GamerGate, ComicsGate, and Sad Puppies — And Why They’re All the Same
You may have heard of GamerGate, ComicsGate, and Sad Puppies if you’ve been on social media for any meaningful amount of time. You might know them from their explosive attacks on mainstream entertainment or how they at best troll and at worse attack content creators across various mediums. Or the fact that some guys named Vox Day and Ian Miles Cheong seem to attach their names to all these movements.
But do you actually know what their political stances are or what they hoped to accomplish with their trolling and crying and attacking?
Don’t worry — I don’t think they did, either.
We’ve seen a surge of politicized “anti-politics in entertainment” movements in various circles of entertainment. If these movements were disinterested in politicized entertainment and chose not to read or play or watch whatever it was they disliked, then fine. Okay. That’s their choice and no one should force them to purchase entertainment that they don’t like.
The problem is that these movements are intertwined with a sense of entitlement. It is not enough that they feel art has become too political, but they feel that art should bend to their will — because, in many cases, they don’t believe the entertainment they love should be regarded as “art,” but rather a product.
The motives and movements “change” across movements, but their end goals remain the same: they liked entertainment better when they were kids.
In short, they’re the Superboy-Primes of fandom.
The Politicization of Entertainment
The creation of art is an inherently political idea. You are creating media for consumption from nothing. You are using your own ideas and worldview to create this image. Regardless of what kind of media you create, you are drawing from your perspective of reality, which affects the art in some manner, to craft a vision of your brightest hopes or darkest fears.
Take Walt Disney, who, in his attempt to create family friendly entertainment that would appeal to the broadest demographic, reinforced ideas and stereotypes that he either believed in or believed others would find unobjectable. That’s an example of supposedly apolitical entertainment being political.
When you look at entertainment, be they video games, comics, or novels, you’re going to experience another person’s political and sociological viewpoints. No matter what. The problem isn’t whether or not a work is political. The problem for many is how aware you are of the social and political messages of the work.
Comics have been political since day one. Superman is a metaphor for the Jewish experience. Superman is a Moses metaphor created by two Jewish men who felt like aliens in their own country. The simple fact that the structure is applicable to any immigration experience — or any social experience — helps mask the inherent perspective that helped bring Superman into life.
People see Superman as a cultural, American icon because the idea of coming to a foreign land, sometimes against your will, is such an American idea, for both better and worse.
On the other hand, someone like Wonder Woman is an inherently political character. Not for the reasons you’d expect, though. Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, had some particular world views that drove him to create Diana of Themyscira.
The first is that women are strong and valuable. Okay, that’s good.
The other is that Marston invented the lie detector test. Okay, that explains the Lasso of Truth. But why a Lasso — ?
Oh. Marston was into bondage. That explains how Wonder Woman’s weakness in the Golden Age was being tied up by a man. (No, really. Look it up.) Also, Marston was into polyamory.
The fact that later writers actually removed WW’s weakness to bondage is actually a political gesture. They reduced someone else’s world view from the character they created. But no one seems to object too much to this.
In regards to science fiction, political standpoints have always been relevant. HP Lovecraft’s xenophobia fed into his nightmarish story “The Shadows Out of Innsmouth,” which exists as a thinly veiled allegory for interracial breeding. John W Campbell enforced his political and sociological views as editor at Astounding Stories so intensely that he shaped the genre for years to come, most notably how he refused to let aliens appear in his story, refused to feature black leads, and published the earliest chapters of L Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics in the pages of Astounding.
I shouldn’t have to explain why all of those are bad things.
Later SFF writers would directly respond to these racist stories with their own works, which worked to include a diverse cast of characters in a less Euro-centric setting. Ursula K Le Guin and Octavia Butler are great examples of this.
The point is that, with the exception maybe of video games, politics has played a huge part across all video game genres.
Which is probably why this right-wing movement first took hold in the youngest of these three mediums: video games.
Storytelling in Video Games
It seems inevitable when you think about it. Early games like Adventure and Pong featured simple geometric shapes wandering about a screen without any real writing to guide the player’s actions. As gamers desired more, games delivered: first by offering iconic characters they could identify with, then moving onto stirring plots and narratives.
