Corruption and ethical issues shown throughout #GamerGate
I've been following #GamerGate since a bit after halfway through August and have observed it progress gradually from a movement of a few hundred, grow to a few thousands, and bubble into its state of tens of thousands. With any luck I’ll see it continue to grow into the six figures and beyond and when that happens I may need to write yet another update. For the internet, two months is a long time and this ride appears to have no breaks to it. To those of us who've been on it since before it was #GamerGate we’re seasoned veterans and know how to behave and have followed alone, story after story. To those of us who joined in shortly after, the changes are frightening and you need to take a deep breath, a step back, and see if you can smile. If you still can then you’re fine and can continue. If you can’t, it’s time to take a break, relax, and catch up to the things you have undoubtedly been forgoing. Health comes first and burnout isn't necessary.
To the last group, those of you relatively new to the whole issue, I’d like to offer a different, detailed perspective of what you have missed in these two months than what you've heard. It has left me with bloodshot eyes on many a morning and I hope my knowledge and experience will leave you with at least one. There is a bit of tunnel vision going on right now inside of #GamerGate that is further confusing the issue to some; people have become so focused on specifics that they’re forgetting to explain the bigger picture instead of the ones they already know. For that purpose, I am writing this. This will be a three-part series of corruption, yellow journalism, and finally praiseworthy moments of the gaming press throughout #GamerGate and the time immediately before it. By no means is this an all-encompassing list and some instances, such as The Fine Young Capitalists, I’ve chosen to associate more with yellow journalism issues over outright corruption but I fully acknowledge that there may be issues of both.
#GamerGate has hit the mainstream press running and while it seeks to establish what it isn't there remains some confusion as to what it is. To be clear, the point of game journalism has been brought up as well as certain unethical practices when conversation is done. Yet as people pry the answers from two months of data a few confusing points come up regarding agenda pushing, particularly “SJW” ones, and understandable concern comes up. Is that the goal, the elimination of a group? Short answer, no. There is room in gaming for everyone and #GamerGate does not wish to shut anyone out. There is, however, an issue with press forcing an agenda through — a common joke and complaint of many mainstream media outlets as well — and the way which this particular branch, the gaming press, is doing it.
I. Meaning of Corruption
In order to talk about corruption I first need to define them.
”Dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people.”
For an analysis I needed to break this down further. Not all forms of dishonesty live up to the scrutiny of what most would call “corruption” As a result, I've taken out five commonly known categories, all definitions from Merriam-Webster:
“The act or crime giving or accepting a bribe.”
Additional definition of “Bribe” to clarify:
“Something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something.”
“Secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.”
3) Conflict of Interest
“A conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.”
“The unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors to friends.”
5) I will also include one common ethical issue of journalism: Media bias.
While it may not fall directly under the umbrella of “corruption,” it does run contrary to basic standards that, at its logical extreme, borders on outright lying, which has been the case in the matter of #GamerGate.
“Media bias refers to the bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of which events and stories are reported and how they are covered. The term “media bias” implies a pervasive or widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism, rather than the perspective of an individual journalist or article.”
II. Instances of Corruption
1) GameJournoPros — “A group inspired by JournoList.”
Type of corruption: Collusion
In 2010 there was a scandal over a three year old Google Group called JournoList. Journalists from around the world were talking to each other and discussing stories yet when the public heard about it concerns were raised. Those on the inside — primarily on the left — felt they were doing nothing wrong, the media on the outside — primarily on the right — spun it as if they had full control of everything in the media, and the overall public gained a clear image of potential conflict of interest, cronyism, and definite collusion. It was eventually disbanded unceremoniously. In the wake of it, Senior Game Editor Kyle Orland of ArsTechnica created a Google Group: GameJournoPros:
“JournoList, the inspiration for this group, was actually brought down when someone decided to reveal its private messages in a way that made it seem like a vast left-wing conspiracy.”
Before I continue I want to make one thing clear: Not everyone who has used this group has behaved inappropriately. I’d sooner wager most didn't and simply wanted to do their jobs working in an industry they loved. This is not an attack on mailing lists or people who use them as they aren't unusual in media. Mailing lists, in and of themselves, are not harmful do not indicate any harmful purpose in and of themselves. Yet if you have a heavy concentration of journalists, including editors in chief, from multiple websites together for years in a space where casual conversation is encouraged, you don’t just risk group think, you encourage it. Based on insider reports there are individuals who haven’t really said anything at all, strictly using it for business purposes or as an outlet to vent frustrations privately. Both of these activities should be encouraged.
The counter-claims to this being collusion by those from the group has come primarily in two ways, from each half of the definition:
a) “It wasn't secret, certain members had spoken out about it!”
As the contents have been kept hidden behind a wall, this does not hold up to basic scrutiny.
b) “It wasn't for an illegal or deceitful purpose, it was for the job!”
While the overall group may not be illegal the over all purpose may be for business, if any deceitful practices are found it would absolutely fall under this definition.
