GamerGate: An Explainer

A couple of people have asked me to explain GamerGate! This is a strange thing to try to do, but the easiest way is chronologically. Here we go:

—Zoe Quinn, a game designer who also happens to be a pretty 26-year-old with piercings and dyed hair, publishes a neato choose-your-own-adventure-style game about how horrible it is to be depressed called Depression Quest. A lot of it is about going on bad dates and having unfulfilling sex with losers. It goes up on Steam, which is sort of iTunes for games, except it also has a message board component.

—The Steam boards do not like DQ, nosireebob. 

—Quinn gets threatening phone calls, emails and “then somebody sent this really detailed letter to my house about how they wanted to rape me,” she tells a reporter a couple of weeks later.

—Quinn’s boyfriend, a kid named Eron Gjoni, publishes a 9,000-word blog post on a WordPress blog called thezoepost he created specifically to talk about every tiny little detail of his relationship with Quinn after she allegedly cheated on him multiple times with multiple people including a writer for popular gaming blog Kotaku named Nathan Grayson; the blog is a nightmare of petty accusations and appalling, stalkery insanity, mostly couched in the languge of somebody who’s taken a 100-level women’s studies course. He consistently refers to himself as a survivor of abuse, which he doesn’t appear capable of distinguishing from “being in a bad relationship.” Gjoni publishes Quinn’s personal information, including her phone number.

—Everybody who hates Depression Quest is pretty sure Gjoni’s blog is totally legit in all its particulars and that he can’t possibly have any ulterior motives for obsessively chronicling every single movement of the girl he’s not dating anymore.

—Kotaku becomes the focus of attacks on Quinn; since the site gave Depression Quest a good review (which Grayson didn’t write) and some interesting coverage (which Grayson also didn’t write) and Grayson has written one sentence about Quinn over the course of his career (before they were dating), the DQ-hating-Quinn-threateners start to snowball.

—Other people hate Quinn, it turns out! These people are also assholes, called The Fine Young Capitalists. They are only too happy to abet this behavior.

<#GAMERGATE>There is (ugh) some legitimacy to the contention that indie game developers and gaming blogs, which are largely written on an appalling level (Kotaku is actually one of the better ones) have gotten too cozy. Since Depression Quest is a game without any technical flash to it, gamebros have decided that it’s a good example of somebody with a subpar product (Quinn) cozying up to a powerful journalist (HA), despite all evidence to the contrary. Bear in mind that this is FUCKING NOTHING compared to the horrific breaches of reporterly ethics involving trips and swag and junkets etc etc etc that go on HOURLY at places like CNET, IGN, GameSpot and so on (and I’m a trade reporter! I have no problem with flacks lunching journalists or sending out press kits!), but that’s at the behest of multibiliion-dollar corporations, not hot chicks who don’t want to have sex with self-hating gamebros, so nobody cares about that.

—As a bunch of nonjournalists begin to have a Very Serious Discussion about Ethics in Gaming Journalism, Anita Sarkeesian, a very smart game critic who runs a great site called Feminist Frequency, puts out another one of her videos. Sarkeesian is widely reviled among the gamerbro community for her videos, which meticulously catalog instances of sexist tropes being used in video games. Even if you disagree with her and think that a particular instance of, say, the Damsel in Distress trope is pulled off in an interesting way, the incredible number of examples Sarkeesian cites make it hard to argue her point that gaming is appallingly sexist.
Because of the timing of her video release, people tear into the poor woman online, threatening her life and to rape her and so on and so fucking forth.

—Gaming has been almost completely free from any political sensitivity to anyone, at all, over the course of its history. Since straight white men occupy every position of power in games without meaningful exception, this means that black people, gay people, trans people, hispanic people and most of all, women, are underrepresented and badly represented in the vast majority of games. Watch any of Sarkeesian’s videos if you’re in doubt about this. The lack of attention—not from women and minorities, but from people with a ton of money to spend on product development—has, probably, resulted in some interesting and unconventional art in a way that, say, broadcast television does not, at the moment. Think of comic books in the late 80’s/early 90’s; it’s basically the same scene, but without benevolent feminist types like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman among the deities. Basically, imagine if comics in the 80’s/90’s were nothing but Frank Miller as far as the eye could see.

—Dickhead of note Adam Baldwin starts tweeting with the #gamergate hashtag after reading a disingenuous article on the controversy by Cathy Young at the Nile Delta of disingenuity, Reason Magazine. Lots of people pick up on it, because the nerdosphere follows Baldwin closely given his association with Joss Whedon’s space western Firefly.

—The targets of GamerGate, rather than, say, developers or reporters, are mostly just Quinn and Sarkeesian and anybody who says anything about representation or sexism in gaming. Gamerbros accuse “SJWs” (“social justice warriors”) of attacking their treasured identities—as gamers. Which, guys, I’ve spent all of my formative years collecting comic books but when people ask me who I *am,* I don’t say, “I’m a comic book collector,” because that would be sad and terrible.

—Sexually frustrated nonjournalists (I’m sorry but it’s SO EASY you guys) launch a crusade against unethical reporting, targeting anybody who unethically makes fun of them for being butthurt little trolls, like Valleywag’s hilarious tech reporter Sam Biddle. Because Gjoni and others are well-versed in the language of grievance and persecution, they accuse Gawker of “bullying” them on the strength of a jokey tweet by Biddle about how it turns out nerds should be bullied after all. Adobe and a number of other advertisers pull from Gawker without doing much research, because let’s face it, why would they? This is too much to read already.

—Sarkeesian has to cancel an appearance at a university in Utah after a bomb threat. Quinn continues to get death threats. Both women have to leave their houses at different points after the threats get disturbingly specific about their location.

—Misogynist freaks like the people who run the sub-simian Return of Kings website climb on the Women Are Ruining Our Treasured Hobby bandwagon, although that’s not really the bandwagon anyone was trying to start at the beginning of this whole thing (see open-tag joke). There are LOTS of dudes who hate women out there, and they are organized and have a whole blogosphere devoted to it. It dovetails a little with the gaming world, but more with the worlds of A) white supremacy (surprise!), B) right-wing trollery (“Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart" is the name of the article on Breitbart) C) pick-up artists.

—People like Whedon, Wil Wheaton, and others in the geek community have come out with Bad GamerGaters No No statements, but it doesn’t appear to be doing any good. BuzzFeed publishes a brief investigative story outing the moderators of reddit discussion board where a lot of the GG talk and strategy goes on as mods of several other hair-raising porn boards devoted to images of women being humiliated called “struggle porn.” I know. I’m sorry. “Men’s rights activists” have gotten behind the wheel and driven the bus away, and honestly the bus was already on fire and filled with poop.

So, while we’re talking about tearing apart perfectly good identities that people were using and enjoying without hurting anyone, this whole clusterfuck makes me ashamed to be the following:

—A gamer.

—A man.



—A mammal.




Author: samthielman

Sam Thielman is a reporter and critic based in Brooklyn, New York. His blog is, his twitter handle is @samthielman, and if you can't find him you should check The Strand.

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