Let’s get a few things straight:
Most of the people involved on all sides of the #GamerGate mess love games. Despite ideological differences, it’s very likely there’s at least one game you love that someone on the other “side” also loves.
I mention the above not as a fact, but as a reminder that there exists between all of us a sliver of common ground.
Let’s try to agree on one more fact: no one wants corruption in games journalism. No one’s attempting to set fire to the games journalism world just so they can watch it burn while cosplaying as Heath Ledger’s the Joker (you did great with the face paint, btw).
I’m not asking you to take that sentiment as fact, I’m asking you to — from one human to another — give everyone in the community the benefit of the doubt.
And if you are able to give everyone a little bit of that “benefit of the doubt” magic, I want you to ask where oh where do we go from here (as we hold hands, walking down the road, Talking Heads playing in the background)?
A little bit about me…
I am a journalist. I am a gamer. I am not a video game journalist.
Working for CBS, I’ve written fact-based articles covering poverty studies, listicles about the best donuts in Chicago and opinionated rants about my neighborhood. Working across such diverse subjects and styles, it’s sometimes difficult to know where the “line” is when it comes to objectivity, but I do my best. It’s a line every journalist has to walk. For some of my pieces, it’s my fiery opinions and beliefs (biases) that have made the articles. For other pieces, it’s the neutral, objective voice void of any conscious bias that has gotten the job done.
When I first started reading about #GamerGate, my knee-jerk reaction veered more toward “social justice warrior” than it did “gamer: scum of the earth,” but I’ve been determined the last few weeks to write something at least slightly fair to both sides.
Here we go…
Now that Zoe Quinn’s screenshots have proven everyone is evil, we can move forward, right?
Over 24 hours after their release, it’s clear that the sides are as divided as ever.
For some, Quinn’s screenshots of the 4Chan IRC channel #burgersandfries (note: not my fast food-themed IRC channel #bourgeoisfries) is the smoking gun proof that #GamerGate was, from the beginning, a chance to hound women in the video game industry. For others, Quinn’s screenshots are a handful of assholes giving #GamerGate a bad name, but far from representative of the majority of #GamerGate, who are sincere in their want for better journalistic standards.
So which is it?
Internet sleuths will invariably gather more info over the next few days, and there’s also some information Quinn hasn’t released, sending it solely to the police and FBI (no, dad, not the fucking “Federal Bikini Investigators,” we’re talkin’ the real goddamn deal here), but there are a number of things we can learn in the immediate.
From very early on, the individuals in #burgersandfries were influencing #GamerGate. This isn’t exactly a damning fact, it’s not out of the question for 4chan members to be decent human beings — plenty are. In the case some of the 4chan members in this IRC channel — let’s call ‘em b4dchan — the stated intention was never to encourage honest reporting in games journalism. b4dchan’s objectives rarely seemed to stray from smearing Zoe Quin and other females in the game industry, using #GamerGate supporters and organizations like the Fine Young Capitalists to “cause infighting and doubt within the SJW ranks.”
Zoe’s screenshots, and the subsequent logs released by b4dchan themselves, portray a conversation that included at least a few hundred anonymous individuals, with a few dozen actively participating in the discussion at any given time. These discussions include plenty of hate speech, from homophobia to racism and, yep, sexism. Individuals discuss attempting to hack Zoe, and how they can use #NotYourShield and the Fine Young Capitalists, not as human beings, but as a way to manipulate everyone for “good PR.”
As many #GamerGate supporters are quick to point out, these conversations don’t represent everyone in the cause. That this is simply a few b4dchan assholes speaking out of line, and that they don’t condone the way they were acting. There’s also the argument that some of the conversations (mostly from anonymous individuals, making it extraordinarily hard to know who’s an asshole, who’s sincere and who’s a little of both) are often taken out of context.
In my personal worldview (including all my wonderful biases), the timing of the discussions in #burgersandfries, which coincide with mass harassment of Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, make it appear that the driving force for #GamerGate was significantly perpetrated by a handful of individuals who were not acting out of a desire to improve our world, but out of hate. Screenshots of a 4chan /v/ subreddit displaying what appear to be the earliest use of #NotYourShield display an intent more aligned with throwing a monkey wrench into the lives of “social justice warriors” than defending the voices of minority gamers. Even if the users didn’t seem to really love to say “faggot,” this would have been a pretty ugly birth.
But! I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to those of you out there who sincerely believe in #GamerGate and #NotYourShield. If you say this was a few bad eggs who don’t represent your cause, fine, I’ll move forward with that assumption.
I will ask this of you though: If you feel #GamerGate deserves the benefit of the doubt here, it’s only fair you give the benefit of the doubt to other individuals in similar situations — even when you don’t agree with the people involved.
