What #Gamergate’s Critics Get Right, And Why It Doesn’t Matter: Sex, Race And Rock n’ Roll

Mytheos Holt Policy Analyst
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Reading the gaming press recently, one cannot help being reminded of an iconic quote by the famously nonviolent Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi – “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Having dismissed gamers as being unworthy, basement dwelling subhumans who are “over” and whose identity is dead, then having ridiculed #Gamergate even through the mouth of Stephen Colbert, and now apparently having only just realized that none of this made a dent in their opponents’ determination, it seems that the press, the feminist cultural elites that so many of them seek to defend, and the internet users acting as their footsoldiers have moved solidly into the third phase of Gandhi’s progression.

Whether the fourth will be reached is anyone’s guess, but given that no amount of public seems to register with #Gamergate, and that the movement has been prematurely declared dead so many times that it could give Mario a run for his money in extra lives, the prognosis is less grim than it might appear. It certainly does not hurt that the movement has found a new martyr in the form of Philae probe scientist Dr. Matt Taylor, who recently broke down in tears after being savaged for wearing a shirt featuring scantily clad cartoon women in an interview. Seeing this ideologically-motivated bullying (correctly) as yet another front in the “war on nerds,” #Gamergate has taken up arms to offer succor and defense to Dr. Taylor, and may well have found the poster child for ideological harassment that they have desperately needed in the process.

However, while the movement’s victory is something any defender of free expression ought to support and welcome, for anyone willing to look past the noise and clickbait surrounding #Gamergate and address the ordinary users on both sides of the issue, a more nuanced and more saddening picture emerges of two movements dominated by well-meaning people who are simply talking past each other. The existence of high profile voices acting in terribly bad faith on both sides only amplifies this problem, to say nothing of the fact that vicious, systematic, untraceable, anonymous attacks (again from both sides) make any prospect of a ceasefire virtually impossible.

#Gamergate and its partisans correctly perceive a broad-based attack on their hobbies and safe spaces by an increasingly ideologically motivated, culturally alien media. It is no secret at this point that this author regards that crusade as morally and intellectually just.

However, simply engaging with the subreddits used by partisans on both side of this issue – Kotakuinaction for #Gamergaters and Gamerghazi for their critics – reveal not only real grievances on the part of #Gamergate, but a surprisingly nuanced counterargument by their opponents, to which the media sources on their side have done a disservice. There are real intellectual issues in contention here, and many Gamerghazi users recognize them admirably.

These intellectually honest souls are owed their day in court, because the righteousness of #Gamergate does not automatically grant them license to commit tactical or ideological missteps. In fact, a moral movement must be self-critical, and #Gamergate is, as evidenced by the fact that reception this author’s own (highly pro-#Gamergate) article, while largely positive, nevertheless also included critical responses by #Gamergaters, some of which illuminated blind spots of which the author had been unaware. This is not a movement looking for stenographers, but for critics in good faith, and so while one can offer counter-arguments to the points expressed here, #Gamergaters should not skim over the genuine critiques. Moral righteousness is necessary but not sufficient for the triumph of a movement, and those wishing to create the best mass movement owe it to themselves to consider areas where their message has been distorted or misread.

That being said, rejoinders must be offered, for while these criticisms are enlightening, they are ultimately still misguided for reasons that will become clear. Without further ado, then, here are several “inconvenient truths” about #Gamergate suggested by their critics, as well as an explanation for why these facts, while troubling, ultimately fail to undermine the movement’s credibility.

Let’s start with arguably the most controversial issues, as well as the one with least merit: The issues of sex and race. In a previous article on this consumer revolt, I described #Gamergate this way:

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.

Now, even when they broadly appreciated the article, #Gamergate’s defenders were less than enthusiastic about this particular portion. In fact, looking at the reaction on Reddit and in the comments section of the article, one question kept emerging: “What about #Notyourshield?”

A little explanation is in order: #Notyourshield is a subset of #Gamergate’s members who emerged in response to the accusation that the movement solely represented the interests of straight, white men, and therefore that it was a reactionary ideological rearguard designed to protect the interests of the privileged.

