No, I’m Not Going To Write About Ethics And #Gamergate



I keep getting emails asking when I’m going to discuss Gamergate on Ethics Alarms. Several readers have sent me extensive links to bring me up to date. I’ve read them, or at least tried. Not since I was assigned the tome Peace and War by Raymond Aron has any text bored me more.

Gamergate appears to have all the markers of an ethics train wreck, but to me, at least, the train might as well be in Mongolia. I can’t contribute anything of value on this topic, because gaming is not part of my life, skill-set or interests in any way. This is a culture I don’t understand, and frankly, don’t have the time or interest to understand. I make a yeoman effort to keep up with popular culture, because I think once it gets too far ahead of you, your ability to understand the world around you is severely limited. But triage is essential. Just a few years ago, I knew who all the celebrity contestants on “Dancing With The Stars” were; this year, I never heard of half of them. More than half the stories on TMZ lately are about “celebrities” that are completely off my radar screen. I am confident, however, that in about six months, most of these stealth celebrities will be where Snookie and “The Situation” are now, which is obscurity, has-been Hell, or maybe jail.

There are ethics lessons to glean from this endless gamer scandal, but Ethics Alarms will just have to glean them elsewhere. For those who feel neglected, I highly recommend the recent post by Ken at Popehat, along with his links. It hits most of the salient ethics issues, and Ken, I gather, follows this stuff, as do his Popehat colleagues. My hat’s off to him, and them. But #Gamergate is one ethics controversy that I am not qualified to explore, and don’t want to be.

35 thoughts on “No, I’m Not Going To Write About Ethics And #Gamergate

  1. Huh? What? #Gamergate? So, from idle curiosity and a need to be fully informed, read both Ken’s article and a link explaining the controversy. So, it turns out journalists who write game reviews are unethical also. This is news? They’re journalists, right? Wait…why am I even commenting on this? I play a few hidden object games I download and a very rare 1st person shooter. I’m no more qualified to say anything than Jack is. Forget I said anything.

  2. As near as I can tell, it’s two groups suffering from outgroup homogeneity bias being egged on by groups of trolls.

    I’m staying away from it as much as possible except for reading bits here and there.

    • Speaking as someone who has friends on both sides of the issue, you’re not too far off (though it’s worth noting that Gamergate’s image does suffer somewhat from being a very wide umbrella with no central governing mechanism; you can become a “member” just by tweeting the hashtag). I will say that this whole thing represents a group of issues that people have been complaining about for quite some years now, but only recently bunched up in the most incendiary package possible.

      Personally, I’ve been more focused on following the protests in Hong Kong and Mexico. At least I know where my sympathies fully lie there.

  3. In the past two months I’ve been involved with panels at different cons about women in Nerd/Geek culture. We can have rational discussion about favorite and least favorite portrayals, involvement, marketing, etc. until we get to:

    [i]There’s no excuse for threats to anyone, whatever “side” they are on. Posting someone’s home address or private phone number or financial details will almost never be relevant to a good-faith dispute — it’s clearly intended to terrorize, and it risks empowering disturbed people to do real harm. These things are wrong no matter who does them, no matter the motive, and no mater the target.[/i]

    As a non-gamer (but still a big nerd) I see it as a set back to gaming culture. It reinforces the worst stereotypes and denigrates gamers who live full and productive lives.

      • This is probably a function of my age, but I’m not even real sure what the controversy IS. Is it that if you are going to review a product you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with whoever developed the product? Or am I missing something?

        • I think the issue is that it was intimidated that the person in question slept with reviewers to get favorable reviews for her game, but then, it turns out that no one she is alleged to have slept with has reviewed her games. This after the release of nude pictures of her, her home address and phone number, death and rape threats, etc. All that kerfuffle because some ex-boyfriend of hers wanted revenge for her cheating, and apparently needed some useful idiots to take up his fight. All the rest is after the fact rationalization.

          • Uh-huh. So all this is coming from a group of people whose view of the world is either a computer or iPod screen? Never mind. I’ll stick to the real world.

