The State of Journalism: Why the Ghost of #GamerGate Still Haunts our Discourse
It’s perhaps a bit of serendipitous irony that I have found myself digging back through the problems of 2014 in the past few days. Be that as it may, many seem willing to forget the sentiment behind the majority of complainants at the time, in order to label the movement that came out of #GamerGate as some sort of nefarious smokescreen, covering the intentions of those who acted in an awful manner. This is done, much in the same way as people will point towards figures who claimed to be Alt-Right, this before the Charlottesville rally occurred, where people saw the white identitarian core of the movement and quickly disavowed it, only to turn around and imply that someone openly homosexual, Jewish, and clearly in love with a man no white identitarian could ever approve of, were still a part of the Neo-Nazi cult that has arisen from that name.
There has been much misrepresentation over a variety of factors that have arisen within our popular dialect, most of which done for a political purpose. Either side of the discourse seems willing to tribalize, shield up, and hurl mud at each other from the sidelines, while those brave enough to venture out between those sides usually wind up in the crossfire, either as “moronic centrists” who choose to stay out of the petty identitarian war, or as combatants who clash at the points where these two groups meet, in the form of groups like the Proud Boys and Antifa.
I say that, to bring to light yet another case of misrepresentation that has happened, one that has been making waves through the media of late. I speak of course, of the case of YouTuber Shirrako being banned from his channel for posting a video of him punching a suffragette NPC in a video game. There will no doubt be those who have heard of this already, and those who see no point in doing a postmortem when the man’s channel has already been re-instated, and those who claim that this is unimportant in the scope of things, but I would heartily disagree and offer my own opinion on the matter. This is nigh on a perfect microcosm of the very sort of thing that built into the resentment evident in that specter we all know and love (or love to hate) as #GamerGate, which countless personalities still try to claim to this day is just a boogeyman of harassment and vile misogyny and sexism.
On October 28th, YouTube user Shirrako, after hosting a stream of the newly released ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’, a video game made by developer Rockstar Games (a studio known for allowing quite a degree of controversial activities to be done in their games) decided that, following what the members of his chat in a live stream of the game had found to be a very funny moment, to upload a clip of this moment to his YouTube channel. The video in question became very popular, skyrocketing up to almost 1.7 million views as of writing this article, and it will very likely stay there as the video in question has since been placed in a limited state, unable to be shared or seen, except by linking directly to the source.
Shirakko has since uploaded other videos to the same effect, of him acting out violence upon the same annoying NPC, much in the same way as he’s done a bunch of things to other awful NPCs in the game. A smattering of videos show him assaulting members of the KKK and other random NPCs, as well as progressing through the story, and several other game-plays of other popular games. None of this seemed to particularly be of issue until notice of the video in question started gaining traction, and inevitably, we found ourselves at our first publication.
On November 5th, Motherboard Gaming’s Emanuel Maiberg posted the first article titled: “‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ Players Are Excited to Attack and Kill Feminists in the Game”. In the body, he goes on to proclaim that “much of video game culture is ensconced in blatant misogyny”, and also that “it's not surprising but still upsetting that some players are delighted that the game lets them beat, abuse, and kill these characters”. He says this in reference to Shirrako’s video in question, owing largely to the fact that the NPC in question is a feminist suffragette.
Maiberg continues with the following:
“The comments on these videos, as you might expect, are horrible. Some users think it's hilarious, others say that this is what every feminist deserves, while others complain about how alimony laws favor women and echo other ‘men's rights’ talking points.
"I killed that lady too," user Joker Productions, a channel with over 120,000 subscribers, wrote. "Every time I went to the tailor right there I had to listen to her yapping. Got fed up so I took her to lunch... except the only thing served was buckshot."
"You could take this small portion of the game, stretch it to full AAA game length, charge me $60 for it, and I'd pre-order it with a season pass," a user named Silly Goose wrote.”
The biggest slight I have to draw from this is the fact that Maiberg takes two comments in a vacuum and tries to paint them as some pastiche of gaming culture as a whole. This disingenuous framing is only dissolved later when Maiberg points out that Shirakko clearly doesn’t have a political bent regarding his actions and just thought punching an NPC that he found to be overwhelmingly annoying was funny, well after Maiberg has set his agenda to imply that this is clearly evidence of misogyny in the gaming community. This sort of attack is exactly the sort of thing that bothers people about the way that inter-sectional feminist viewpoints interact with their critiques of gaming culture, and shows that little research is done to notice the fact that there are plenty of voices who do not voice tacit approval, and further those who just find people who are annoying getting some just desserts for their annoying actions funny.
