On February 11, 2014, the Daily Mail reported on the case of 19-year-old Ryan Walker, a thin, bespectacled “wimp” by reputation who, upon being bullied one too many times by some neighborhood girls, attacked them furiously, stabbing one in the face and bashing the other’s head against the pavement. As one blogger put it, “Hell hath no fury like a bullied nerd who finally snaps… Those girls didn’t just suffer for their own sins, but the sins of every bully who came before them.”
And so it was that half a year before it began, #Gamergate was explained. However, their detractors’ alarmism notwithstanding, they have yet to commit violence, unlike the troubled and morally obtuse Mr. Walker.
#Gamergate, for those who are unfamiliar, is an online movement by video game enthusiasts focused primarily on ethics in video game journalism and the video game industry, with secondary concerns about the corrupting influence of extreme left-wing ideology on both. Originally touched off by the allegation that independent game developer Zoe Quinn had traded sex for favorable coverage of her game Depression Quest, the movement has lasted for two months (practically an eternity in internet time), and has employed some well-worn tactics of previous consumer revolts, such as boycotting and pressuring advertisers to drop their ads on sites that its members have found objectionable.
Critics of the movement also allege that it is responsible for death threats and harassment against Quinn herself as well as well-known feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian, actress Felicia Day, and game developer Brianna Wu. #Gamergate’s members have denied these allegations, and have even set up a group called the “Gamergate Harassment Patrol” to sniff out bad actors in their ranks, though this action has been steadfastly ignored by the media.
Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that #Gamergate’s targets in this fight are more than just corrupt game journalists. Along with their furious denunciations of the gaming press, the movement also appears to be fighting a new culture war — one against a new, radical and dangerously illiberal left which marinates in a hideous quagmire of resentment, smugness, vacuousness and contempt for free discussion. This movement prefers the vile ochlocracy of the Twitter mob (it’s no accident that Suey Park of #CancelColbert fame is on the anti-Gamergate side), celebrates the Maoist public shaming of doxxing, and seems incapable of distinguishing between a .gif and an argument. Deemed “Social Justice Warriors,” or “SJWs” by their detractors, this new left is monomaniacally obsessed with identity politics to the exclusion of almost everything else and will attack anyone and everyone who emanates even a whiff of what it perceives as racism, sexism, cissexism, or any of a number of other “-isms,” including its own allies.
Make no mistake, when it comes to #Gamergate, both the SJWs and the gaming press are facing a backlash that is not only thoroughly warranted, but of their own making. As a series of questions posed by this author on the #Gamergaters’ resident subreddit revealed, this movement has copious antecedents both in and out of the gaming world. It is a revolt by more than gamers. It is a revolt by the socially awkward, mostly white, mostly male, highly educated, often non-neurotypical cluster of subcultural enthusiasts whose new Jerusalem is Silicon Valley, whose holy texts are video games and comic books, and whose religion is modernist reason.
In short, America’s nerds are fighting back against what they rightly see as ages of persecution and dismissal by an extreme left wing fringe that they believe has co-opted the very press they used to trust and used it as a weapon of oppression despite claiming to speak for the oppressed. As female coder and Google software engineer Justine Tunney put it, “The 900 pound elephant in the gamer/sexism debate, is they’re really just attacking autistic people for clumsy social propriety.”
Their case is historically next-to-impossible to dispute. Despite the claims of people such as Sarkeesian (who recently appeared on the Colbert Report) that the targets of this movement are exclusively women, the fact is that if #Gamergate is “targeting” anyone other than corrupt journalists, it is ideologues, without regard to gender. The harassment of moderate pro-Gamergate YouTuber John Bain, who goes by the alias TotalBiscuit, by feminist independent developer Phil Fish, for instance, galvanized several Gamergaters. As one put it on Reddit, “[Bain] got flamed by the anti-gamergate crowd for, as far as I can tell, honest uncertainty. It wasn’t even honest disagreement; he just didn’t know. That made me super anti-anti-gamergate.”
Moreover, the movement’s fury against Gawker Media — which has come to define its recent activism — was started thanks to the actions of one very dishonest and unpleasant man.
