When A Black Game Journalist Spoke Up On #Gamergate
My week in interacting with the angriest
of consumer revolts
#Gamergate. The dirty laundry of the game industry, the open secret that no one wants to speak of and yet everyone seems to be aware of.
At this point everyone pretty much knows what really sparked the consumer revolt that is known as #Gamergate. I had been watching the story of it unfold over the past month on a rather casual basis, with no indication or expectation that I would end up in the middle of it. At no point did I believe that I would become someone that people would be paying attention to.
Starting in May of 2009 I began my attempt to claw my way up from the bottom of the lobster bucket as a game journalist. Writing game reviews and editorial pieces, building connections with other writers, public relations with game developers, and just trying to squeeze my way into the cracks to build an identity and career for myself. In some ways I was successful, others I was not. I would spend hours on end carefully writing and crafting the pieces that I would publish, with usually a few dozen views and not much more than that as compensation. The fact of the matter is that “game bloggers” at this point in time were starting to become a dime for a dozen, and it takes fairly substantial efforts to stand out from the crowd.
While some of my experiences as a game journalist have definitely been aspiration fulfilling, many of them were not and quite a few outright negative. Being black while writing about games comes with certain unspoken disadvantages; such as having what I call a ‘credibility deficit’, being deemed eccentric, and receiving generally puzzling looks whenever you speak on the topic of games as an art medium worthy of discussion. In my experience, If you’re black and want to talk about anything that isn’t Call of Duty, Madden, or fighting games you’re deemed irrelevant, mostly ignored, and expected to be quiet in the industry. From my experience and conversations with others, the unspoken rule of being a black game journalist was like that archaic thought of how children should be in society: “Seen and not heard.” If you’re going to be in that space the general expectation is that you keep your head down, shut up, and go with the flow; I was never good at doing any of those things. Of interesting note, none of these behaviors were ever present when I would speak with a developer; In fact they were pleasantly surprised and almost always welcoming to my point of view or insight. I would almost universally receive this negative treatment when dealing with other game journalists, or the general game enthusiast.
After attending E3 in 2010 and covering the International Video Game Hall of Fame’s Big Bang 2010, in 2011 I decided to take a break from the struggle of getting ahead in writing about games and to shift my attention towards writing fiction. Just as there are only a small handful of notable black male game journalists, there are also few notable black male authors at present. At the time, I did not realize that most of the work I had done towards building my game journalism career would diminish significantly, as I became gravely ill in the late summer of 2011 while in the middle of writing my first novella. Although I did recover somewhat from the medical crisis, I have been left in a crippling state that I will never recover from. From that point on, any attempts to get my feet back on the ground and in the game again have been miserable at best. Some due to the fact that my ailing health has found my spirit weak, some due to my injuries not allowing me to put in the time necessary to keep to the grindstone with the required tenacity, and some due to having lost hard-earned connections due to the passage of time.
Last week, I had been sitting up later than usual on a particular evening, looking around the internet for something interesting to catch my eye in game news. I tend to keep my evenings low key and is when I make it a point to consume news for the day. General internet traffic is slow and front pages aren’t moving as quickly, so I find it to be a comfortable time to consume and disseminate information. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I ended up getting there, but I eventually settled on watching a video of someone agonizing about how they had been treated as a transgender person in the industry overall.
I have comically been a very poor utilizer of social media. Of course I have the usual accounts that other people do, but I came from the old school of the internet where lurking around in the background was considered fashionable and voicing an opinion was opening yourself up to a certain amount of likely unwanted scrutiny. Naturally, I would use my social networks in order to promote the books that I’ve written, but even then I have never had much voice in those spaces. A longstanding general vibe has been that black men have poor credibility in academic pursuits and should not be taken seriously. That being said, I don’t know what made me hop on my twitter account and speak to the person in the video, who had been airing so many of the grievances that I was more than familiar with. It was a very simple exchange. I said, “Hey, I just watched your video and I definitely empathize with you. I’ve seen a lot of that myself.” The person in question responded with, “If you’re going to talk about this, you should definitely use the Gamergate hashtag.” So, it all started with me going, “You know, I was a black game journalist and a lot of what you guys said is true, I have witnessed it myself.” I did not know that so many people had noticed and suspected what I had already known as the status quo.
My twitter account immediately blew up with followers and people asking me tons of questions. I was begged to get on a streaming service to talk more about what my career had been like. I’ve had a twitch.tv account more or less since it showed up, but have never had any substantial number of viewers. For the most part, only the occasional friend would show up when I was streaming and typically for only thirty minutes at a time. The day that I began streaming and sharing those experiences I had with people, my channel was a madhouse with folks coming in and asking about everything that they could think of. Many questions were brought up about the relationship that game developers and journalists had together, with me being able to corroborate quite a few of those things with my own experiences. I quickly learned that even being a guy so low on the totem pole, I still knew a great many things that the general public viewed as complete and utter mystery. The first day I ended up doing a nine hour straight stream simply talking about what I had experienced in my first year, and the next day I did a twelve hour stream covering the rest. People were amazed at my ability to maintain conversation over such a long period of time, and frankly I was damn surprised myself. I wasn’t aware of my own resilience in being able to do such a thing, usually because I become very tired anymore after trying to keep myself together from fighting residual and near constant chronic pain from my injuries.