It seems hypocritical to expect video games not to follow the example of other mediums, to remain entirely apolitical and asociological.
But, again, that’s impossible.
Early game plots followed tried and true formulas of classic media in an era where these formulas were actively being deconstructed and criticized. In 1984, Super Mario Bros presented a damsel princess in distress, almost a decade after The Princess Bride novel was published satirizing that very idea. Castlevania drew from tropes from gothic horror films from the 30s to 60s, which, in the 80s, were being actively deconstructed or kidified, as seen in films such as The Howling or The Monster Squad.
Video games drew from old ideas because they were easy stories to tell given the limits of the medium. So it seems inevitable that stories would tackle newer, more complex ideas. And, for many, this was regarded as a good thing.
But many enjoyed the simpler narratives and fun gameplay. They didn’t want to think while playing their games, and — you know what? That’s fine.
The problem is when you tell developers how to do their job.
And the bigger problem is that, more often than not, the only thing you didn’t like was how all your favorite games kept forcing “their political agendas” into the game, as if this were some ungodly, unusual thing that NO ONE ever did before in any other medium.
As previously established, though, this was not the case.
Odd how progressive politics are treated like “pushing a political agenda,” whereas forcing your readers to read Dianetics while refusing to publish stories with black leads isn’t.
But if you tell a really good story — a really good one — people will ignore that because you “forced” progressive themes into your narrative. People bottle things down to some simple elements, to the exclusion sometimes of everything else.
Compare the plots to Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Age. Completely different types of RPGs, obviously. Totally different stories. I’d argue FFVII’s story is far more memorable than any of the Dragon Age stories. This is personal opinion, though, and I’m not here to debate that. It’s just my opinion as a fan. But Dragon Age has far more immersive gameplay than FFVII. It’s more fun to pick up and play.
The reason I bring up these two very different games is because, inevitably, every discussion about this game will eventually come down to who the main character is attracted to. Will Cloud end up with Tifa, Aerith, Yuffie, or…Barrett?
While with Dragon Age, the discussion seems less to do with characters and more to do with the fact you have a gay option.
Same with Mass Effect (another Bioware series). Same with so many others. The details of the story — the complex world building, the conflicts, the characters — all ignored when a certain subset of the internet fixates on the fact that there’s a gay option.
And they don’t know how to handle it because this isn’t like how games were back when they were kids. Because no art form is supposed to mature. Comics that featured Batman wearing a pink outfit can’t talk about social satire (except when it does — The Dark Knight Returns). Stories about space travel can’t challenge the gender binary (except when it does — The Left Hand of Darkness). And video games can’t appeal to social demographics outside my own, because “How can I, a straight person, identify with a gay character? I mean, sure, I can identify with a bloodthirsty mercenary, ninja, and alien. But a gay person!?”
I think what it comes down to is that video games are escapist for some, and, for many people, they don’t want to play as a gay person because they actually hate them. Or, at the very least, feel emasculated playing as one.
And I’m specifically referring to a man interested in another man here, since you rarely see this vitriol being directed as women interested in women in video games. Instead, you see creepy fetishization of them. Which is another topic I’ll address another time.
Likewise, characters of different race — where their cultural experience proves relevant to the plot — is often attacked by this subset of gamers because they want to be “better” than what they really are in real life, and see playing as someone of a race they deem “inferior” a bad thing.
This is in part why they never seem to have an issue playing a Japanese character, because, like lesbians and bi women, they have fetishized Japanese and Asian characters. But a black character? An Indian character? Far less common.
Of course, keep in mind, I’m not talking about all gamers, but you’d be naive to think this description doesn’t capture a subset of aggressive, vocal gamers who consider the fact that they enjoy video games to be a defining element of their personality (because no one else plays video games, right?).
So what’s the point in me going on and on about this? Because this right here is the focal point from which all three of these movements spawned.
And it all started with GamerGate.
Ethics in Journalism
GamerGate infamously started in 2013 after Zoe Quinn, an indie gamer making a small, text-focused game, got attacked by members of 4chan and other sites. While it didn’t officially begin until Zoe’s ex began rumors that Zoe slept with reviewers to get good reviews for her game, Depression Quest, the truth was that she had already received rape and death threats for months before the infamous blog post.
