Friday, May 8, 2015

NBI TalkBack Challenge: How GamerGate Affected Me

Wow, Izlain, you certainly don't pull any punches for TalkBack challenges for the Newbie Blogger Initiative. Might be a wee too controversial to try and bring new bloggers into the fold, but hey, who knows?

As an almost old-hand at this point (1.5 years and counting!), I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring. But what a ring. You can see the culture of fear that GamerGate has created by the number of folks who put "TalkBack Challenge" in their title but not the term GamerGate, for they seem to be very much like Beetlejuice: call their name enough times and they show up to sow chaos. I won't necessarily link those folks directly, because I respect their fear. 

Frankly, I share it.

I'm no stranger to, wait, that's not right. I'm no stranger to what seems to have been deemed SJW behaviour--also, really, using the term "Social Justice Warrior" as a derisive name? I've been called much, much worse. I've talked about and supported (and broken down) the PAX Diversity Lounge for East and Prime; I've gone to GaymerX; I'm on record taking Blizzard to task in the past about their lack of diversity in games, then celebrated when they had some; I've talked about why I can give FFXV a pass despite being mostly male (because history); and I've also chatted about the importance of speaking up, not letting trolls shout you down.

I've been lucky. I'm a white dude, so that luck probably wasn't earned, but I haven't had the wrath of angry GGers DDoSing my blog, and the only time someone showed up they were pretty respectful in their discourse, despite our disagreement.

But I've seen the effect the "movement" has had on my friends, getting shouted down by a movement that ostensibly values the ability to say their piece on other people's platforms to the point of silencing said friends. I've watched GDC and Gamasutra get flooded by noise and attacked--which is hilariously short-sighted given they claim to enjoy games, but attempting to destroy or demean developer resources is probably not the best way of getting developers on your side. I've watched female colleagues get harassed out of the industry entirely. I've seen friends concerned about their kids who want to be game developers going into an industry where the "fans" are so actively hostile to the folks who make the games they "love".

And I've been afraid to speak up myself. I'm a budding indie developer. Our company doesn't have many voices. To speak up against the loud behemoth that GG acts like means I could be endangering one of the few voices our company has. It's certainly not to the level of some developers, whose very lives are being threatened because of this, but my livelihood could be. Since I can't hide, I've tried to avoid actively engaging. My voice--a developer's voice--has been silenced out of fear.

In my life, I've been verbally assaulted and physically threatened for being a "faggot". I've been physically assaulted for my very existence, and then told by the police that my presence was unwelcome and causing issues, despite doing literally nothing but playing pool and trying to ignore the asshole yelling at us. I've had coworkers in past jobs deride me for who I am, telling me to be more "straight". To a large contingent of people, I shouldn't have the same rights as they do: to marry, to be by my husband's side in the hospital if he's ill, because I'm an "abomination" and "living in sin". I may as well not exist in video games, for all the gay characters that don't exist (though, it's getting better!), but growing up, I had no inkling that there were others out there. Gays didn't exist in the mass media in the mid-90s. Thank god for porn, though. Seriously, that was pretty much my only exposure to other people like me growing up.

I've come through all of that with thicker skin, and a healthy fear of people who hate me.

I've seen online and real life bullies literally insult people to death. People committing suicide because they saw nothing but hate directed their way, and no hope, no other way out. I've seen someone break down because people in LoL told him that they hoped his mom died of cancer, and she really was dying of cancer. When told that's not cool, they doubled down.

This lack of empathy for other people, that death threats and insults are "just how things work," is not acceptable. It's not just how things should work. Thicker skin should be reserved for actual criticism, not for threats or insults.

If you want to actually talk about ethics in gaming journalism? Fine, be my guest, I think that's a totally laudable goal. But GamerGate is not the framework to do that in. It was tainted from the start by bad actors, and continues to be so.

So you want to know how GamerGate affected me?

It terrified me. It reminded me of how I grew up: in fear of other people finding out what I was, and making me feel like a lesser person for it, or getting physically attacked, or even killed. 

It infuriated me. Watching friends and developers I admired drop out of the industry because they were being harassed.

It saddened me. That people could have so little empathy to not see how their actions affected the people they were threatening. That such behaviour was "normal".

It shamed me. That other folks who I share an affinity with--games--would go to such efforts. Gaming as popular culture probably just got set back another 5 years because of this behaviour.

It silenced me. I don't speak for my friends or the company I work for in this matter, but because my voice is one of so few for my company, the two will probably be conflated, for better or worse. So I held my tongue. I don't know necessarily what other folks in my company feel about this issue, I don't represent them. Honestly, I don't know that I want to know. Like the "movement", the conversation would probably be tainted from the start.

So yeah. I don't even know if I should post this. I'm still terrified it'll ruin things for other people associated with me. But I'm going to anyways, because I'm tired of being quiet on the subject directly. #NBI, #TalkBackChallenge, #Personal


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Joey! Incredibly well put.

  2. Well despite the fact that it's controversial, I've seen mostly apathy and/or positive posts regarding it. I figured there was enough time passed to talk about it without worry.

    Apparently someone painted me as an SJW after I wrote the prompt. That's cool, I think people should be treated well and equally. Wow, I must be a villain for wanting that.

    I wanted to see the flip side of things, the positives that came out of that. It affected us all, even if it was indirectly. I feel that it taught me many lessons. Our blogosphere in general has.

    Thanks for participating.

    1. Yeah, SJW is my favourite "slur" ever. Talk about branding nightmare, but that's kind of par for the course for the entire event. PR isn't exactly their strong suit.

      Judging from some bloggers' reactions, I'm not sure how much time will be enough time. It's not necessarily a bad topic, and as I mentioned on Twitter, sometimes being uncomfortable is necessary to make forward progress. But it's going to be a sore spot in the gaming community for years, I'm afraid.

  3. Thank you for writing this post and reminding me why it's important. It's often difficult to engage people on the subject, even your best friends that are normally supportive, because they want "politics out of their games."

    Even so, visibility helps, even it's purposefully quiet and non-confrontational. I'm sick to death of patiently, calmly explaining to friends of friends that yes, I am a person, and I deserve the same rights they do. But with every year, they get a little more polite about telling me I'm going to hell.

    Sometimes progress comes slowly, and that's no reason to stop fighting for it. :)


  4. You injustice-fighting gay-pride-loving equality-crazy woman-non-hating reasonableness-spewing dirty and smelling social warrior. Take that.

    1. I'm wounded! Wounded to the core! *flops over dramatically*

    2. I need to be able to upvote this. Get on it Talarian!

  5. Great post, thanks for sharing!