          • Quote from Nathan Grayson, in an artlcle about steam game releases called “Admission Quest” from January 2014 “Anyway, standouts: powerful Twine darling Depression Quest…” which is the extent of the review. That was was one of 3 games called out by name before listing all the games put out on Steam’s Greenlight program. It’s not much of a review, but it does portray her game in a positive light. It also occurred before they formed a romantic relationship, but apparently well after he was listed in the game’s acknowledgements.

            That’s a review. They have slept together. Order of operations is important to an extent, but given that she has been proven to have lied about other things (as I understand it) I don’t trust that the relationship didn’t start before that casual review, as at least a friendship. I don’t assume it did either, which is why I’m mostly staying out of it. Nonetheless “no one she is alleged to have slept with has reviewed her games” isn’t quite accurate.

            • This reminds me of a general pet peeve of mind: It’s almost never a good idea to use universal statements in the real world. “All”, “None”, “Never” “No one” etc. A single counterexample, no matter how weak, is sufficient to disprove such statements.

            • So, she hadn’t slept with him yet, and he mentions her game in half of a sentence, and this is worth death threats and doxxing? This is the example that want to use of a woman sleeping her way to the top? This is the singular example of journalistic ethics failure? Two people, who knew each other, who did not have a sexual relationship, and one throwaway mention?

              It’s sad the pretzel knots that people try to twist themselves in to justify the behavior toward Quinn in particular, and women in the industry in general. There might be a problem with ethics in journalism. This was not a good highlight of it. And given the dramatic overreaction to the fact that people in the same industry tend to form relationships with people from that same social circle, it would make any reasonable observer wonder what the big deal was all about. Without the salacious details provided by the ex-boyfriend fueling outrage and a desire to “slut-shame” Quinn, I doubt much of anything would have gotten off the ground. When you thumb through any major game magazine, and you see an advertisement for the game on the opposite page of the review for the same game, you don’t have to be very smart to start questioning journalistic ethics from there. But apparently a woman cheating on her boyfriend is the real outrage here.

              • I didn’t try to justify anything. Do not even try to pretend otherwise. Re-read the last sentence of my post. That was the entire point of my post. You made a false claim. I called you on it. I didn’t even imply anything else, and made an effort to point out how weak the breach of ethics involved was.

                You, on the other hand, apparently decided that I must secretly believe that all the crap that’s been thrown her way is deserved. The nature of your questions strongly implies that I believe those things. I’d like you to apologize for that, but I won’t hold my breath. You have a tendency to just stop posting when someone doesn’t buy into your crap and points out why it’s wrong.

                Just for the record, it’s entirely possible to believe that Nathan Grayson is an unethical journalist and ALSO believe that the trolls posting with #gamergate are jackasses (non-trolls also post with that tag). The two are not mutually exclusive. There are a whole bunch of other things that it’s also possible to believe, but a laundry list of them would take time and serve no point.

                • I don’t know how you stand on #gamergate, nor do I care to be quite honest. I was pointing out the fallacious reasoning of those who originally took up the whole ethics in journalism rallying cry, using Quinn as their prime example/target.

      • Glad to help. The subthread of replies here reminds me of my my head started to hurt. In order to meaningfully comment on the controversy, I would have to research the details of various authors’ personal lives, shlogg through various allegations ranging from credible to incorrigible, and learn the conventions of a genre that never appealed to me, all to discern the truth before I could meaningfully respond.

        I thus choose not to comment, because I have not done the research, and do not care to do so; I fear far, far too many have done the opposite.

  4. If there was ever proof positive that the world is too much with us — and getting moreso every day — methinks the writer would have regretted this prayer:
    The world is not yet exhausted: let me see something to-morrow which I never saw before. ~Samuel Johnson, 1759

    Chin up, Jack. You’re just depressed because the Big Game isn’t being played in Fenway Park today.

      • Sorry to hear that Jack, I enjoyed the series, first time in 14 years I have been able to watch a whole World Series and it was a crazy one.

        • It was wild, wasn’t it? I hadn’t seen a ball game in … wait a minute while I get my other fingers going … 57 years. Changed a bit.

          But I do owe Jack an apology (rating somewhere between #3 and #5, I think) for being smug.