#GamerGate never attempted to give Zoe Quinn the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, the Zoe Quinn accusations are not the only accusations that have come up. And yes, even #GamerGate wants to move on from Quinn to tackle what they perceive to be other examples of corruption. Still, the Zoe Quinn situation is a good example of how early proponents of #GamerGate acted unethically.
To put it simply, if you are going to police the standards of video game journalists, you owe it to the community to hold yourself to equally rigorous standards.
I suggest becoming familiar with journalism’s ethics and standards. Though there’s no singular set of ethics, the AP Stylebook can be found in most newsrooms. Become acquainted with their ethical standards, but realize many companies deviate from those rules and institute their own. Especially sites that publish reviews and criticism, since the Associated Press makes rules for fact-based news stories, not criticism and reviews.
Anyway, let’s run through some of these rules, using Quinn as an example.
First and foremost, a scorned lover does not make for an ethical source.
According to AP, you’re supposed to avoid surreptitious methods of information, except when traditional methods aren’t yielding information vital to the public.
Does a blog by an angry ex count as “surreptitious”? He may not be an international spy, but the way he shared secretive and private information sounds surreptitious to me.
So how do you determine if your surreptitious source is your only source? You use it as a last resort, checking the accuracy of the information before releasing it (another AP rule).
In this instance, individuals intending to accuse Zoe Quinn and Nathan Grayson of corruption could have: asked Kotaku, asked Quinn, asked Grayson and even asked Quinn’s ex to clarify their conclusion that Grayson and Quinn were trading sex for reviews.
And maybe they did ask Quinn and Grayson to explain things before talking about the issues. It’d make sense that neither one of them would want to respond.
It seems less likely they asked Kotaku, but maybe they did, and became impatient as they waited for Kotaku to investigate the matter themselves (which Kotaku did do).
It does not seem like they ran it past Quinn’s ex. Had they done so and waited for his answer, they would have found out that their assumptions were false. Instead, we had to wait until after their accusations were made for Kotaku and Quinn’s ex to point out that Grayson had never written about Depression Quest, and that the timing of Quinn and Grayson’s relationship did not lineup with Grayson’s single article that mentions Quinn (though is not solely about Quinn).
For those of you who want to weed out corruption, take this example to heart. When someone says something outrageous, look at the source. Does it seem reliable? Were this source to claim to have proof that one of your friends once slaughtered a box full of kittens with their flatulence, would it be credible enough for you to believe it?
According to AP, you’re also supposed to minimize harm. What does this mean? Show a little compassion.
Even were the assumptions about Quinn and Grayson correct, repeatedly spreading details about her other alleged sexual partners that have no verifiable connections to any alleged corruption, even if those individuals are in the game industry, is not showing compassion. It’s gratuitous, wasteful, hateful and unethical.
What about all those other accusations of corruption?
One of the more serious accusations has been against the Independent Games Festival’s grand prize, the Excellence in Visual Arts Award, and the individuals who vote on it. The specific accusations focus on the investors in Polytron, Fez’s developer, who also happened to be able to nominate and vote on games for IGF’s grand prize. According to CameraLady, who researched the connections, along with others who have supported her, this is racketeering. But is it?
It does present multiple conflicts of interest.
Not to nitpick, but a conflict of interest is not the end of the world, depending on the circumstances. Conflict of interest, by its definition, doesn’t inherently mean an individual is guilty of corruption, it means the person is at risk. While #GamerGate will point and say that these conflicts of interest with Fez and its subsequent awards are sinister, defenders will counter that the indie world is a small fishbowl, and finding qualified fish that DON’T have multiple connections to indie game devs and creators for an award like IGF’s grand prize is nigh impossible.
It also bears pointing out that, among its generally positive reviews, Fez won similar awards that weren’t voted on by individuals who have connections to it. I can not objectively say whether Fez is good or bad, my opinion, like reviews, are at least partially subjective. But, considering it’s gained widespread praise, it’s easy to say that Fez winning an award like IGF’s grand prize is not exactly far fetched.
That is not proof it is or is not corrupt though.
So how do we determine if these conflicts of interest are just a byproduct of a small indie game world… or racketeering, which would imply a willful plan on the parts of most of the voters and IGF to deceive the public?
(I’ve seen some people claim anonymous sources within the IGF voting process have come forward, but it’s difficult to tell what info they provided, and before you rely on these sources more, you might want to read what AP says about anonymous sources…)
Short of finding surefire proof that the entire network of voters is colluding to agree on a single winner, you can look more broadly at all of the connections all of the voters have to give you a better idea of how “corrupt” their process may or may not be. The investors in Polytron, for example… How many other games do they have connections to? How many other indie devs are they connected to?
How about the voters that don’t have connections to Fez — what games and devs are they connected to?
For those with clear conflicts of interest, was Fez their only horse in the race?
