I can already sense the irritation from the #GamerGate tag on Twitter. “Why are you mentioning ZQ? It’s not about ZQ! Stop bringing up ZQ!” I know, guys. I see your point, believe me I do; I wouldn’t be going down this road if I didn’t think it was important.
But if you will, indulge me in a little free-writing exercise. Let’s say that about a month ago, a scandal broke about a male game developer named Zach Quest.
Now, Zach is a young developer who recently received some acclaim for his first major release, Artistic Game. Zach was fortunate enough to meet a young woman named Erin, and for a while, it was like a dream come true. Unfortunately, not all young love can work out, and eventually Zach and Erin went their separate ways. Heartbroken and angry, Erin wrote a scathing tell-all post, complete with screenshots of chat logs between her and Zach– including multiple confessions from him that he had been abusive.
The effect was immediate: Kotaku and Polygon both ran “Artistic Game Creator Accused of Rape” stories the next day. Granted, those are two different websites, so the headlines weren’t EXACTLY the same, but they were pretty much the same. Other websites soon followed suit. Zach’s name had soon been dragged through the mud all over the internet.
Some readers– perhaps fans of Artistic Game, or just concerned about the extreme tone of the articles– pointed out that an angry ex-lover is not exactly an unbiased source, chat logs or no chat logs. Sure, the logs looked pretty legit, but who could know for sure? It could all be doctored. It could all be cherry-picked to make Zach look as bad as possible; only Erin and Zach know what really happened between them, right?
“Believe the victim,” some of the most prominent voices in the games press said. “Women don’t lie about this.” Blogger after blogger came out to call Erin “brave” for speaking out, “strong” for “punching up,” not being a passive victim of abuse, for not letting another innocent woman be a victim of Zach’s misogyny, etc. Those who doubted the veracity of Erin’s claims were shamed as misogynists: easily-threatened men trying to cover up the real issue of men’s abuse of women with their stupid, ever-so-transparent nitpicking bullshit. Those who characterized her as a bitter ex-girlfriend, thus not the most trustworthy source in regard to Zach’s character, were called out for their stereotypical characterization of a woman as “bitter,” or “spiteful.”
Other gamers were less interested in whether or not Erin was telling the truth, something they could have no way of knowing, and instead cared about the relevance of the story to the readership. After all, even if these awful allegations were all true, what did this have to do with video games? Good person or bad, gamers only care about Zach Quest in his capacity to make video games; why cover his personal life like a supermarket tabloid, especially when there aren’t even any criminal charges, and the only “evidence” is a blog. Shouldn’t the games press be above that?
Once again, the gamers who wanted the video game press to stick to video games were ridiculed. “There’s a systemic problem with misogyny in the gaming industry,” three different writers who wrote for Kotaku (or maybe Gamasutra? Who can tell?) opined. “Gamers support creators with their dollars, and if someone is an abusive jerk who hates women, gamers have a right to know before purchasing their products.” In addition to being called idiots for not seeing the importance of the misogyny epidemic, those who asked “Why are you covering this?” were called misogynists for wanting to cover up clear evidence of misogyny. In fact, the very fact that there were gamers who didn’t want this story covered was touted as proof—indisputable, crystal-clear proof—of just how embedded misogyny is in the game industry. Anyone with an ounce of conscience would want this information out there, so this dirtbag could never abuse another woman again!
Unfortunately for Zach Quest, who was deeply distracted from his furious typing efforts on Artistic Game II: My Dark, Beautiful Soul by all this (Spoiler: his soul’s not that dark), the scandal still wasn’t over. It turned out he had cheated on Erin, and worse, he had done it with a female games journalist: Natasha Garson of Kotaku. Natasha had written a piece that included coverage of Quest, but claimed she wrote it before the two had “done it”; nevertheless, concerned gamers were certain, this time, that they had found common ground with the press. Surely, everyone on all sides of this would agree that this was corruption, it was wrong, and the journalist in question should at the very least be reprimanded for it; not because sex happened to be involved, but because of the breach of journalistic ethics.