          So, sorry for being smug, Jack. Comes from having spent a childhood within a 20-minute bus ride to a subway headed for a Yankee, Dodger or Giants stadium. From ’49 thru ’57, the year I left for college, I was conditioned — brainwashed (I mean, I don’t remember anyone ANYONE not being a fan) — to take for granted the World Series was a local event. … and now, here it is again, three times in five years, on my doorstep. I really have to go out and enjoy the city being happy. After all, it will be massively unpleasant two days from now when the drunken masked marauders from the suburbs attack and destroy the neighborhood. … I guess that dropped the apology to a #9. sigh.

      • Well, don’t feel too bummed (heh).

        Now let’s see if St. Louis can actually win a Series while having a best of anything record at the same time.

        • Julian, this week, for some reason, I don’t mind being (heh, yourself) bummed . . . .

          good luck with St. Louis – those are the kind of game(rs) I understand.

  5. As someone who follows a lot of people on Twitter who play video games, Gamergate has been inescapable. But I think I knew better than to ask you about it, and here’s why:

    My computer is five years old, too old to play most modern games that aren’t simple enough for This Old House to handle it.

    And since I had just graduated at the onset of the last generation of video game consoles, I owned none of them to make sure I would go out looking for a job (the next year, the economy collapsed, so the joke’s on me).

    So… what GamerGate allegedly wants, which is transparency and ethics in video game journalism… I don’t really have a dog in that fight anymore. I don’t read reviews for games I can’t play, and if a game interests me, I’ll buy it even if reviews are bad.

    So at the end of the day… I pretty much don’t care about Gamergate, and I play video games! I was not about to bother someone who doesn’t play games to work up some analysis. I have, and most of it just “Uuuuugh, some people are total jerks.”

    But we knew that.

  6. For my sins, I have a few minor design credits in some games. Only one or two computer games, mostly miniatures.

    So of course, like just about every other female game developer in the world, no matter how obscure, I’ve been told by #gamergate trolls that they know where our children go to school, and that we should keep quiet or else.

    Exactly what this has to do with ethics in games journalism escapes me, I’m afraid. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.

    • Well. To the doxing threats…. I think if you think that only happens on one side of the fence, you’re either naïve, or misinformed. It’s the internet, and when you have heated arguments that get as large as GamerGate does, people dox each other. It isn’t ethical, it isn’t acceptable, but it isn’t unique to either side, and it doesn’t represent the views of the majority.

      And simplifying an issue like this to a cheap infographic (with extremely dubious numbers, seeing as the number of GamerGate tweets passed six figures a long time ago.) Part of the reason that Zoey got more tweets is because she engaged, where Nathan did not, at least not to the same degree. Zoey brought out the cannons, put in ban requests to twitter, youTube and Facebook, lodged fraudulent DMCA attacks, and had 100 tweet long conversations. It’s like covering yourself in honey and complaining about the flies.

      • Well, Zoe was the one whose boyfriend initially started the whole thing by implying that she had slept with journalists to get reviews for her game. Allegations which turned out to be false. And it was her nudes, addresses, and telephone numbers that were spread across the internet. And she was the major recipient of death threats. Of course anyone sensible is going to request bans after that treatment.

        • No, sensible people under those treatments contact the police, and the police tell you not to engage. I want to say that first and foremost. When Anita or Zoey, or anyone else who gets death threats damsels themselves around on YouTube advertising all the hate they get, they’re feeding the trolls, they’re doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing in order to get attention. And if you think it’s coincidence that two days after announcing that she received death threats, Anita released a video to tell people where to donate to her newest project, I have a bridge to sell you. There isn’t anyone in law enforcement who will tell you that it’s smart to engage people threatening you like that. Sensible. For fucks sake. By what metric?

          Adam didn’t “imply” anything. He wrote it, flat out, and while not all of those allegations have been proven, some have (Phil Fish), and I’d love you to link to proof that some were false.

          • The genesis of the complaint, is that Zoe Quinn slept her way to good reviews for her game Depression Quest . She did this by supposedly sleeping with video game journalist Nathan Grayson while she and her boyfriend were “on a break”. The problem being that Grayson never reviewed her games, and other than two throwaway occurrences, never really mentioned Quinn or her game at all.

