In the history of fail, there have been few examples quite thorough as Gamergate. Whatever momentum they briefly held in their championing the ethical treatment of video game journalism has been fully eclipsed by an increasing awareness that they are behaving like toddlers with overfull diapers. Sexist toddlers. With potty mouths.
You may have noticed that they're kind of becoming a joke these days.
|Let me help you notice.|
If they weren't literally terrorizing their detractors with utterly-not-cute death and rape threats and causing very real harm with their rampant misogyny and doxxing, they really wouldn't be much more than a footnote of one more sub-culture of manbabies losing their Boys Only clubhouse to actual equality instead of just its lip service. Unfortunately despite the overwhelming urge to infantilize their shrill cries, these are men having their masculinity challenged, and the playbook of masculinity for being challenged is anything but trivial.
|Nothing says "Feminists don't matter," like threatening mass murder if feminists are allowed to speak.|
On second thought, I'll take the two year olds with the dirty diapers. They seem more mature.
If you're the last geek in the universe unaware of what Gamergate is, Gawker put up a pretty good primer. Bustle has another. Personally, I like Vox's article the best because they tried very, very hard to cobble Gamergate's disjointed message into a cohesive, fair representation of the Gamergate side.
However today we ask the question, "Where did Gamergate go wrong? How has their ostensible cause been so thoroughly perceived by the world at large as wanton misogyny (and not even the clueless, invisible, institutional kind)? Why can't they define themselves. Why can't they convince anyone not to judge them by their most insane members? Why are they fettered to this horrible image that has doomed their movement? Where did they drop the ball?"
"Where didn't they?" might actually be a better question. Because where Gamergate failed was everywhere. Everything they touched turned into pure fail. They had the Midas touch of fail. They failed so hard that Captain Edward Smith would feel competent next to them. They created massive economies of fail. They're fighting tooth and fail. They've completely undermined themselves in two shakes of a lamb's fail.
Okay, that's entirely too much fun. I better get on with this article.
1) They tried plausible deniability. And failed.
The familiar cry of "Not all Gamergates!" went up almost immediately when the death and rape threats rolled in. Several members have tried to suggest that most people in Gamergate simply care about ethics in video game journalism, and they shouldn't be held accountable for the unconscionable actions of a few bad apples. If this sounds to you like an exact parallel of "Not all men," it is because they have used that playbook almost exactly–and with the same clueless lack of understanding about how power dynamics work. (To say nothing of how opting out of being associated with a movement is easier than opting out of being male.)
|On the bright side, it cut down significantly on the time involved|
in whipping up the latest batch of memes.
Newsweek debunked the "few bad apples" idea. There are some flaws in Newsweek's methodology that make a strict numbers game pretty impossible (like that people engaging a hashtag will naturally receive more tweets in return), but the fact that harassment and misogyny is a central pillar of Gamergate "ethos" has been very clearly demonstrated time and again by multiple sources. The Southern Poverty Law Center has even put the group on their hate watch.
Gamergate's fail here is particularly telling and extra failurific. They honestly don't understand what all the fuss is about. They doxx women who dare to speak out, drive them from their homes, drive them out of the industry, threaten to kill them, threaten to rape them, tweet the most misogynistic tripe imaginable, snidely deride anyone who speaks out about representation in games, openly discuss trolling, hacking, and harassment as legitimate ways to silence their critics through fear, do it all in the name of their movement, and then honestly can't figure out why those of them who aren't acting like utter jackholes aren't being associated with a deep and abiding concern for ethics.
|I can't imagine why they associate Gamergate with misogyny.|
If you brave the comments of that Newsweek article (and I don't recommend it without some kitten memes on standby) you will find that people look at the statistics and don't actually think there's anything wrong. They literally can't see how far beyond the fail their behavior is. If they themselves aren't issuing death or rape threats, they do not understand how the world at large can blame them for the movement they're associating with.
|This doubtlessly super-accurate poll demonstrates |
the problem rather elegantly.