I will be using information found from here to cover other instances of corruption and yellow journalism which in turn will affirm that yes, collusion did take place. This information, leaked by Milo Yiannopoulos and visible on his website, has had multiple articles released on Breitbart. An additional leaker by the name Billy D has also released multiple articles for viewing.
2) EA Hiding 40,000 accounts having been hacked.
Type of corruption: Collusion, Conflict of Interest, Cronyism.
Normally one would expect any hack as large as this to be known, if not directly from the team responsible then from the journalists who found out about this. Not so.
“During my tenure at a large publisher, our community forum was hacked, and the information of over 40,000 members (including names, and email addresses) was downloaded and stolen. The publisher suppressed this information. When my contract had expired I approached a writer about this, and he declined to publish the story because he was close friends with people who work at this publisher and the publisher’s local office.”
As a result of a secret agreement or cooperation between the company in charge and the journalists involved, the report had been held back (deceitful) due to the friendships within the industry. Even though this affected 40,000 consumers, the private interests of those involved took priority over official responsibility.
3) “Fucking banking on it.”
Type of corruption: Bribery, Conflict of Interest, Cronyism, Media Bias
Early in #GamerGate a video of Alex Lifschitz was seen at Critical Proximity where he spoke of his views on the industry. In this speech there were a few colorful remarks:
“I’m a AAA producer. That’s where I live. I've seen the emails come down about E3 demos and press junkets. And I’m line level in the producer pit. So chances are, I’m the one booking your flights, your bar tabs, and spa treatments and catering and rooms full of HDTVs and Alienware and razor keyboards with neon fucking undercarriages… and none of these are about the game.
We’re applying you with payola. We’re not just expecting you to not be impartial, we’re fucking banking on it. And then we have the gall to demand your impartiality when it stands to work against us.”
Later on he repeatedly states that he “wants their agenda,” in no unclear terms establishing a desired media bias. While these issues have been expressed in the past it was always relatively quiet and left to die a quiet death.
4) Personal & Financial Support (Patreon).
Type of corruption: Conflict of Interest, Cronyism(?), Bribery(?)
Support between subject and reporter is a standard problem for journalists, especially those in entertainment. Roger Ebert himself developed his own personal code on it and while there’s an understandable degree of tension, disclosure is simple enough to do. Yet there are certain points where no disclosure will help and that is where this story begins. Most of the information comes from very early in #GamerGate, even days shortly before it began. This story has largely been swept under the rug in the hopes nobody decides to follow the money. Naturally, I include it.
In the few days before #GamerGate officially began issues of close relationships between subject and reporter were at the center of the controversy, making their way known. One such issue involved a pair of reporter and subject living together as the reporter gave positive press on the subject’s games. This was the lesser problem. As people dug they began looking into a relatively new service called “Patreon.” To those unfamiliar, Patreon is a service people can use to accept money on a monthly or project basis. In and of itself the service is a fantastic way to prove you believe in someone’s work but a strange web began to unravel; journalists and editors alike paying subjects were found paying and getting paid by PR firms and three questions were raised:
a) When subjects pay reporters and receive coverage is it a conflict of interest?
b) When reporters pay subjects before covering them, is it a conflict of interest?
c) Can disclosure resolve both problems peacefully if it is a conflict of interest?
Though these questions were never fully explored the response was surprisingly quick. Kotaku and Polygon both ran policies to address it whereas a new ethics policy was written to The Escapist and all of Defy Media, addressing not only Patreon but various other issues that had come about. Please note that this all occurred in the week of #GamerGate and that most of this was before the 11 articles dropped which quickly became the new subject and starting point to many individuals. The debates over direct funding have mostly died out for a month now and that’s largely due to a lack of information; the once known web of funding behind the scenes is now unknown as people have hidden the information. One thing has lingered: a picture of an industry with parties too close for their own good indifferent of this fact. As a direct result of locking down once-open financial information conspiracy theorists became empowered as the perception remains that there is still a conflict of interest, a point best realized by rumors as recent as yesterday.
5) The Forgotten Letter
Type of corruption: Collusion, Cronyism, Conflict of Interest, Media Bias
This one comes out of the GameJournosPro leak and had a more complicated beginning than initially known. This story begins with Kyle Orland’s post regarding the sex scandal in the Google Group:
Though there are definite concerns written here — “bullshit ‘journalism ethics’ excuse,” “I would LOVE to use my platform to reproach this kind of behavior,” a very clear statement that this is a personal matter and not professional, using this scandal for the purpose of pushing her work which he actually did— I wish to point the attention to the last highlighted part (all done by Milo of Breitbart when he broke the story):
“Maybe we should get a public letter of support going around decrying these kinds of personal attacks, signed by as many sympathetic journalists/developers as we can.”
A public letter of support, signed by journalists and developers. Though cautiously approached, someone else brought the idea as the emails continued:
“Maybe a signed, joint letter of support from the Game Journo Pros. I know she’s not a member of the group like Patrick was, but I do know that this is part of a broader theme of the industry losing talent to the toxic culture. And that’s our business. In my mind, it’s a joint show of solidarity to match the trolls’ joint show of force.”