On October 16th, Sam Biddle of Gawker posted perhaps the most revealing pair of tweets ever written by an anti-Gamergate journalist. “Ultimately #Gamergate is reaffirming what we’ve known to be true for decades,” Biddle sneered in the first tweet. “Nerds should be constantly degraded and shamed into submission.” Not a minute later, Biddle tweeted “Bring Back Bullying.”
Since Biddle’s tweets, the Gamergate movement has turned on Gawker Media with the fury of Captain Ahab chasing the white whale and have successfully gotten both Adobe and Intel to distance themselves from the network, much to Gawker’s distress. Biddle, for his part, has claimed that his original tweets were jokes.
Given the fact that Biddle’s previous post at Gawker’s anti-Silicon Valley blog “Valleywag” was summed up as nothing but an exercise in attacking “billionaire nerds,” that Biddle unironically rallied San Francisco residents to call the next tech worker they see “a f–king loser dork with inconsequential ideas and a dumb life,” and that at least one publication openly wondered how long it would take for a member of the tech community to commit suicide because of Valleywag’s coverage, #Gamergaters can be forgiven for not seeing the humor in his “jokes.”
This isn’t the first time that Gawker Media or left wing journalists like Biddle, have taken the forefront in defending bullying. Cultural elites have arguably loathed their nerdy counterparts since the moment Silicon Valley became the new center of American wealth creation. As Aaron Sorkin put it when describing his film “The Social Network”:
More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them).
Sorkin’s words would turn out to be prophetic about the far left’s subsequent behavior.
In late 2012, a new Tumblr entitled “Nice Guys of OKCupid” appeared. The site took only a few weeks to be shut down (and rightly so), though copycats have appeared, and in its brief lifespan, it gained plaudits from Gawker, Jezebel, the Huffington Post and the New Statesman, among others. The site’s purpose was to expose what its creator saw as a troubling trend — namely, the propensity among certain types of men to call themselves “nice guys” who treat women well and yet somehow remain romantically unattached, while writing things in their profile that would call the “nice guy” descriptor into question.
Some of the posts were genuinely funny in their cluelessness, but if one surfed the site for too long, it rapidly became clear that a certain type of man was overrepresented among the people being mocked — namely, dumpy, white, awkward looking men whose primary crime in their profiles was expressing either insufficiently feminist viewpoints (like thinking men should be the heads of their household) or simply of being sad or angry about their lack of romantic options. Ally Fogg of The Guardian noticed this and denounced the Tumblr as “the ugly bullying of those who already feel like losers.”
Unsurprisingly, Jezebel, possibly the sine qua non of online feminist cruelty, and also a member of the Gawker network, was unmollified:
The plea to replace mockery with understanding is a familiar one; it’s what lies behind the calls to stop using the word “creep,” because men find it shaming. But in the case of Nice Guys of OkCupid, disdain isn’t rooted in meanness as much as it is in self-preservation. While only a small percentage of these guys may be prone to imminent violence, virtually all of them insist, in one way or another, that women owe them. Mockery, in this instance, isn’t so much about being cruel as it is about publicly rejecting the Nice Guys’ sense of entitlement to both sex and sympathy.
This lack of charity was and is endemic to the discussion of the “Nice Guy” phenomenon on the feminist side. One feminist blogger even complained about her daughter being taught it was rude to give a seven-year-old classmate the cold shoulder because he needed to learn that being cold shouldered means “no.” Indeed, virtually every publication that has written on Nice Guys echoes the same party line — that anyone who attempts to befriend a woman in hopes of winning her affections romantically is a closet predator who feels “entitled to sex and sympathy,” which no one is. Well, no one except lonely, overweight women. Jezebel again:
We substitute shame and bullying for the kind of systemic infrastructure changes that might actually improve people’s health — then shake our heads in judgy dismay when our lazy, self-serving shortcut doesn’t “fix” anything. We frame people’s bodies as physical manifestations of their supposed moral failings, just so that we can congratulate ourselves on not being them. We publicly humiliate and dehumanize children to prop up the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry. And then we tell fat people that they’re the villains.