            The police do tell people who have been threatened on line to “just ignore it”. Which is part of the problem. Because of jurisdictional issues, and lack of technological sophistication, police are often unwilling to invest any resources into investigating incidences of online threatening. Which means that the person who has been threatened must end up being their own advocate instead. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The “just ignore it” advice is rarely useful, whether dealing with online threats or real-life bullies.

            • It’s fair to call those two occurrences throwaway, because they weren’t in depth, But you’d have to be a meth addled zombie to think that Depression Quest was a ‘shining star’, I’m just saying. More, that’s two throwaways more than he gave any other entry.

              As to the police ability to follow up with online death threats… Bullshit. You have no idea what you’re talking about, and are just being ornery. The truth is that Anita didn’t actually contact the FBI (who by the way are the answer to ‘jurisdictional issues’) until the story broke that she hadn’t in fact called them a week after posting her video and asking for money. But more than that, ‘death threats’ are opportunities to cash in for these people. The grand total of people that have received threats and had them carried out: 0. The grand total of people who received threats, went on YouTube asking for money, and got paid, just in this controversy: Two that I know of. Even if you want to argue that the police are ineffective, I challenge you to think of any possible way for parading it in the media to correct the situation, outside of their wallets.

              I get that there is a whole lot of room for improvement on the maturity level of GamerGate people, But it just blows my mind when people literally just make shit up to defend against these people.

  7. My head is swimming after reading only a sampling of articles on this. If neither “side” can clearly delineate what is happening here, then I’d say probably no one is conducting themselves appropriately here..

    • The problem stems from a movement without a central power structure. There is a legitimate underlying issue, but it’s constantly muddied by trolls who distract from the issue.

  8. The spark wasn’t necessarily the inherent ethical behavior on display as a game developer slept with journalists who then wrote positive reviews for her product, which generated traffic to a (by absolutely any standard) poorly made text-based game, which was entered in a contest to make money.

    It might be a factor of this being the straw that broke the camel’s back, although if that’s all there was to it, I think the community picked an absolutely awful example to use. The way the story broke was when a scorned ex-boyfriend aired the couples dirty laundry online. That said, there WAS more. A YouTube channel called “Mundane Matt” who comments on neat things in video games and movies received a fraudulent DMCA takedown order issued by the developer which has since been thrown out. (This is a felony, even though charges were never laid) Mundane Matt had a big enough following that attention was drawn to an already contentious issue. After about a week of controversy there were 11 articles posted within 24 hours about how the “Gamer” identity was obsolete, or dying, or needed to be killed. Gamers took offence to this, for the obvious reason, the journalists who are inadvertently paid with ad revenue from their readership were attacking them, but more than that, the originating idea behind GamerGate was inappropriate relationships between journalists, and between journalists and developers, and this was seen by some as a smoking gun that journalists were colluding. There have been other smoking guns since, for example, there was an example of a fellow who was invited to the journalist’s Google+ group, who took screenshots of conversations from when the controversy was starting, saying how they had to shelter the developer from criticism. It may have been true, because at the time the relationships had not been proven to be true (although some have been admitted to as of now.), it still had horrible optics.

    So that was the spark. It had very little to do with women in gaming. It bears saying that the contest that The Young Capitalists put on that the developer was attempting to influence was actually designed to attempt to get women into game development, but had Zoey not tried to sleep her way to the top, and had she not done it by cheating on her boyfriend, I doubt we’d have ever heard of it. But moving on. It became a “women in gaming” issue when Anita Sarkeesian injected herself into the controversy. It doesn’t help that a woman was involved, but I really do think that if the developer was a gay man sleeping his way to the top there would have been just as much controversy.

    But all of that was basically lost in the noise, Reading Ken’s article, which does fairly represent a lot of the issues that have happened since Anita weighed in, you’d think that nothing happened in the #GamerGate trend before mid September, when it actually started in late August.

  9. The thing is, if there is a meat and potatoes discussion to be had about Journalist Ethics and video game reviews in this industry, then it doesn’t matter alot how people suddenly started caring about that topic. It’s wholly separated from the catalyst, which can be discussed as well and seems to be a clear cut ethics call.

    The unfortunate juxtaposition of the two however – the easily-judged start of this fiasco and the actual substantive issue of journalist ethics – allows people to keep hammering the first while ignoring the second and pretending the first is the only issue at hand.

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