And later on:
“I’d also suggest that – if others think the letter is a good idea – we should do this entirely under the radar, organizing it through word-of-mouth and email rather than Twitter.”
The idea was met with split opinion, some outright balking at the idea as there was concern since not only was it a personal matter but she was the subject. This idea was soon defeated inside the leaks yet on September 1st an open letter to the gaming community was released, claiming to be 600+ developers large:
“We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.
If you see threats of violence or harm in comments on Steam, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook or reddit, please take a minute to report them on the respective sites.
If you see hateful, harassing speech, take a public stand against it and make the gaming community a more enjoyable space to be in.”
The number was repeatedly updated over the next two days as it hit its final total of slightly under 2495 before it was forever ignored, buried under everything else. At the time was that a letter saying it was against harassment existed yet this caused some confusion among the gaming community as there wasn't anything objectionable to it. Most people already are against harassment, why does anyone need a letter for that? Yet with the information of GameJournoPros we can see the beginnings, both in its basic framework (“…a public letter of support going around decrying these kinds of personal attacks, signed…”) and the distribution method to gather 600+ people within the industry (“…entirely under the radar, organizing it through word-of-mouth and email…). This wasn't only an “anti-harassment letter,” it was partially a gift made inside the circle of journalists phrased in such a way that it would appear as a perfectly reasonable and neutral claim that no reasonable human would disagree with. To be clear: there is no disagreement with the message, only the secrecy and hidden past behind it.
Both its existence and the meaning behind it have been forgotten as harassment, doxxing, and threats have continued, even from those who signed.
In the very near future I will address a similar but separate issue: the yellow journalism of #GamerGate. Certainly, instances before have mattered, however, #GamerGate has its own fun in this category with an appropriate reaction. Remember to archive everything you see because yes, it does matter and I am certain that there are more instances I missed. The final section to this article will consist of a personal feeling of how I see the movement/consumer revolt/whatever you wish to call it and the gaming industry. Sources on claims (if available) will be provided on the following piece.
#GamerGate is not based around women or hate. It has remained vigilant and self-polices itself, fully aware that it is impossible to do so perfectly. Threats are given by individuals and there has been no tangible connection between #GamerGate and them. Considering the low rate between gaming events and violence at them despite the large number of people in what can be at times a stressful environment I would like to think that this basic point is one people realized long ago but perhaps it hasn't been researched enough.
As #GamerGate is ostracized and insulted the behavior of these sites remains unchecked. Through silence they appear to either not care or support the fact that over a dozen people on #GamerGate’s side have been doxxed, including at least one minor; that dozens of people have received threats against their livelihood; that people have had their workplace called in order to get fired; and have received all kinds of insults flung around without reproach. It’s not even the movement being called worse and compared to ISIS, Nazis, or KKK — all of which have been done more than once — it’s the individual threats made to break people. Women of #GamerGate being called traitors to their own gender and marginalized as simply not knowing better. Minorities for being told that they’re being fought for because they themselves are incapable of knowing what offends them. Game developers being blacklisted, insulted, and burning bridges for simply agreeing that there are problems with the industry. There is a a wide-scale chilling effect that has left high profile developers to speak out anonymously. The industry is being choked into submission by people who do not want to discuss actual issues and would rather make hyperbolic claims. #GamerGate is about breaking that, ending this climate of fear both sides have, and ultimately will prove that reasonable people can talk once they wade through the mud that we have brought upon ourselves. It will take time but the end-goal is actual progressive behavior in the industry, not regressive practices disguised as such. While we’re at it, perhaps these talks can be held off Twitter as, despite being a platform that can reach everyone from the mainstream media, game media, game developers, game publishers, and millions of consumers, it is also an awful place to hold a meaningful discussion.
As a final point, I've one claim left to make. This is not to all journalists — in fact it applies to a vocal minority who have produced harmful behavior through their actions. This message goes to those in the press who insist that they have done no wrong despite evidence stating otherwise:
If you do not want to follow basic journalistic and ethical standards in this near $100 billion industry then all you need to do is fully accept that you are nothing more than bloggers and are a separate category. “Blogger” is not a bad word; these people are free to report as they see fit and can make very interesting pieces and discuss their concerns further (though do keep a few lawyers around for issues around libel, just in case). With this creative freedom you can write as you please but in exchange you will have to revoke all the advantages of a journalist. This means you will lose guest lists, sponsors, credibility, and access to events. You will no longer be a source for Metacritic and may lose some early copies. This is the price of freedom. You will be free to address cultural concerns as you see fit in your niche of the industry and the most you’ll get is a joke here and there. Freedom is its own reward and if that is the road you wish then I tip my hat and wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
If, however, you are journalists, then I recommend behaving like ones. The industry has grown and you need to grow with it. Gamers are more accepted than ever with a dedicated game console in over half the homes in the United States, multiple billion dollar deals being brokered, and gamer scholarships to universities being offered. It will soon be a $100 billion industry. In contrast, game journalism remains as stagnant, dirty, and irresponsible as it was 20 years ago. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too.