Gamergate is an online hashtag movement in the gaming community that began as a means of addressing a less than the desirable code of ethics in video game journalism, defining the gamer identity, and gaming culture. As a result, the community observed an unanticipated trend of harassment focused on women, minorities, and their allies. At its core, Gamergate controversy revolves around identities and issues within the gaming community. Gamergate is a prime example of how women are treated in the gaming community, the biases towards them and how these biases can lead to several unethical practices such as doxxing and gatekeeping. The violation of privacy and ethics in the online community can be examined as a result of the gamergate controversy on both sides by the journalists and the gamming community.
- 1 Start of Gamergate
- 2 Identity
- 3 The Beliefs of GamerGate
- 4 Hashtags (#)
- 5 Ethics
- 6 See Also
- 7 References
Start of Gamergate
The Gamergate controversy began in August 2014 with attacks on female game developer Zoë Quinn. Quinn had just released a new game called Depression Quest earlier that year. During this time, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, wrote a blog post accusing Quinn of cheating on him with multiple game journalists. The post claimed that Quinn had traded sex for positive reviews of her game. This was denied by both Quinn and the involved journalists. The #Gamergate movement began when people attacked, threatened, and doxxed Quinn, eventually causing her to leave her home out of fear for her safety. Similar events occurred to other women in the gaming community, including Jessica Price, who took to Twitter to explicitly voice her concerns with online harassment and disrespect.
Gamergaters claim that they were targeting issues within the game journalism sector, not just women in the gaming community, even though issues with game journalism have never been addressed. The issue with game journalism as a whole started long before this controversy. They stem from the belief that people in the game community have the ability to influence journalism on games. Game journalism also came under fire when articles were released with claims about gamers’ identities, now known as “Gamers are dead" articles. The articles, which were meant to be inclusive and change how we view gamers, ended up igniting an identity crisis within the gaming community and the Gamergate movement.
Media critic Anita Sarkeesian quickly became another target of the Gamergate harassers. Sarkeesian caused controversy through her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video-series, a series of video essays examining how many video games appeal to their presumed audiences of straight, white men. This is accomplished in many ways, mainly by making most playable characters male, oversexualizing female characters, and using female characters as motivations for male characters' actions.
Gamergate harassers voiced their disagreement with Sarkeesian's critiques by doxxing her and creating vulgar games which allowed the player to simulate sexually assaulting her. False bomb threats were called into venues to prevent her from speaking there. The harassment eventually caused Sarkeesian to leave her home and contact the police, although she did not stop making critical YouTube videos. To this day, any content produced by Sarkeesian or mentioning her name in a neutral-to-positive tone brings several thousand trolls out of the woodwork.
Brianna Wu, independent game developer and co-founder of popular video game studio, Spacekat, was yet another target of GamerGate harassers. Identifying information such as her address was posted on 8chan in response to her negative comments about GamerGate. Once that information was released, Wu received rape and death threats online and to her home. She was eventually forced to leave her home out of concern for her privacy and safety, but refused to be silenced by the harassers. She offered a $11,000 reward for any information that would lead to a conviction of her harassers and leveraged the resources from her company to fund efforts to stop harrassement of other developers.
The Gamergate outcry turned into a movement that did not pertain to a lack of ethics, but has become a cultural war over who is considered “mainstream” or "belongs" within the gaming community. Gamergate largely represented the stigma of traditional, patriarchal, male-dominated gaming culture. Many of the victims of Gamergate and their defenders tried to break this tradition by their inclusion in the gaming community, which can be difficult when various aspects of identity are involved. Although it is known that many different identities are represented across the gaming community, the "mainstream" identity that most people associate with gamers can be very stereotypical: that of a young, white male.
The Beliefs of GamerGate
Gamergate claims to be fighting against the three C's in gaming journalism and the gaming industry: Corruption, Collusion, and Censorship. They believe that gaming journalism has become corrupted by nondisclosure of conflicts of interest, both social and financial. Reviews should reflect accurately what the game deserves rather than what they have been paid to say. Gamergate supporters believe that the games industry is involved in collusion to suppress certain topics and messages with some outright blacklisting. It is also believed that their message against this collusion needs to be heard and that censorship within the community exists to remove anything that actively challenges GamerGate-related topics.
The #NotYourShield hashtag was started in response to claims by journalists that games were the "last refuge of the straight white male" and that their criticisms of GamerGate were intended to protect women and minorities from the misogyny and hatred by GamerGate supporters. The users of the hashtag were women, LGBT and racial minorities who were also supporters of GamerGate's claims that the movement was about ethics in the games industry rather than harrassment. These individuals felt their identity was being used as a shield to deflect criticism of the harrassment narrative, and used the hashtag to demonstrate the diversity among gamers and GamerGate supporters.. The hashtag, #Gamergate, was also used when the scandal first broke. This was used by male gamers who were infuriated by Quinn and wanted to raise awareness of the issue to spread their anti-woman in gaming beliefs. This hastag is what lead to the scandal being called Gamergate while simultaneously being used for the harassment campaign again Quinn.
