A piece I wrote on Gamergate back in September went viral. It called the defeat of Gamergate inevitable because of the forces of cultural inertia stacked against it. The actual outcome was in some ways predictable, but otherwise quite surprising.
Gamergate didn’t win – but it didn’t lose
I attributed Gamergate losing to a phenomenon that in fact did come to pass. The groovy media intelligentsia did everything in its power to paint Gamergate as a simultaneously laughable yet dangerous hate movement that exposed male geeks as crypto-Nazis. To any normally socialized and status-conscious type of person, the media gambit would have led to the spiral of silence that I foresaw. The important factor here is that geeks, by definition, are not normally socialized and status-conscious people. This is particularly true when speaking ex cathedra from their identity as geeks; the threat of looking uncool doesn’t work because they are already uncool. They are already pariahs with ‘lame’ hobbies. Media elites and uncool nerds are two fundamentally different types of people.
Every single dominant cultural institution was stacked against Gamergate. Nobody had the intellectual bravery to side with a movement that was apparently just bitter nerds being prejudiced. Gamergate was rapidly becoming a dirty word in the mouths of anyone concerned with looking sensitive and enlightened. Thousands upon thousands, armed with roughly zero information on the controversy, were tripping over each other to signal their righteous “socially aware” status. “Misogynerds” were in the crosshairs.
And to their credit, the geeks came out pretty unscathed. Only through their tenacity and lack of concern with their image did Gamergate not get nuked from the chic heights of media that stooped to notice it. The desperately fashionable media displayed its contempt for nerds for “not being with the program.” The problem is that they only had a little less contempt before this fiasco. This is just another example of the people in media, entertainment and academia having a values dissonance with pretty much everyone else. That’s what a cultural elite is – a set of people with values not necessarily shared by the general public, but with a near-monopoly on cultural soapboxes to promulgate their ideas.
Gamergate slavishly played the left’s identity game
The figures elevated to the top of the Gamergate movement had one of two qualities – their identities as white males were concealed or played down, or they were not white males and such identities were played up. These people are certainly thoughtful, intelligent individuals that deserve to have their voices heard. That’s not being contested. I just think it’s clear that, mutatis mutandis, the same ideas from a black/female/trans Gamergater will get more shares than they would if they were from a white male. This isn’t as much ignoble as it is just a Darwinian survival response to an environment (the media, old or new) that operates on top of hard-left ideological assumptions about truth itself. To the ideologue, truth has nothing to do with any facts concerning objective reality; it has everything to do with the realities of the supposed power status of the class that the individual taking a position is supposedly a part of.
Look at Alejandro Arganonda’s “People of Gamergate” gallery. The red portraits are anti-GG folks and blue portraits are pro-GG. Notice how the vast majority of the anti-Gamergate “bad guys” are shown to be white males, whereas the pro side has only a handful. The bulk of the Gamergate personalities with a significant bully pulpit are not white and/or not male. Those with pictures that aren’t of their faces can only be assumed to be white males. If they were female or non-whites, why wouldn’t the leverage that to score some points in a game that your opposition cannot help but play?
Instead of saying “fuck you, identities don’t matter, only arguments do” or even “It’s OK to be a white male,” Gamergate played ball. Proof of the movement’s righteousness and honesty did not come from the facts or arguments, but from the volume of pro-GG commentary coming from non-whites and non-males.
It can’t be stressed enough that this isn’t an indictment of Gamergate. It’s an indictment of our cultural climate. Gamergate wanted to see journalists actually have, you know, ethical standards. Gamergate wanted to stop neo-Marxist fanatics from imposing politics on the hitherto apolitical. To stay alive in the war for public opinion and actually achieve these goals, this had to happen.
Gamergate learned from its opposition and used their tactics
There were clearly fake public threats against pro-Gamergaters. These directly mirrored the original bogus threats made against anti-Gamergate personalities.
As underhanded as it seems, this tactic was probably necessary. It’s a powerful co-opting because basically three things can result from it:
- The threats are given roughly the same weight as the threats to the anti-GG camp are given
- The threats are treated as farcical, thus recognizing threats in general and on the other side as possibly (probably) fake
- The threats are ignored, and then unfair contrast of media coverage can be pointed out.
What happened was a whole lot of number three. The media had already shot its wad with politicizing Gamergate, and even if there was a desire for fair coverage of threats, the news hook was stale. This is a valuable lesson to anyone who is a victim of shitty false-flag sympathy tactics: do the same thing. It’s an arms race of dishonesty, but I just don’t see any way around it. The arms race needs to continue until it collapses under the weight of its own farce, and dishonest or otherwise sympathy garnering ad hominems are no longer part of the discourse.
The roaring flames of #Gamergate have since become guttering embers, but it’s not an isolated incident. It is merely a battle in the war between those who want to limit the scope of ideology and fanatics who believe that their dogma needs to be implemented everywhere. So even if you’re a third party who doesn’t care about video games, you should give the next Gamergate your moral support, whatever it may be. The aspects of our society that haven’t yet been politicized are a precious few.