The Activision-Blizzard Scandal Exposes The Hollowness Of The Anti-GamerGate Movement

Gamers were never the reason women struggled to find a place in the video game industry.

In 2014 a thing happened called GamerGate. It was a weird time. I wish Adam Baldwin had never coined the term. Gamers were upset about “ethics in video game journalism” among many other things. I won’t go into all the unpleasant details, but I’ll offer up a very brief account of what happened.

Gamers were enraged when discussion of Eron Gjoni’s post about his ex Zoe Quinn was shut down on basically every online forum. The post—which included accusations of allegedly unethical dealings between Quinn (a game developer) and a game journalist Quinn was in a brief relationship with—was seen as an ethical red flag and people were eager to discuss it. Instead of letting that discussion take place so that the whole thing could fizzle out, the powers that be tried to stifle the conversation—on reddit, in comments at gaming sites, even at 4chan (which is why we have 8chan and whatever the new version of that is, and indirectly sort of why QAnon is a thing). As we all know, shutting down conversation usually has the opposite effect. Things got worse and worse from there. That’s one of several reasons I’m not a fan of censorship.

Gamers are dead.

After this, the Op/Eds started dropping—because hey, if you can’t shut down the discussion you may as well douse it in gasoline and light a match.

Things kicked off with Leigh Alexander’s infamous “gamers are dead” piece at Gamasutra. That piece was aped by a couple dozen other writers at various outlets, all slamming gamers as evil neckbeards (incel wasn’t a term yet) who hate women and who were trying to drive women out of the video game industry with their rampant misogyny. The “ethics in game journalism” ruse was just a nefarious façade; this was about harassment and nothing else—a narrative that stuck so convincingly that’s all people know about GG today. (Nobody stopped to ask why, all of a sudden, so many people were suddenly doing all this harassment. It was taken at face value that, out of the blue and without much provocation at all, an army of misogynists had coordinated a sudden, fierce onslaught against women simply because they didn’t want women in video games.)

This was, to put it mildly, a gross overreaction that broke the internet’s first rule of thumb: Don’t feed the trolls.

Not only did it smear all the gamers who were actually concerned about ethics issues in the game industry (many of whom were the same people upset by the Mass Effect 3 ending, and video game publishers in general) it gave actual trolls plenty to work with.

Flame wars ensued. We hear a lot about the online harassment that took place, but nobody every wants to talk about the degree to which this was provoked and invited by the very people denouncing it. The sheer amount of clickbait was staggering. I can’t even recall how many “concerned” articles I read that were clearly just attempts at driving traffic via conflict. A lot a lot.

Frankly, nobody looked good after the dust settled. I felt like I needed a month-long shower. It very nearly broke my brain (and then along came Trump, just two years later to finish off the job). To me, this exposed many things about many people, including the ideologically driven nature of the gaming press and the willingness of gamers—as a crowd—to follow whoever would speak up for them, even if it meant following Milo, a man who gave exactly two shits about video games, gamers or the industry, who saw all of it merely as a jumping off point to a much more fabulous career championing his own weird brand of right-wing politics—aka, trolling the libs. Lost in all of this was the real story.

And so we come to the Activision-Blizzard lawsuit which alleges both harassment and discrimination at the World Of Warcraft and Call Of Duty maker.

The Real Enemy

What the anti-GamerGate movement missed, obviously, was the real problem facing women in the video game industry: The industry itself. The institutional hurdles facing women in video games at video game companies. The bad people who worked at these publishers.

I noted at the time (somewhere, can’t find it) that it’s surely not gamers’ fault that the only women you see at E3 or GDC seem to be in PR. That’s not because GamerGate was driving women out of the industry. Hell, there weren’t that many women in the industry in 2014 to begin with compared to men.

It’s because of the Old Boys Club.

The fucking Cosby Suite was a thing at BlizzCon in 2013, a year before GG was even a twinkle in Adam Baldwin’s eye (but many years after the first Cosby sexual assault allegations were made)—but we’re supposed to think that it’s a ragtag group of anonymous gamers on 4chan that present the biggest threat to women in video games? This kind of corporate misogyny and abuse was going on long before GamerGate and kept going on, unabated, during the intervening years even with the rise of the #MeToo movement. The real threat facing women in video games isn’t some asshole on Twitter. It’s the asshole behind the desk writing checks and making hiring decisions and calling the shots and turning a blind eye.