Sarkessian's entrance and the subsequent "gamers are dead" articles fueled the flames of hate messages sent out. Thousands of individuals flocked around the allegations with vulgar and offensive messages aimed at Quinn, Sarkessian, and anyone defending the two women. While it can be assumed many of these individuals were self-identified gamers who were personally invested in the controversy, Adrienne Massanari points out that during events such as #GG, people use them as a cover to engage in harassment. These individuals either desire the opportunity to say offensive things as part of their personal political agenda, or do so to attract negative publicity around one side of the strife.
In the case of Zoë Quinn, many aspects of her life were shared with the public. This began in Gjoni's manifesto about his relationship with Quinn, where he posted several screenshots of their purported conversations. Dean Cocking, author of Plural Selves and Relational Identity, writes that privacy relates to a user's control over their self-presentation. Quinn had no control over Gjoni's initial posts or the subsequent onset of doxxing revealing her personal information. In addition, the shared information was used to attack aspects of her identity and her role as a member of the gaming community. According to philosophers Luciano Floridi  and David Shoemaker, one framework for privacy is protecting that which individuals hold as part of their self-identity. Clearly, Gamergate resulted in breaches of Zoë Quinn's privacy on many levels.
The GamerGate controversy is an example of a concept widely known as gatekeeping. Gatekeeping, as the name would suggest, involves selecting and filtering information, data, or even people, so that only selected items can move forward. Within human communities, this concept often revolves around members of a community guarding the induction of other members into the community, usually for ethically immoral reasons. Within the gaming community specifically, gatekeeping is a widely known issue.
Even just within the gaming community itself, there are many reasons an individual may be the victim of gatekeeping. One particular instance of gatekeeping that has gained widespread recognition incorporates the idea of “easy mode”. This topic refers to cheating in order to complete games, as well as the inclusion of game modes specifically designed to make difficult games easier to traverse.
A large subset of people in the gaming community view cheating, even in single player games, as disgraceful, with beliefs that “true” gamers would not resort to such actions. This can be seen surrounding the controversy of a journalist’s article reviewing a commonly considered difficult single player game called Sekiro. Many fans were outraged that the journalist would cheat through the game, causing severe backlash to his article. This sparked the introduction of the phrase: “You cheated not only the game”, which made waves around the gaming community. This phrase refers to the idea that by cheating through the game, one has cheated themselves out of experiencing that game correctly, and thus proves that you are not a real gamer.
In a similar vein, the inclusion of different game modes with distinctly less difficulty has also given rise to some anger within parts of the gaming community. Many individuals feel that these easier game modes, like cheating, take away from the experience and once again prove that the individual is not a real gamer. An example of this can be seen with regards to the hit game, Cuphead. Cuphead is an extremely difficult game, so when the concept of an easier mode being developed was brought up, there was a large amount of anguish within the gaming community. Players felt that their achievements within the game would be diminished by the inclusion of an easier difficulty setting, disregarding the fact that people unable to complete the game regularly due to disabilities, less available time, or just insufficient skill are barred from the same level of enjoyment within the game. This is an ethically suspect opinion, as these gamers are alienating a portion of the community often just for not containing the same level of gaming skills. Easier modes within games are often valuable towards accessibility for less weathered gamers, allowing the gaming community to expand to a wider variety of people with a wider variety of appeals. Gatekeeping in the gaming community, in contrast, has caused the exclusion of these gamers, and serves to quantify a game playing individual not by their interests but by their skills within the medium.
GamerGate is yet another example of extreme gatekeeping within the gaming community. This time rather than gatekeeping based on gaming skill, women in gaming are treated poorly. As a predominately male community, women are often disregarded, and acts of hate speech and exclusion are perpetuated. Even game designers focus the majority of their efforts towards tailoring their games to men, furthering this exclusion even more. With increased levels of criticism as well as decreased respect for women gamers, it can be very difficult for women to feel at home within the gaming community. As these aspects persist, the gatekeeping of women in the gaming community will continue to rise.
Main Article: Doxxing
This breach of privacy was also an example of doxxing, as it was an attempt by Gjoni to silence Quinn. Quinn and other targets of the Gamergate movement were doxed by having private information about them released online leading to threats of death and rape  Those involved hoped that by threatening them and releasing their personal information online they would become afraid and leave the gaming community. This is an example of targeting doxxing. Their intention was to remove these women from the gamer community, correcting what they thought was the problem within the community. Posting people's personal information on the internet without their consent and exposing private issues is extremely unethical and can have major consequences on their lives.
Main Article: Public Morality
The intrusion into private information, harassment, threatening and doxxing are all things that are often seen as not publically, or traditionally, moral. The use of the internet in this scenario, however, has made it easier to victimize certain groups, but harder to find those who victimize. The people who harassed Zoe were hiding behind their online profiles and, although she did not know them and they did not know her, these people were willing to go against public morality and make Zoe feel unsafe just due to rumors about her and her video game.