Perhaps a perfect example of the latter is a smaller video from 5 years ago by YouTuber Skyslash, titled “Ten ways to kill Nazeem in Skyrim”, with a view count of 454,000. For those unaware somehow of Bethesda Studio’s Todd Howard and his oft-joked, long recycled cash-cow, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a game that came out on November 11th, 2011. The video in question features a very annoying, stuck-up character named Nazeem, who often chides you for your lack of status in his presence, acting as though his ability to interact with other members of a Jarl’s court (Jarls are essentially petty Kings or Barons of small cities who swear fealty to a High King) implies that he’s better than you are.
Naturally, this sort of attitude has lead many to treat Nazeem poorly as a result, and many delight in him getting accosted or revenged upon for his consistently annoying attitudes. This, inevitably, will end up with the guards of the town Nazeem inhabits attacking you if they see you do it, much in the same way that attacking the aforementioned suffragette creates trouble with the law within the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 if you do so. (and as can be seen in the top right corner of Shirakko’s video following the punch, but more on that later)
This attitude, of attacking people who are annoying and playing it up for laughs, is nothing new. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, for ages, and it’s built on the psychological principle of just desserts. If someone is rude and inflammatory to you, that tends to illicit a response of a similar variety. Even so, it happening to someone isn’t proof that everyone approves of it or relishes it as Maiberg seemed so happy to imply.
The two comments in question that Maiberg dug up, I can’t even find, but the two most up-voted I could see were the following.
At 16,000 up-votes, a user named Kzip247 claimed:
“This makes me feel bad because this was the time when women fought for real rights but still funny none the less. “
And user Custer, quoting Buzzfeed’s Claudia Resetrepo with 5,800 up-votes, posted
"This is why i hate video games, it appeals to the male fantasy"
It paints a somewhat different picture when you look at the comments most up-voted on the video and not merely which ones were cherry-picked to be seen as the worst possible, but paying attention to what the average gamer is saying isn’t what “journalists” like Maiberg do these days. Instead they look for the most inflammatory examples and then seek to paint the rest with that brush, ignoring anything else that might undermine their political spin.
The next day, Daniel Rutledge of New Zealand’s Newshub decided to write an article titled:
Much like the Motherboard article, Daniel leads in with a description of how people are “brutally murdering suffragettes” despite failing to mention any other character who was being targeted in any of these videos. It would be, of course, far less of a story to merely say people are brutally murdering “one very annoying NPC who happens to be a suffragette” even though that description would be far more accurate.
Quoting Emmanuel Maiberg’s tweet in the body of his article within which Maiberg dropped the link to his own article, whilst proclaiming:
“This is a complicated problem with detailed, open world games that prioritize player choice. What's not complicated is that there's a reservoir of video game players who hate women and get off on this” it should come then as no surprise that one was influenced by the other, and continue to parrot the implication that gamers hate women.”
On November 7th, at 10:23 AM local time, Shirrako posted to twitter a desperate plea. His account had been banned by YouTube, claiming that his killing of the NPC “promoted violence”.
Clearly, this was motivated by the articles and pressure erupting around the video in question, despite the fact that, by all accounts, YouTube overstepped their own terms of service. Considering everything that they have let pass on their platform to this point, nothing has suggested anything like this could be done for featuring video game footage of NPCs being killed, and yet in this one instance, because it resonated so clearly with some, and those found it comical or funny, YouTube pulled the plug not only on the video, but the entire channel.
Content creators such as Keemstar, Sargon of Akkad, Vee, and others jumped to his defence, calling YouTube’s actions a gross overstep of their own Terms of Service and expressing frustration that the platform is listening to activists ahead of it’s own audience. They pointed out that it was a ridiculous double standard to feature violence in other videos but to take down this man’s channel.