Infuriated by the fact that minority interests were being used as a “shield” for criticisms of #Gamergate by such figures as Phil Fish, Ben Kuchera, Stephen Totilo and Sam Biddle, all of whom are also (to this author’s knowledge) straight, as well as white and male, as well as by the harassment that many of them encountered for being minority defenders of #Gamergate, #Notyourshield was born. The hashtag is meant to be used in the context of phrases like “I’m a black female lesbian, I play games, and I’m #Notyourshield.” In fact, for all this author knows, such a person may have Tweeted precisely that phrase. The hashtag is far too active to read through the whole thing and be sure.

However, despite the fact that #Notyourshield certainly represents a nontrivial portion of #Gamergate’s population, and that failing to note its existence in the previous piece was a careless omission, the author stands by the passage quoted above as still probably an accurate description of the movement as a whole, at least with respect to sex, and probably also with regard to race, though not assuredly so.

Why? Well, a few #Gamergaters already worked it out when they urged their fellows to note the adverbs: “mostly” white and “mostly” male. That is to say, a majority of #Gamergate is probably white, and a majority of it is probably male. This does not suggest that #Gamergate has no non-white and no non-male participants at all. Rather, it simply suggests that over 50 percent of the movement meets these specifications.

No scientific poll has yet been taken of #Gamergate to determine its makeup. However, insofar as the movement looks anything like the gaming community as a whole, it is almost certainly majority male. Even the most optimistic estimates put the percentage of female video game players at 48 percent – a large number, to be sure, but not a majority. Moreover, these numbers tend to include everyone from “Angry Birds” players to people who can quote the history of the Mario universe chapter and verse in the “gamer” category. Given that #Gamergate appears to be primarily a revolt by longtime, devoted game consumers who probably fit more into the latter category than the former, and that that group is more likely to be male than the mobile game market, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the movement is majority male, even if only by a few points.

Race is less certain. A 2011 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that African American youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play on average 30 more minutes per day of video games than white youth. The advantage remained when the category was broadened to everyone between the ages of 18 and 49. Hispanic youth also play on average 10 minutes more than their white counterparts, though as a whole, Hispanics spend less time on the hobby. Asian Americans, meanwhile, are the fourth most frequent players, according to the same study. Given these facts, if #Gamergate is a movement by hardcore gamers, it probably has a very racially diverse makeup, and may even include slightly more minorities than whites. However, due to the fact that whites still make up a numeric majority in the United States, as well as in Australia and Europe (though this is not likely to remain the case for much longer), it seems safe to presume that #Gamergate, being primarily a Western phenomenon, holds to the same patterns.

More to the point, even if a poll were to find that #Gamergate is made up of 90 percent black lesbians, the fact remains that this would not actually refute the philosophical arguments of its detractors. In fact, while #Notyourshield and its members are highly persuasive examples of the willingness of gamers to accept diversity in their ranks, when it comes to refuting the hypotheses of its more identity politics-minded opponents, their existence is at best irrelevant and at worst actually a concession to the movement’s enemies.

Why? Because saying “this movement can’t represent the interests of white males because there are non-white males in it” implicitly concedes that advocating for the interests of white males is inherently suspect, which it obviously is not. In other words, when #Gamergate’s Social Justice Warrior (SJW) opponents say, “#Gamergate is a movement of white men, therefore its aims are reactionary and racist,” and its opponents reply, “Nuh uh, look at #Notyourshield,” they are implicitly conceding that if the movement were a movement of white men, its aims would necessarily be reactionary and racist.” By only attacking the premise of the argument, they fail to disprove the conclusion, and this makes their position weaker.

So well done to #Gamergate’s critics for probably being right on the demographics. Yes, #Gamergate is probably majority white and male. However, this fact actually obscures more than it illuminates about the movement, and about the inconsistent, lazy way in which its opponents apply their own ideology. Because make no mistake, the argumentative leap made by many of #Gamergate’s opponents from this fact is completely wrong. For examples of this, consider a Kotaku article which calls straight, white masculinity the “lowest difficulty setting” on life, or an article from Cracked that snidely points out that #Gamergate is claiming to be oppressed, despite the fact that its majority demographic (white males) control the levers of global power, which supposedly proves that oppressing its members is impossible.

Ironically, both these arguments commit what their SJW defenders would find to be cardinal sins in other circumstances – namely, identity erasure through generalizing. As an example of why I say this would be called a cardinal sin, consider the following: On August 19, 2004, Zoe Quinn, creator of the suspiciously well-reviewed game known as “Depression Quest” and arguably #Gamergate’s initial bete noir, tweeted “Regardless of what I have or haven’t done, if you treat other women badly because of anything I’ve said or done, THAT’S TEXTBOOK MISOGYNY.” She followed this up with “If you’re trying to make ME responsible for YOURS or ANYONE’S shitty views on women, you should stop making all women responsible for one.”

