August 27, 2015

Ignoring #GamerGate Was a Mistake

Anita Sarkeesian 2013I really missed the boat on #GamerGate. I made the choice not to comment on it because I did not feel like I knew enough to say anything remotely useful. Not being a gamer or someone familiar with gaming media, I figured I was the last person who should speak on the subject. Moreover, I was exhausted by what seemed like similar efforts by social justice warriors to disrupt atheist/skeptic/secular communities. I had outrage fatigue, and I wasn't eager to investigate these tactics in another context. I don't regret refraining to comment on something about which I was uninformed, but I do regret not making more of an effort to become informed. It led me to miss one aspect of #GamerGate that I have since found to be quite interesting.

I must acknowledge at the outset that I probably still don't know as much about #GamerGate as you do in spite of reading quite a bit about it and watching several videos, including both of the SPJ Airplay panels. What I have learned is that there are at least two important parts to it, only one of which I felt like I understood previously. First and foremost, at least in terms of where things started, #GamerGate is about ethics in journalism. Gaming journalism was the beginning, as gamers became frustrated over blatant conflicts of interest (e.g., a gaming journalist writing a positive review of a game developed by a close friend or partner without disclosing the relationship). Concern over journalistic ethics would soon spread beyond the gaming media to include many mainstream news outlets who reported on only one side of the second part of #GamerGate.

This second part of #GamerGate, which was most of what I had previously heard about, involved claims by some game journalists that gamers were misogynists waging a campaign of harassment against women. Many gamers perceived these attacks as retaliation for the ethical concerns they had raised, but this is where the fingerprints of social justice warriors (SJWs) could be seen. I was reminded of what they had been doing in the atheist/skeptic/secular communities for some time.

One of the parts of the story that I mostly missed was the uncritical reporting of the anti-gamer SJW narrative by many mainstream news media sources. In story after story, the harassment narrative was reported uncritically. Listen and believe, I guess. Not surprisingly, this further agitated many gamers.

After watching the SPJ Airplay panels, I realized how much of the journalistic ethics part of the story I had missed. I found this aspect to be at least as interesting as any other part of it. I can easily understand why gamers would want gaming journalists to disclose conflicts of interest. But most of all, I can understand their rage at being demonized over and over again by mainstream journalists who seemed far more interested in pushing the harassment narrative than doing investigative reporting. This uncritical acceptance of harassment claims by those who are supposed to be doing investigative reporting has become a real problem.

What I found encouraging about the SPJ Airplay panels is that there are good professional journalists out there who are genuinely concerned about ethics and who are trying to help their colleagues do better. I was quite impressed with Lynn Walsh, for example.

It is clear that there are at least two sides to #GamerGate and that neither is free from mistakes (e.g., people on both sides have tried to get people fired). It is possible, though not easy, to adopt a sort of middle ground that recognizes the merits and missteps of both sides. Such a position strikes me as being consistent with freethought. At the same time, I do not feel like it would be accurate to characterize myself as truly neutral. If pushed, I'd have to place myself at least somewhat to the #GamerGate side of things. That in no way means I approve of everything I see from that side on the hashtag; it just means that even though I'm not a gamer, I find that my sympathies are more with #GamerGate than with their SJW opponents.

Had I to do it over again, I wish I had made more time to look into #GamerGate. If I had done so, I would have discovered a much more interesting story than I realized was taking place. I would have learned that it has relevance to issues such as the free expression of ideas, artistic integrity, journalistic ethics, the responsibility of the news media to inform the public, and even freethought. Had I taken the time to learn about it earlier, I might not feel like I'm so far behind everyone else in understanding the issues.

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