At this very moment, the state of video game coverage and discourse on the Internet is on fire in the midst of a massive, screenplay-worthy series of multi-layered and interconnected scandals, controversies and kerfuffle that started with a guy’s blog post about his ex-girlfriend and has escalated to the point that journalism ethics, social (in)justice and the fundamental identity of an entire subculture have been called into question.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who’s confused by everything I just said. Even now, after reading dozens of synopses, timelines and pretty infographics related to the matter, I still find it hard to keep from getting cross-eyed just thinking about it.
And yet, as impenetrable and nonsensical as it might seem to the average bystander, there’s some good to be had in talking about this cavalcade of lunacy outside the realm of gaming-related sites and social media, as much of the issues at hand pertain to problems beset by society as a whole.
The scandal, dubbed “GamerGate” by social media outlets, has three primary talking points. Everything started when the ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, a prominent member of the independent game development community, wrote a massive blog post outlining the various grievances he held against her (along with documented evidence to verify his claims.) According to the blog post, the independent developer in question had cheated on her boyfriend with not one, not two, but five other guys, one of whom was a journalist responsible for giving Quinn’s game “Depression Quest” a favorable review and another who was one of the judges for an awards show in which Quinn was entered.
Upon seeing the extent of Quinn’s infidelity, a number of game enthusiasts began to call the integrity of review outlets into question, arguing that her apparent exchange of sex for positive coverage was further proof that game journalism lacked anything even remotely resembling ethics. In turn, the Internet proceeded to do what the Internet does best on such occasions: Trolls bombarded Quinn with harassment, including a number of death and rape threats. Quinn’s supporters (including a number of journalists who were less-than-pleased by the accusations of impropriety brought against them) promptly labeled all of her detractors as misogynists and opponents of social justice.
In the midst of the back-and-forth name-calling between the two sides, a flurry of articles heralded the death of the “gamer” identity and argued that those who self-identified as “gamers” were little more than socially-inept manchildren who believed that the video game community was a secret club and refused to accept outsiders into their small-yet-vocal social circle. And so, the fight rages on, with most bickering taking place on Twitter and other social media outlets.
The issues of journalistic impropriety and the continued feminist vs. anti-feminist struggle, while important, are not nearly as interesting as the “gamers are dead” proclamation and its implications. To me, most of this mess is fueled by the same kind of pure idiocy and stubbornness that plagues the Internet on a daily basis. Simply put, evidence of a violation of ethics in journalism is a very serious issue, something that one shouldn’t be able to hide from by playing the social justice card. At the same time, it goes without saying misogyny and death threats are bad. Nothing has been brought forward in this issue that hasn’t been argued in the past.
The predicted death of the gamer identity, however, is music to my ears, because although it was used as a way to deflect criticism directed at some journalists, the mere mention that the video game community itself wishes to abandon the stereotypical gamer identity suggests that such a paradigm shift is not far off on the horizon. Indeed, games are becoming so ubiquitous that an interest in video games is no longer associated with a particular demographic or lifestyle. As people grow more aware of and invested in games, the world begins to see game enthusiasts for who they really are (or should be): People who just happen to be stoked about games.
Video games have played a significant role in my life since I was three years old. The medium gave me, a scrawny kid with a learning disorder, an opportunity for achievement and empowerment, an outlet for stress and anger, and an avenue through which I could find meaning.
The one thing I’ve wanted more than anything is to be accepted for who I am, rather than the kind of media I consume. If there’s one thing even remotely positive to come out of this trainwreck, it’s that my wish is finally coming to fruition.