The Philosophy and Politics of #gamergate

Introduction

Let’s first quickly summarize this. Gamers want better ethics in journalism after corruption was discovered. Games developers and gaming media rejected this criticism as an attack on women. Both sides have made mistakes, both sides blame the whole of the enemy camp for these mistakes and both sides view their own mistakes as not representative of the whole.

I’m gonna attack this issue from my own perspective which means that I am not neutral in this matter, but I think of myself as a third party and not in favour of either of the two groups and I hope you will read the whole text before passing judgment. I do focus on gamers and the negative aspects of gamergate, but I hope you will recognize that it’s a serious attempt at understanding the issue and furthering constructive debate rather than dismissing or demonizing. First I will discuss journalism, then the historical context of hot issues in gaming and lastly the heterogenous philosophies of the gamers.

Journalism

There is no such thing as objective journalism. If you agree, you can skip this paragraph. It’s impossible because of every step of decision-making involved in publishing an article. First, each journalist has to decide whether to look for a job and/or take a job and/or stay at a job at a specific newspaper/news site. This decision can be based on interest, need for an income, greed, pursuit of a career, co-workers, work environment, political views, political affiliation of the newspaper/news site et cetera. Then comes the decisions of the boss who assign the journalist to a specific report, he or she has to consider the business agenda concerning target audience, advertisers, market niche, the skill of the reporters, the time until publication et cetera. Then comes the additional impacts of co-workers, interviewees, changes in public opinion et cetera. The first decision to be made is which stories not to cover. This means the truth is incomplete, many stories, for any of the reasons mentioned above, get cut in favour of other stories. In the case of gaming, this means that your favourite game might be ignored in favour of a different game. Once the story has been chosen, a number of decisions influence the final product, whether consciously or subconsciously made by the reporter, or by the editor or publisher. These decision are affected by the sound bites the reporter has managed to obtain, the facts he or she has had time to gather, the allotted space for the article, the writing style and skill of the reporter et cetera.

Everything in the above paragraph can be disregarded though, because many gamers understand this and demand a reasonable amount of objectivity and focus on disclosure rather than idealistic goals. Disclosure entails making readers aware of financial contributors and goals, political affiliations and agendas, target audience and other factors that help consumers make informed decisions. These are the ethical standards that are at the core of the gamergate movement and regardless of what triggered the it, what is going on besides this and what will happen later, this is the core that keeps gamergate alive by ensuring there is a minimum influx of new supporters until this issue has been properly addressed.

Many games are violent and centered on a hero who is an expert at killing. A lot of the heroes are men with exceptional physique and intelligence, perhaps working as detectives or at CIA/FBI, being decorated war veterans or unrealistic superheroes, either within the realms of fantasy or sci-fi. If there is a woman involved, she is involved in a love story. The enemies are ugly or diseased creatures, monsters, perhaps deformed mutants of normal animals or humans or henchmen with black helmets or otherwise anonymous fodder, perhaps terrorists from non-Western countries. This is of course similar to blockbuster Hollywood movies. There are a lot of exceptions, but this narrative brings in a lot of money and therefore producers will keep making it.

Context

In the past, women were not allowed to vote, they were considered too stupid to handle money and understand politics. Black people were viewed the same way. This was standard for a few thousand years. Recently, in the past century, women and black people have slowly gained more rights and increasingly fair opportunities. Obviously, half-way through the last century, half the world’s Jews were murdered in one of the most enlightened countries on the planet, along with millions of homosexual and disabled people and people who simply disagreed. That was just 70 years ago and even 20-year-old people should be able to comprehend how little has changed in such a short time. Structural racism and sexism, among other prejudices and injustices, like homophobia and transphobia, are still the norm around the globe. Currently there are wars on every continent, rape is being used systematically, race, religion and ethnicity is being used as war propaganda.

Feminists fight for gender equality, civil rights activists fight for justice. Those who pretend to fight for justice or pretend to be victims of harassment, but really only want charity, are labeled feminazis and social justice warriors. Other labels include radfems, radical feminists, or third-wave feminists, meaning those who have gone too far and come out the other side, hating men and promoting misandry. LGTBQ rights activists who have gone too far are seen as threats against CIS people, heterosexuals. Overall, social justice is seen as targeting heterosexual, white men.