As the days began to pass, more and more people began to show up and follow me in order to listen to the things that I had to say regarding the industry. We had frequent discussions about classic journalism ethics, and I helped explain and define for them exactly what their grievances were in comparison to the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code. We would have many discussions about certain behaviors shown by members of the #Gamergate movement and the reactions of game journalists to those behaviors. I would talk about how changing the narrative of the situation was crucial to gamers getting what they wanted, expectations going forward and what they wanted to see changed for the better in game journalism. I’ve talked to them about changing their appearance from being an unruly angry mob and how to focus their attention to things that will cause the direct impact that they are looking for. I have spoken extensively on the subject that many game developers actually DO agree with the principles of the #Gamergate movement, but these particular developers will not speak out in open support of the movement. The fact of the matter is that it is dangerous for a business to take upfront positions on matters like these, and that doing so could be the end of them as a counter-smear campaign is likely to occur against them. Many of my streams have been highlighted with readings from Sun Tzu, showing people involved with #Gamergate that while they are not necessarily fighting a physical war, they are definitely fighting a war of ideas. More than once has the morale of the movement been visibly shaken and I’ve been asked to speak to calm people down and raise their spirits. They have come up with many different endearing terms for me, and more than once I’ve been told that people listen to my stream because they find me to be helpful and soothing to listen to. They love that they can speak in a space and interact with someone that will not stifle them. Often times my streams are punctuated with me saying, “Please speak up and ask me questions. I want to hear what you have to say, your view is important even if you disagree with me. You’re very smart and intelligent, and your words have value!”
I’ve only been involved with #Gamergate for a week, but there have been many things that I have found to be untrue. The narrative against #Gamergate has been that they are nothing but a bunch of angry white men on the internet that hate women and minorities; I have found that to be outright false, in my experience. In fact, I have spoken to and interacted with an even split of men AND women gamers, other minorities, transgender individuals, those of varied sexual preferences , and more. One thing that I have found to be true about the vast majority of people involved in #Gamergate is this: They are universally PISSED. They are quite tired of the treatment that they have received over an incredibly long period of time. I don’t think that #Gamergate in and of itself is about an isolated incident; it has been a long time coming and this particular incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many of the sites that have been in the eye of the storm of this cultural movement have been pushing a narrative on their customers that they are “dead”, they are irrelevant, that they don’t matter and that they are not welcome in any way, shape, or form. But I don’t think these sites expected them to push back.
I can’t speak of everyone’s experience in dealing with people involved with #Gamergate, but the majority of what I have personally seen and experienced is that they are passionate people, they’re incredibly smart and savvy consumers, they are ridiculous levels of inviting and inclusive, and almost anyone that shows up is welcomed with open arms. My experience has been pretty much the direct OPPOSITE of the narrative that has been pushed about these people. Of course, there are always going to be extremists and those who engage in sketchy and questionable behavior on any side of a conflict, and I don’t think anyone is going to debate that.
Have I committed career suicide by directly putting my face forward and speaking openly about the issues I have encountered in the industry? I have zero doubts about that. But I will tell you this; the #Gamergate community has ultimately been far more welcoming to me as a black man than anyone else has EVER been in my life. For the first time in my life, I’ve had a voice that genuinely matters to someone out there in the world. Isn’t that what a lot of people want, really? For their voice to matter to someone? I think it is.
During all this time, I’ve been very careful to not talk about things going on with me that aren’t relevant to #Gamergate; would anyone else likely use this as an opportunity to self-promote, and perhaps to make money off of it by portraying themselves as a victim? They absolutely would. But this is about something WAY bigger than I, and there is a time and a place to promote my own works and what I have done with fiction and storytelling. Right now, in this space about changing a whole industry from the ground up, is not that time. Right now, I’ve become a voice of some sort on the side of #Gamergate, one that people are paying a decent amount of attention to. If I can do some good with it, then that is what I’m going to do. If I can calm the masses with my words and have them work towards achieving their ends in a non-destructive and far less hostile fashion, then that is what I’m going to do.
I can’t directly speak for anyone else’s experiences but my own in this situation, but I can say this much. #Gamergate has been very welcoming to me as a human being and what I have to say as a critic and editorialist, while the other side has not. The narrative that I have been told is not matching up with the experience that I’ve had. When a clearly identified and not anonymous minority is able to easily corroborate many parts of the overarching #Gamergate fiasco from the bottom with his own experience, I would suggest many of the sites in question and anti-#GamerGate people take a seriously hard look at their position and consider the possibility that they may be in the wrong in this scenario.
My story isn’t the only one out there. I’m just one of them that decided to speak up.