Because she put political themes into her game.
Now I’ve never played Depression Quest. It didn’t look like the kind of game I’d personally enjoy. But it seems like a text-based adventure, like what was popular back in the era of early PC gaming and all that. You’d think a bunch of gamers would be excited to see an archaic game style getting revived, but I suppose they would’ve preferred if the text game was about having sex with women or something.
The game didn’t feature a whole lot of action and it featured political story telling. Yet people who wanted action and apolitical story telling attacked Quinn relentless, and this only got worse after the “scandal” started. Because she maybe had sex with a reviewer who gave her a good review for an indie game none of them ever had to play.
The reason for their attacks on Quinn were because they wanted to promote “ethics in game journalism.” Because it’s ethically sound to send rape threats, I guess.
Time for a confession: I actually bought into the idea that GamerGate was about ethics in journalism in the first couple weeks of the movement. At the time, all I knew was that, supposedly, some game designer slept around for good reviews for a game, and people were upset about it. I didn’t know about Zoe Quinn. I didn’t know that she had received threats leading up to it. I didn’t know any of that. I just heard what my friends told me, and what they told me had been filtered through whoever told them, first. I mean, I caught on really fast that they were all full of it, but at first it made sense.
Gaming journalism has problems. Reviews for games from studios like EA get consistently great reviews, while indie games that are products of passion get dismissed. Or games from Japanese studios that are otherwise more entertaining than half the generic crap circulating shelves get awful reviews.
Consider this: IGN, one of the biggest video game review sites around, gave Madden NFL 2015, a game that was identical to the last dozen Madden games, an 8.7 out of 10. Meanwhile, they gave Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, vastly improved remakes of beloved RPG classics, a 7.8 out of 10. Now, it’s okay if you like football games more than good games, but Madden missed a perfect mark because of buggy physics and awkward controls, as cited in the review.
Pokemon infamously got a bad review because it had “too much water.”
There was a clear bias in gaming journalism. I think it had to do with money and which companies often sponsored gaming sites like IGN. Or maybe it has to do with who they hired to review the games. They might not have hired the best people to review specific games. A person who does not like RPGs isn’t the best person to assign to review an RPG.
But whatever. There’s a clear bias here.
And that was in 2014 — awhile after GamerGate kicked off. This sort of nonsense had been going on for a year. You’d think if they cared about ethics in journalism, GamerGate would’ve gotten on board right away to confront this problem.
But they didn’t.
They just bullied Anita Sarkeesian because she started talking about video games and feminism.
Anita Sarkeesian really should’ve been a non-factor. Nothing about her is inherently distinct. She makes surface level observations about games on a large basis, rarely makes any meaningful criticism about games that matter, and, from all appearances, doesn’t even seem to enjoy games that much.
I have issues with Sarkeesian’s commentary on games like Zelda and the like because I feel she misrepresents what the games do in order to fit a grand theory about games as a whole. The biggest offender was the Hitman games, where she said the game rewarded you for murdering women even while, on screen, the game punished her for being unnecessarily violent.
I also don’t like how she used a kickstarter to buy a ton of games, only to actually steal footage from other Let’s Players online without ever giving them credit.
But I don’t feel threatened by her. I’ve been in academia long enough to see arguments exactly like hers come and go. And that’s fine. I think she deserved a response or two on her terms.
…but GamerGate was OBSESSED with drowning out her opinion, as if they felt genuinely threatened by what she had to say.
And this really defined all three movements from here on out. Opposition, no matter how banal or trivial, is a threat to the “gamer” identity. To the “sci-fi fan” identity. To the “comic reader” identity. Don’t you remember when the medium was simpler? When we had cliches and trite stories where I didn’t have to think about the political environment? Don’t you love that?
Indie developers like Zoe Quinn had to fight to bring their personal visions to life. But if GamerGate felt so threatened by this controversy, they had to either put up or shut up. If they’re so scared of progress, then make your own game.
Failure and Burn-Out
Let’s get this out of the way right now: the people on 4chan can, when they want, create amazing things.