Let me make this crystal clear: if your religion had a billion people and .001% were extremists, it would be absolutely reasonable for you to be annoyed that you were being painted with the same brush. If you were in a group where maybe 1 person in a hundred were doing something repugnant, people would probably call you to task. But if SEVEN percent (that's about one out of every 14 people) of any movement...ever....were engaged in the worst sort of bigotry imaginable, that movement would be defined by nothing else. Period. Without exception. No matter WHAT they felt like their message ought to be about or wanted it to be about. It's not "just a few trolls," it's a significant portion of their movement. Gamergate, for reasons I can only assume have to do with their immunity to irony, only seems to understand this concept when it comes to pointing out how the anti-gamergate crowd is hurting them in the feels with their meanie meanfaced meanness.
Their worst fail is acting innocent. With plate-sized anime eyes they wonder why it's not possible to have a sensible discussion that isn't focused on those trivial ol' death threats that have nothing to do with them. They truly believe that they have no culpability in a culture of violence and hatred toward women. They honestly can't figure out that they may have provided the undertones (and overtones) that those who went "too far" have been steeped in for years.
|"I can't POSSIBLY imagine where these violent people came from."|
The worst part is their ratio of legitimate concern to sexist troll is getting worse. Most of those who were actually serious about problems of ethics in games journalism cut ties with Gamergate as soon as it became clear what they really stood for. Many sincere critics placed as much distance between themselves and Gamergate as they could (of course those people aren't a whole lot better–they're just better at hiding it). But even they realized immediately that the best thing they could do if they really cared about ethics in games journalism (or about bringing that issue to the table in the next ten years without being laughed off the stage) was to start over with a clean campaign and nuke Gamergate from orbit.
It's the only way to be sure.
2) They tried to convince us that they weren't sexist. And failed.
They kicked off the movement with fail, and never let it go.
It started with the fail of Eron Gjoni and what should have been laughed at as the pathetic backlash of a jilted lover. It was a personal story of a bad break up that was no one's fucking business, but he made it everyone's. If any woman had published the same about a man, she'd have been laughed off the internet and told to get a life. Yet, the gaming community seized on Gjoni's girlfriend, Zoe Quinn, focused on her, denigrated her, made the topic her sexual history, and even spread nude photos of her, and only later tried to work in a non-fail reason for their anger.
Their tweets and posts are filled with some of the most vile misogyny imaginable (in culture that actually can imagine quite a damned LOT of vile misogyny). Women are routinely called cunts, bitches, sluts, whores and more just for expressing their opinions, and responses hoping that they get raped or killed are not at all unusual. There were open discussions about trying to get Zoe Quinn to commit suicide to which one of the most "measured" responses was that it would be "a bad PR move."
|See! No sexism here, bitches.|
The reviewer Quinn allegedly slept with during her relationship with Gjoni didn't even review Quinn's game.
Gamergate fail went on to target Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Brianna Wu, and even Felicia Day–all women; none journalists in gaming (the last of whom had the temerity to write a blog post about how she was afraid she would be targeted for saying anything at all). When I say "target," understand that I don't mean strongly worded counter-points with colorful language. I mean doxxing (in F.D.'s case less than an hour after she posted), rape threats, next level harassment, people coming to their house, and even death threats. In one case, Sarkeesian, a mass murder threat.
|Ethical death threats obvs.|
Felicia Day wrote an article saying she was disappointed that she no longer felt comfortable around gamers because she was afraid of what Gamergaters might do to her. Chris Kluwe called Gamergaters, slope-browed weaseldicks, slack-jawed pickletits, and paint-huffing shit goblins. They attacked Felicia Day. You do the math.
[By the way, I was just a game lover with a dim (but low volume) view of Gamergate's sexism until those a-holes doxxed Felicia Day, one of the most genuinely nice and sincere people in the whole geek universe. That's what pissed me off, and when I decided to write this article. So this one's for you, Felicia!]
