Gamergate is the Wrong Pepsi

No one wants to believe that they bought the wrong console, endorsed the wrong potato chip, or bet on the wrong horse. There’s always an endless bevy of excuses and doubling down people will do before they arrive at the conclusion, “that was a bad decision on my part.” But this isn’t our story… at least not yet.

It seems like forever ago but it wasn’t that Tim Schafer got up on stage at the GDC awards and made a gamergate joke using a puppet. I think everyone knew it was simultaneously daring and damning, as those who identify as gamergate supporters would be outraged whether they were or not. Long story short, Tim was stirring the pot.

The joke itself really couldn’t have been more benign, basically joking that there are a bunch of sockpuppets in gamergate and #NotYourShield, which is more or less common knowledge to everyone who has more than a passing familiarity with the gamergate situation. For more information on sockpuppets, check out my previous article on #NotYourShield or Mark R Trice’s data heavy research which fairly reliably puts gamergate’s real numbers at around 500.

Any conversation about sockpuppets will be immediately conflated with gamegate accusations of erasing people and calling the person in front of you imaginary. In fact, in all my discussions, I only ever had one gamergate supporter brave enough to admit the existence of sock puppets in the movement. But denying this is even a possibility has become the major talking point every gamergate supporter learns to use. It gets repeated word for word so reliably in fact, that you actually have to debate with yourself whether or not you are talking to a ficticious crowd or if these are just the people come out to defend the ficticious crowd.

GDC 2015 was not good to gamergate, though I think they certainly had high hopes. Gamergate has long held the belief that a majority of game developers are on their side, mostly because they’ve decided people who oppose gamergate are proponents of censorship. Fortunately the people who actually make games for a living know what time of day it is and see gamergate for what it is, a poisonous hate mob that attacks people on both sides of the artist/gamer divide. They were not on board with gamergate’s manifesto.

Enter game developer Mark Kern. Kern, who was last known for the financial debacle Firefall, had been trying to drum up support from gamergate’s core audience for awhile, but pretending the entire time he was a moderate on the subject and only wanted to “heal the rift.” When questioned about it, he waffled and claimed he was still a neutral party, but increasingly his actions showed his true colours. Kern had chosen a cola.

Kern came up with the brilliant idea of having his new found mob tweet to the hashtag GDC attendees were using to communicate with each other, and bombard it with benign demands for journalistic ethics. Kern found out very quickly that you can’t unring that bell as the brigading turned into threats of war, pornography and 9/11 imagery, and despite Kern’s urging that gamergate back off, it only continued to escalate. It got so bad that GDC created a new hashtag for everyone to migrate to, but that was just a band-aid. Gamergate immediately followed and continued to bombard the new hashtag as well. This is when people at GDC started to adopt Randi Harper’s ggAutoblocker as a necessity for communication at the conference.

If gamergate had any hopes that game developers were on their side, that had completely vanished as a good number of the people they hoped would champion their cause now had them blocked on Twitter. You can see the results in the GDC 2015 presentation videos that are now online just how many panels mentioning of gamergate seeped into and always with the heavy sigh of it being something the industry needs to grow past with positivity. Even before the dogpiling of the hashtag, tensions had been high enough to warrant a police presence for the presentations that featured women who had been targeted with specific violent threats. Indeed, harassment was the recurring theme of GDC 2015, and it’s no mystery why.

Then at the Game Developer Choice Awards, host Tim Schafer brought out an actual sockpuppet and made a gamergate joke. Word for word, here it is:

Sock: How many gamergaters does it take to make a single piece of armor?
Schafer: Oh, god, I don’t know.
Sock: Fifty. One to do the modeling, one to do the materials, and forty-eight to tweet that it’s not your shield.

That’s it. Not a particularly funny joke as jokes go, but also very far from offensive. But of course what it did was spurn a resurgeance of the #NotYourShield hashtag which had mostly fallen silent.

Suddenly gamergate supporters dropped everything and concentrated on this as a direct attack on women, people of colour and LGBT minorities. As someone who checks off two of those boxes, I can firmly say I find nothing offensive about the joke. But the outrage came out in full force, legitimate or otherwise. Gamergate supporters claimed that Schafer was racist or sexist for the joke, or that he was effectively erasing their existence. It was the same old nonsense that acknoweldging the existence of sockpuppets is tantamount to accusing every gamergate supporter of being a sockpuppet, but at this point, this is the best sounding argument they have.

The ripple effects of it were definitely felt. Above are the analytics from my previous article about #NotYourShield. There’s a good sized spike from when I first released the article and then a giant burst at the time of Schafer’s joke at GDC. Randi Harper’s own analytics showed much the same. “It’s the first time since December 2nd (when I started monitoring) that gamergate has complained more about a male.”

Clearly this was a defining moment for gamergate. Mark Kern certainly thought he was rocking the boat and shifting power structures when he pointed gamergate to GDC and said ‘attack,’ but unless their goal was to show why a relatively insignificant share of game developer’s audiences are a genuine problem that needs to be rooted out, then they failed at their task. At this point, Kern had to be asking himself if he had chosen the wrong cola to get behind.

What we see now is really that sense of buyers remorse in gamergate, and amongst their own ranks they’re cannibalizing themselves more and more. Only recently David Draiman, front man for Disturbed and gamergate supporter, was recently surprised to find that gamergate was unwilling to speak against anti-semitic hate speech and renounced his approval of the movement.

Draiman seemed to be previously unaware of the more ridiculous hate speech coming out of gamergate that those who have been targeted by them are much more familiar with. Had he seen the gross anti-semitism that was there all along, I have no doubt he never would have leant his voice to gamergate in the first place.

It’s doubtful that Draiman is alone in this discovery, but after months of fighting what they no doubt believe is the good fight, it takes a certain amount of conviction to take the blinders off and not just acknowledge the hatefulness that’s going on right beside you, but make the decision to leave the group you’ve been supporting. Indeed, this is the type of coming clean courage that we see in members who finally escape the clutches of Scientology. It makes me wonder how many others are currently supporters of gamergate and would either leave if they knew the true ideology of their brethren or know but don’t want to admit they planted their flag on the wrong sandpile.

A lot of people choose this moment to double down, to dig in deeper and explain away all the things that bother them as trivial and unimportant. It’s not you who picked the wrong horse, it was the horse’s fault for failing you. Or better yet, somewhere in your mind, the horse is still racing, and not only that, he’s actually winning. This is the mindset within gamergate where despite knowing they’ve alienated 99% of everyone they wanted as an ally, they can still convince themselves that not only are they in the good and right, but they are on the winning path.

Gamergate didn’t pick the wrong Pepsi. That Pepsi they’re not enjoying is the best Pepsi they’ve ever had and anyone who doesn’t buy one and drink it through their strained expression of distaste is a fool. But there’s no escaping the fact that in those quiet moments, they know they got the wrong Pepsi.