This was published as an article in Rise Miami News. Here is the unedited version.
GamerGate is marking a year of existence, a year in which it has been the most notable and important cultural event around, the clearest reflection of the zeitgeist. The story of GamerGate enfolds many of the characteristics that define our time: online activism, the questionable ethics of Internet journalism, a liberal identity crisis, the civil war of the left, the opening of a new generational gap, and of course the turning of video games and gaming culture into the center of pop culture, the place to be. A year later, it is time to stop for a moment and take a more historical perspective, to ask how we came to this point and where we are headed. And, most importantly, what’s it all about?
Politically, GamerGate is an event that takes place in the left, and its roots are in the conflict between two different leftist approaches. The left as a whole believes that humanity has to liberate itself from traditions and structures that cause injustice, to create newer and better worldviews and aspire to build a society where everyone will enjoy freedom, equality and peace. But there are two different approaches to this struggle. The first, which I shall term the liberal approach, is an evolutionary approach. It regards the human creature as an ape that is in a gradual process of leaving the jungle, a process that transforms homo sapiens into an increasingly enlightened and sublimated being. This approach espouses giving humans the largest possible amount of freedom to express themselves, even if what they express is not enlightened or cultivated, because by exposing all our different sides we eventually learn how to sublimate them. This approach also acknowledges that humans will forever be apes and will never reach a perfect state of liberty, equality and peace, but we can get closer and closer, and in fact the Western world has already reached a stage where even the most wretched members of society can live a good and happy life. Therefore we should focus of achieving a happy life for ourselves, while working at the same time for ever greater social harmony.
The second approach, which I will term the puritan leftist approach, is revolutionary. It believes that humankind is born by nature to live in a state of perfect social harmony, and the only thing preventing it is the structure and mindset of contemporary society. Therefore, all we need to do is change the way we educate our children, instill in them the ideals of perfect social justice from birth, and in a generation or two we will have the perfect society. We must therefore censor anything that is not enlightened, tear down any state of inequality and enforce total equality in its place, and soon enough the people will learn to think correctly and will live in a state of justice and happiness. Millions of years of evolution coded into our biology, tens of thousands of years of cognitive development coded into our language, thousands of years of civilization coded into our manners, all of this can be erased in one stroke if we only wish it – so believe the puritans. This view is actually the continuation of the old Christian concept of the fall from paradise, as if humankind was born to dwell in heaven but fell into this imperfect world and can be happy only if it returns to its rightful place. And just like with puritanism of the religious kind, leftist puritanism has nothing to rely on – it is based on blind faith, faith that the nature of humankind is good. Because that perfect world is always on their mind the puritans feel alienated and cannot find any happiness in our imperfect world, and regard others’ happiness negatively because it distracts the latter from striving for Utopia. While liberal leftism continuously develops and progresses, embracing the inventions of the modern world and the new experiences it opens for us and weaving them into the rich and diverse social fabric of today’s Western society, puritan leftism changed very little since the days of the Jacobin. It’s the same rigid and narrow minded approach, that is busy with dreaming Utopian dreams that are completely divorced from reality and can therefore affect very little positive change in our world.
Nevertheless, those two approaches usually work together to fix the world, with the liberals doing the work and the puritans cheering from the sidelines. But there were moments in the past 250 years when the puritans felt like they could fight the battle on their own, and now is one of those moments. What gave them that sense is the Internet, where they could find each other and form a large community with power and influence. It happened mainly on Tumblr, where they converged in the beginning of this decade and became known pejoratively as “Social Justice Warriors”, or SJWs. The reason why the rest of the Internet mocks the SJWs is that it is obvious to anyone that their actions have nothing to do with social justice. They are not trying to improve society, since they don’t believe in gradual change but in revolution. Instead, they work as one to destroy anyone whose opinions are incompatible with theirs. The SJW is characterized by the belief that only his way to achieve social justice is the right way and anyone who disagrees is against justice. In other words, even if you are a liberal who agrees with them that we must work to achieve equality, but disagree with their revolutionary approach and believe in the evolutionary process, they will immediately brand you “racist”, “misogynist”, “homophobe” etc., and gang up on you like an online lynch mob. Sometimes you don’t even have to express disagreement: you only have to use terms that are not “politically correct” in their book, or tell an inappropriate joke, or socialize with a right-wing person, and you risk becoming a target of their bullying. The SJWs are also notorious for their disregard of facts, their neurotic reaction to anything that causes them discomfort, and most of all in the amusing disparity between the way they perceive themselves as lofty and moral people and the way anyone else regards them as nasty and reprehensible louts. As long as they were contained in Tumblr they were treated mainly as a joke, but in the past couple of years they extended their activities to other regions and are beginning to become a real nuisance.
