Friday, March 11, 2016

Gamergate is Dumb, or Everything Wrong With Nerd Culture

I am a nerd. A huge one. Most of my friends are nerds too.  My life is probably best chronicled by a series of obsessions, bouncing from one hobby to the next like some sort of socially awkward pinball. So when someone like me, someone who spent the past six years on message boards and in hobby shops, says that nerd culture sucks, I'd like to believe that it holds some weight.

Gamergate, for those of you unaware, started in 2013 when someone named Zoe Quinn made a game called Depression Quest, a game chronicling Quinn's experiences with depression. Critics were lukewarm, but most of them praised the (admittedly short) game as an insightful look into the mind of someone with depression. The community, on the other hand, thought it was awful. One user left a review saying, "This game is free and I still want a refund". The schism between these two points of view was so stark that it brought about a massive conversation that left everyone shouting and nobody satisfied.

Rumors went around that Quinn slept with game critics who then gave her good reviews. As a supposed ex-boyfriend's testimony came out, online harassment reached a fever pitch. Someone released her address to the public, several people sent rape threats. Over and over, the community  rallied around some woman who they felt was too invasive of gaming culture, and made their life a living hell. Media critic Anita Sarkeesian made several videos about sexism in video games, and as a result received death threats from people saying she didn't know what she was talking about. Someone threatened to bomb a university where she was scheduled to give a speech.

 At the same time, popular video game media outlets like Kotaku and Polygon began railing against "Gamergaters", which led the community to dig into their past as well in an attempt to prove that they too, were corrupt. One by one, media outlets turned against this movement, calling the gaming community misogynistic and childish. The inevitable response from the community was some condemnation of ethics proven by an article , and the cycle began anew. The death knell of #gamergate came when it received national attention, and the general public condemned the movement as being childish and sexist.

From the perspective of video game journalists and feminists, Gamergate was about the problems in video game culture. From the perspective of "Gamergaters", it was about "ethics in video game journalism", which should give you an idea of how detached from reality this movement was. They saw themselves as modern-day investigative journalists, uncovering the filthy crimes of a corrupt industry while crusading against the tyranny of political correctness. What they were actually doing was going on a series of baseless witch hunts, making several people miserable and reinforcing stereotypes about nerd culture along the way.

These stereotypes are not baseless. This is not some small group of hateful trolls, emerged from the darkest depths of the internet. This is a culture fostered in the days when being a nerd was something to be ashamed of, not something a pop star mentioned casually in a GQ article. Nerd Culture is what happens when a group of antisocial white guys spends 30 years isolated from the outside world, and then corporate success throws the door wide open. Suddenly anyone can spend hours playing video games without having to be an outcast. Being a nerd used to be a trial by fire- now it's just an adjective. For someone who had to go so much to earn that title back then, it's frustrating to think that new initiates got the title but don't deserve it.

Which brings me to women in gaming. From the perspective of a community that was predominantly male for decades, women look like outsiders. From the perspective of a community of social outcasts, women seem complex and inhuman. From the perspective of women, video games and video game culture are really interesting, but there's this massive online presence constantly demanding that they prove their worth. When Anita Sarkeesian makes one mistake in a video, there are a thousand angry men citing it as proof that she isn't a "real gamer". When Zoe Quinn makes a below average game and gets good reviews, they see the walls of their boys-only club caving in.

Nerd culture was originally created by boys, for boys. Decades later, the demographic might be changing, but the stigma still hasn't. But maybe if us nerds could stop walling women out, we could build a community that I'm not ashamed of.


  1. Awesome post! Gamergate has been all over the place, and I think that you did a great job summarizing all the important things with going into unnecessary detail, or being too biased. I also think your idea of using it as a topic in the first place is great. Video games are very relevant to a lot of high schoolers, so I'm sure lots of people will find this interesting. One thing that I might change is to include more about Gamergate in relation to gender in America right now. While your final paragraph or two were very hards hitting, I think they may have been drowned out a bit by everything before them. I also really enjoyed your pinball simile.

  2. Although I never was involved with Gamergate I saw posts and videos about it all over the place in 2014. I had a friend who was really into it and by putting "Gamergate" in his twitter bio he was immediately put on hundreds of block lists.
    The sentence "Nerd culture was originally created by boys, for boys," is really important to understanding the argument. Since the people involved were mostly men, it was easy for them to criticize women in vulgar ways without feeling like they could be seen as sexist. It's because of this mentality that people went out of line and started a "witch hunt" as you called it.
    All they wanted at the beginning was to see video games be reported on by a neutral point of view with sensibilities that the consumers shared, free from criticisms for games having conservative concepts. At the end the movement had grown so big with people joining it just for the fun that the group started polarizing towards the "misogynistic pigs" image that they were trying to turn away from.