Katawa Shoujo is a beautiful visual novel/dating sim where you play a boy with a heart condition who goes to a school for disabled people, where you have to court and date one of five girls (or you get drunk with your friend who looks like Harry Potter and fall off a roof). All five girls are honestly pretty well-written, memorable characters whose stories tug at your heart strings.
In so many ways, it’s the opposite of what GamerGate seemingly wanted. It makes sense, then, that Katawa Shoujo’s was started before the Zoe Quinn controversy, since development started in 2007, only for the game to be released in 2012.
I’m of the opinion that the people who made Katawa Shoujo were beginning to mature too. Like games themselves, a lot of the gaming audience had grown up with games, and sought more meaningful stories from their games. I’m of the belief that these people might’ve started with the immature desire to make an offensive game to upset the SJWs, but over the course of the game’s development…grew up. And the game benefits all the more from it.
Another creation to come out of the GamerGate crowd — this time specifically GG and not just 4chan — was Vivian James, which was the product of charitable donations and a desire to create an avatar of what many GG people believed to be a “good female character.” You can debate the intentions all you want, but thousands of dollars went to charities and the character is harmless enough.
But that’s where the positivity ends.
GamerGate failed to make anything of value at all other than Vivian James. There were tons of Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns started up which went nowhere because, apparently, making a game was harder than they thought. There was the hashtag “#notyourshield” which failed to convince people that GG wasn’t just about attacking women for making video games (despite the fact that almost all their targets were women in the gaming industry, and, if not women, then LGBTQA people).
But then there was Vox Day, a sci-fi writer who had also worked on games back in the early 90s. Vox Day, you will soon learn, is the death toll upon which all these movements fail. Whenever Vox Day gets involved, the movement can no longer ignore the fact that a large portion of their movement are just misogynistic bigots.
Vox Day is a SFF and video game creator well-known for two things: the fact he throws tantrums whenever confronted with even a little obstacle and being a woman-hating Nazi. When Vox Day joins your base, you have the dishonorable badge of being “Nazi-Friendly.”
Vox Day has associated himself with all three movements in question, and, shortly after he gets involved, the movement wilts and dies. Every time. No exceptions.
I have a lot of respect for Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and all the other targets of GG for continuing to create throughout the whole affair. Regardless of my personal feelings of their work, they proved their maturity by talking about online harassment and pushing forward with their own work.
GamerGate failed to make a ripple in the gaming community.
So it only makes sense that, in failing to make games, they’d influence another medium.
Let me share a story with you. Larry Correia is a SFF writer most famous for creating the Monster Hunters series. He was upset that awards such as the Hugos seemed so fixated on rewarding writers for creating “political” novels, when really readers wanted to read fun adventure stories, like the ones he read growing up.
And, you know what? In theory, again, that’s fine. There should be a place for just fun, escapist fantasy. The problem is Correia, and the people who would collectively join The Sad Puppies movement, believed that only things they personally felt served as escapist fantasy counted as escapist fantasy.
Essentially, hetero-normative novels featuring no intellectual stimulation at all.
And, again, these novels were apolitical, despite the fact that ALL of them pushed the political perspectives of their right-wing authors.
The Sad Puppies took a very different approach, though, than what GamerGate did. They decided to create a list of novels they wanted to win the Hugo Awards, and, by exploiting the Hugo Awards voting system, intended on making their novels win awards they believed they deserved.
It started around the same time as GamerGate, back in 2013, with Correia trying to push his novel Monster Hunter Legion into the Hugo ballot. His campaign failed, but it attracted other like-minded authors to his fold.
Already, there is a distinct difference between GamerGate and The Sad Puppies. GamerGate started in the fanbase, while The Sad Puppies started in the SFF professional community. Botttom-up vs Top-down.
But GG seemed to see The Sad Puppies as the same general movement: opposing the politicization of fiction. The fact that SFF has ALWAYS been political seemed to escape most GG, but the Sad Puppies seemed okay with the influx of support from GG people all over the net.
And, like that, GG and The Sad Puppies became intertwined. GG methods of harassing authors and creators intermingled with The Sad Puppies’ playing the system of the medium.