One of the outlets which the SJWs employ to express themselves is online media. While old media obeys an ethical code and cares about its public image, online media is an anarchic world in which almost anything goes. In the years 2009-2013 this proved to be an advantage, because online media could undermine entrenched narratives and affect liberalization of the mind in the US, in the Arab world and in other places. But this anarchy also allows extreme views to flourish and promote their narratives without the need to address pesky things like facts or ethics, and in this way the puritan left managed to establish itself as a journalistic force. In most fields there are enough channels to counter their ideology and they remain marginal, but there is one field in which they found an uncharted territory they could take over. And so, to its detriment, the world of video games became their experimental lab.
The video game is one of the newest art forms, so new that we have yet to develop theories to analyze it properly. Its greatest uniqueness lies in its way of turning the consumer into an active participant in the story, not just a spectator. This opens up avenues to do things that are impossible in other mediums, and the possibilities this holds thrill the imagination. It is no wonder that this art form currently draws the most creative forces and rapidly expands in many directions. In liberal thought, art has a few main functions. First, of course, it elevates our spirit, puts us in contact with the sublime. Secondly, art is a way to express what cannot be said in words, and thus it expands our consciousness and opens our mind. In that, it is also an agent of social progress, because it teaches us new things about ourselves which help us arrange society in a better way. Art must therefore not recoil from any subject, penetrate even the darkest corners of the human psyche and bring them to light, because then we can learn how to deal with them. Puritans, on the other hand, think of art as an instrument to educate the masses. SJWs who critique computer games do not care if the game excites and elevate the spirit or if it makes the gamers face their dark side in a way that would stimulate their minds to think about it. What they mainly care about is if the game obeys the ideals of social justice and if it educates the players that they will win only if they abide by them, and if it doesn’t (and no good art ever does) they denounce it. Unfortunately, since more intelligent ways of thinking about video game art are still in gestation, the puritan outlook is the one that dominates the online media on the subject (we can take comfort in knowing that this is not a problem that is unique to video games. Every young art form passes through such a stage).
The people who dedicate their lives to playing video games are called gamers, and are full of love and passion for their hobby. They immerse themselves in the mythologies of the different games, identify with the characters, create playing and discussion groups, build entire worlds around every game. They want journalism that shares this devotion, but what they get instead is didactic and boring puritan criticism. Worse, they feel that this journalism is deeply corrupt, exploiting the lack of ethics in online media to operate with impunity. It’s not just that game Journalists of the SJW type are using their power to promote games that obey their values; gamers have been sensing for years that behind the scenes there is also collusion, inappropriate relations between game developers and those who write about them. Since the gaming media is the source that any other media draws from when writing about the subject, the gamers feel like this corruption creates a distorted image of their world. They demand transparency, accountability and compliance with principles of journalistic ethics, but the online media always ignored their demands. And then, in August 2014, the game critics hit the fan.
It all began with a blog post written by a game developer in which he revealed how his girlfriend, also a game developer, cheated on him with several men, among them a game critic. The juicy story had all the makings of a good scandal, and the scandal did not fail to arrive. For those who complained about the corruption in media, this was the evidence they were looking for, a story about a developer trading sex for a good review from the critic. But, as is always the case with such stories, the legitimate demand to investigate the corruption was swamped by a lot of other things: fictional supplements to the story, disinformation, personal attacks on the adulteress, railing against all those slut women, etc. Still, it could have ended there if the media had reacted properly. The gaming journalism sites could have addressed the serious part of the arguments against them, promise to adopt better ethics, and appease their enraged readers. What happened instead is what is remembered now as “August 28th”, the day that will go down in infamy in the history of online media, the day gaming journalists showed their true colors, the day that changed everything. Rather than addressing the demands, the SJWs went for their usual tactic: claiming that the attacks on the developer are not due to substantive issues but because she is a woman, and the real problem is not her but the character of her detractors. In the span of two days there was a series of articles, by different journalists in different sites, in which they depicted the gamer as a white male who hates women and minorities and feels like his world (a world of video games aimed at racists and misogynists) is being taken away from him so he lashes against the people he deems responsible for it. Suddenly it dawned upon the gamers that their media, the media that is supposed to represent their world, is actually driven by prejudice and hate towards them. This was the beginning of what became known as GamerGate.