Well, they were half-right. Because while the gaming media continued to skewer Zach Quest (Jezebel, sister-site to Kotaku, now regularly referred to him as Zach “RapeGamer” Quest like it was his legal middle name), Natasha Garson was not reprimanded; in fact, members of the games press were quick to point out that she was also a victim. According to her (and remember, no woman has ever lied about sex), she hadn’t known the full extent of Zach’s relationship with Erin when she had slept with him, therefore she had slept with him under false pretenses– in modern parlance, also known as RAPE.
“Artistic Game Creator Now Accused of Double-Rape– including of Kotaku Writer,” wrote Kotaku. (Frankly, everyone at Kotaku should have recused themselves from writing this story, but when asked, senior staff said they had forgotten that recusing “was a thing,” so whatever, it happened.)
Some gamers pointed out that, despite Quest’s inarguably despicable conduct, it was still possible that Garson had committed a serious ethical breach, and that should be investigated. “Why are you defending an (accused) RAPIST?” games journalists responded. Sure, maybe Garson had made a small mistake, but that was so comparatively minor compared to the crimes of Zach DOUBLE RAPIST Quest, who cared? In fact, caring about that at all was a sign of skewed values; in light of these allegations, only a misogynist would care about that. Or as the always-eloquent Lee Alenda put it:
“This woman has been raped by a male game developer- a giant, pulsating, pus-encrusted black eye on our entire industry- and you care about a MINOR ethical breach that MIGHT have happened? Let me ask you: where the FUCK are your priorities?”*
You would think that was the end of Zach Quest’s sad tale, but not quite. After all, a zillion gaming sites (who apparently had no interest in using this interval of time to do anything more relevant to their ostensible jobs than discuss rape) wrote: if Quest had been despicable enough to rape two women, who’s to say he hadn’t raped infinity women? In fact, given the evidence, wasn’t it more likely that Quest had raped many more women, inside the industry and out, and they simply were too ashamed, too frightened to come forward? Clearly, based on the evidence, this was further evidence of the misogynist attitudes within the game industry; if women weren’t so cowed into silence, clearly all infinity+1 women that Quest had savagely, brutally raped would have come forward already. Anyone who couldn’t see that was naïve, living in a cave…or they were misogynists. Does that go without saying by now? Probably does. These sites get some kind of tax break dependent on the number of times they can use “Misogynist” in the same article.
Gamers were upset; sure, Quest had done wrong by women, but to extrapolate that there was some huge misogynist rape conspiracy? That was just going too far. That was just inventing things out of whole cloth. Perhaps, if they could all just sit down and talk about this, they could find the right balance between condemning Quest’s individual behavior and contemplating the possible wider implications of it, without giving into delusions and paranoia. Plus, maybe there was some point in giving Quest the benefit of innocent-until-proven-guilty? After all, despite the claims of two women (who both had clear incentive to lie, if you actually think about it) there was no evidence that Quest had raped even one woman, let alone infinity. (And for the record: he didn’t. No rape took place at any point. I know that’s largely irrelevant to this story, but just wanted to throw it in there as, you know, a background detail.)
However, when discussions about Quest, Erin, and the whole gang sprung up all over the internet, they were mass deleted; this had been a clear case of MISOGYNY, and giving anyone involved the benefit of the doubt was being complicit in MISOGYNY, since “Women NEVER lie about this,” and the games press would not be complicit in MISOGYNY ever, even if it was the last thing they ever did.
The next day, all the gaming sites that had been covering this story published a story called “FUCK OFF” (the titles were slightly different, but that was the general gist), which said they were no longer catering to gamers, since gamers were a bunch of misogynist (tax break +1)fucktards who should all die in a fire, then have their ashes re-assembled by a talented necromancer, then die in another fire– because really, it’s all about dying in fires at the end of the day, for some reason.
“We will continue to serve people who play games with enough interest that they actually follow gaming news on a daily basis, but who are not gamers, because they are better people than you; in fact, it’s logically impossible for such people to exist, therefore they must be unicorns, and unicorns are awesome. See, this kind of impeccable logic is why we’re so much smarter than you, readers. You smelly, basement-dwelling neckbeards think you can compete with a unicorn? FUCK YOU,” said the largely untrained press devoted solely to covering the development and distribution of a subset of pop entertainment meant to occupy leisure time.