I’m sure both sides can empathize with each other even if they don’t sympathize. On the one hand, nobody is doubting the existence of slavery or the nonexistence of women’s votes in history. On the other, nobody can deny that people have taken things too far, e.g. statements like “all men must die”. As I said, I am biased. If forced to pick one of just two sides, I will side with the historically mistreated here, because a) this is the present reality in many parts of the world and b) even in Western countries there are still many remnants of the old systems remaining and yet plenty of neonazis, nationalists, xenophobes, racists, protectionists, isolationists, religious conservatives, egotists, capitalists, homophobes, neoliberals and the list goes on.

Philosophy

The gamergaters are very upset about ethics in gaming journalism, something many view as something trivial. How can we understand this discrepancy?

Many gamers are not just concerned about standard ethics in journalism, they’re concerned about the entire social justice movement. They don’t think muscle guys and big-titted women are a bad thing, they’re just playing games, they’re aware of what they’re doing and don’t blindly swallow stereotypes. They want politics out of gaming, that no ideology should shape the narrative with its particular buzzwords, they think gamers should democratically accept or reject games and that the decisions should not be made by individuals with an agenda trying to promote anti-racism, feminism, communism or whatever. So far, it makes sense. This is neoliberalism, democracy by means of a free market and it’s a well-known and easy-to-grasp idea.

However, the gamergaters claim that they want politics out of gaming, that they are a consumer revolt, not ideologs, not pushing an ideological, political or philosophical agenda. However, they are pushing against socialism and they are promoting laissez-faire capitalism, they are promoting egotistic/individualistic liberalism. The politics of socialism includes fighting injustice in every corner of society, including inside everyone’s computers. Whether right or wrong, that is what they do. Wanting socialists out of one’s computer is itself a political stance, whether by choice or not. The reason is that nobody is an isolated individual, everyone’s inseparable parts of a system, family, neighbourhood, country, the economy, a global humanity, the biosphere, the solar system or the universe. All actions have consequences. Just by breathing one is potentially engaging in competition or a conflict.

So, while many gamergaters are denying a political agenda, that is actually impossible if the goal is to get socialism, or social justice, out of gaming. Many are also explicitly anti-feminists and although anti-feminists generally think they are pro-equality, the feminists have the inverse opinion and since these are opinions, they constitute a political conflict. It is therefore incorrect to say that anti-feminism is an apolitical or non-ideological stance that simply disagrees with a political or ideological stance. However, the individualism and anonymous anti-group, anti-ideology or skepticism is itself a mindset, whether one puts a label on it or not.

There are many labels in potential connection here and I’ve mentioned several already. I’m sure that even the gamers wont deny the racists, neonazis and social darwinists on /pol/ and the pervasive hatred towards all kinds of groups. Some would group the neoliberals, the biggest group, under the umbrella term neoreactionary, which is usually centered on the nation (i.e. the ethnic group) a patriarchal monarchy with a strong leader and a clear hierarchy according to ability. This would range from ableism to meritocracy. I’m not saying it’s wrong (although I have previously and will in the future argue against most of these -isms), but I’m saying that these political issues are inherent parts of gamergate and ignoring that means living in denial. Equally and for the same reasons, pretending that only one side is trying to control the narrative means living in denial. Being opposed to political correctness one has to challenge that in a political debate, not just act as a victim of it. Using twitter, youtube, 4chan, reddit, social media to form public opinion is no less of a political movement than the socialist movement it’s fighting against.

In conclusion

I do have hopes that this conflict will eventually lead to a constructive end because I see many intelligent people making sound arguments and caring deeply about the community that drives the movement. I support liberalism in a general sense and in no way do I consider journalistic ethics in gaming a trivial matter. However, my personal narrative, i.e. the way I have formulated this entire discourse within my own neural network, is that this movement is a glimpse into a future where there are no longer any wars, everyone has at minimum a middle-class upbringing, everyone can afford a computer and computer games, everyone can afford the many hours of entertainment that gaming entails. They can sit at home all day undisturbed, in total control of their social availability, in total personal freedom, nobody judging or restricting them; there are no major issues of injustice and discrimination, all that is left is working out the finer details and the criticism is focused on the extremists who want the then relatively crazy additional one week optional paternity leave as opposed to the then standard eight years optional paternity leave.

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