Posted on 09/Sep/2015
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It is not only about a “movement” of sexist nerds. The Gamergate controversy, which erupted one year ago, is revealing about a much wider “dark side” of the Internet life.


Last autumn, GamerGate shocked the games industry. While it may have masqueraded as an online debate on press ethics, the actual effect was to silence female journalists and academics who publicly criticized sexist depictions of women in games.

Hundreds or thousands of anonymous web users made rape and death threats toward the handful of public women who were the targets and victims of GamerGate.

In some cases, GamerGaters allegedly also paid visits in real life. Media scholar Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a speech at Utah State University following an email threatening a mass shooting would take place if she gave it.

Game developer Brianna Wu had to flee her home after her address was posted on Twitter (alongside rape and murder threats).

This is not an isolated event, anonymous haters online – or trolls – use social media to silence the voices of those they happen to disagree with, ironically often citing freedom of speech as a justification. Sexism is just one theme, racism may be even more popular.

GamerGate started as a hashtag on the online forum 4Chan, famously connected to the Anonymous-movement – a sort of anarchist internet activists, some of whom may also be involved in GamerGate

However, even the moderators of the notoriously liberal 4Chan decided that GamerGate went too far and kicked them out. The GamerGaters regrouped at a similar but even more lax online space called 8Chan (or InfiniteChan) which has hardly any rules whatsoever.

There the actions against the likes of Sarkeesian and Wu where orchestrated, however the actual attacks were carried out mainly via Twitter using the #GamerGate-hashtag.

Anyone who says something like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” or “freedom of speech is absolute and can also be used to defend oneself against hate speech” has never been on the receiving end of something like Gamergate and has a very limited understanding of freedom of expression.

It is fair to express one’s own views, but not to try to abuse others into silence. I have met many who prefer to remain silent even on much less controversial topics such as piracy or vaccines from fear of threats or hate speech.

Anonymity has something to do with it, but lack of consequence is a more important factor. Some of the cyberbullying directed against for example Sarkeesian was not anonymous, instead attackers bragged on forums how they had hacked her Wikipedia-page or posted porn images with her head pasted.

The games industry was in shock. For many years, many parts of it had made great efforts to attract more women players and employees, as well as removing that age old stamp of sexism.

The GamerGaters claimed they had the right to define who gets to play games and particularly have opinions about games. It went against every ambition of gender equality and all the progress made in the last decade. And the game world reacted.

Sweden’s top game developers wrote an op-ed saying “not in the name of our games”. Thousands signed petitions. The mainstream media covered the story with little patience for the haters who hid in anonymity.

Companies and organisations launched equality and diversity initiatives. Processor manufacturer Intel set aside 300 Million US-dollars towards equal opportunity initiatives. Some of these activities were already on the way, some were a consequence of GamerGate.

But the most important actions may have been much humbler. Many game companies changed the rules on their forums, making consequences clearer and more strictly enforced by moderators.

In an online world without consequence, it is only too easy to post before thinking, more often than not exaggerating to impress other users.

The tone on many game forums may certainly have contributed to the Gamergate attitudes. But the game forums are also part of the solution.

Other social media could learn from how active moderation and clear rules can form a climate where respect and freedom of speech prevail over hate and bullying. The game world learned it the hard way.


 photo credit: PJ Rey
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  • disqus_RRXfoYlhXh

    You know, The Young Fine Capitalists where completely right, They were going to be erased from the history books, Everyone will ignore them, Everyone will just look to the say and not even want to name them.
    The same with Female voices in gamergate, This kind of articles, with such a big amount of revised history are just disgusting.

    • The other Ben

      Indeed, it shows the power of a few half-assed websites to influence minds, versus the actual truth.

  • The other Ben

    This article is incredible! It proves that if you own a half-assed web
    publication you can make up whatever “Rape threats” you like without
    being forced to offer proof.

    Well, I’m here to hold your feet to
    the fire. Prove that any of the “handful of victims” has ever received a
    rape threat from any number of the thousands they’ve pissed off.

    let’s see some investigative journalism. Perhaps you could explain for
    your readership WHY these individuals pissed off thousands of people?
    Surely you don’t think your readership is so stupid that you think
    they’ll believe “cos they’re gurlz lol” ?

    Sarkeesian was a nobody
    who saw an opportunity, like a politician announcing his support for
    “blacklivesmatter.” She claimed to be the victim of “trolls” online,
    specifically the people posting to the hashtag #gamergate, which was
    SUPPOSED to be describing a scandal, unless you’re so glib that you
    refuse to acknowledge this.