————And here is where our little narrative meets up with reality. Arguably, we never really left it.**
This is my problem with the “How can you tolerate the harassment (of a woman) that started GamerGate?” idea. It shouldn’t have to be said, but I don’t condone the harassment of anyone, male or female; however, the fact that things would have played out in opposite fashion with a male developer in the lead role is a product of the same political hive mind in media that many gamers now take issue with, using the GamerGate tag as a rallying cry. It’s not that it’s okay with me that someone was harassed; it’s not okay at all. But women’s harassment is repeatedly, systematically used as a political weapon to further an extreme leftist***, identity-politics-obsessed agenda that’s become extremely prevalent in our games media. Men’s harassment, on the other hand, is largely seen as justified; if he didn’t want to face punishment for his actions, he shouldn’t have been such a woman-hating slimeball, right? A man being harassed is a sign of the Patriarchy having the screws put into it, and that’s portrayed as an inherently good thing because THE PATRIARCHY IS JUST THE WORST, never mind the fact that the individual men involved may not have actually done much of anything.
How am I supposed to overlook the inherent unfairness of this? What if it was my little brother? What if it was yours?
This is why it’s put me an awkward position lately when I see people, who I otherwise respect, make comments like “I can’t support GamerGate because I don’t tolerate harassment,” and things to that effect. The members of the games press use harassment of women to further their own dubious agendas, using it as an example of how bad the Patriarchy is, then use harassment against men as a team-building exercise to experience the catharsis of publically ripping an effigy of the Patriarchy to shreds. It’s sick, it’s ungodly hypocritical, it’s self-deluding, and I can’t support it. Even if that means temporarily siding with the “harrassers,” or people who question the woman-as-perpetual-victim narrative, which makes me an easier target, I can’t let it continue without speaking out.
To me, this is an even bigger problem than the relatively small percentage of gamers who do harass women over the internet; they’re just sad human beings acting out, usually more pitiable than dangerous. The culture of weaponizing harassment, both real and perceived, is more pervasive, more insidious, and more downright evil; what it is, at the end of the day, is a cult. And the people most deeply indoctrinated into the cult are the ones who are the most convinced that they’re doing the morally sublime, unquestionably right thing…well, it’s a cult after all. I’m pretty sure you know how that works.
To some, maybe the story I posted above just seems ridiculous—after all, I’m only speculating on what would have happened if the central figure had been male instead of female; I have no way of knowing for sure how Kotaku and other outlets would have handled this hypothetical situation. But I have a feeling, if you’ve been watching these sites for the last few years (and, hopefully, are not already a member of said cult), you feel in your gut that there’s a lot of truth to my little story—that it would have definitely gone something like that, if not exactly like that. We can predict how they think because how they think has been co-opted by something that has distinct, inflexible rules, making them utterly predictable. Even if this weren’t a moral problem, it’s just so goddamned boring, quite frankly.
Whether you want to call the desire to change this GamerGate or something more along the lines of “cult deprogramming,” we won’t achieve much real justice, social or otherwise, while still caught up in an atavistic cycle of building up and tearing down that pits the genders against each other and as such, breeds hate. In the guise of “progress” we regress to the level of our ancestors who venerated the Mother Goddess, then ran into the woods and tore deer carcasses apart for religious catharsis; everything old is new again. The more sophisticated we like to think we are, the easier it is to miss the patterns that tell us how little things have changed.
Let’s just say that many members of the games press—and they certainly aren’t alone in this—are laboring under the illusion that they are very, very sophisticated. They need to be disabused of that notion, for themselves as well as their readers.
*The gamers in question tried to say that they couldn’t have priorities because they were already dead, but said journalist had already blocked them on Twitter, so they never got to tell her this. They were very sad, because for some reason, they thought their feelings…mattered? It was weird actually.
**After all, something similar happened to a male game developer recently, but I’m not going to name names because I don’t want the poor guy’s name dragged through the mud any more than it already has been. Many of you probably already know of the incident I’m referring to anyway.
***And I’m left-leaning myself, so I don’t want to hear about how I’m a Republican or a Tea Partier or whatever; this is not a conservative vs. liberal issue. It’s about incredible mind games we play to convince ourselves we’re The Good Guys, and that weakness of character is never limited to any one political movement or party.