Physician, heal thyself. How does one explain this utterly obvious double standard where physically unattractive men are whiny losers deserving of scorn, but physically unattractive women are unfairly treated like scum? I’ll let Jezebel try to explain:
The difference is, though, that the radfem community on Tumblr does not currently hold the reins of power in every country on earth … You do, abstractly … You might not benefit from patriarchy in any measurable way—on an individual level your life might actually be much, much worse than mine—but the fact is that certain disadvantages are absent from your experience (and, likely, invisible to you) because of your gender.
This passage gives us the great weasel word that justifies practically all feminist mistreatment of their adversaries online, whether it be bullying, shaming or public exposure of private details (or doxxing): patriarchy. Granted, not everyone who uses this term is a would-be bully, but that’s not the point. The point is that as the term is used above (and on countless other feminist blogs), it effectively takes the form of an unfalsifiable conspiracy theory that allows for unlimited abuse against one group and absolute charity for another.
One is reminded of the old Jewish joke wherein a Jew reading Der Sturmer wryly remarks, “I read the Jewish magazines and I hear about Pogroms, but when I read Der Sturmer, I read that we are an all-powerful international cabal that controls the world. I need some good news here and there.” In fact, it’s hard to read the feminist description of “Nice Guys,” or Sorkin’s description of the Zuckerbergs of the world, and not be reminded of at least one cartoon from Der Sturmer, or of the sequence in “Birth of a Nation” where the heroine throws herself from a cliff rather than accept a marriage proposal from a black man. Then again, Der Sturmer was probably written better than Gawker.
This fear of romanceless, unattractive young men reached a hysterical, fever pitch in the wake of the Elliot Rodger shooting. Rodger, who identified as an “involuntary celibate,” or “incel,” frequently complained of his lack of romantic options and complained that women never wanted to date him. In other words, he was a perfect bogeyman with which to smear “entitled” Nice Guys. Never mind that Rodgers had a history of mental illness dating back to childhood, and almost certainly would’ve found some rationalization to explode without being treated. Here at last was evidence that the nerdy suitors who so many feminists found distasteful weren’t just sad sacks; they were violent powder kegs waiting to explode. And with the subsequent release of Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos by hackers from 4chan, Lawrence herself appears to have added another epithet, “sex criminal,” to the mix. As Scott Alexander of SlatestarCodex puts it:
The goal here isn’t to push some kind of Platonic ideal of what’s important, it’s to support a certain narrative that ties into the Blue Tribe narrative. Rotherham does the opposite of that. The Jennifer Lawrence nudes, which center around how hackers (read: creepy internet nerds) shared nude pictures of a beloved celebrity on Reddit (read: creepy internet nerds) and 4Chan (read: creepy internet nerds) – and #Gamergate which does the same – are exactly the narrative they want to push, so they become the Stories Of The Century.
Now, back to history.
At the same time they were having their sexual habits belittled, nerds found their hobbies also under frequent assault by the left. Sensing an opportunity to score victories in the rising wake of the popularity of comic book movies, feminists pounced on comic books for depicting female superheroes in unrealistically “sexy” outfits and poses. Ground zero for this argument was a parody blog called the “Hawkeye Initiative” depicting the male character Hawkeye in the same poses as female characters on comic book covers. Yet, as with other grievances, this was a selective reading of the evidence. As the popular online writer Maddox explained in response to a similarly senseless recent outcry over the costuming of Spider Woman, sexualization of both male and female superheroes is par for the course in the genre.
What’s more, even the atheist community found itself under attack, as a rogue group of feminists tried to commandeer the movement, calling themselves Atheism+ and demanding that non-feminist or anti-feminist atheists lose the right to use the label. Even conservative bogeymen like Richard Dawkins were targeted by this brand of atheist feminists, who claimed that the atheist movement systematically covered up sexual assault based on nothing but the allegations of a few victims, and because one of them had been asked out while standing in an elevator. Dawkins indignantly retorted that surely both atheists and feminists had better things — like female circumcision among Muslims — to worry about. For this, he was branded a misogynist with “male privilege.” To atheists who valued free thought above all else, including political correctness, this was understandably intolerable. And who were these free thought defenders? To quote Buzzfeed’s article on the controversy:
This disappearing world was heavily male, and perhaps quite sexist, but it was also a safe space for science geeks, political dissidents, and other kinds of misfits. It’s understandable that some would feel nostalgia for that romanticized world; for 50 years, freethought was where one could say things forbidden elsewhere.