Context on the Character in Question
The suffragette in Saint Denis, the character around which all of this controversy stirs, is frankly speaking, a sexist. She is a female supremacist and this can be revealed by listening to her dialogue. One of her uninterrupted lines of dialogue for instance, is:
“Once women get the vote, the whole country will stop making such a pig’s ear of everything. There’ll be no more wars, no more hunger, no stupidity. We’ll elect a woman president within the first ten years, of course... You see, men are such judgmental prigs! You need us women to help straighten you out, okay?”
She also calls passersby ignoramuses, and infers they view her in a negative light for being a woman, all while screaming loudly that she won’t shut up until she’s allowed to vote and joins this with a constant refrain of “Let me vote!”
She does not come across as a particularly intelligent or forthcoming character, despite her reasonable desire to have the right to vote, and her attitudes towards men echo some of the same attitudes that men are told to this day as they’re collectivized by third and fourth wave feminists who act in a surprisingly similar manner despite not having rights to demand as the suffragettes did. This is quite probably the primary reason why so many find her annoying.
Does this mean, however, that this character deserves violence visited upon her?
The answer is of course, no. Yet, if we were implying our legal and moral framework should be the basis to limit every interaction of every video game, we would have a surprisingly limited amount of entertainment available to us. With that said, as I mentioned, most games have some measure of morality system built in to punish players who visit violence on innocent passers by, and there is certainly one included in this game that brings down the law upon you if you harm her. In no uncertain terms is such an action penalized in the mechanics of the game, making it clear it is an immoral action. However some would view the act of proving someone who obviously views themselves as better than others to be not so, particularly comedic.
If anything, I would argue that in this context, the character is a clear example of the “Asshole Victim” trope. Someone whom despite being clearly a victim of something awful, is made to feel less sympathetic towards the audience as people with context comprehend that she isn’t a great person herself. That doesn’t mean the violence is deserved, but it is viewed less harshly than it might otherwise be because of it.
Reinstatement and Other Takes
Shirrako’s account was reinstated by the end of the day; his YouTube channel restored, and the video returned, although the latter-most was demonetized and given a limited state where no one can view it unless seen from a direct link. It no longer appears on his channel listing, despite some of the others that stirred in the controversy still being there. This is likely a band-aid attempt by YouTube to silence as many critics as possible while they deal with the inevitable mess they’ve brought about by choosing to take any action at all in this regard. Following reinstatement, Guardian columnist Van Badham has decided to make her voice clear on the matter, and therein lies why I came to make an article that speaks about #GamerGate.
In her article, Van speaks of a violence justified on women by the “GamerGate movements”, which allegedly, she claims, helped to “furnish the communication channels and communities of the ‘neo-fascist’ Alt-Right”. She then attempts to tie this community to the likes of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a renowned anti-identitarian whom she labels as “thoroughly creepy”. Clearly Ms. (or Mrs. I would hate to assume) Badham hasn’t noticed that Dr. Peterson and the Alt-Right have nothing good to say about one another, but as all people who engage in these muddied, surface level critiques do, she has committed the very sin that our favourite NPC has. To blame men and collectivize them into groups of people she disagrees with, while attempting to paint them all with the same brush, turning them into the object of her shame and critique.
She argues that:
“isolated, angry teenage boys (and the vaster number of their more dangerous adult counterparts) could certainly use a play-centric environment to enfranchise them in notions and skills of talking to women as people, not objects – and the rewards of pleasure and de-isolation therein.”
This after describing how the game does not oblige you to perform acts of immoral violence, while also noting that punishments can be instated to ensure that those who take such immoral measures are penalized for their attitudes.
Unsurprisingly, she calls Shirrako’s YouTube ban “heartening” and demands that such punishments “can and should go further.”
I find this call utterly reprehensible, morally and intellectually bankrupt, devoid of empathy, as well as lacking basic understanding of how the sandbox games that Rockstar produces work. As pointed out before, there is already a morality system built into the game that punishes players for immoral actions. In Grand Theft Auto, if someone sees you harm an innocent person, the police immediately take up your trail and start hunting you down. The same is true of Red Dead Redemption 2. Even in Shirrako’s video, you see the moment he harms the woman, a wanted bounty appears in the top right of his screen. It is made clear to anyone playing the game or watching it that these actions have negative consequences, much as they would in real life, but apparently this level of moral punishment isn’t enough for Van Badham.