It's not that they don't care that men are disparaging their movement. (I'm sure this article will generate some lovely tweets.) It's that they care a lot more every time a woman does it.
3) They tried to find an ostensibly acceptable face. And failed.
Gamergate claims it is about ethics in video game journalism. At least the few voices you can pick out of the fail seem to hammer this single talking point like the drum beat in a Muse song.
The problem is that they don't actually seem to care very much about ethics in video game journalism. Not enough to write about it or focus on it, anyway. What they do seem to care about, based on what they spend an inordinate amount of time writing and responding to, is how awful they find women (or to a lesser degree anyone who cares about representation or inclusion in video games). That is to say that what they actually discuss is an irreconcilable mess of conservatism and anti-feminist reactionism.
Even journalists with fully open minds, prepared to let Gamergate define itself can't find anything other than hatrerade, pretense chips, and failburgers at the Gamergate barbecue. Another could not find a cohesive list of Gamergater demands in 20 pages of searching–a testament to how poorly defined the movement really is.
You'd think by now most of them would realize that there are several examples* of unethical behavior by game journalists that they could list at a moment's notice (even one of their staunchest critics is capable of articulating it better than they can), but really this is the pinnacle of their fail (the Holy Fail, if you will). They haven't yet realized that incessantly repeating the tissue-paper thin rationalization like a little manbaby doll with a string ("Actually, it's about ethics in video game journalism. Waaaaaah!") wasn't going to hold up in the hurricane of their own harassment and abuse. And then, of course, there were Men's Rights Activists who found Gamergate to be a good battleground for their latest round of attacks against feminism. These are the same MRAs that the SPLC has called a hate group and who helped create Eliot Roger and who want to dial back gender roles to the sixties in the name of "equality."
*For bonus points, however, watch the "it's-not-about-sexism" high ground crumble in the very first comment and get even worse from there.
It's almost....I mean it's ALMOST like ethics are not really what Gamergate is all about.
|Pretense: it almost completely doesn't fool anyone.|
4) They tried to make it about ethics. And failed.
One of the failiest bits of Gamer
|I don't really even need to put a joke here, do I?|
If they were about ethics–even a little bit–things like abuse and harassment and especially casual discussion of rape, doxxing, and death threats would trouble them greatly. They would be twisting themselves into pretzels to police their own with thunder and fury and distancing themselves as dramatically as possible from anyone who hinted at that sort of behavior. They would be rallying around those figures who suffered attacks and offering sincere apologies to the victims instead of petulance, defensiveness, saying things like "Welcome to the party, pal," or insinuating that the targets of their harassment have enjoyed it, profited from it, brought it on themselves, or even engineered it.
5) They tried to keep partisan politics out of it. And failed.
While a few liberals have taken the time to voice that they are against social justice warriors (because fuck social justice, apparently) most of the Gamergate movement has taken such an incendiary stance on social justice and liberals that they immediately framed themselves as predominantly a partisan (bitterly so) conservative movement.
By placing themselves against the concerns of feminism specifically and social justice in general and hurling "liberal" around like a sneering barb, they immediately ensured that nothing they said would transcend a general left vs. right mentality in the way they hoped it might. In fact, anyone concerned about the ostensible issue is immediately aware that they are siding with a group predominantly composed of young conservative men who fear change and are openly hostile to (or at best whiny about) liberals, feminists, or people who give a shit about social justice.
|Maybe you won't read it because it's only true in your delusions.|
6) They tried to take on journalism. And failed.
One thing you can't do for very long (at least not with national attention on your movement) is make vague and nebulous claims about "journalism" and not expect...you know.... a journalist to eventually show up and check out your story. Understand, the media is not some monolithic single facing, lock-armed entity. Any individual journalist would have WET DREAMS about being the one to break a mainstream story of massive top-to-bottom fraud and corruption in any industry.