And it was ugly, in the tradition of all online flame wars since the 4Chan civil war of 2009. The heart of GamerGate was still the demand for ethics, but its essence was the fight against the SJWs. This was the first time a large group of people stood up to the SJWs, and the latter reacted according to their nature. Individuals from both sides received nonstop harassment, murder and rape threats, and some had their private details exposed online. A couple of events organized by GamerGate had to evacuate the premises due to bomb threats, and so was a lecture by SJW game critic Anita Sarkeesian. For those who don’t know how the Internet works, we should make it clear that most of the bad behavior does not come from the GamerGate or SJW communities but from anonymous anti-social trolls who exploit the mayhem to let their violent nature loose. But both said communities were responsible for creating the toxic atmosphere, and should both be condemned for it. However, even though the responsibility lay equally on both sides and both sides suffered the same, the media put the blame squarely on GamerGate. Not just the puritan online media, but even the established mainstream media that is supposedly liberal bought the narrative that GamerGate is a hate movement against women and minorities, and they bought it hook, line, and sinker. Every attack on an SJW was touted in the media as evidence to the true nature of GamerGate, while similar attack on gamergaters got no coverage at all. The GamerGate people, most of them leftists of the liberal type, watched in dismay as their heroes in the media turned against them, accusing them of views that are completely opposed to their character and beliefs, while the only media that defended them were right-wing sites. Many of them experienced severe identity crisis as a result.
But that only motivated them to soldier on, and slowly they began to turn things around. The reason that mainstream media reported with such bias against GamerGate wasn’t that it was taken over by puritans, but simply the result of a generational gap. Mainstream journalists have no clue in video games, gaming culture and Internet culture, so they just buy wholesale what they are being told by those they perceive as journalists like them. Like the rock’n’roll generation of the sixties, the gamers had to create their own media channels if they wanted to be represented. The community began to produce its own YouTube stars – intellectuals, comedians, culture critics, game critics etc. – who drive the discussion that combines the world of video games with current sociology and politics. Gradually they are getting mainstream journalists to listen, and compelling the online media to adopt ethical standards.
As an onlooker, I was neutral at first and put the blame equally on all sides. But I kept watching, and now, a year later, I feel that I can pass judgment the true nature of each side. The GamerGate community is working to rid itself of the negative elements and proved to be a culture based on fun, creativity, self exploration, the acceptance of the other, rational and critical thought, a dialogue based on listening to diverse views, and fighting the corrupt system. The SJW community, on the other hand, continues to be a piranha infested cesspool and a culture based on resentment, self-righteousness, the rejection of otherness, herd mentality, ideological thinking that discards facts, sweeping censorship, and hatred to all earthly pleasures except the pleasure of destroying anyone who disagrees with them. They do not try to better themselves, but work effortlessly to prevent any opinion that might make them doubt themselves from entering their consciousness (one of the main characteristics of an SJW is the blocking on Twitter of anyone who attempts to debate them). All of their actions are based on the delusion that they truly speak in the name of the oppressed and that those who oppose them are really just doing so because they are white straight male who want to maintain their hegemony. Whenever they encounter a gamergater who doesn’t fit this stereotype (and they are of course numerous) they tend to claim that it is actually a white male in disguise, and then proceed to immediately block that gamergater whose very existence threatens their delusional bubble. Actually, there is not a shred of evidence to corroborate their claim that “there is a new generation of gamers to replace the old generation of racist, sexists and homophobes”, but what seems to be happening is a natural evolution is which the gamer community, liberal by nature, is organically developing from a white male dominated group into something more diverse. Of course, female and minority gamers mostly despise the SJWs and are offended by their anti-gamer attitude, so the latter’s contribution to the process amounts to zero or even less. In the last year the SJWs, driven by their self-righteousness and tripping on their delusions of self-importance, expanded the range of their attacks and went after movie people, musicians, comedians, scientists and politicians. They are beginning to reveal their true nature to the people outside the Internet, and more and more liberals wake up and realize that they are an enemy.