Quite correct, though as we’ll see later, Quinn has trouble following her own advice. But for now, let’s just admit she’s completely right: The characteristics of a few people don’t automatically apply to an entire demographic group, whether it be a racial, sexual or even hobby-oriented one. To suggest otherwise is a fallacy of composition.

And yet, it’s one that both the above articles commit. Start with the Kotaku article. The author writes:

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is. This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

To illustrate the problem here, let’s use the roleplaying game metaphor because it’s actually surprisingly elegant.

Here’s the thing about the “difficulty settings” in question: They get patched ever 50 or so years. Sometimes entire difficulty settings, like “Straight Irish Male,” just get subsumed by others. Often, they change difficulty. “Straight Jewish Male” used to be much harder than “Straight White Male,” but depending on who you ask, it’s either become easier than it used to be while still being hard, now defaults to “Straight White Male,” or according to some rather unsavory people is even easier than “Straight White Male.” It’s not clear how hard the “Asian” difficulty settings are, though some people (but not all) seem to think they’ve been subsumed into the “White” category just like the Irish were. Bottom line: What the game calls “White” today is not necessarily what was called “White” in previous patches, which means that a lot of the extra points that “White” people are presumed to get through history by authors like the Kotaku writer don’t actually accrue to everyone who plays that difficulty setting.

Moreover, this roleplaying game has no distinction between co-operative play and Player Versus Player (PVP) play, and there’s nothing like the Alliance or Horde. In fact, even within your own race or sex, you’re not necessarily safe from PVP, no matter which race or sex that is. This means that tribal rivalries start to form both on an interracial and intraracial basis in the game between what we’ll call “guilds,” metaphorically speaking. These “guilds” tend to select on the basis of how many points your character started with in, say, income, or strength, or charisma, or intelligence, or on the basis of what perks you got to start with (“Good at Sports” versus “Good at Science”) .

And here’s the thing: Some of these guilds automatically give you more points than others. Starting with a ton of points in charisma, for instance, might put you in the “movie star” guild, and as a result you might end up having an easier time winning the game than someone who started on a technically “higher” difficulty setting, and any new players you bring into the game will get your advantages. This is why, if the “Colin Powell” player brings a new player into the game, that player will probably have a much easier time winning the game than a new player that some random Appalachian coal miner brings into the game, even if the Appalachian started on “Straight White Male” and the new “Powell” player started on “Gay Black Woman.”

In other words, if you’re confused about where the metaphor’s gone, if Colin Powell had a lesbian daughter, the fact that she’s his daughter would still make her life much easier than the son of a poor Appalachian coal miner. Moreover, if you’re born into a Jewish or Irish family, your family might still have suffered oppression and been set back for not being “white” according to an earlier definition of the term, despite the fact that you’re considered “white” in our modern day understanding, meaning that you might not have all the same cultural markers as other white people. Similarly, if your family were immigrants from Nigeria, you’re unlikely to suffer a lot of the disadvantages that accrue to African Americans whose family were brought over as slaves, especially with respect to education. In fact, to quickly dive back into the metaphor, if you started as a “Straight Nigerian American Male,” you probably start with more points than even the people who start as “Straight White Male” in Appalachia. These are the kind of individual distinctions that the Kotaku article completely airbrushes.

The Cracked article is even worse. To quote it:

Yes — white people won’t be the majority by the time your kid is having kids.

No — that doesn’t mean they’re being oppressed this very second. Or at all. Or doing anything other than making up 60 percent of guests on Sunday political TV shows, 77 percent of Academy Awards voting members, 64 percent of the news media, and 90 percent of lawmakers. That is the opposite of an oppressed group.

This argument is so silly that it dances close to being insulting. Suppose someone had said to the Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, “What are you talking about, you’re not being oppressed, black people are in charge of the government!”

No, no one in America is as oppressed as the Tutsis, but you can see how ridiculous the argument is when put it this way. The fact that white people are 60 percent of guests on Sunday political TV shows, 77 percent of Academy Awards voting members, 64 percent of the news media and 90 percent of lawmakers tells us absolutely nothing about whether a particular subgroup within the “white” cluster is oppressed anymore than saying “the president and attorney general are black” tells us anything about the struggles of, say, black people in Ferguson, Missouri.

