As an activist movement with the ability to inspire positive change, Gamergate is dead. Its constituents and its hashtag will remain — and I suspect will be, for sometime, as fierce, aggressive, and vocal — but these remainders represent a hate group and its banner, associated with bigotry and cruelty.
Gamergate died ironically from what it most wanted: mainstream exposure.
The threats aimed at women made by many of its most radical members received attention through mainstream online news outlets, the front page of The New York Times, and yesterday evening, the satirical television program, The Colbert Report. Interviewing Anita Sarkeesian, who has received numerous death threats for her feminist critique of video games, the conservative television host character "Stephen Colbert" became a feminist. When a fictional ideal of repressive rhetoric thinks your movement is too much, then it's time to reconsider.
Of course, it's been time for Gamergate's members to reconsider their movement's true intent for months.
Gamergate began in August as an organized attack on a single woman in the video game community, and expanded to be a life threatening attack on many women in the global community. During that window, acutely aware of their own negative image, members redirected the movement's public-facing purpose to be about ethics in game journalism — an agenda that was literally set after journalists reacted to a week of swatting, rape and death threats directed towards both men and women in the industry. It's those editorials that inspired actor Adam Baldwin to coin the term Gamergate, as if it takes an act of collusion for multiple professional journalists to note people should stop threatening to kill people after a week of ceaseless death threats.
Gamergate began as an attack on a woman in the games community
Gamergate felt, for the first few awful weeks, as if it were a local drama, a dense soap opera that made no sense to my non-gamer colleagues who came into the show halfway through. For a brief period, the "ethics in journalism" messaging even gained traction, inspiring this half-assed op-ed by one of the laziest reverse shot writers on a site known for its reverse shots.
But the argument that the group, who threatened the privacy and safety of dozens of journalists, critics and dissenters, truly cared at large about journalism never held weight.
Anecdotally speaking, I have received dozens of attacks and threats about my own ethics, but haven't received a single example of an ethical breach. Gamergate supporters did, however, point to any works of criticism that showed my social convictions: When I said a game included torture, I was attacked; When I claimed threats on peoples' lives needed to stop, I was attacked; For a year-old article on video game violence, I was attacked.
A group rallying against the notion of a games press colluding with video game publishers has only attacked me and many other authors for negative criticisms of said publishers. And this says nothing of Gamergate's tendency to trash media publishers that dare to criticize their sponsors.
When I claimed threats on peoples' lives needed to stop, I was attacked
But in the past couple weeks, the movement has received the attention of mainstream media, the attention the group has so rabidly sought. The reaction is almost certainly not what its constituents had hoped for. Newsweek noted tweets harassing women in the game community far outnumber critical tweets directed at members of the press. The New York Times documented the group's efforts, intentional or not, to hold back games from its grand potential. New York Magazine profiled a handful of supporters and their get together at a New York strip club. And Grantland questioned what it will take for the members of Gamergate to see the movement for what it is.
The group's supposed interest in journalism ethics has been summarily dismissed in practically every story written about its activities. While the hatefulness of its radical members have become the true story. Culture, at large, wants to distance itself from a brand now deemed toxic. Two days ago Adobe became the first company to explicitly claim no connections to the group.
Gamergate is now a stew of powerless hashtags and bruised egos
Its tangential hashtags, like #notyourshield, have proven to be as shallow and rudderless as the original Gamergate hashtag. That banner has been used to defend the cause from accusations of misogyny, not understanding it's the victims of harassment that are in dire need of protection. When Sarkeesian and other critics received threats on their safety, Gamergate broadly questioned the legitimacy of those claims, rather than show human decency. The hashtag's ability to claim a few women and minorities support the cause does not negate the violent language directed at women and minorities at large.
Gamergate is now a stew of tautological arguments, powerless hashtags, and bruised egos. I suspect the banner and the members that rally beneath it will hold together. I know whenever a whiff of social progressivism appears in a video game review, the flag will be raised. And most disconcertingly, it's naive to think threats won't continue to be made against dissenters, particularly women. I pray no one is hurt. There were moments in the past few months where the violent language of the internet felt as if it could become violence in the real world. (A reader rightfully mentions that stalking and threats that push people from their homes are examples of such real world violence.)
It's time for a positive change
But the movement's agenda, or more clearly, the noble cover meant to conceal the movement's true agenda, is dead.
For those who mourn its death, the people who rightfully question journalistic ethics and integrity, and who don't stand for threats, I hope a new, healthier group is formed. The conversation about the purpose, agenda, and — yes — the ethics of journalism is ongoing and fruitful. Sites like NiemanLab and Twitter streams like that of Jay Rosen are thoughtful starting points. And questions still need to be asked not just of games journalism but of all enthusiast and trade journalism about the relationships between members of the press and the companies that they cover.
Gamergate is dead, but it will be replaced. Alternative advocacy concepts are already circulating amongst the game community. Whatever's next, let's hope it's healthier, smarter, and more empathic. It would be a small victory for all sides if something good came from something so bad.