I will provide only one example to illustrate what I discussed here. One of the most famous SJWs is Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist of the puritan type who presumes to be a culture critic. In 2012 she announced her intent to create a YouTube series that will examine the treatment of women in video games, and asked the public to fund her. Many gamers who wanted to make the gaming world more inviting to women, including some who are now part of GamerGate, reacted positively to the idea and donated to the project. But when Anita began releasing her videos, in an inexplicably sluggish pace, it soon became obvious to them that no good will come out of them. Anita displayed only superficial familiarity with the material, made no attempt to understand her topic of research and explicate suitable theories to analyze it, and basically just took feminist theories and imposed them on the world of video games like a first degree student in social sciences who is writing a seminar paper for the first time in her life. She treated gamers (which she sometimes refers to as “audience”, another reflection of her ignorance) as if they were five-year-olds who need to be educated about good and bad behavior, and indicated that any good or bad behavior of a character in a game conditions the “audience” to behave the same. As a puritan, she also believes that “sin” leads to corruption, for instance that sexual stimulation turns people into rapists. Many have tried to debate her on Twitter or created YouTube videos that criticized her work and tried to start a conversation, but Sarkeesian reacted by claiming that they only attack her because she is a woman. Of course, not all the attacks on her are valid: like anyone else who uploads controversial stuff to the Internet Anita is also the target of threats and abuse, but while others regard it as an unfortunate but inevitable outcome, she makes a big deal out of it and plays the victim. When GamerGate erupted she started to attribute all the harassment she received to GamerGate even though an examination showed it comes from other sources, and worse, she began to incite against her critics and bundle them with the harassers. Here’s one example, a video uploaded by someone who actually isn’t identified as a gamergater but is a well known and popular youtuber. Anita claimed this was a hate video and demanded of Google to devalue it in the search engine so it would be harder to find. You be the Judge if this is hate speech or substantive criticism which Anita is trying to silence.
An online search reveals that virtually everyone who cares about video games, including feminist gamers, has nothing but contempt for Sarkeesian. All of her support seems to be coming from Tumblr SJWs. That doesn’t prevent her from describing herself as a “popular game critic” who represents the consumers against the establishment, and claim that she’s being attacked because of this. And the mainstream media, which as mentioned is clueless about the subject, is taking her at her word. Anita Sarkeesian is the successor to women like Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin, who learned that they can make idiotic and offensive statements that would provoke angry reactions out of liberals and then portray themselves as victims of persecution and gain sympathy and wealth. Our reflex is to defend damsels in distress, and cynical women like Coulter, Palin and Sarkeesian exploit it to advance themselves. The difference is that Coulter and Palin use right-wing media for their damsel act, whereas Sarkeesian uses left-wing media which is completely duped. The entire thing wreaks of a scam, as if Anita is only doing it for money. The fact that she draws her series out over so many years seems like a tactic to maintain the heat and continue to get abuse, because then she can portray herself as a victim and continue to ask for donations or salary for speeches in which she pretends to be a fighter for justice. Actually, she is behaving exactly like what is known on the Internet as “the cannibal troll”: a troll who makes intentionally dumb YouTube videos that provoke other trolls to come and attack them and thus get views and fame. If that’s the case then Sarkeesian is one of the most genius cannibal trolls ever and deserves accolades, but sadly, it is almost certainly not the case. Anita’s logic is puritan, and her video about the Scythian is completely in line with this logic. In puritan logic, everything in our world is negative, and where everything is negative, nothingness is the most positive thing. The perfect protagonist, then, would indeed by a blank slate. And the fact that the players learn only during the game that the hero is female presumably frees their minds of their alleged conditioning to believe that all heroes are male. Anita truly thinks this is the way our mind works, and her fans truly believe that this is feminism.
The SJWs are bound to fall, but the question is what damage they will do to the left before they go. The American right went through something similar in the beginning of the decade, as the puritan Tea Party challenged the conservative establishment. The latter was oblivious to the danger, helped the Tea Party advance, and ended up losing control over conservative politics. The outcome was that the Republican party alienated the majority of Americans, came to be regarded as irrational and unhinged, and lost the culture war. The SJWs are threatening to do the same to the left, but it is not too late to stop them. GamerGate marks an awakening in the left, a moment of clarity. Some people involved in the battle are already talking about “the civil war of the left” and are vowing to kick the SJWs back to the nether regions of Tumblr. Let them continue to be a pain there but nowhere else.
And it contains an opportunity for the right as well. Needless to say, not only liberals play video games, and GamerGate also has many right-wingers in its ranks. Moreover, the battle draws right-wingers who recognize in GamerGate’s claims many of their own traditional claims against the left. The difference is that they always thought that the puritan positions characterized the whole left (typical mistake: the left errs in the same way about the right), and now they realize it is only a noisy minority. This already forms a dialogue between left and right, a better understanding of the other side’s positions. Maybe this will be the thing that will reconnect the American right with the spirit of the time.
GamerGate currently contains many contradicting positions, and will eventually be unable to hold them all together and will fall apart. But while it exists it plants seeds of positivity, seeds which will fertilize society, culture and politics for years to come. Stay tuned.