Over the past several weeks, the online video game community has become ground zero for a series of heated discussions and arguments about, among other things, sexual harassment, feminism, and journalistic integrity. These are big, meaty topics, so naturally, everybody was completely civil and thoughtful in their discourse.
Not really. The ongoing war — which has, at this point, led Intel to pull sponsorship from gaming news site Gamasutra after an organized pressure campaign — has been centered on Twitter under the hashtag #GamerGate. But what is #GamerGate? Well, you've come to the right place.
What is #GamerGate?
Like all hashtags, #GamerGate has come to mean about 500 different things to thousands of different people. But at its heart, it's about two topics:
1) The treatment of women in gaming: The start of the story (which is actually the latest permutation of a long-evolving firestorm) came in late August after indie game developer Zoe Quinn and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian were both horribly harassed online. The same harassment was later lobbed at award-winning games journalist Jenn Frank and fellow writer Mattie Brice. Both Frank and Brice say they will no longer write about games. The FBI is looking into harassment of game developers.
2) Ethics in games journalism: The #GamerGaters argue that the focus on harassment distracts from the real issue, which is that indie game developers and the online gaming press have gotten too cozy. There's also a substantial, vocal movement that believes the generally left-leaning online gaming press focuses too much on feminism and the role of women in the industry, to the detriment of coverage of games. (One of the sites mentioned in this debate is Vox's sister site, Polygon.) These concerns exploded after programmer Eron Gjoni, who had dated Quinn, posted a revenge blog accusing her of cheating on him with Nathan Grayson, a writer for the influential games website Kotaku.
The #GamerGaters have some actually interesting concerns, largely driven by the changing face of video game culture. But those concerns have often been warped and drowned out by an army of trolls spewing bile, often at women.
Zoe Quinn (screenshot)
So who is Zoe Quinn?
Quinn is a game designer whose most famous creation is Depression Quest, co-created with Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler, that uses a multiple-choice text adventure (a game told entirely through words) to simulate the experience of having depression. It's a beautiful, brutal experience, but it's also one that doesn't really offer much in the way of traditional "gameplay," since you are, after all, making selections from a menu of options.
For a time, Quinn dated a programmer named Eron Gjoni. Things ended badly. Gjoni wrote a series of online posts about the end of the relationship (collected here). He released personal information about her. And then all hell broke loose. (Gjoni has since distanced himself from everything that followed in this Vice interview.)
Gjoni said that Quinn had cheated on him, and one of those instances was with a writer for the influential games website Kotaku. Kotaku investigated, finding no wrongdoing on the part of either its writer (Nathan Grayson) or Quinn.
Thousands of comments on the matter were expunged from normally freewheeling 4chan and Reddit for reasons that weren't immediately clear, and a DMCA takedown notice was filed against a YouTube video using footage from one of Quinn's games. Quinn was harassed endlessly via Twitter, her phone, and other modes of communication.
Some gamers were upset that the press didn't report more on Gjoni's accusations, accusing the journalists of covering for one of their own. But, of course, journalistic outlets don't make habits of reporting on the personal lives of those they cover, unless those personal lives are somehow specifically notable.