I've been reading about Gamergate and gender / political issues in gaming since the beginning, but for the most part, I've largely done so from the outside looking in. I don't have a twitter account, and the precise number of tweets I've sent in my life is exactly zero. But looking from the outside in on this most recent explosion of gender debate and harassment, I think I've finally found a working a thesis that explains what is happening in a way that makes sense to me.
Gamergate is a response to political disenfranchisement. The political process is controlled social chaos. That is how modern societies take differing views and peacefully negotiate a middle-ground in terms of policy, law, and the values we hold as a society. Journalism has always been a key aspect of politics (enshrined in the first amendment), and most political philosophers believe that without a free press, it is impossible to have an informed public, and therefore impossible to have any kind of a meaningful democracy.
It's in everyone's best interests to bring as many people as possible into the political process. The actual process of political debate is largely peaceful and non-violent. But when people are shut out of the government, or shut out of the press; when people feel that they have no peaceful means to express themselves and be heard, that is where we see small pockets of desperate people take up extremism, revolution, and protest. These are political actions you take when you no longer belong to a functioning political system.
I. the iraq war
As most of you know, a few journalists have infamously compared Gamergate to ISIS.
This was likely just a crude way of saying that GG is "the worst thing in the world." But if you actually think about this in terms of political disenfranchisement, I actually can see a few similarities that I think are worth thinking about seriously.
Drawing this parallel is controversial, so I want to first list my source; the fantastic documentary from PBS' Frontline series, "Losing Iraq." If you haven't watched it, I recommend doing so, as it really does a fantastic job of explaining the key political mistakes made after the beginning of the occupation.
The first road side bomb in Iraq was the very next day after the Baathists (Sunnis) were shut out of the Iraqi government. It wasn't when the US invaded, or during the first few weeks of the occupation. It's now referred to as "Order #1," Ambassador Paul Bremmor's first major order after arriving to Iraq; and it is now seen as the largest tactical bluder in the entire Iraq War.
"There are two reasons were wanted to keep the Baathist party intact. One, they were the only folks that had experience running the government. Number 2, the Sunnis needed to have a voice. And, if you don't give people a voice, they have relatively few options. [...] What history tells us is that the next option is violence." - Col. Thomas M. Gross (Office for Humanitarian Assistance) (15:00 min)
Transitioning from this severely serious example to discussion of gamergate is admittedly silly in just how vast the disparity is in terms of consequence, and severity. But what we're discussing is uprising, revolt, and if we can learn anything about the crowd psychology of political revolts. There are parallels worth noting.
II. The gaming press
For several years now, we've seen a surge of feminist-focused gaming stories on all the large gaming websites. Most of the major gaming websites are run from coastal cities in the US, made up almost completely of liberal, white male journalists. The infusion of an explicity political agenda into gaming journalism is the turning point. For several years now, that political discussion has consisted entirely of only one very narrow band of politics. All other political expressions and ideas have been systematically shut out from all mainstream exposure. Commenters expressing alternative views have been heavily moderated, whether it is on the gaming websites themselves, or the total lack of comments allowed on Anita Sarkeesian videos. The consistent theme has been to push one small slice of political ideology onto a large and politically diverse readership, and to silence and marginalize any opposing voices.
After years of this escalating tension, Leigh Alexander declares war on anyone outside of her narrow political spectrum, and declares that they are "dead." This was so extreme, that even with no representation over the last several years, I think most readers still expected to see dissenting views represented in a response article. That response article never came. What followed instead was a media blitz, and a wholesale endorsement of that declaration of war. Anyone outside of the accepted narrow political spectrum was not given a voice, and they were now under siege. Comments were censored, forum threads were crushed, dissenting articles never materialized at all.
You all may be aware of the existence of the "Gaming Journalist Professionals" google mailing list. It's a semi-secret, private list of email correspondence between gaming journalists from almost all the major sites. That list has been leaked by a whistleblower, along with several extended email conversations. In one of these leaked emails, we can see that even allowing a forum thread on The Escapist was seen as a threat that had to be systematically crushed. Journalists from completely different websites were secretely pressuring the Editor in Chief of The Escapist to crush a forum thread on his site. I think we can agree that political diversity was being systematically crushed.
III. political desperation, revolt
With no peaceful alternatives left to express their political views, small subsets of gamers have turned to extremism of varying degrees; some appropriate, and some inappropriate. Why? Because they were shut out of the political system, and their voices were systematically crushed.
You see an unfortunate, and dangerously threatening subset of these disenfranchised people take up violent reactionary behavior not unlike that first roadside bomb in Iraq in terms of the psychology of it at least. They tweet harassing behavior and make shockingly violent threats that have gotten the police justifiably involved. These people have escalated to the use of force, and have to be shut down by law enforcement. We can see how political disenfranchisement leads to a predictable backlash, but that doesn't justify violence or threats.
We also see people emailing advertisers in what is the gaming journalism equivalent of a BSD (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) political protest; like we've seen against South Africa's apartheid regime, or more recently, Israel. That's a perfectly valid form of political protest for someone that is marginalized and systematically excluded from political representation. What else should they do? They have no other options.
Understanding the psychology of political representation helps us understand how misguided "gaming journalism" at large has been; and how badly they've misunderstood what is actually happening here. The solution to this extreme tension is political representation. The solution is to give these people a stake in the political system because if they participate in politics, then they have a peaceful stress release valve. They have a way to have their voices heard, and they have no reason whatsoever to move to more extreme measures to express themselves. The solution is to include their viewpoints in more articles, and to increase their political representation. The solution is for the press to stop being driven by narrow ideological agendas and activism, and to start representing diverse political viewpoints and include more voices in the discussion.
Just like in Iraq, the solution is not merely a matter of involving the military. The solution is political. It is convincing people that they have a voice in their government, and that it represents them. The press is a critical part of how people interact with each other and with their government, and if if a society does not have a free and fair press, it makes democratic representation impossible. The last thing we need is a #stopgamergate movement that marginalizes these people even more and limits their political expression. The solution is more inclusion and more diverse representation of political views.
The current climate in political gaming discussion is equivalent to having not just one bised station that is a liberal version of Fox News; but rather having every single major station be a liberal version of Fox News. And I'm a liberal, but I still want a free press that represents multiple political views, and not an agenda driven press that shuts out any dissenting political ideas. It was journalists who decided to include politics several years ago. Their mistake was in thinking that once they opened that door that they could only include politics they liked and have no one react to that. Everything we know about history tells us otherwise.