Opinion

Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators

Will they be able to stanch the bleeding? Chances are slim.

The so-called Gamergate movement cannot be regarded as anything but an enormous own goal.

There are surely many decent members who don't realize what they've joined, believing they are rallying against unethical behavior in gaming journalism. But the more you examine the movement, the more you realize that the only coherent objective ever elaborated or carried out by it is the harassing of certain writers, critics, and game developers, most of them women, who have spoken out against prejudice and misogyny in gaming.

The evidence of Gamergate's true nature is twofold: first, if you dig into the chat logs when the movement was first organized you find absolutely nothing but conspiracy derp, horrifying misogyny, an overweening sense of cultural victimhood, and overtly cynical plans to appropriate social justice language for their campaigns of intimidation. An effort by The Escapist to try and get Gamergate's side collapsed in utter humiliation when several of the interview subjects were quickly found to have been directly involved in harassment.

Second, not a single person in the movement has been able to elaborate a coherent, morally-grounded argument supporting their cries of "ethics" and whatnot, and they have largely ignored other much more serious corruption issues. As Buzzfeed found when they talked to the jilted ex-boyfriend who sparked the whole thing: "recursive, contradictory, and sometimes confusing argumentation characterized much of the interview."

Harassing people: that's all Gamergate is and all it ever was. And for awhile there it was sort of working.

As I discovered when I wrote about this last week, writing about or even mentioning the movement on Twitter brings a flood of movement shock troops, armed with talking points and grade school debating tactics. "Ad hominem!" "Bias!" "Where's the evidence??" they screech, basically without regard to what any of those words mean. As Matt Taibbi once wrote about the Tea Party: "...after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of sh*t. All of them."

But mainstream media outfits are systematically vulnerable to bias bullying, and as Kyle Wagner at Deadspin argues Gamergate had much early success hazing the media to cover them "fairly" (read: in a positive light). But after the mass murder threat against Anita Sarkeesian earlier this week, mainstream coverage turned decisively against them — witness the strongly critical tone at the Post, the Times, and The Guardian. In the public mind, the movement is now firmly identified with misogynist abuse, harassment, and death threats.

So an effort to drive out social justice perspectives from gaming has only confirmed those critics' arguments in about the most devastating manner imaginable, complete with front page headlines across the globe. Many of the targets are now international celebrities.

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that many of those women's lives are now a living hell, with many of them still unable to return to their homes. But we shouldn't forget the terrific cultural damage also being done to the reputation of gaming as a whole. Years of grinding work building up games as a perfectly respectable hobby appropriate for anyone (which it is) — much of it carried out by feminists and other cultural critics, in a sick irony — have been obliterated in a flood of vicious abuse.

The question now is whether Gamergate will be able to recognize what an utter faceplant the entire effort has been, and just leave well enough alone. I honestly doubt it. The diffuse and leaderless nature of the movement, plus their hermetically sealed bubble of conspiracy nonsense, make it hard to imagine. In any case, it's well past time for Twitter and particularly law enforcement organizations to take this seriously. Making specific death threats, particularly of bombing or mass murder, is a felony crime in most jurisdictions. I fear nothing short of prosecutions will make the abuse stop.

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