And, unlike GamerGate, The Sad Puppies actually did something with a real, tangible impact: they got what they wanted. Many of the novels The Sad Puppies wanted to win Hugo Awards either got nominated or got awards. Most notably, in 2015, several Puppy promoted novels got nominated for a Hugo Award, though none of them won (incidentally, the Puppies shows a lot of support for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy film, which won a Hugo. The Puppies took credit for this, rather than just admit the film was amazing and everyone loved it.)
But in 2015, there was schism in the Puppies that led to their eventual death. Yes. Vox Day’s back.
You see, Day didn’t want to see novels he liked win awards. He wanted to destroy the Hugos altogether. Vox Day, a few years prior, had tried to become president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (or SFWA), and failed. As a result, he went on a tantrum, specifically attacking writer N.K. Jemisin in a notoriously racist rant. Vox Day was kicked out of the SFWA.
So Day had an agenda — against Jemisin, against the SFWA, against everyone.
His differing philosophy divided the Puppies. The Sad Puppies wanted to promote escapist (albeit racist, misogynistic, etc) fiction, while the Rabid Puppies just wanted to destroy the social order of SFF altogether.
So the Rabid Puppies nominated the most awful works imaginable, and, in their attempt to make the Hugos look ridiculous…probably ruined any chance of the Puppies ever being taken seriously ever again.
I love you, Chuck Tingle
2016 is the last year the Sad Puppies had any presence in the SFF community. The fourth campaign of the group had a drastically different outlook on what novels they pushed forward, while many other members just decide to make their own award system — The Dragon Awards — which has had a decent degree of success.
I like to think this has to do with the Puppies growing up and realizing the error of their ways, rather than just them burning out, but I might be optimistic there.
But Vox Day decided to push one last time to destroy the Hugos by nominating a writer whose very existence would undermine the legitimacy of the SFF community: Chuck Tingle.
And I’m just saying this now, unironically…I fucking love Chuck Tingle.
Chuck Tingle is a troll. But he’s the kind of troll that I hold a lot of respect for. Whoever he is (no one is quite sure who he or she really is), Tingle writes ridiculous SFF gay erotica stories online, often for the sake of a laugh. He’s written stories where rich billionaire dinosaurs make love to innocent virgins, billionaires court their planes as they fly over the sea, and even ones where Chuck Tingle himself makes love to the existential dread that he will never be taken seriously as a writer.
Tingle is a master troll.
So Vox Day thought he’d actually troll the SFF community by sending a troll to troll them…never once thinking that Tingle would maybe make Day himself look like a joke.
So the night of the Hugos arrives. I want you to picture this, please. Chuck Tingle — now nominated for his story “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” — is nowhere to be seen. All the GamerGate and Rabid Puppies seem eager to see the look on the SFF writer’s faces when they see an erotic gag writer come into their posh ceremony…
And who walks in to represent Tingle but Zoe Quinn, the very person they had for the last four years bullied and harassed and attacked online, personally asked by Tingle to represent him.
Quinn, Tingle, and the rest of the SFF community had the last laugh.
Oh, and then Tingle wrote an erotic novel about his Hugo Award nomination, just to laugh at Vox Day more and more and more.
Oh, and as for N.K. Jemisin? That writer Vox Day hated so much? In 2016, her novel The Fifth Season, won the Best Novel Award at the Hugos. And Vox Day was there to watch it all come tumbling down around him.
And Now We Have ComicsGate
2016 was really the end of both the Puppies and GamerGate being taken seriously. They existed, sure, but their numbers had collapsed and no one could take them seriously.
Now, we have ComicsGate, with many of the same general players present. ComicsGate rose to prominence around the time GG and The Sad Puppies fell apart: 2016.
What makes ComicsGate so disturbing is that the comic book community is so much smaller than both the SFF and gamer community. Therefore, even a small rock toss could garner far more damaging ripples.
I think I want to write a whole article on ComicsGate and how I think it’s ridiculous, so I’ll cut this article off here. I prattled on long enough. I don’t know if I offered any meaningful points beyond a synthesis of information, but I will say this: ComicsGate is just an extension of the same anti-maturity fight that GG and The Sad Puppies waged. It will fail just as the others did.