Look everyone, I’m being ethical

It is the fate of all blogs and media outlets to weigh in on #GamerGate at some point. Let’s not pretend now that I stand apart from the Global Media Conspiracy — we all know I’m in it up to my eyebrows.

It has unfolded in a kind of frantic, ongoing information disaster of the scale and fervour that could (probably) only happen via social media. Picture a derailing train of infinite length, where flaming, wrecked carriages pile up around the landscape without end, the rest of the train, with its unlimited momentum, relentlessly ploughing into the crash site.

Except it’s all virtual, right? Nobody gets hurt. Sticks and stones.

Well.

Where do we start? The voyeuristic hate-mongering over other people’s personal lives? The doxxing? The miscellaneous death threats? The rape threats? A bomb threat? The threat of “the deadliest school shooting in American history“? Oh yes, and the blessing of the neo-Nazis at Stormfront. (We Hunted the Mammoth provides a rather good record and commentary on such things.)

Nothing to fear except fear itself. And all that stuff I just said.

And yet, there are actual real people who sincerely believe that GamerGate is about ethics. Take @BlackOscuros, who I’m picking on only because I’ve had a conversation with him. It was reasonably civil, and included discourse like this:

Here I’m inclined to call for a little sense of perspective. Precisely how much sexism and harassment — how many rape threats and death threats — must occur before the injustice of an article pronouncing “Gamers are Dead” is taken down a notch on our list of priorities?

It’s also telling that, slightly earlier on, @BlackOscuros had this to say:

I was rather taken aback that someone would place their own movement — one ostensibly founded on ethics — in such ignominious company. Surely any sane person would abandon a movement long before the most positive thing that springs to mind is “it deserves a fair trial, like the Nazis”. Don’t oversell it.

What I can see now is that GamerGate is an issue of identity. That’s why it’s defended so fiercely, despite all that has happened. The “ethics in game journalism” trope serves as justification in the minds of GamerGaters themselves, and that’s it. It’s not the reason for the existence of the movement any more than thetans are the reason for the existence of Scientology, or scientific rigour is the basis of climate change denialism. They’re all about identity — belonging.

It’s not enough, for some people, to merely promote ethics in game journalism. You need to be a GamerGater. You need to self-identify. And then it really becomes about you and your comrades. You’re in it together; all for one.

After all, people have been fighting for ethics in journalism for a long, long time — as long as journalism has existed — and it’s never been a “-gate” before. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and others enjoy almost cult-like celebrity status as revealers of media dishonesty on a far greater scale than GamerGate deals with, but even they are not a “movement”. Similarly, I’ve witnessed the silliness and dishonesty of Australian media every week on MediaWatch for years, but Paul Barry, Jonathon Holmes and other presenters have never (as far as I know) spearheaded a large amorphous online gathering of armchair media critics. They’ve always just got on with the job.

“Actually, it’s about ethics in video game journalism,” is the refrain now subject to so much parody.

Why do we find it funny? Because the fact that it has to be said in this manner confirms the total failure of the movement to advance the goal. Because a movement that spends most of its time and effort (a) harassing prominent female game developers and critics, and (b) defending itself from accusations of such harassment, cannot simply claim arbitrarily to be about something else.

Nobody listens to a movement so easily discredited by its own adherents (not people like @BlackOscuros, but rather the sort who openly vilify and threaten others). Why should they? There are many thoughtful, rational commentaries on media ethics outside of GamerGate that one can brood over without having to wade through an endless vapid confrontation conducted in 140-character spittle. If GamerGate’s adherents had ideas worth more than their own egos, they would drop the baggage — leave the movement  — and simply talk about their ideas, free from any association to misogynistic dropkicks.

But they don’t. They stay and dig in, fighting an imaginary battle for their own survival.