A Brief History of the Narrative Wars: GamerGate
Narrative Wars is a series of articles exploring the history and meaning of the many cultural wars occurring within story-based subcultures such as science fiction, gaming and comics. TaleBlend is dedicated to a pluralism of opinion regarding these matters, and we strive to maintain an objective stance on these emotionally-charged topics as possible.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened. Some insist it stems from Cultural Marxism, a buzzword used commonly by elements in the political right to explain a school of thought that emerged from the 1930’s Frankfurt School. Others insist the moment was the introduction of the so-called progressive stack, used during the Occupy Wall Street movement to ensure that minorities got a chance to speak first at Occupy events.
Regardless of where it comes from, it’s clear that at some point in recent memory, a line was drawn right down the center of varying subcultures from the overarching Atheist movement to what is now dubbed ComicsGate by some.
It was a line drawn largely by political and identitarian movements across the many subcultures and fandoms of storytelling.
It’s not TaleBlend’s place to pass judgement on either side of these political lines, but over the past four years, aggressions have increased, particularly on social media and in a few select cases at public events.
In August, 2014 a blog post by software engineer Eron Gjoni cast aspersions against his ex-girlfriend, self-styled game developer Zoe Quinn, alleging numerous sexual indiscretions, gaslighting and abuse. When the article was published, it hit the gaming world like an anvil on an unsuspecting cartoon rabbit, giving way to a series of events that split the gaming community down the middle.
For better or for worse, a clear line was drawn from the beginning. Those that perceived Gjoni’s article was not just an indictment of Quinn, but an indiscriminate attack on women working within the video game community. And on the other side, a group that believed that far-left politics were overstepping its boundaries and exerting undue influence on the video game industry. By the end of August, the controversy had been dubbed GamerGate by actor Adam Baldwin (Full-Metal Jacket, Firefly.)
GamerGate is a difficult thing to define, even for one that was for over a year steeped in its many individual events, controversies. It was both an event and a nebulous group of social media users at the same time. By the end of the year, the argument had reached the point where neutrality was not an appropriate opinion in social media spheres. The lines were simple: you were either GamerGate or you were anti-GamerGate. If you were neutral, the argument went, it meant you thought GamerGate supporters had a point.
Over the course of the first year, comparisons to fascistic dictatorships emerged from both sides of the debate. One writer for the Guardian lamented that the human race, as a species, couldn’t allow GamerGate to get a foothold on Mars. The controversy became very emotionally-charged, resulting in everything from involvement by the Society of Professional Journalists to attempt to address how the media should be perceiving the controversy (which coincidentally led to the creation of the “Kunkel Awards” for video game journalism) to a complete FBI investigation (the details of which were later released by the FBI.)
People were harassed and doxed on both sides, death and bomb threats were received (one such threat resulting in the evacuation of an SPJ conference that was hosting a panel discussing GamerGate at the time.)
The lines were then never more clear within the gaming subculture. If you were a GamerGate supporter, you were compared to fascistic regimes, accused of being privileged, and in some cases dehumanized to the point where some considered it a moral duty to harm, maim or conspire against those perceived to support it. John Bain (TotalBiscuit) an internet celebrity within gaming subcultures, took a more neutral position and was quick to point out that GamerGate supporters had some good points, but that so too did anti-GamerGate community did as well, and that discussion was the best way forward. In 2018, he passed away from terminal cancer and even after his passing, was subject to scathing remarks from prominent characters still firmly in the anti-GamerGate camp.
GamerGate reached its peak in 2015, and was marred by a tragic event in January 2016 when a well-known supporter committed suicide. In the aftermath, a faction of trolls within GamerGate enacted a schism, and the mass action campaigns largely ceased.
But GamerGate didn’t end. It simply plateaued, and every so often will make enough noise to remind everyone that, for better or worse, they’re here to stay.
For what it’s worth, I believe GamerGate to be a complicated mess with as many different truths as there are minds entangled in the topic. No side is without guilt, and no side is immune to hysteria.
One thing is for certain: GamerGate is one such example of a cultural battle emerging from a storytelling subculture. It wasn’t a one-off occurrence. It’s rather a symptom of, or a reaction to a combination of political interference within artistic realms and an increasingly online culture. It’s a series of competing narratives that I believe are not just as old as time, but endemic to the human experience.
But what does it mean? Stay tuned to the Narrative Wars series of articles where we’ll dissect similar movements across various subcultures and get to the bottom of what it all means.
Disclaimer: The author of this article was actively involved in commentary as a GamerGate supporter during 2014-2016. Any bias in the article is unintentional, and we welcome alternative points of view at TaleBlend. Feel free to engage in the comments below.