Except there was a little thing missing....called evidence. Gamergate is able to point to a few troubling timelines, a couple of websites doing reviews despite obvious conflicts of interest, some "journalists" who are clearly PR mouthpieces for new games releases, a few "old news" scandals like the Duke Nukem release promising blacklists for poor reviews, and a lot of accusations of collusion, but not much in the way of actual proof. Gamergate has largely depended on the rage of young men towards a vague, nebulous, and ill definied problem for its legitimacy, often invoking convoluted conspiracy theories with no actual proof. As Gamergate became more and more mainstream (especially after Sarkeesian canceled a speaking engagement because of an e-mail promising the worst school shooting to date if she was allowed to speak), more journalists took note and checked out the claims. And journalists are exactly the sorts of people with the skill sets to investigate such claims.
Have a few websites acted unethically, especially towards a few products? You bet. Do video game reviews (along with movie reviews, book reviews, television reviews, music reviews, and basically any entertainment industry reviews) have unreliable critiques of new high-budget products? They absolutely do. (I think the last time I was fooled by such a review was in the pre-release of Eraser.) Is it a massive conspiracy of corruption that is particular to games or that can't be circumvented by finding venues and/or reviewers one trusts? No.
But riling up journalists with the claim that they're all unethical and have no integrity is never a capital idea.
Instead of trying to find evidence with which to frame the narrative, Gamergaters used the 20-year-old-tweeter's playbook of getting horribly nasty with anyone who said anything they didn't like. The resulting failstravaganza was predictable.
|Hey boss? There are some news outlets outside that want a word with us.|
New York Times. Newsweek. Washington Post. Slate.
If you have truth on your side, some journalist somewhere will be very interested because journalism is competitive as all fuck and everyone wants to break a story. The problem is if you're just doubling down on unsubstantiated claims or holding up half a dozen minor infractions over a decade as your proof of a massive conspiracy, those same journalists have much wider reaching mediums through which to tell the world that you're full of crap and (barely) hiding your misogyny behind something that isn't really an issue.
With that, Gamergate failed at any chance they ever had to control the story of their own existence. Even Wikipedia's Gamergate entry is unambiguous that the movement's rationalization is a thin veneer of pretense over a hotbed of male entitlement experiencing the first real challenge in its waning hegemony. Unless they literally film a game reviewer getting a blowjob and saying: "This will take you from a four to four and a half stars, easy! Five if you do the swirl," their fail is hung around their necks like a millstone.
Now the only place their conspiracies are taken seriously (largely by each other) is the back alleys of Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan. They have no venues to reach a broader audience because they've systematically burned every bridge around them. They have to doxx people or threaten school shootings to get any attention, which is exactly the wrong sort of attention.
7) They tried to dismiss their critics. And failed.
Gamergate is renowned for its reasoned and measured response to criticism that it...
What I meant to say is that Gamergate is notorious for nasty and savage attacks and totally losing its shit on anyone with the slightest bit of criticism about their approach, overall philosophy, or specific claims. They get really mad if you aren't "getting the point" (their point), or are letting that pesky misogyny stuff distract you. And I mean they will read the title of your article (only) and start wishing for your death and dismemberment.
Like everything else they fail at, they fail at having a reasonable discourse.
The problem is that almost every time they try to dismiss their critics' claims, what several of them actually do is end up reinforcing the criticism. They say they're not sexist, and go on to say sexist things. They claim they aren't misogynist, so those bitches need to get back into the kitchen and make them a sandwich. They claim they aren't a movement defined by their opposition to feminism, but that they hate feminism and fucking feminists really need to stop trying to change the industry.
And this is from the "not trolls." This is their "reasonable" vanguard who are REALLY pissed off that people are judging them based on just a few fringe voices.
Every time they take to their keyboards to dismiss their critics with their patented brand of face-melting vitriol, they end up making maters worse.