If CameraLady wants a better idea of whether IGF is or is not corrupt, she might want to look at all of the connections of all of the voters for accurate context of the situation. It would be my guess that it’s a cacophony of connections, so unorganized that racketeering would be extraordinarily difficult. But without a the full picture, I can’t say for certain, and neither can CameraLady.
A few months back, investigating an article for CBS Chicago, I became certain the Chicago Police Department was hiding larcenies. For one, it fit the narrative at the time, the police department was being heavily scrutinized for their use of crime statistics, especially homicides. With a handful of connections and a little evidence that seemed to exist in a few dozen police reports across a few police districts, I could have immediately published an article that would have definitely made corruption seem apparent.
But I didn’t publish the article. A few incidents that lead me to assume corruption is afoot just ain’t enough proof.
I pushed forward with my investigation. Once I had a larger sample size of evidence and had contacted the police department for more of their statistics, I found that there was no intentional corruption. They were not hiding larcenies (as far as I could tell). There was some laziness, some sloppiness when it came to filing some of their reports, there were a few stories that made them sound shady, but when I pushed forward and looked at all the evidence, there was no corruption.
It’s a good thing I didn’t push forward with only some of the evidence.
Coming back to games, Patricia Hernandez was also accused of corruption.
In a handful of articles, Hernandez wrote about games her ex-roommate was involved with. She did not disclose the relationship in the articles. This is unethical. You and I, along with Kotaku’s editors, agree on this much.
What we probably don’t agree on is the severity of this lapse in judgement.
The world is not full of blacks and whites. We’re not talking about giant feature articles, but mostly small articles written by Hernandez that have this “conflict of interest.” These articles are stacked up against hundreds of articles by Hernandez that appear to be corruption-free. Yes, they’re opinionated; sure, many of them are injected with facets of her life — but making video game criticism personal doesn’t make it unethical. Plus, since this has happened, Kotaku has decided that conflicts of interest like the Hernandez’s should be disclosed.
Now you can rest peacefully knowing that Hernandez will disclose any personal connections in her articles, and I can rest peacefully knowing that Hernandez gets to continue writing awesome articles ;)
Jenn Frank was also accused of corruption and subsequently taken out to the Twitter woodshed after writing an op-ed for the Guardian titled “How to attack a woman who works in video gaming.”
This is where I get to disclose that even I, dear reader, have a conflict of interest. Jenn and I are friends. Not through the video game industry, mind you. With the exception of Jenn, I have no strong connections with anyone involved in #GamerGate. I have never given money to Jenn. Jenn has never given money to me. Jenn saw me do karaoke, but it’s public knowledge that I’m fucking terrible at it, so I don’t think she’s got any leverage on me there.
In an attempt to prove that journalists can occasionally be objective when there’s a minor conflict of interest, I’m going to write two different versions of my opinion on Jenn’s piece for the Guardian and the subsequent reaction to it — one that’s extremely biased, one that’s unbiased.
First, the biased one (I’m sorry, in advance, you might want to just skip this):
YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES. DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT OP-ED STANDS FOR? OPINION. EDITORIAL. OPINION. THERE’S NOTHING CORRUPT ABOUT AN INDIVIDUAL SHARING THEIR FUCKING OPINION. EVEN IF THAT OPINION IS DIFFERENT FROM YOURS, YOU DON’T GET TO DEEM IT WORTHY OF A TWITTER FEED FILLED WITH YOUR GODDAMN TRASH. AND TO THE FUCKWADS WHO CONTINUED TO ACCUSE JENN OF CORRUPTION EVEN AFTER THE GUARDIAN ADMITTED TO TAKING OUT A FOOTNOTE CLARIFYING HER CONNECTION TO QUINN… WERE YOU SHITSTAINS TO PULL THIS CRAP WITH THE LIKES OF MIKE ROYKO, I’D LIKE TO SAY HE’D BECOME SO ENRAGED BY YOUR BEHAVIOR HE’D GROW TO TOWER OVER CHICAGO’S SKYSCRAPERS AND PROCEED TO DROP ELEPHANT-SIZED TURDS ON YOUR FUCKING HEADS, BUT THAT DEFIES LOGIC, NO, NOT PHYSICS, BECAUSE ROYKO COULD PROBABLY DO THAT, I READ IT ON A BATHROOM STALL, IT DEFIES THE LOGIC THAT YOU’RE IMPORTANT ENOUGH FOR HIM TO EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE, LET ALONE SHIT ON. CLEARLY, ROYKO IS A BIGGER MAN THAN YOU AND I, TOWERING OVER OUR CITY, WATCHING OVER US, THE HERO WE DESERVE, ETC.