    It’s not a stretch to think someone
    working on her behalf can send some threats from a twitter “egg” account
    so she can turn around and say, “SEE? SEE THE TOXIC MASCULINITY?” and
    continue to rhetorically foment an ideological bottleneck, along with
    extremists, to an industry that HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG.

    bizarre? The near-uniform support online “activists” in radical feminism
    have for Quinn, whose behavior ENCOURAGES “casting couch” behavior in
    industries like the entertainment, rather than DISCOURAGING so-called
    “Toxic masculinity” — or how they weasel-word the idea of sleeping
    one’s way into a power clique.

    Seriously, get your facts
    straight. You’re really looking like some Goebbels level propagandist,
    and Europe should say to hell with you.

  • Look, Per… I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and think you’re saying what you think is right according to the facts you’ve been given but I think it’s time to look at your sources. So many of the claims you make are… not only wrong but completely made up.

    Honestly, this is one of the worst articles on the matter I have ever read. There are no sources, very little reasoning or explanation, just assertion after assertion. For instance:

    How exactly does Gamergate “masquerade” its goals and motives?
    Who in GamerGate claimed they had the right to define who gets to play games?
    How is the Sarkeesian bomb threat linked to Gamergate in any way?

    Now, Per… are you open and willing to engage in a dialouge about Gamergate at all or is the comfort of the media platform you’ve been given too precious a position for you?

  • Per Strömbäck

    Thanks for the comments, happy to discuss with anyone who will appear with their real name like I do. If you prefer to criticize me from the comfort of anonymity, you’re sort of proving my point.

    • I would hit up @sargon_of_akkad on twitter. Non-anonymous gamergater and indie game dev with a huge youtube following who will let you present your views and discuss on his channel as he has done with others in the past. In short, you can make your case to many in gamergate directly.

      I would honestly be impressed if you did because a big issue re: gamergate is anti-gamergate crows being thoroughly unwilling to come to the table and talk (see the Society of Proffesional Journalists debate). No bad comes from discussing the issues.

      • Per Strömbäck

        I would be honored to appear on his channel, can you introduce us?

        • Unfortunately I don’t know him but he’s usually responsive on twitter from what I’ve seen. Just saying who you are and what you want to discuss should yield results.

          If not you can probably contact him through @nero (also on twitter) or make a post on either r/KotakuinAction or r/SargonofAkkad

          Thanks for taking the time 🙂

  • Philip Weigel

    Anita cancelled her speech, even though state and local law enforcement determined that there was no credible threat to her life. Brianna Wu was found lying about having to flee her home.

    Meanwhile, GamerGate has a peaceful meetup in Washington D.C. get interrupted by a Bomb Threat. Oh, and then there’s the SJP that happened, where GamerGate got to air out its grievances and actual journalists said that Gawker, one of the sites responsible for GamerGate even coming into existence, isn’t a trustworthy source. That also got a Bomb Threat, credible enough that the convention hall had to be evacuated.

  • Dimi Gronnings

    Per, I considered writing a rebuttal article, but I doubt Digital Post would appreciate contributors attacking each other, so I’ll just bullet point it all here:

    – Gamergate only happened in the first place because of overzealous moderation. When fora wouldn’t allow discussion of the Quinn scandal and video games media wouldn’t cover it, it encouraged gamers to take it upon themselves to police the industry. Thus was Gamergate born.

    – There is no evidence that Gamergate in general engages in online harassment, as this official WAM report makes clear: According to them, only .65% of Gamergate engage in harassment. I’d wager that’s lower than the average on Twitter.

    – There is no evidence that Gamergate engages in offline harassment, either. Despite a year of investigation, authorities have yet to make any arrests.

    – Gamergate is predominantly left-leaning, and is a very diverse group of people–certainly moreso than their detractors, who consist primarily of well-to-do white folks.

    – Reporters in the video games industry are generally unprofessional and unethical. They support or are supported (even financially!) by video games developers on whom they report. They have personal relationships with those on whom they report. Patricia Hernandez wrote about her roommate’s games for Kotaku. Quinn’s agent financially supported a Guardian reporter who wrote about Quinn. I can go on, but the information’s all here:

    – What the video games industry should learn from the events of Gamergate is that they need to clean house and behave like grown-ups. If your consumers raise concerns, you investigate and address them. You don’t try to distract everyone by claiming your consumers are bigots.

    – What mainstream media should learn from the events of Gamergate (if they care at all about being responsible) is that they need to have someone on their team who understands digital culture and will expend the effort to investigate online matters properly. (Sadly, even a site called “Digital Post” appears to be unable to clear this low bar.) If you can’t put in the effort, don’t report on it at all.