Several members of Gamergate have tried to call out every passing disparagement as irrational, unfair, generalizing, sexist, racist or otherwise reverse-bigoted. They gleefully point to cases where they have been threatened or doxxed as evidence that anti-gamergates are just as bad. (Or actually, to their mind, even worse.) Often they work very hard to try and prove how unreasonable the other side is being to lump them all together, even constructing Glen Beckian flow charts and statistical analyses with lots of photoshopped red arrows.
Of course when they do this, it is usually ignoring the folks behind them calling everyone cunts and bitches, and threatening corrective rape or mass shootings, so it's a bit hard to take their moral high ground seriously (but that goes back to point #1). Instead of being seen as a legitimate call to have a clean discourse, it came across far more like they gave it out like terrorists and bullies only to fall over and cry like soccer players when they finally goaded their victims into an angry reaction that paled in comparison.
ETA: The absurdity of this tactic–piling on to detractors with urbane reasonableness while ignoring violence going on in the name of your movement–has now been called "sea lioning" after this hilarious comic by Wondermark.
And if you think that sounds kind of like arguing with a teen-ager using failogic, you're not the first person to make that connection.
|It looks AND sounds like a baby in diapers.|
Even without getting into a conversation about how institutional power-backed slurs are always worse than powerless invectives (a complex point that usually takes some understanding of social justice concepts to be parsed), there's just no way in which being called a "whining manbaby" is on par with death threats or that calling out misogyny is as destructive a force as the misogyny itself. The term "neckbeard" is not "just as bad" as "slut," "whore," or "cunt" no matter how offended men behave. (If they cared half as much for the offense they were causing though....) Journalists, mainstream gamers, people who've finally noticed Gamergate due to its mainstream attention, even the SPLC all took one look at the power dynamics and realized that Gamergate was abusive, hateful, destructive, misogynistic, bigoted, and even violent with its speech, and giving far far far more than they were getting.
Their claims that they are the victims are pathetic and laughable, and not a little bit ironic since they consider playing the victim card to be so contemptible.
9) They tried to tokenize outside of their overwhelming demographic. And failed.
Ace of Geeks is very much in favor of marginalized people being given space and voice. And #notyourshield began as an important vocal movement against the opponents of gamergate standing up against misogyny and racism in their names. Unfortunately, like everything else in the gamergate failstraveganza its launch had several key epicfails before even clearing the troposphere.
A) Listening to marginalized voices is important, but you can't only listen to the ones who agree with what you say. That's called tokenizing (or less formally "I have a black friend who thinks this is okay.") To really listen to marginalized voices in a way that matters, you have to listen to all of them–not just hold up the ones who are saying what you want to hear. Gamergate's problem was to champion those who agreed with them and call the overwhelming majority on the other side "over sensitive and easily offended."
B) The #notyourshield movement did highlight a few usually-marginalized voices, but what it has also done is draw attention by relief to how overwhelmingly male (and to lesser degree white) Gamergate is. A movement thought to be "mostly" young (white) men was outed as being OVERWHELMINGLY young (white) men. Like over 90%.
C) In their continuing campaign to be utterly immune to all forms of irony, Gamergate held up the #notyourshield movement in front of them as a means of deflecting the incoming criticism of misogyny and racism. Like....some sort of....attack parrying....device...type...thing.
D) Perhaps worst of all was that not all of these #notyoursheild people were even real. Obviously some are (you can watch their Youtube videos), but a number were exposed to be sock-puppet accounts of pure fail. Nothing says "My argument is naught but a goulash of fail" quite like catfishing your own astroturf movement.
10) They tried to accomplish something without real centralized leadership. And failed.
For one "thats-not-a-moon" moment, it looked like it wouldn't simply be possible to let the froth spew from their MANdibles, as they rant ceaselessly in their own insular worlds at the ass end of the internet while the adults got on with their lives. Gamergate's aggro campaign managed to knock some advertisers from high profile gaming sites.