And finally, my unbiased response:
For those who aren’t familiar with the inner workings of journalism, I could see how Jenn’s small contributions to Quinn might seem like corruption. While op-eds can differ from publication to publication, typically an op-ed is an invitation for a writer to share their opinion, biases and all (and in fact, a little bit of bias is what tends to make an op-ed “good”).
Even though Jenn wanted to include a footnote detailing that, yes, she had given money to Quinn — the kind of money you’d expect a gamer like Jenn to give to a developer who makes games she likes — the Guardian editors decided it was not necessary, which is their right. They asked for her opinion, then they said, “Hey look, here’s Jenn’s opinion.” Not agreeing with that opinion doesn’t make it corrupt.
Let’s talk about Mary Todd Lincoln.
Various versions of this tall tale exist, and I have no idea if any of them are true, but Mary Todd Lincoln used to be a troll.
This was when her husband Abe Lincoln was a local politician in Illinois, long before he would go on to do that thing he did. Goddammit… What was it? Oh, yeah, free the slaves.
Early in his political career, Mary Todd Lincoln would write opinion articles for newspapers under a pseudonym. She’d use this as an outlet to disagree with Abe’s opponents, viciously tearing apart their opinions.
At some point, a state Senator from Illinois found out that the woman who mocked him in ye olde newspaper was none other than Mary Todd Lincoln. Enraged, he challenged Abe to a duel. As you know, when challenged to a duel, you get to choose the weapon. Pistols were ideal for dueling back then, but Abe thought better of it: “Alright, asshole, I accept your challenge. Me, you , dawn… the biggest broadswords we can find.”
When Abe’s political opponent realized he may not be strong enough to lift a sword that large, let alone kill another man with it, he backed out of the duel.
So what’s my point? Who fuckin’ knows, I just really like that story.
Look, opinions exist. Opinions have existed since the creation of the newspaper, and in the last fifty years, some of the best opinions have come from journalists, from Studs Terkel to Roger Ebert. And as video games grow more into the art they’re becoming, people are just going to write more video game criticism, and the opinions of diverse groups of people are just going to multiply.
Ultimately, it’s not up to gamers to solely set and uphold the standards of right and wrong when it comes to journalism.
It’s not up to writers, editors or publishers either.
It’s up to everyone, regardless of whether they’re the ones writing the article or writing the comments below the article.
And it’s always been this way. As long as there’s been video game journalism, there’s been corruption. As long as there’s been corruption in video game journalism, there’s been gamers and journalists defending the integrity of video games.
And what’s most hurtful to many journalists, besides the fact that video game journalists get paid very little and tend to be overworked, is that many of the decisions they make aren’t in their best interest. They’re constantly doing what they think is morally and ethically right, whether “right” to them means fighting against tired mechanics, cliche storylines or gender stereotypes.
And for what? To be tweeted at by thousands of people who just want to shit on them?
If you’re skeptical about the ethics of an article, you absolutely should bring it up in the comments. If you feel it’s necessary, you should absolutely email the publisher. Chances are, even if they don’t reply, they’ll have considered what you said.
Look at Polygon and Kotaku — both of them changed their policies in light of the scrutiny they’ve endured the last few weeks.
And you want to know a secret? They’ll listen to gamers even if they don’t hound writers with abusive tweets, threats and hacking.
They were listening to you before #GamerGate existed, and they’ll listen to you after it’s gone.
And if you don’t like how they reply to you, you can always go create your own website. There’s enough internet for everyone.
Now, before I leave you, I have some advice. Feel free to throw it back in my face.
— Drop the #GamerGate thing. I’m not trying to “divide you” by suggesting this, I’m just pointing out that: A.) It’s a tired cliche used by hack journalists on Fox and MSNBC and B.) It’s got a history mired in internet abuse, even if the majority of its users are upstanding citizens.
— Stay skeptical. Question everything. Question what others write, question what your friends write, question what you write…
— For the fellow journalists out there, next time you find yourself confused and angered by readers, wait a day or two before writing something. Sure, others will get a jump on the story, but it’s better to wait till you’re a little more coolheaded and can get your point across without using antagonistic language. (For me, this might be a lost cause, but I’ll keep trying.)
— To gamers and journalists, no more fights on Twitter. If you’re not willing to hear what the other side has to say, keep it in the comments sections and in emails to the publishers. If you feel like you’re not being heard, fuck it, go make your own site.
— Remember that someone else’s opinion does not define you, and even if it’s critical of something you love, that person is not attacking you — they’re just try to, in their own way, improve games for everyone.
And, finally, play games that make you happy. And the ones that make you sad. Mostly, just play games.
The photo at the top is me around the time Left 4 Dead 2 came out. Sorry about the hair.
Feel free to tweet me links to evidence proving me wrong @MasonJohnson14.
Here’s some of the shit I watched/read as I wrote this:
And a million other things, some of which I wish I could forget…