Especially not with respect to #Gamergate. Why? Well, take the lawmakers point. Does anyone believe that John Boehner gives a damn about #Gamergate? Does anyone believe that any legislator does? Or put another way, do we think legislators consider “gamers” a constituency worth talking to at all?

Well, here’s one way we can tell: Take an issue that gamers care deeply about and see how legislators have acted on it.

Let’s go back to Zoe Quinn for a second. One of the complaints that Quinn’s critics levy against her is that she’s used frivolous copyright claims to shut down people who criticize her.

So how do those 90 percent of lawmakers that the Cracked author, David Christopher Bell, is so anxious to shove in #Gamergate’s face act where copyright is concerned? Well, the fact that it took a massive citizens’ revolt to stop legislators from passing a bill that would literally censor the internet – a bill that has the dubious distinction of being defended by multiple Congressmen with the phrase “I’m not a nerd,” and that also happened to be backed by the trade association that represents those 77 percent of Academy Awards voting members — suggests that maybe, just maybe, there might be a reason why the people in #Gamergate don’t feel reassured by the large number of white people in Congress and in the Academy.

In fact, it’s almost as if not all people of a given race have identical interests, and some of them – like, you know, people whose interest in technology only just became lucrative, have a history of being bullied both on and offline, are savaged with stereotypes and slurs by media that covers their own hobby, and who are often the first to suffer when, say schools make budget cuts – might still have reason to feel oppressed. Who’da thunk it? It’s almost like Zoe Quinn was right to say that looking at one particular person or group of people within a group doesn’t give you data on the entire group – unless she’s talking about gamers, in which case she’ll create Chrome extensions to attack the entire group for the missteps of a few members. But hey, baby steps.

What is worse still about this particular controversy, however, is that some of the people on the anti-Gamergate side claim to be supporting tolerance and diversity, and fighting against bullying, despite literally behaving like bullies themselves. This absolute intellectual dishonesty is perhaps best exemplified by Anita Sarkeesian and Arthur Chu. In her recent appearance on the Colbert Report, for instance, the following exchange took place between Sarkeesian and Colbert:

Colbert: As a man, am I allowed to be a feminist?
Sarkeesian: Do you believe that women should have equal rights to men?
Colbert: Sure.
Sarkeesian: And that we should fight for those rights?
Colbert: Sure.
Sarkeesian: Great, then you’re a feminist.

This is a classic case of the “motte and bailey” fallacy, or the fallacy of claiming to only support a noncontroversial position when one’s ideological position is attacked, but then using that supposedly noncontroversial ideology as cover to push highly controversial opinions. How do you suppose Colbert would have acted, for instance, if the exchange had gone like this:

Colbert: As a man, am I allowed to be a feminist?
Sarkeesian: Do you believe there’s no such thing as sexism against men because men are the dominant gender in society?

You be the judge of what would have happened next, but it probably wouldn’t have been a handshake and induction of Colbert into the feminist hall of fame. Is it really unreasonable to believe that a woman who believes men are completely incapable of facing sexism, even though literal hate tracts calling for the genocide of men exist, is a bully?

And then there’s Chu, a man whose public persona seems to be constantly oriented toward portraying himself patronizingly as a former bullying victim who “gets” #Gamergate’s pain, and yet in more private settings openly celebrates using “war and fire” against ideological opponents, attacks rational discourse as “debate team nonsense,” defends the use of false rape statistics, and advocates leaking ideological opponents’ personal information onto the web. Apparently Chu took his own experience as a bullying victim as a “how-to” manual rather than a cautionary tale.

Let’s not mince words: Even if #Gamergate were made up entirely of people who look like this author (who apparently looks so much like a preppy, privileged “archetypal tormenter-of-nerds” as to resemble Christian Bale – thanks #Gamergate critics!), when it comes to the fact that the media seems to only lob one-sided abuse at them, while ignoring the abuse they suffer from vicious internet actors of both genders, these people unequivocally have a case for being mistreated by mainstream culture. As to whether their theory of aesthetics can actually be a positive influence on that culture, one can only guess. For now, let’s hope the question of race and sex has lost all its extra lives where #Gamergate is concerned.