And Gamergate took a victory lap.
However, between that and the Sarkeesian threat, a lot of eyeballs turned to the movement, and those same advertisers realized that while they want very badly to remain above this sort of drama, the total ground-burn tactics that absolutely will end up involving boycotting products on the "wrong" side will make it impossible for them to ignore the dust up completely. They realize that capitulation to the terrorism tactics of Gamergate cannot within the broader consumer public's mind reasonably be anything but an endorsement of violent misogyny and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and using death threats to silence dissent.
Even that victory for Gamergate was short lived. The tide has turned.
The problem with leaderless movements is exactly this. When a movement yokes the anger of thousands of young men without a single voice or focus, there are hundreds of responses (or more) to every perceived slight, criticism, or challenge. Some are reasonable, some on par with "Die cunt," and some the equivalent of cyber terrorism. The reasonable will be lumped in with the cyber terrorists because they're all holding up the same banner. It is pure fail to not realize that's how decentralized movements work, have always worked, and will always work. That's why they're dangerous and largely ineffective if they don't "storm the Bastille" in the first 24 hours or so.
Gamergate can't define itself, so others define it. They can't normalize their reactions, so their extremists set their timber. They can't agree on anything, so the impression they give is that they agree on nothing (but the misogyny that defines them). They can't be coached on talking points so the only thing they manage to parrot for months on is a largely unsubstantiated claim. Gamergate has collapsed under the weight of its own rudderless rage. No matter what it wants to be or wishes it were, it has become a poster boy for angry white men frothing at the mouth that the women (who are in what was once their space) are now asking for representation and inclusion.
|We get that you think that Adam.|
But if it's about ethics, why are you so fucking unethical to women?
Does that seem right to you?
This why I almost (but not quite) feel bad for them. Misogyny so overt and revolting is an albatross that ensured failure from the beginning for a cause that could stand to have some attention. Those who are genuinely concerned..... they have likely never had to be a part of a movement where things like public relations were important, where it was vital to coach members on the talking points of how to respond to certain criticism, or where a leadership could issue statements condemning the words or actions of renegades or hold a press conference where they state their goals officially.
They don't get why they can't just say they're not about misogyny and have that be the end of it. They don't get why they can't just dismiss criticism and never have to hear it again. They want to shrug at the death threats because it wasn't them personally and get back to steering the conversation where they want it to go. Instead, they are literally befuddled as to why those pesky harassed women keep coming back up. The ability to declare what is important and what is trivial is a power they used to command...at least in the gaming world. Sea lioning is supposed to work (because it always has) and now they can't figure out where they dropped the ball, to say nothing of getting it back.
They've never been in a situation where they had to work hard to control the narrative because, until now (in this world where they were kings) the narrative has always been whatever they said it was.
For the rest of them, they have stacked fail upon fail, stuffed fail into the cracks, and covered the whole thing in a thick covering of failfrosting. They have failed even to understand why they failed, and instead just gotten angrier and angrier with a wider audience that isn't falling for their failtastic bullshit. They failed to rally support, failed to not be hypocrites, failed to police their own movement, failed to even define their movement, failed to not be reprehensible humans dripping with the most disgusting misogyny imaginable, failed to rationalize their sexism with even the hint of propriety, and failed to even acknowledge that outside of their slimy internet cesspools, wishing people dead or raped, threatening to do so, or in fact, taking steps to make it far more likely by revealing people's personal, private information is not a "distraction" from the issue of ethics. You can't even pretend to care about ethics when that is the face of your movement.
Actually, it's about rampant misogyny in the video game culture. (I'm sorry that you've failed to see that.)
When Chris Brecheen isn't geeking out with his fellow Aces, he writes his own blog at Writing About Writing.
Did you enjoy this article? Follow us on Facebook to get more great content! We have a weekly podcast you can find on our main site. Also follow us on Twitter and Tumblr!