If you read her article, you’ll notice firstly, that all of this framing is alleged towards the actions of young men, absent of the possibility that anyone else could ever do such a thing. It seems as though the idea of killing (or even harming) an NPC in a video game for their professed ideology, an ideology which the author agrees with, and sharing that to the world, is something that requires a punishment steeper than having their method of sharing things to the internet and all the hard work they’ve put in up until that point stripped from existence. Shaming actual human beings though, an entire community of disparate people, and attempting to tie them all to literal Neo-Nazis in real life, however, is perfectly permissible behavior. The clear double standard and lack of principle in this regard is frankly ridiculous, but it goes beyond just this.
Throughout the entire article, there rests an underlying assumption that this attitude or these actions lead to violence or harassment against women which the author attempts to imply. Despite this, I have yet to see a single shred of evidence that this is true, aside from the assertions made by these people. Where is the argument that any of this causes violence towards women? Where is the proof, the citations, the studies that show how this works, and without them, how can we dare speak with any degree of certainty, that simply posting a video of an NPC getting hit in a video leads to violence against women? Using actions that have already been taken, and then pointing to a YouTube video released post-hoc as proof that this is the cause is disingenuous. It’s pseudo-scientific and seeks to confirm a theory by using something unrelated as supporting evidence. How can we demand that real world punishment ought to be dealt onto a person for the crime of posting a video of them playing a video game when this is the standard of proof? The absurd lengths that these people will stretch to in order to defend pathological ideology is nothing short of astounding, especially when including authoritarian moral and social punishments of video gamers for not playing video games “the correct way”.
This amounts to nothing more than vacuous pearl clutching. Evidence suggests time and again that there is no long term compulsion to violence from playing video games, just as there is no compulsion to violence from watching violent movies. Viewing violence does not cause violence. It does not prime to violence. The worst it has shown to do is cause some minor desire to inflict violence for a short period afterwards, much as dealing with any frustrating scenario can lead to, which has nothing to do with the content displayed and more to do with the frustration of the challenges presented and their difficulty to achieve.
Why This Is Important
Many will look at the facts of this case and conclude that YouTube had every right to pull the video, and technically, they did. It’s their service, so ultimately, they get a say over what content is made available for others to watch. What people probably won’t consider, however, is why they were pressured into pulling Shirrako’s channel, by whom they were pressured, and what their arguments are for doing such a thing, and the veracity of those arguments when examined. I do not seek to contend, as some might, that there are not valid reasons to censor a video such as this, nor that there aren’t better solutions to this sort of issue arising in future. (For instance having an age content filter so that young children aren’t exposed to content not meant for their age range and auto-scanning for content containing that material to put it behind the age wall) What I would argue, however, is that those complaining blithely about video games leading to violence against women are peddling the ripest of bullshit claims, and that those claims shouldn’t blindly be believed simply to censor content one finds objectionable, especially when those making the claims are so happy to invite hatred onto the very people they’re criticizing by comparing them to Neo-Nazis.
The very fact that #GamerGate blew up in the way that it did was because of exactly this sort of disingenuous framing by journalists; lying about a hobby and painting large swathes of people within in an unflattering light. Beyond that, these “journalists” also have the temerity to demand others change their habits of enjoying their favourite medium of art, (an act which harms no one) on pain of authoritarian social or possibly legal punishments should they fail to do so. That people are still trying to tie together a conspiracy between GamerGate and the Alt-Right in order to demand that people be forced to change in such disingenuous and disgusting ways shows that they haven’t stopped, and aren’t likely to any time soon. If a discussion is to be had about these things, then let it be had, but let none come to the table with lies and deceit as the only manner with which they’re willing to engage. Those that lie for a living cannot help but fear the truth when exposed to it and attempt to destroy it and anyone who would support it. It is on the shoulders of honest people of the world to ensure that such actions aren’t allowed to happen without challenge.
We see more and more each day that journalists are increasingly willing to lie to push an ideological agenda, and that the lengths they are willing to go to in order to impose their will grow ever increasingly forceful. Let’s stop pretending that Journalism doesn’t need critique, and that #GamerGate was just about harassment. It may not have been a bundle of sunshine, but it was the start of what seems to be some clearly needed push-back against those who will use anything they can as a reason to expand their power over society.