,” for lack of a better word. Since the conflict began very personal in nature, between Eron Gjoni and Zöe Quinn, the two factions that arose remained a very informal alliance throughout the debacle.
There were formal organizations that popped up once the magnitude of the conflict got out of hand – like the Crash Override network, for example, but things like this were mainly to treat the ancillary effects of Gamergate – online abuse, for example – it wasn’t an “Anti-Gamergate” organization.
The GGers, for example, would essentially band together whenever there was enough steam for a group endeavor – like DNS attacking Gawker, filling Anita Sarkeesian’s youtube videos with abusive comments so that she was forced to disable them, doxxing ‘devs’ and others who they feel are corrupt, and creating websites meant to organize who they were in favor of and who they were boycotting.
These efforts and alliances were very much driven by fervor and passion, though, and lacking the formal structure, quickly dissolved when the Gamergate sentiment died down. This is clearly visible when you visit the now-virtually empty GG subreddits.
The New Media Strategy
As mentioned before, these two camps used media in distinctly different ways. The Gamergaters showed their prowess with technology by employing every single tool in the digital age – remixes, memes, tweets, more memes, and heavy interactive blog activity (reddit, 4chan, etc).
This type of usership I believe certainly gave them the edge in the discussion. Picking a fight with a very tech-savvy demographic, especially over the internet, didn’t really go well for the anti-gamergaters, ie, the MSM, feminists, gaming journalists and game developers. With their hive-mind abilities, they could essentially hijack the internet at will, which wreaked havoc upon Quinn and Sarkeesian of course, but also for the press outlets that spoke out against the movement (see Gawker).
So, even though the anti-gamergaters were able to take the moral high ground, and the mainstream media only covered the one angle of harassment (never going into the details of the elitism or possible collusion), the war didn’t really stop until the Gamergaters lost steam and/or stopped caring.
Key Issues & Controversies on Social Media
They key issues of Gamergate pretty much remained constant throughout the clash. On one side, you have a group of avid gamers who felt that the gaming “elite,” as they called it, were a clique of developers and journalists all working together in collusion and not adhering to principles of transparency that the industry needed. Their way of solving this problem, unfortunately, was insanely large and complex harassment and abuse campaigns.
The other side -the game developers, journalists, and abuse victims (and subsequently the mainstream media) – essentially responded only to the abuse, and presented the entire debacle as a demographic of frustrated white males living in their parent’s basement all bonding together in a misogynistic tirade.
At its core, this phenomenon represents the epitome of a controversy – the two sides literally couldn’t even agree on what they were fighting about.
This played out on social media much more dynamically than it did on older, more traditional formats. Since the mainstream media was very much anti-Gamergate, it only touched on the abuse and harassment dimension. However, the internet is the arena of the Gamergaters, so this obviously yielded much more…lively…results.
What Surprised Me
To be honest, what I was struck with the hardest during my research was the fact that people actually spent their lives quarreling over such dribble. That they cared so much. How could you conjure so much hate for a person who is just sitting in their corner of the world making some silly video game? What if she did sleep with someone to get a positive review (which she didn’t)? Who cares?? When’s the last time a positive review for something you didn’t like actually changed your mind about that thing? Never. You’re either going to like it or you’re not. It’s different if a newspaper printed that your favorite restaurant had an ebola outbreak. But someone’s opinion on a video game?? I was completely awestruck at not only the level of vitriol, venom, time, effort, complexity (not to mention the boundaries you must feel okay with crossing while hacking into someone’s personal documents to share online), and group endeavor it took to dox the people that they did, but also the level of online infrastructure that has been built to support these communities and this subculture. It was very much like discovering another world. Not a world I would like to go back to, honestly, but the amount of time and manhours these people put into these things that seem so utterly useless and vapid just blew me away. How about we devote maybe 10% of this human energy to uncovering real corruption in our government? How about the corruption in the auto and power industries that have very much been stalling our transition to clean energy and putting literally the entire world in danger? No? Not important? But Zöe Quinn’s sex life is? Gotcha.
Gamergate Through Different Lenses
When looking at Gamergate through the lens of internet freedom, I realized it very much does not conform to fears of censorship. In fact, Gamergate displays a robust use of the first amendment – even if it is about video game reviews and harassing someone into depression.
Surprisingly, a lot of the readings about surveillance and privacy, especially with how marketers target you and your interests, seem interestingly inapplicable to the Gamergate phenomenon. Privacy is certainly an issue, in that doxxing became the primary tool for the GGers, but that was a very targeted breach of privacy done by a small group of weirdly motivated hackers, as opposed to the systematic and large scale privacy issues that come with monitoring and tracking for big data in the digital age.
When looking at Gamergate through the lens of the Digital Divide, and inequality, one thing becomes very clear: this is a petty, awful, first-world problem that no one should have ever paid any attention to. At first glance one thinks, “hmm, I don’t see any apparent inequity in this conflict,” and then it dawns on you. “Oh, because literally all of these people are privileged and this is how they choose to spend their time.” They all have internet connectivity (with speeds high enough to play games), they all have fast enough computers and not to mention enough time without having to work to log hours and hours into video games.
But of course, this makes one think about women’s access to video games – are they all being bullied out like the Gamergate harassment makes it look like? Well, with prominent #notyourshield posts from minorities and women proclaiming that they indeed are also gamers, and that the anti-GGers are just using them as ammunition in the fight certainly complicates that statement and seemingly throws it out the window.
Looking at Gamergate through the Cathedral and Bazaar model actually yields some interesting thoughts to be explored. For instance, the corruption that GGers are so mad about seems to stem from the fact that there are a relatively few, powerful game development studios, and that they are in collusion with a small number of powerful media agencies.
Now, if more people had access to the game’s development, like an open source bazaar model, maybe the anger about corruption would subside. However, when you look around, there are plenty of small game developers making their own games, even releasing mods for bigger games (like the community that modifies the Bethesda game Skyrim, for example).
So it seems that the cathedral and bazaar model coexist in the gaming world – but this hasn’t stopped corruption or simply people getting angry over what one developer did (*cough* Zöe Quinn) even if they did build a small low-budget game by themselves.