HomeTech Gamergate’s disturbing online misogyny is back, if it ever went away

Gamergate’s disturbing online misogyny is back, if it ever went away

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Gamergate's disturbing online misogyny is back, if it ever went away

TO A few months ago I wrote about a consulting agency, Sweet Baby Inc, that was at the center of a conspiracy theory: aggrieved players on a Steam forum had mistakenly concluded that this small agency was somehow demanding inclusion of more diverse characters in games. Depressingly, but unsurprisingly, the result was a huge amount of harassment directed at the people working at Sweet Baby and all the journalists who reported on it (particularly the women). It was a disturbing echo of Gamergate, a 10-year-old online harassment campaign that initially grew out of wild accusations from a game developer’s vengeful ex-boyfriend.

The language has changed a bit in the last decade: They used to be upset with “SJWs,” or social justice warriors, and now they have taken issue with a different acronym, DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion), or just good. old “woke up”. But the sentiment of this group is the same: games are for us, and only us, and if you want games to change, or to tell stories outside of the male-oriented power fantasies we grew up with, then, Well, that’s not allowed. We will not tolerate it. In fact, we will try to aggressively harass you to remove you from this space entirely.

Unfortunately, the “campaign” against wokeness has not let up much in the intervening months. Led by a circle of habitual grifters, they’ve taken issue, in no particular order: the fact that Aphrodite, the literal goddess of love, isn’t sexy enough in Supergiant’s Hades II; that female characters in recent game trailers have “square” jaws and “masculine” bodies; that journalists gave the recent PS5 game Stellar Blade (pictured below) bad reviews because its female characters are also hot (note: they didn’t, the game has a Metacritic score of 81); that too many games feature “DEI haircuts” (it’s fun to roleplay); and that Ubisoft was somehow forced by the dark forces of the awakening world to turn the main character of their upcoming Assassin’s Creed game (pictured above) into a black samurai, contradicting historical evidence. This last claim was reinforced by the king of bad posters himself, Elon Musk, who responded to a tweet about this manufactured outrage with “DEI kills art.”

Assassin’s Creed Shadows executive producer Marc-Alexis Côté addressed Musk’s tweet in an interview with Stephen Totilo from Game File (£) last week. “It’s sad, it’s just fueling hatred. A lot of three-word answers came to mind,” she said. “The first thing I wanted to do was go back to X, which I had deleted, and just tweet… What Elon says is not the game we’re building. People will have to play the game for themselves. And if in the first 11 minutes and 47 seconds they are not convinced of what we are doing, we can have the discussion.” For the record, there are many historical bases for the depiction of the black samurai Yasuke in the game.

Just after the Summer Game Fest ended, the anti-woke players found a new target: a report on IGN, which credibly and comprehensively exposes a history of sexism at the developer of the upcoming action game Black Myth: Wukong, between Planet of the Apes and Sekiro. The answer: surprise! – was going to go after the woman who wrote it, while also making up a ridiculous conspiracy theory that IGN was blackmailing the developer. You can go down a pretty amazing rabbit hole of horror with any of these manufactured controversies, but trust me: it’s really not worth it.

Star Sword. Photography: PR

This reactionary underlying layer of gaming enthusiast media, which primarily makes its home on X and YouTube, doesn’t actually have the slightest impact on how games are made, or even which games are made. Look at Gamergate: what did it actually achieve? Games are more diverse than 10 years ago, not less; I saw more non-white male faces and characters in this year’s Summer Game Fest series of trailers and demos than at any other time in the nearly 20 years I’ve been covering games. But they can still make people’s online lives hell for a while. I know because I’ve been through it several times.

I was running Kotaku’s UK branch when Gamergate started, so I had a front-row seat to their harassment tactics, which included sending the most disgusting threats imaginable across every online channel available to them, trying of being fired. emailing game editors and my bosses with dossiers of my professional misdeeds and journalistic failures (read: writing about video games from a feminist perspective), tracking down addresses, phone numbers, and actual relatives of myself and my colleagues (and publishing those details in their subreddits if they found them) and the creation of crazy Google Docs with links drawn between journalists and “SJW” developers. One of these crazy documents appeared briefly in a recent Netflix documentary about 4chan, prompting several of my friends to send me a screenshot via text asking me if I knew it was a figure from the old conspiracy theories of the “ alt-right.” Unfortunately, yes, I did.

