Monday, October 20, 2014

How I Think GamerGate Is Going to Play Out

How GamerGate Is Going to Play Out #GamerGate. Summing up quickly for those of you who don't know (or those of you who know and don't want to hear about it much more), #GamerGate is a group of 4Channers harassing prominent women in the gaming industry with rape and murder threats, while ineptly disguising it as a "movement" promoting greater ethics in game journalism. It's been a big thing in the gaming industry press over the last few months, on account of how it exposed an ugly seam of misogyny running through gaming culture that gamers have been trying very hard to pretend doesn't exist and in fact still are--every post on the subject on every blog, news site or twitter feed is met with a swarm of gamers insisting that the death and rape threats don't represent them, and they'll rape and kill you for saying so.

It is still ongoing--several women continue to receive death threats for speaking out against sexism and misogyny in gaming, a problem that again I will remind you gamers are saying does not exist while threatening to rape the people who point it out. And it shows no signs of stopping, at least not yet. Here's where I see it going over the next few months. (Please keep in mind that these are merely predictions, not necessarily hopes; there are a few things in here I'd love to see happen, and others I'd love to be wrong about. You can probably guess which are which.)

1) #GamerGate is going to be replaced with a new cover story. The hashtag "#GamerGate", coined by not at all crazy person Adam Baldwin, was the attempt to legitimize the harassment of women in the gaming industry by pretending it wasn't about "hating women for having and using ladyparts without permission", it was about "journalistic ethics". This basically meant that they weren't angry with women for sleeping with men, they were angry with women for sleeping with men who were journalists. Nobody has been fooled except for the #GamerGaters, who continue to argue that they're a totally legitimate grassroots movement and not sexist at all despite the fact that there are chatlogs of people saying, "If we could just convince people that we're a legitimate grassroots movement, it'll deprive these women of their support base and we can drive them to suicide!" (Believe me, I wish I was using hyperbole instead of merely paraphrasing.) #GamerGate, as a "brand", is irrevocably tainted with misogyny and hate.

So they're going to need a new cover story. I suspect that within the next few months or so, we'll see an entirely new grassroots movement spring up, this one with a different set of faces in front of it and a different name. They'll try to keep this one more legitimate, maybe put some token condemnations of the harassment and a few token protests out there of actual bad industry practices (such as big developers paying for YouTube videos while putting clauses in the contracts stating that they can't disparage the game or show any bugs in the game), and generally clean up their act a little bit...but ultimately, it'll just be plausible deniability for gamers who want to pretend that misogyny isn't a problem for them. Expect to see a lot of posts like, "Oh, no, that's not us! We're Gamers for a Responsible Industry! You can't blame the actions of a few #GamerGaters on us!" While, of course, using a fake account to post more rape threats.

2) The threats will get worse before they get better. I don't think this will escalate to actual violence. I think these are inherently cowardly people--not just in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that they're fundamentally nerdy assholes, and a big part of the "nerd" social identity is the belief that while you lack the ability to hold your own in a physical confrontation, you're smart enough to get your revenge in various untraceable and more permanently damaging ways. The stereotype is of the jock who beats up the nerd, and comes home to find his homework assignment deleted from his hard drive and replaced by embarrassing pictures of him kissing his dog. I think the people who are involved in this harrassment campaign have bought into the idea that they're better off finding other ways to hurt people besides violence.

But the problem for them is, they're losing even in their chosen arena. They are losing the rhetorical war, becoming increasingly isolated from their own sub-culture and treated as horrible people and not the righteous defenders of geekdom that they imagine themselves to be. The women they're threatening aren't going away like they'd hoped. The glorious revenge that they imagined from all those 80s teen movies is not happening. And like all trolls, their only choice is to escalate. So I do think that we'll see more threats, and maybe some threats that skirt closer to the line of actual violence. Ticking packages, envelopes with mysterious powders...the sort of thing that makes people believe they're in imminent danger, rather than impending danger. Which leads to...

3) Some people are going to wind up in jail over this. In the past, threats delivered over the Internet have generally been viewed by society as less "real" than threats delivered over the phone or through the mail or in person. The Internet has been seen by law enforcement agencies as some sort of a weird playground for weird people, ultimately harmless and disconnected from reality. However, this has been changing lately. Recent high-profile cyberstalking and cyber-harassment campaigns have slowly been bringing lawmakers around to the idea that this is just another form of communication, and threatening to kill someone over Twitter isn't that much different from leaving a threat over someone's voicemail.

Which leaves one main difference between the Internet and reality: It's actually much harder to avoid leaving a trail that leads back to you when harassing someone on the Internet. The reality of it is, America has become a police state to a not-inconsiderable extent, and the privacy protections we are supposed to enjoy in our communication have become more of a privilege than a right. Telecommunications companies are all too happy to give over their records to law enforcement officials, and communications that were once transient and impermanent now leave records everywhere. And while that's generally a bad thing in principle, it is going to mean that justice is going to be served in this particular instance. The people who are leaving these threats are, I think, going to find out to their shock and dismay that what you say on the Internet can land you in jail in real life.

Now, some of them no doubt think of themselves as 7334 hackers with mad skillz who can evade the governmental cyberdragnet...and probably for about one in ten who think that, it's actually true and not a boast that they'll profoundly regret. But the thing is, the FBI (who now has all the chatlogs gathered by Zoe Quinn regarding her harassment, as well as several of the threats sent to Anita Sarkeesian) uses their own form of "hacking". They don't use social engineering to gain passwords; they use it to gain confessions. Hacker A might have covered their cybertrail pretty well, but they have a friend in Hacker B who isn't so careful. And Hacker B will flip on Hacker A to avoid jail time. I think that actually, quite a number of people will be seeing men with badges in their not-too-distant future. Which is why...

4) Eventually, this will die down. I don't think it will ever go away--there are still people trying to roll back Social Security, and that's older than most of its current recipients. It's hard to really imagine that the same people who are filled with the kind of hate that made them do what they're doing now will just calm down and walk away. But I think they will realize that they have to limit the expressions of their hatred or face consequences. I think that this will keep them from using threats to try to force women into line or out of their hobby. And I think that without those threats, what power they have will eventually fade away and be spent. And frankly, good riddance.

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