Once more, in other words, it was really nerds who were under attack. Yet whenever the topic of cultural elites bullying nerds came up, the left either ignored it, rationalized it away, or blamed the victims for daring to compare their experiences to other marginalized groups, such as women or black people. The message was simple: “If you’re not part of our pet underprivileged group, you can’t be bullied.”
Then there was the realm of video game criticism. Rather like comic books before them, video games were previously a niche media that only recently gained acceptance as a valuable art form, again largely due to the fact that nerd culture has gone mainstream. What’s more, the left had previously found allies in gamers when fighting against charges that video games cause violence; charges that unfortunately came from certain misinformed wings of the right, and a few opportunists who were overly willing to take advantage of them.
Then came Anita Sarkeesian and this alliance collapsed. Sarkeesian, a minor feminist academic who had previously been known for critiquing movie tropes as sexist (often without justification), decided to start critiquing video games in the same way. The response from gamers was apoplectic. They’d be damned if they were going to let yet another busybody start trying to police their hobby. In fact, in one of her videos, Sarkeesian even attempts to tie certain video game tropes to real life domestic violence, despite there being no evidence for this connection, as I’ve written elsewhere. This was, in short, the same argument, but recycled with a culturally Left-wing bent. However, unlike with previous battles against conservatives claiming that video games caused violence, the largely left-leaning press was almost entirely willing to accept Sarkeesian’s hypothesis that games could cause sexism, a double standard that continues to baffle Gamergaters to this day.
Like other academic feminists, Sarkeesian is an expert at playing the victim as a substitute for engaging with her opponents. She flat out refuses to allow comments on her YouTube videos, for instance, and seems to take every threat made against her online as automatically credible (despite the fact that flippant death threats are practically a running joke among internet users). What’s more, even when venues make an attempt to accommodate her fears of assault, she treats her assailants as having won simply to score political points.
Sarkeesian’s defenders argue that she’s simply engaging in cultural criticism of the kind used in any art form and that anyone arguing against her is arguing for video games to be treated like toys. Actually, the argument against her from the #Gamergate scene has been far more sophisticated — namely, that Sarkeesian’s “criticism” is nothing but a call for censorship of plot elements she dislikes, that she is unconcerned with what makes good games so long as they are politically correct, and that her standards are so rigid that some of gaming’s classics fail them. In short, they are rather like “Great Books” defenders pushing back against the feminist attempt to marginalize the classics than like the anti-intellectual neanderthals that their opponents make them out to be.
How does this all tie into Gamergate? Enter Zoe Quinn, developer of “Depression Quest,” SJW and one of the central figures in #Gamergate. Quinn apparently decided to use the already massive suspicion of involuntary internet virgins to her advantage as a public relations tool — specifically by claiming that she’d been attacked by the virgin-focused imageboard Wizardchan. It was a charge that was easy to make in the court of public opinion if you ignore the glaringly inconsistent narrative that Quinn spun around it. It worked. Quinn got sympathy press for herself and for her game, with only the reputations of her already besmirched targets being unfairly damaged. In other words, the idea of a conspiracy of virginal online nerds taking on a female game developer for the crime of being female was more or less accepted on faith, despite the implausibility of any internet subculture being organized enough to act as a single-minded conspiracy.
Gamers, and nerds everywhere, smelled a rat. When the leaked emails emerged showing just how deep Quinn’s relationship with the press allegedly went, it was as if that rat had tap danced out onstage wearing a bowtie. The straw had broken the camel’s back, and after years of abuse from radical feminists for everything from their mating habits to their hobbies to even their philosophical subcultures, they were ready to send the SJWs crying back to their Tumblrs. When those same people responded to the accusations of corruption by sniffing that “gamers are over,” often in the accents of high school locker room harridans, the war was on.
Everyone interested in free discourse unhampered by the stifling political correctness that has recently enveloped our culture should pray that this “Revenge of the Nerds” wins.