GamerGate and the New Misogyny

GamerGate is a movement with more different aims than it has members. As a disorganized, headless mass, everyone has their own reasons for participating. These reasons range from proclaiming the diversity of video game players to somehow dealing with supposed radical feminists and “professional victims.” While dealing with supposed corruption in video game journalism is the most popular stated goal, this goal and the people who genuinely believe in it are a smokescreen. GamerGate contains within it the latest incarnation of the same anti-woman hate mob which has been terrorizing women in the game industry for years. Each time, the same participants refine their tactics.

GamerGate started with a different name: Quinnspiracy. Eron Gjoni ended a relationship with game developer Zoe Quinn. This relationship did not end harmoniously. Gjoni wrote a novel-length diatribe about Quinn’s supposed infidelity during their relationship on August 16. This “Zoe Post” warned people to never trust her again, and included baseless accusations that she slept with both coworkers and video game journalists to improve her career. Despite the length, it was packaged to spread easily: Gjoni accused Quinn of cheating on him with five different men, so Gjoni adds the little rhyme of “Five guys?” and “Burgers and Fries,” along with the logo of the Five Guys franchise hamburger chain. Gjoni encapsulated his anger with Quinn in a neatly portable meme, and all he needed was a pulpit and an audience.

He found an audience on the 4chan image board, particularly the board dedicated to video games and the /pol/ politics board. (Despite the name, the latter is mostly given over to open white supremacists.) From there, he connected with anti-feminist YouTubers like MundaneMatt and Internet Aristocrat, with the first videos posted August 18. They launched into action to smear Quinn with these “Quinnspiracy” accusations, with the thin pretext of investigating his baseless accusations. Gjoni found an angry mob willing to help him get revenge on Quinn. A week and a half later, actor Adam Baldwin would link to one of these Quinnspiracy YouTube videos and tag it with “#GamerGate”, giving this angry mob a name.

However, that mob already existed. The pulpit was anti-feminist YouTube. They were already hard at work targeting Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency, a video series criticizing depictions of women in film and video games. Two YouTubers best known for attacking Sarkeesian, MundaneMatt and Internet Aristocrat, posted videos early on accusing Quinn of being at the heart of a conspiracy to cover up corruption in video game journalism. These accusations spread among their circle of of anti-feminist video bloggers. These bloggers, including others like thunderf00t, Sargon of Akkad, and Jordan Owen, had been attacking Sarkeesian for somehow conspiring to censor video games ever since she funded her “Tropes versus Women in Video Games” series on Kickstarter in May 2012. In anti-feminist YouTube, the cause of “video game corruption” was married to “feminist censorship of video games”. This proto-GamerGate theme of fighting “corruption” in video games, where corruption means the involvement of women or feminists in any way, lasts to this day.

On 4chan, in IRC chat, and on their Github documentation page, GamerGate was intentionally organized into a disorganized mob. Even before it had a name, it was inoculated against becoming anything productive. Anyone who opposed GamerGate is a “SJW” or “Social Justice Warrior,” a derogatory term originally used on Tumblr to refer to aggressive, fight-seeking social justice advocates. GamerGaters were instructed to call out anyone who suggested splitting or reorganizing as shills working for the “SJWs”. They were not to accept any form of negotiation or compromise, as those were SJW tricks to weaken the movement. Above all else, they were taught that the main victory is being as loud as possible for as long as possible, shouting down any opposition. They were directed to use the #gamergate hashtag as often as possible, especially when replying to anyone they disagreed with, to call for help and make contrarians feel isolated and outnumbered. This tactic is taken directly from #tcot, or Top Conservatives on Twitter, a hashtag mostly given over to American Tea Party right-wing political voices.

From very early on, GamerGate was protected against responsibility. 4chan users are long used to changing sides against their own unpopular opinions, and accusing anyone with an unpopular opinion of disingenuously stating their unpopular opinions just to get a rise out of people. This translates directly into GamerGate’s ideas of “false flags”. Any supposed GamerGater who does harass or threaten someone isn’t a true Scotsman, but rather a false flag effort by one of GamerGate’s various enemies or an unspecified third party. This goes so far that GamerGaters regularly accuse Quinn, Sarkeesian, and other people harassed by GamerGaters to be lying, regardless of the evidence presented. GamerGaters protest that they oppose harassment, and cheerfully mob anyone who complains of harassment with accusations of lying and fraud.

Because 4chan users are anonymous and IRC chat is pseudonymous, it’s difficult to tell who was responsible for what. As the mob grew on Twitter, more and more people used well-established Twitter accounts. While most accounts were registered specifically for GamerGate, the few that weren’t are revealing. Various low-profile GamerGaters with years-old accounts also harassed women going back as far as February 2012, including Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler, game critic Samantha Allen, and random users of the #1reasonwhy effort to highlight sexism in video game development. In particular, long-time Sarkeesian harasser Ben “Bendilin” Spurr has been a vocal GamerGate participant. Spurr was the creator of Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, a game allowing players to batter and bruise Sarkeesian’s face, in August 2012. Despite this, he has proclaimed that “GamerGate does not tolerate harassment”.

Another older anti-feminist effort melded into GamerGate. In June, 4chan’s /pol/ messageboard organized a “culture jamming op,” called Operation Lollipop. They made a number of Twitter accounts pretending to be minorities, particularly black women, to push #endfathersday and #whitescantberaped, to embarass feminists and anti-racists by association. While they were caught and called out, the accounts remained, and participated on both “sides” of GamerGate, both encouraging destructive behavior and antagonizing GamerGaters to make them feel righteous. In this iteration, they have been much more successful, alienating and radicalizing GamerGaters by giving them caricatures of hostile, irrational feminists to hate.

Anti-feminist YouTube attracted a whole new crowd to this mob. Video blogger Jordan Owen teamed up with neoreactionary Davis Aurini to make Sarkeesian Effect, an as-of-yet incomplete documentary about “the progressive infiltration [of the video game industry] by disingenuous ‘Social Justice Warriors’”. Neoreaction is a loose cluster of white supremacist, anti-progressive bloggers who long for a return to monarchy and pre-Enlightenment ideas. Aurini brought with him other Neoreaction bloggers, such as Michael Anissimov of Moreright, as well as an audience of strident reactionaries.

The video bloggers also spread GamerGate to the “manosphere”, misogynist reactionary bloggers. Flagship anti-feminist Men’s Rights publication A Voice For Men has voiced support for GamerGate, and its editor Dean Esmay has been outspoken in support of GamerGate. Self-described pick-up artist Daryush “Roosh V” Valizadeh has also expressed his support of GamerGate, and recently announced that he’s interested in hiring a dedicated GamerGate correspondent for his website, Return of Kings. Conservative voices closer to the mainstream, such as Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulous and self-described “equity feminist” author Christina Hoff Sommers, came along later. While they brought along conservative anti-feminist audiences of their own, by that point GamerGate was already well-formed; they brought legitimacy and fresh outrages.

GamerGate is not a new phenomenon. It’s a hideous, legitimized manifestation of the mobs which have been targeting women in the video game tech world for years now. While it would be easy to write off as a faceless mob, the same organizers and participants recur again and again. GamerGate will eventually end, as the participants lose interest. However, the misogynist movement underlying it isn’t going anywhere. This is the new misogyny, and it’s getting better at what they do every time.