Every so often, the world seems to go mad. A single issue pervades society and sets it ablaze. It consumes news outlets, tears communities apart, and generates intense feelings of outrage in numerous people. The resulting chaos is never pleasant and rarely rational, but generally speaking, its cause is at least somewhat understandable. Issues that spark such passion tend to be of great relevance to many people and they often have far-reaching consequences. For instance, the heated debates over abortion and foreign policy in the United States are rooted in matters fundamental to many ideologies, and their outcomes directly impact the lives of many people and the future direction of the nation. Thus, it stands to reason that they are the source of powerful and sometimes negative emotions.
However, thanks to the Internet, the perfect environment for nourishing gossip and argument, several online “controversies” have arisen that are characterized by the same emotional outrage as others, but the justification for that outrage is questionable at best. Unlike the aforementioned debates, these controversies do not seem to have any legitimate reason to exist that can be measured in terms of real-world impact or traced back to any sort of deep ideological divide. They bear more resemblance to petty high school drama. Like such drama, these controversies are based more on rumors and assumptions than facts and reason, they are entirely personal, they lead to name calling and hurt feelings, and they eventually fade away as people forget why they were so upset in the first place. Inevitably, they become sources of embarrassment to all involved as they look back on them and realize how pointless they were.
The latest and most pervasive and persistent yet of such online controversies has become known as “GamerGate.” The cringe-worthy name is a perfect fit for the “debate” it represents, a “debate” no more legitimate than the Seussian debate of whether star-bellied or plain-bellied Sneetches are superior. There is no reason that “GamerGate” should have ever existed in the first place, let alone blown up as large as it has. It has been a major trending topic on Twitter for weeks and it is the subject of countless discussion threads around the web. Unlike past online controversies of a similar nature, it has been covered extensively by major national and international news organizations like NPR, The Washington Post, and The Guardian, yet it deserves none of the attention it has received.
For reference, I will briefly summarize the major points of this convoluted controversy: It began when the ex-boyfriend of a little-known independent video game developer named Zoe Quinn posted a lengthy rant online disparaging her, in which he alleged among other things that she had a sexual relationship with a journalist who reviewed her game for a relatively small video game site, Kotaku. Essentially, he implied that she prostituted herself for positive reviews. These allegations were false; the journalist Quinn had a relationship with never reviewed her game and he wrote nothing about her after their relationship began. Yet even if the allegations were true, the response they garnered would have been disproportionate to say the least.
The allegations set off a firestorm across the Internet, especially among communities of self-described “gamers,” and elaborate conspiracy theories were soon conceived. The idea behind them was that an unconfirmed account of a single case of unethical journalistic practices at the individual level was enough evidence to support the notion of the systematic corruption of the entire video game journalism industry and the existence of a massive conspiracy designed to manipulate gamers into buying games someone determined they should buy. However, as ridiculous as it is, this hyperbolic response to a claim is unfortunately rather typical. It is far from the most disturbing result of “GamerGate.”
That honor goes to the misogyny and deep psychological issues that many “gamers” revealed they possess. They found out personal information about Zoe Quinn and directly harassed her and her family. They accused her of sleeping her way to the modest success she had found, called her every derogatory term for a woman imaginable, insisted that she was a disgrace as a video game developer, and practically suggested that she was singlehandedly responsible for ruining the game industry. Some even went so far as to send death and rape threats to her. All of this was supposedly over nothing more than a game review and allegations about Quinn’s personal life.
Clearly, if these were indeed the real motives behind these actions rather than simple hatred for women, they demonstrate an incredible lack of perspective on the part of the perpetrators. Even if the worst allegations against Quinn were completely true, her crime would have been performing an unethical action that ultimately would have had a microscopic impact in the grand scheme, especially given the small footprint of both her game and the site involved on the industry in addition to the relatively trivial nature of the industry itself. A biased review on a video game blog is the definition of a “first world problem.” It is not a significant problem like, for instance, a rapidly growing terrorist organization that beheads journalists, and it is not a problem warranting either rape or death threats.
I will admit that I am not a hardcore gamer, so of course I cannot truly understand why some gamers feel so strongly about this issue. I am merely offering an outsider’s perspective, and from that perspective, the whole debacle looks thoroughly insane. But even if one disagrees that video game journalism is a relatively unimportant topic and the heated debate surrounding its potential corruption is unjustified, I hope everyone can agree that harassment and abuse is never justified. The world would be a better place if everyone exercised more common sense, but if that is too much to ask, everyone should at least exercise some common decency. Both have been sorely lacking in “GamerGate.”
Quinn, Zoe. “5 Things I Learned as the Internet’s Most Hated Person.”Cracked.com. Cracked. 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.
Rott, Nate. “#Gamergate Controversy Fuels Debate On Women And Video Games.” NPR. NPR, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.
Sarah, Kaplan. “With #GamerGate, the Video-game Industry’s Growing Pains Go Viral.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.