Sex, Lies and #GamerGate: Why 2014’s games journalism crisis was just what editors needed

When the initial sparks flew in the GamerGate fire that would go on to engulf the latter half of 2014 I was actually out of the country, away with work in Seattle for Unity’s annual conference Unite.

Sat in Starbucks – well, it was Seattle – a friend asked what I made about the internet furore surrounding a certain Zoe Quinn. My honest response, being the kind on-the-ball games journalist that I am, was I had no idea who she was or what was going on. Aside from a quick scan of Google on our mobiles to peruse the headlines, we both shrugged and left it at that.

In fact, I seem to remember I was devouring an especially gooey muffin at the time and, after careful consideration, decided it was more worthy of my time.

When I got back home to Blighty – after dragging myself through quite a heavy bout of jetlag, in part prolonged by some equally heavy drinking at Manchester Pride – I became aware that this GamerGate ‘nonsense’ hadn’t gone away. Indeed, the fact that large portions of the games press had been nonplussed about some especially tabloid allegations about a games developer’s sex life seemed to have triggered an almighty row focused on the relationship between the games industry and the journalists that cover it.

At least that’s how you’d describe GamerGate if you were looking to simplify things. At the time, actually, I found it especially hard to get to grips with just what GamerGate was. When it was clear it was here to stay and my Twitter feed was going to remain dominated by it for some time to come, it became impossible to continue turning a blind eye to it. Nonetheless, attempting to open up to just what GamerGate was and what people were concerned about was a tricky business.

Searching the #GamerGate hashtag on Twitter was a fruitless ordeal – It simply opened up scores of bitchy conversations where the old adage of “don’t let arguments get personal” had merrily been tossed aside. It was impossible to tell who was debating what, and given many of the Twitter accounts were anonymous, it was especially difficult to ascertain just who was involved.

A direct tweet out asking for clarification proved little use too. A mixture of responses came back from unknowns pointing the finger at everything from unwanted articles on equality in games to publishers, advertisers and journalists all being in bed together. It was almost as if it was the first day of the internet, and suddenly everyone had discovered that the world wide web and the platforms it provides had given them a voice. People wanted to make use of their right to complain before pinning down just what they were complaining about.

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For a Brit, this was an especially bizarre situation. Most of the population of these isles is reluctant to complain about anything, even if they’ve been a victim of bad service or a faulty product. In my case, I’d pretty much have to find a sharp knife embedded in my dish or a live family of cockroaches crawling across my plate before I’d even consider sending anything back in a restaurant, for instance. In contrast, in 2014 social media seemed to be populated by thousands of people who wanted a piece of the action, even if they weren’t sure what the action was – everybody was after there little bit of GamerGate infamy. I was even distressed to find I hadn’t made It onto any GamerGate boycott lists – apparently in the world of GamerGate, I was a non-story.

And when I say everyone wanted a piece of the action, I don’t just mean GamerGaters – I mean the press, too. As soon as editors realised this was a hot potato with even more potential for hits than Doritosgate, they jumped on it. Websites were pushing out editorials and opinion pieces on the issue daily and, angry or not, readers were clicking on them en masse. Gamergate was a hit and, as an editor myself at the time, I saw what any article referencing the issue in its headline could do for page views.

So, you have to say that the big issue of 2014 – the one members of the games press outwardly claim was a fuss and nonsense that almost ruined them – was actually the year’s saving grace. It was like a massive comeback single or a sell out tour, peak ratings for a Christmas Day special or a record breaker at the Box Office. For the writers who penned articles on it and the editors who commissioned it, GamerGate was a boon – and one they helped to fuel for longer than anyone had any right to.

That’s not to say there weren’t some killer articles out there – a lot of good words were typed and, as no doubt some of you are thinking right now, I was guilty of thrashing out some of my thoughts at the time, too. The problem with that is, because so many articles have been published covering GamerGate from every angle, even standing back at the start of 2015, it’s hard to know what the resolution was, or even if it’s still ongoing. People’s personal details are now being splashed online and, though the articles have largely dried up, the anti-GamerGate meme that “it’s about ethics in games journalism” is alive and well. We now seem to be in a terminal ‘eye for an eye’ mentality, where revenge attacks spur revenges attacks that spur revenge attacks.

At the end of it all, all sides seem to have lost sight of just what GamerGate was about, which is especially vexing given no-one seemed to have a clue what it was about at the beginning either. It’s just been a mess. A big, beautiful, bastard mess where – stellar pages views or not – all sides have come out of it looking a little worse for wear.

I think I was right the first time. I think that muffin was more important.

3 thoughts on “Sex, Lies and #GamerGate: Why 2014’s games journalism crisis was just what editors needed

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