Accusational DamagesZoë Quinn and the men she was accused of sleeping with denied all reports, yet Quinn was constantly stalked, hacked, and threatened for years. This forced Quinn to change her home address often and continue to battle, both in court and in the public's eye - about her personal and professional life. Her work, such as Depression Quest, was also barraged with many negative reviews that indicate bias due to often only playing the game for a few short minutes.
Bias Against Women
The fact that Zoë Quinn is a woman made her a target of harassment because it made it more realistic for the gaming community (primarily composed of males) to believe that she would use her looks and identity to gain an unfair advantage, despite unfound grounds.
This harassment also points to a larger issue of bias against women in the technology and entertainment industry. The Internet itself has a history of unbalanced representation against women. The internet emerged during a time in history where the intersection of male-dominated areas, such as government, military, academia, and engineering, were at the center of culture.  This biased framework has set the precedent of excluding women, intentionally or unintentionally, from technological spaces. During present-day recruiting sessions for technology firms, female representatives are usually tasked to set up the event while their male counterparts gave more technical overviews. These presentations can also be filled with sexist jokes and other misogynistic comments that make for a hostile environment for aspiring female programmers. In other forms of popular media such as cinematic pictures, there also exists a sense of antagonism toward females. During the release period for the movie Captain Marvel, popular movie review sites such as Rotten Tomatoes experienced an insurgence of negative reviews, predominantly from men, due to lead actress Brie Larson's comment that advocates for greater diversity in the demographics of movie critics.  Clearly there is an observed pattern of backlash in the form of negative reviews when a woman speaks out against a lack of critic diversity.
Game Journalism Bias
Regardless of whether or not Quinn's physical appearance may have impacted her career, Gamergate snowballed because people believed that game makers were getting positive game reviews for sexual favors. In fact, even with more established game review websites such as IGN, there have been accusations toward the site for being biased in its review scores because of the website's Public Relations or Marketing ties with certain game developers or publishers. Despite claims as independent entities, websites such as IGN depend on advertisements to finance its operations, and being able to obtain an early review copy of an upcoming video game so that the site can be the first to post a review can be a major factor to drawing user traffic to the website.
These circumstances (with the presence of collusion) are unethical since the report would be biased to favor a game that may not be deserving of high ratings. Close ties on their own are common within smaller communities and would not be cause for concern. However, fabricated inaccurate reports would be false and unethical, especially since those that don't give out favors have games that aren't reviewed as well.
Deindividuation and Online Mediums
Deindividuation is characterized by a loss of self-awareness to a group identity, and this phenomenon is used to explain anti-normative crowd behavior, like mob violence or genocide  The tendency for users to experience deindividuation online is enhanced when the online medium allows users to portray fractured representations of who they are and when users are allowed to interact anonymously. When users interact anonymously or with incomplete representations of who they actually are, they are effectively hiding part of their true "self" from others in this space. This is an explicit departure from who they are, and this deception is enforced by the design of the online platforms. This further raises questions about the design of these mediums through which the radicalized male gaming community are able to target and harass users with other identities. In his book titled, "On Truth, Lies, and Bullshit", Harry Frankfurt wrote that "both in lying and in telling the truth, people are guided by their beliefs concerning the way things are", and this shines keen insight into the behavior of the online "mob", in which they ignore their own identity and choose instead to behave in accordance with the anonymous, unaccountable mob. As a result, those who join the mob enjoy the absence of accountability or responsibility that is almost guaranteed when taking part in such a negative movement.
Value Sensitive Design
The theoretical framework that is used in the design of Reddit is an example of a design choice that directly influences the culture and climate of the activity on the site. The design of the Reddit platform is linked to the factor of karma. In this case, karma is a point system that represents how much Redditors value a particular account’s contribution. When a user posts or comments on another post, it is accompanied by a total point score that consists of a certain number of upvotes and downvotes. According to the designers of the site, it is democratic in its design. Some argue that the karma design aspect glorifies certain posts that aren’t necessarily the “best” but simply reflect the most amount of people upvote. This presents an ethical conundrum because the only control over which posts are promoted and viewed the most lies in the opinions of the users themselves. This can leave certain posts suppressed and unnoticed while others are highlighted and gain much recognition, without much consideration to the actual content itself. According to Massanari, this design that embeds the value of karma can present a toxic culture which enables misogyny and anti-feminist behavior when dealing with certain groups on the Reddit platform. Reddit is an example of how the design of the architectural code of a website can influence the culture and behavior on the site.
Ethics in Online Identity
Online identities can be very different than what people might portray in real life. In the situation of the gaming community, Floridi’s take on identity fits well: “At the roots of such transformations, there seems to be a deep philosophical change in our views about our ‘special’ place and role in the universe” . This concept captures the image of Gamergate because identity deals with the supporter's ideologies about who belongs in the gaming environment and who does not belong. The reason gamergate developed into such a controversy is because certain members of the community felt that they belonged and that this community was their “special” place. When this "special" place was seemingly attacked, those who identified with the community rallied together to address the detractor or critic, regardless of consequences.
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