Since then it has happened again several times, for various reasons. Unfortunately, dealing with online mobs is part of the job for many journalists and even game developers these days, and despite all the shit I’ve had to deal with over the years as a woman covering video games, I’m still Pretty glad I didn’t. Don’t write about politics. But I know exactly how horrible it can be when they move against you, especially if it’s the first time. They’ll find what they think is the least flattering image of you on Google Images, use it as a crop for a YouTube thumbnail, and then rant for 10 minutes about screenshots of your articles. They will tweet at prominent people in games, trying to get them to publicly discredit you. They will turn their followers to you. It’s hard not to confront their manufactured anger with a lot of genuine anger of your own.

It’s tempting to attack these people endlessly, but outrage fuels outrage, especially now when you can literally make money posting inflammatory nonsense on X or YouTube. If Gamergate proved anything, it’s that no one has to pander to, or even listen to, toxic, rage-inducing gamers. That said, I still don’t think there’s been enough public backlash against this kind of online abuse from the biggest game publishers in recent months, when the consulting firms they work with, the journalists and critics who cover them, and even some of its own developers have been caught in an online shitstorm. Trust me: vocal support means a lot.

What to play

The Thing but on a North Sea oil platform… Still Wakes the Deep. Photography: Secret Mode

The Chinese Room, whose latest game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a haunting British classic, has taken a horror and suspense direction with its latest game. Still awakens the deep (in the photo on top). It’s basically The Thing, but on a creaky, dark, dank platform in the mighty waters of the North Sea, where a tight-knit team of workers was drilling for oil and stumbled upon something much worse.

I’ve played the first few hours and the attention to detail in its depiction of life on a Scottish platform in the 1970s is exceptional, right down to the faded tartan carpets and the lived-in look of the crew quarters (one guy has National Brochures fronts attached to your wall). I’m also here for the nice, authentic Scottish dialogue. Actually it is not that It’s scary, which is a plus for me, but it’s atmospheric and wonderfully well-crafted; It really feels like you are there. It’s worth playing for the sense of place alone.

Available in: PC, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 5
Estimated playing time:
six hours

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what to read

HiFi Rush by Tango Gameworks. Photography: Tango Gameworks
  • A developer in tango games (Hi-Fi Rush creators, pictured above), Takeo Kido, shared a series of very sad photos of the last day of the study. Microsoft closed it after being acquired in March 2021.

  • A long and really interesting article. from Kotaku’s Kenneth Shepard on the ongoing conversation about how to represent romance in video games: Should characters be “playersexual” and submit to whatever the player wants? Or does that lead to two-dimensional characterization, especially when it comes to representing the queer experience? I could say a lot more on this topic, but the article is super complete, so go ahead and read it.

  • Yesterday’s big news Nintendo direct was the announcement of a new Zelda title where you’ll be able to play as the titular princess for once (sure to please the aforementioned online mafia). Also announced was the release of a Marvel vs Capcom pack, Mario Party Jamboree, a remake of Romancing SaGa 2, and Metroid Prime 4: Beyond, which now has a 2025 release date.

What to click

Question Block

Subnautica: below zero. Photography: Unknown worlds

Today’s question comes from reader Diana:

“When creating a game, how much should developers listen to players? People who paid on Kickstarter for pre-alpha access can give their opinion on what they think. Should your input essentially change the game or just improve it as the developer intended it to be?

From what I’ve heard from developers working on Kickstarter or Early Access projects, where players are welcomed into the game long before it’s finished, their feedback is absolutely vital, as long as it’s in good faith. Developers can learn a lot from watching how people play, whether it’s noticing where people get stuck and flattening the difficulty curve, seeing what elements and ideas players respond to most positively, or balancing an online multiplayer game. Sometimes the players do change a game, and usually for the better. Games like Kerbal Space Program, Subnautica (pictured above), and even Baldur’s Gate 3 benefited greatly from the Early Access release.

But should developers change a game for players to the point of compromising its original creative vision? Only if that vision simply doesn’t work in reality. This has been known to happen, especially in games, where never In fact Knowing if things are going well until quite late in development. Generally, if a developer is sensible, a game will be pretty far along by the time it enters early access or any kind of public alpha/beta testing. At that point, what player data and feedback provides is an opportunity for a developer to better execute that vision.

If you have a question for the ask block, or anything else to say about the newsletter, hit reply or email us at pushbuttons@theguardian.com.

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