#Gamergate: The alienation of the ‘gamer’ community and the fallacy of balance

By Johnny McCabe

For the past several weeks, as the #Gamergate phenomenon has unfolded, I have remained an observer, as I’m sure many other like-minded gamers have when faced with the raw hatred and furious debate that has become commonplace when talking about games.

As the school year ramps up again, however, I reasoned that I should add my own two cents, meager and insubstantial as they may be. I am deeply saddened and ashamed of the vitriolic harassment of both game developers and game journalists that has occurred, and I am even more dismayed at the systematic and inflammatory stereotyping of the “gamer” community by the individuals that claim to represent them. It is high time we try as best we can to put this unfortunate business behind us and get back to making, playing and talking about video games.

I feel that it would be imprudent to launch into a discussion of the situation facing the gaming community without providing some background about what has happened. Though the actual sequence of events is both wildly contested and imprecisely documented, the “powder keg moment” that signaled the beginning of the #Gamergate frenzy was undoubtedly a series of allegations made about the personal life and relationships of game developer Zoe Quinn.

In the original document, which was posted on Tumblr, Quinn was accused of cheating on her then-boyfriend with several high-profile personalities at major video game publications, a few of which covered her game “Depression Quest.” Though the original source of these allegations comes from a very interested party of questionable integrity (Quinn’s ex-boyfriend), many saw these allegations as an Edward Snowden-style exposé into the deeply corrupted heart of game journalism, where personal or romantic relationships influenced the coverage and exposure a game received. Several others saw it as grounds for intense and targeted malicious harassment.

Under the pretense of both purposes, the hashtag “Gamergate” was created, and spread like wildfire across social media ranging from Twitter and Youtube to 4chan, as game journalists took to the defense of Quinn and others. Many gamers also demanded greater transparency and accountability from an industry that they feel does not adequately represent their interests.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I should clarify that I am a white, straight, male who enjoys playing video games. I do not believe that the identity of a “gamer” is someone who is identical to me in the first three of those categories. The backlash behind Ubisoft’s exclusion of a playable female assassin proves that “people who enjoy playing video games” is more diverse than it  has ever been in the history of the hobby. Why then, does the gaming press seem unable to comprehend this diversity, and insist that the #Gamergate campaign is rooted in misogyny?

This entire situation, to me, embodies what is known as the “balance fallacy.” In simple terms, the balance fallacy is the notion that two ideas or contrasting sides of an argument are equally valid, independent of the argument’s actual merit. For example, BBC World News will never run a segment on the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence featuring a debate between an astronomer and a Scientologist, because to do so would insinuate that Scientology is as equally reasoned and well-supported as modern astronomy. It is all too easy for Americans to place emphasis on the duality of a conflict, on both sides of the argument being equally weighted, even when one of those sides is something as rhetorically bankrupt and obscene as misogyny because of the freedom of speech that exists in this country.

The ironic thing is, most gamers seem just fine with social commentary in games and are open to changing the composition of games to match the audience who plays them. Games like “Bioshock Infinite” and the highly controversial, yet critically acclaimed “Gone Home”, prove that games can deal with extremely tough subjects like racism and LGBT intolerance.

Additionally, games like “Transistor,” the “Portal” series and “The Last of Us” all feature female main characters as well as a highly satisfying combination of gameplay and narrative. The conception of a gamer as a socially awkward, narrow-minded and bigoted young white male that is obsessed with a masculine power fantasy — which game journalism seems to cling to — is further from the truth than ever before, as the “NotYourShield” hashtag and videos of users like Taco Justice so clearly illustrate.

This, I propose, is the crucial error of the gaming press. They have subsidized the opinions of “gamers,” a largely silent yet massive and diverse community, into the ill-fitting and uncomfortable shoes of an extremely loud and malicious minority.

I do not mean to understate the horrible acts that have been perpetrated against figures like Quinn; but to target one’s own audience as the culprits of the wrongdoings of a select few, especially when said audience is so large, can only bode ill. By setting themselves up on the side of truth and justice, and the game consuming population on the side of evil and intolerance, game journalists have only set the stage for more aggression and conflict.

As for me? I just want to get back to talking about video games.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]