How to Argue About #GamerGate: 7 Common Arguments, Rebutted

So you’re at a party, and someone says something ignorant . And while you know that they’re in the wrong, and that you could totally engage them and win if you were a bit more prepared, your words escape you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve compiled a series of handy reference guides with the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue about #GamerGate.

Common Argument #1: GamerGate has nothing to do with sexism! Actually, It's about ethics in games journalism.

Your Response: At its roots, GamerGate began like this: some facets of the gaming community became obsessed with harassing and vilifying indie game developer Zoe Quinn after her ex-boyfriend posted an angry screed about their relationship, alleging that she cheated on him with five different men. One of the men he named was a writer for the gaming website Kotaku, which spurred a torrent of conspiratorial (and since debunked) speculation that a personal relationship had led to favorable coverage of Quinn's entirely free game, Depression Quest.

Since then, Quinn has been subjected to death and rape threats, and harassing, obscene phone calls at all hours of the day.

zoe quinn on YouTube

As have, as it happens, a number of prominent women in the gaming community right now. It's why people like legendary point-and-click adventure game developer Tim Schaefer, director Joss Whedon, and most recently Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime have all felt the need to speak out. Both through threats of violence, and more casual hectoring and harassment, women are being targeted, and that's not a debate anymore.

Common Argument #2: Just because #GamerGate started that way doesn't mean that what it's about now.

Your Response: There's no doubt that a movement with no real leaders or particularly clearly identified goals is going to be hard to sum up it total. But the people who get the absolute worst treatment at the hands of #GamerGate always seems to be women.

Ex-NFL punter and avid gamer Chris Kluwe made this point weeks ago — despite writing an incredibly angry and profanity-laced attack on #GamerGate, he didn't have people leaking his personal information (doxxing, it's called) online. Doxxing serves to make threats of rape or death that much more immediate and harrowing — when your home address is available for all to see, you're vulnerable.

You know who has been subjected to such treatment? Zoe Quinn, feminist pop-cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, and indie game developer Brianna Wu, among others. In fact, those three women have actual nicknames within the #GamerGate community — Quinn is called "LW1," Sarkeesian "LW2," and Wu "LW3."

The ostensible purpose of the nicknames (LW stands for "Literally Who?") is to avoid mentioning any of them by name, to avoid the perception that #GamerGate is aggressively, deliberately obsessed with hounding these women. Which, of course, is a self-defeating gesture — you don't need passive-aggressive nicknames to talk about people that you're not really interested in talking about.

Common Argument #3: So what, you think there aren't any ethical problems in games journalism!?

Your response: No, sure there are. There are bound to be ethical issues in any field of journalism, and staying on the straight-and-narrow is always a conscious, ongoing process. If you're skeptical of cozy relationships between publishers and journalists, I'm right there with you.

But the bulk of GamerGate's ire hasn't been directed at the major movers and shakers of the gaming world — your Ubisofts, your EAs, your Rockstars, the so-called AAA game studios. Rather, they've maintained a tunnel-vision kind of focus on the perceived misdeeds of (mostly) politically progressive indie game developers.

This is an enormous red flag, because it lays bare the true, core motivating factor behind much of the movement: finding those women who crave equality and inclusivity in gaming so much that they decide to speak out, and punishing them with a ceaseless din of attacks. It's why you tend to see the acronym "SJW" all over the place — it stands for "social justice warrior," a class of perceived villains who some gamers have been raging against for a long time.

Common Argument #4: Those are related issues, though! These SJW games journalists keep shoving their politics down our throats, and we've had enough.

Your Response: If someone is writing about, say, the number of Playstation 4 units that have sold to-date (well over 13 million, for the record), that information is a matter of factual analysis. To use #GamerGate's favorite scenario, if that writer decided to claim the PS4 had sold over 200 million units because he was having sex with someone at Sony, the information would be laughably incorrect, and the journalistic corruption would be obvious and uncontested.

That's very different from writing a work of criticism, however. Criticism is inherently subjective, an exercise in free speech if ever there was one, so it's strange to hear so many in #GamerGate complaining that liberal-minded reviewers are bringing their politics to the table. If a woman writes about the need for more female video game protagonists, and highlights a dearth of that in a particular game, that's not unethical, it's the nature of the job.

Actually analyzing artistic implications, instead of just scoring for basic categories like graphics, sound, and gameplay mechanics, is the very heart and soul of truly mature art criticism. And that's an enormous bulk of what #GamerGate is complaining about — the fact that people are making works of criticism they don't like. It's a series of utterly subjective political disagreements, dressed up in conspiratorial and pseudo-intellectual self-aggrandizement.

feministfrequency on YouTube

Common Argument #4: Hey, not all GamerGaters are racists and sexists! Plenty are minorities, too, just look at #NotYourShield!

Your Response: I'd never begin to argue that all proponents of GamerGate are sexists or racists. But the way the hashtag #NotYourShield is used by #GamerGate, sadly, is extremely racist. Basically #NotYourShield is a hashtag for women and people of color who agree with the #GamerGate movement, but it's deeply problematic.

First of all, it hinges on an accusation nobody is seriously making — that no people of color or women are #GamerGate supporters, when there clearly are.

Secondly, it suggests that the presence of any level of diversity in a movement exonerates overt instances of bigotry, abuse or harassment, which is obviously not the case. Imagine this conversation playing out on Twitter:

  • Person A: "#GamerGate has a problem with sexism and racism."
  • Person B: "That's not true! Look at #NotYourShield, people of all stripes are welcome in #GamerGate."
  • Person A: "Aren't you kind of using #NotYourShield as a shield right now, and by extension the people of color and women within it?"
  • Person B: "Um, no."
  • Person A: "But your response to sexism and racism in your ranks was to point to a woman on your side instead of addressing it forwardly. Using her as a "shield," you might say. That's objectification in and of itself."
  • Person B: "Um, no."

See the problem?

Common Argument #5: I hear a lot of talk about harassment, sexism and racism, but I never see any evidence of it.

Your Response: Well, if you wander through the #GamerGate hashtag long enough, you'll find it. Have a roll through some of Anita Sarkeesian's mentions the next time she posts a new tweet or video, and see what you find. (Warning: unpleasant things below.)

Suffice it to say, there's no shortage of examples — as anti-misogyny blog We Hunted The Mammoth details, there are a pair of disgusting anti-Semitic cartoons that have been edited to characature Sarkeesian (who isn't Jewish, but hey, logic and racism aren't close companions).

No less than Bustle contributor Seth Millstein himself encountered a little anti-Jewish prejudice tweeting about #GamerGate on Monday night, in fact.

Common Argument #6: Okay, obviously I don't agree with that. Nobody in #GamerGate condones threats and harassment.

You Response: Except, obviously, the people carrying it out. To be clear, there are two very distinct things happening in #GamerGate — there's the rape and death threats, the downright criminal activity, and then there's the poking and prodding, the incessant digging into entirely mundane stories on the assumption that these targeted women must be lying about something.

Having someone call you a cheat and a liar is different from being sent an image of yourself being raped by Super Mario (as Anita Sarkeesian was), I grant that. But it's no less a form of blatant mob harassment. And the worst thing is, one feeds the other — the more aggressively you believe someone is a scumbag and a villain, the easier it is to justify saying or doing some really heinous things towards them.

XOXO Festival on YouTube