I have spoken to a lot of people in the games industry who are frustrated about GamerGate but shaky on the prospect of speaking out themselves; they’re worried about receiving death threats, or drawing unwanted attention to their employer, or just overextending themselves getting involved in an exhausting conversation.
All of these are valid concerns! The problem is that good people being silent on the matter is what enables this to continue; many of the folks who organize under the GamerGate banner (both harassers and non-harassers) genuinely believe that they’re speaking up for the silent majority who share their beliefs but aren’t brave enough to speak out. (Personally, I tend to assume that people are jerks despite their good intentions until proven otherwise; IMO the hard part of being a good person isn’t thinking the right thing, it’s doing the right thing). In other words, silence is interpreted as implicit permission to continue.
So, here’s the thing. Speaking out doesn’t mean you have to wake up every morning and only get out of bed after reading the previous night’s GamerGate stuff for twenty minutes and getting angry. (I will say it’s pretty good at getting me out of bed, though). There are a bunch of different ways that you can make your voice heard, depending on how your personal HP/MP are doing.
1. Read up. The challenge with GamerGate is that it is a complex, multilayered, distributed organization that depends largely on people who are willing to take their statements at face value (“We’re just about corruption in games journalism, guys”). I think these two articles (here and here) are good starting points for approaching GamerGate with a critical eye and understanding how it works. If you have an opinion, make sure it’s well-informed.
2. Signal boost. Hitting that retweet button (or reblog, share, whatever) does two useful things. First off, it allows the folks who are speaking out to gain extra visibility, which is important to allow their voices to extend past their immediate friends and friends-of-friends. Second, it allows your 1st/2nd-degree friends to see where you personally stand, even if you don’t feel comfortable using your own words to do so. Both of these are useful for minimizing the silence-as-permission effect, and neither of them should get you personally targeted. (If you are personally targeted by your 1st/2nd-degree friends, then you might need new friends). This is the lowest-cost, lowest-risk way of getting directly involved, but it’s still super important!
3. Speak yourself. I think that for most intelligent folks, seeing their immediate friends/family/colleagues making their opinions known is more powerful than seeing strangers or internet celebrities weigh in, so if you vocalize your support in your own words it sends a stronger message than retweeting someone else’s. That said, this is a bit higher-risk, because you will be putting your own words there for critique (and if you use GamerGate in full, hashtag or no, you will attract attention from supporters who probably aren’t in your immediate circles). Tweet, write blogs, whatever you can to add to the voices on the Internet. If you simply won’t risk doing so your under your real name, find a way to publish anonymously (pastebin is good for this). Heck, if you have a story you want me to tell anonymously, let me know.
4. Indirectly engage. In addition to making your own voice heard, you can speak to the people and organizations that you want to hear from as well. If you want to see these issues covered on publications you read, tell that to their editors and writers. If you want to see it discussed at games events, speak to the event organizers. And so on for any channel you think has an obligation to cover and/or weigh in. This is useful because, fundamentally, channels that haven’t been covering GamerGate are likely omitting it out of fear — fear, specifically, that their readership includes a large body of GamerGate supporters — and addressing them specifically gives them yet one more counterexample. This can be a bit more costly, as it will expose you to GamerGate supporters looking to argue with you.
5. Directly engage. Basically, this is “talking to GamerGate supporters.” I leave this at the end because I think this is the most taxing, as far as your time and emotional energy go — and I don’t want you to assume that partaking in any of the above four methods mean you are committed to directly engaging.
In an ideal Internet, everyone would be talking to each other with respect and good faith. This is, obviously, not an ideal Internet. “Concern trolling” — people pretending to want good-faith conversation and instead responding with pre-scripted talking points that require more time to assert than they do to debunk — is a very real tactic adopted by GamerGate supporters, and it’s impossible to know whether a stranger on the Internet is in fact engaging in good faith or not.
So: Just because you say something on the Internet doesn’t mean you are obligated to follow-up with every single person who disagrees with you, especially in this case. I know it feels bad, but it’s simply not viable in the face of tactics like concern trolling. Personally, I mostly engage with people who I have a pre-existing connection with, because I’m willing to trust their intentions far more than a generic Twitter account with no name or professional history.
Frankly, I haven’t seen many attempts to directly engage that I would call successful, so I can’t recommend it myself. But if you’d like to learn that yourself, go right ahead. Just remember that no one is entitled to your time, and you can stop at any point you feel yourself running out of energy. If your Twitter feed is full of sea lions, it’s totally okay to block them.
What’s the ideal outcome?
GamerGate, like the Tea Party and Occupy, is fundamentally unwilling to articulate a specific agenda outside of individual campaigns (“Boycott X advertisers!”) because it correctly realizes that to have an agenda means miring itself down in defining an actual position, with actual ideals — something that would necessarily fragment its organizing efforts and open it up to criticism from people who are smarter than GamerGate. Basically, GamerGate’s organizing tactics indicate that isn’t really about getting stuff done so much as drawing blood wherever it can in order to feed its participants with the feeling of validation and power they normally get from video games. (This is what allows GamerGate to say it is about advertisers’ corruption in journalism while simultaneously trying to silence critical journalists by targeting their publications’ advertisers).
Because of this, I doubt GamerGate will ever go away; at best, it can be widely criticized, and its methods exposed, to the point where one’s association with GamerGate is considered a personal liability (again, like the Tea Party and Occupy, though I’m sad about the latter). That, I think is the the best outcome we can hope for. For better or worse, video games are politically polarized now, just like everything else, and the sooner you understand how to navigate this, the stronger your voice will be.
Patrick Miller is a gamer and writer. He is also the author of the ebook From Masher to Master: The Educated Video Game Enthusiast’s Fighting Game Primer (Super Book Edition). Follow him on twitter @pattheflip.