October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, an annual campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is centered around engaging and educating students, teachers, parents and the public at large about the profoundly negative impact bullying can have on a student’s life.
It goes without saying that as someone who used to deal with harassment on a near-daily basis until a few years ago, anti-bullying advocacy is something I hold near and dear to my heart. One of my intentions upon becoming a game designer is to make something a kid like me might use to get them through their struggles with bullying or harassment, even if only at the level of temporary escapism. The gaming community helped motivate me, and I want to return the favor.
Unfortunately, if the continuing struggle that is GamerGate is any indication, the video game industry is in a dark place at the moment, one that is a very far cry from the equal and inclusive community it once was.
Although I wrote a column about the GamerGate scandal last month, here’s a quick recap. Through a series of scandal after tweet after libelous clickbait article after scandal, an ideological revolt bordering on religious zealotry broke out between members of games press outlets and their readers that is rife with bickering matches over misogyny, misandry, racism, homophobia, transphobia and a bunch of other angles from which one can bicker.
The original struggle was between two prominent women in the industry and an army of what members of the press claimed was a little more than a bunch of frustrated, white, heterosexual, cis-gendered males with disposable income. This was followed by the formation of #NotYourShield, which was made up of women and minorities who refused to be misrepresented by the press (who had painted the homogenous-scumbag image of GamerGate to deflect suspicions of impropriety among their ranks).
The industry found itself locked in the trenches of Internet warfare. Bouts of name-calling and finger pointing broke out on both sides, all of which recently reached their climaxes in the wake of two unfortunate incidents. The first was a threat against feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, whose video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” was a primary element of scrutiny. A message was sent to Sarkeesian that threatened a mass shooting would occur if she did not cancel a lecture she was scheduled to give at Utah State University. Because of the seriousness of the threat, Sarkeesian and USU officials were forced to comply, a point that was emphasized in the litany of anti-GamerGate articles written by the majority of anti-GamerGate press.
Just as it appeared that the GamerGate movement was starting to fade away, Gawker Media writer Sam Biddle posted a series of tweets that promoted bullying and harassment directed at GamerGate-ers.
“Ultimately #GamerGate is reaffirming what we’ve known to be true for decades: Nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission. Bring Back Bullying,” Biddle said.
GamerGate-ers quickly took Biddle to task, sending a flurry of tweets and emails to Gawker’s major advertisers asking them to remove their ads from the site.
In response, Mercecdes, BMW and Adobe withdrew their ad revenue from Gawker sites (like Kotaku, Gizmodo and others), with the latter even posting an image, further sending home the point that Gawker Media was a pro-bullying organization.
Upon hearing the news, I did what many GamerGate-ers did: I burst out in maniacal laughter and quickly took to Twitter to compose something sarcastic to tweet at Biddle to rub it in his face.
Just before I hit send, I realized something. In taunting Gawker about being stupid bullies, I’d become a stupid bully myself. According to StopBullying.gov, bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior . . . that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” which is what damaging someone’s reputation to the point of putting their job in jeopardy would entail. I’d be kicking him while he was down in order to fuel my own ego. In what way would I be any different from the people who bullied me in school?
I wouldn’t. I’d be a hypocritical bully, plain and simple.
This is usually the part where I say something positive and inspiring. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Nietzsche, I got too worked up fighting monsters that I became a monster myself.
And I can’t help but feel more than a little ashamed.