What have I been saying for a decade now? What has Jim Sterling been saying? We’ve been pointing out, over and over again, that this industry stinks. Ethics in game journalism is a concern not because journalists are horrible people but because these publishers are all about money and don’t care one single iota about the working conditions their workforce faces (until it becomes a scandal) or the sexual harassment and abuse women face from their superiors (until it becomes a scandal) or the shitty business practices they employ, like loot boxes (until it becomes a scandal).

Why waste precious time writing about how awful these incel gamers are when the real villains, the mustache-twirling motherfuckers, are the ones in the high towers calling the shots, not holding their managers accountable, not paying their employees well enough, burdening their developers with crunch, turning a blind eye to rampant sexual harassment, laying off hundreds or thousands of employees while laughing all the way to the bank with their bonuses and stock options and massive profits? Sure, there are plenty of bad, racist, sexist annoying gamers also. The video game community can absolutely suck at times (anyone who plays competitive games knows this) but you can’t change human nature. You can, on the other hand, hold companies’ feet to the fire. Or you can try.

That’s why I think the anti-GG movement was so hollow, so pointless, so much about virtue signaling and having some fun fanning the culture war flames rather than making the video game industry better—the exact sort of movement that would inspire quite possibly the worst episode of Law & Order: SVU ever made. It’s not hard. It’s not hard to attack “teh gamerz” or any other amorphous group. The “basket of deplorables” or the “commies” or whatever “other” you want to attack. Frankly, many within GamerGate fell prey to the same bullshit, often taking sides with game publishers against journalists, as though that’s going to solve the problems with the game industry (see, for instance, the idea that game reviews should be 100% “objective” and that any opining therein is a bad thing, or the many ways that gamers have, over the years, defended their favorite corporate behemoths against criticism).

Meanwhile, the real assholes keep getting away with it, whether these are businessmen or politicians, bankers or game publishers.

Revelations about abuse at Ubisoft Singapore (and throughout that company) and at Activision-Blizzard should be viewed as the tip of the iceberg. The rot runs deep. If you think it’s limited to just a couple publishers, think again. I’m sure there are some studios where this kind of thing isn’t tolerated, but even “woke” developers like Naughty Dog have been exposed as altogether too willing to employ crunch to get a game like The Last Of Us Part II out.

As readers know, I’m all for due process, accountability, freedom of expression and the importance of evidence when determining guilt. But the video game industry is broken, utterly and completely.

Activision-Blizzard’s stock has plummeted as the scandal intensifies. It’s unclear what will happen next. Will Activision-Blizzard survive the lawsuit? Will Tencent swoop in and buy up that cheap, cheap stock, handing over one of the largest Western publishers to China? Could things actually get worse?

Haha, things can always get worse you buffoon! Always.

Here’s my point: GamerGate was a deeply flawed movement, but it sprung up out of a sense that game journalists didn’t represent consumer interests, that instead they were industry shills, bought and paid for by the big publishers. Game journalists kept taking the industry’s side over and over again, as we saw during the Mass Effect 3 scandal (silly entitled gamers!) and plenty of others.

Now, fast forward seven years and we see the that the true rot in the industry is clearly at the dark heart of these massive corporations; that people were rightfully concerned that journalists were too cozy with these entities, flown off to lavish preview events, wined and dined at conferences, showered with swag and so forth. Mistrust in the media is at all time highs for a reason.

I, for one, have been given great pause by these latest revelations of abuse at Activision-Blizzard and Ubisoft. It is still our job to cover these companies and their games, but how we cover it—and to what end—is an important question. As I’ve said in the past, journalists ought to maintain an adversarial relationship with subjects like game publishers or politicians, but it’s always tricky since you also need to work together to some degree in order to get interviews, early review codes and so forth. But maybe access just isn’t worth the cost. Not on those terms.

Hell, I was blacklisted by Sony a year ago and it hasn’t stopped me from covering the PS5 in the exact same manner as before—I just don’t get review copies from Sony now. Oh well. In my podcast with Colin Moriarty, he says he no longer accepts any review codes/copies from publishers at all. Jim Sterling has been largely blacklisted across the industry for his harsh (and sometimes bizarre) criticisms. Maybe it’s time for the whole gaming press to turn its back on “access” to these publishers entirely—not stop covering them, which feels wrongheaded for many reasons; rather, just stop worrying about what they’ll do if you say something mean about their games or their business models and don’t go to their parties or ridiculous preview events anymore. This applies as much if not more to YouTubers who often profit directly from big corporations in ways that would be deemed deeply unethical for traditional media.

Whatever the case, something needs to change. I’m just not sure anything meaningful really will.

What do you think?

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Here’s Jim Sterling’s thoughts on the matter which I think are worthwhile:

Colin Moriarty and Richard Hoeg have an interesting podcast on the case as well:

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