In The Middle Of The Crossfire‏

On August 28th 2014, over a dozen articles were published by gaming magazines with titles that can be summarized as “Gamers Are Dead.” On that same evening, I sent an email to Ben Kuchera, the Senior Editor of Polygon, one of the magazines that attacked gamers the most vehemently, hoping that a journalist that I didn’t know too much about, but liked his articles, could voice the concerns of gamers who were caught in the crossfire of trolls harassing people on one side and a group of radical ideologues on the other.

I’ve never talked about it until now (almost a year later), but as I read through it with a different temporal outlook, it is striking to me that many questions raised in that email, heralded the stratospheric rise of #Gamergate (which had been coined the day before), hadn’t exploded yet. I’m going to use that brief conversation with one of the most despised game journalists, to share my thoughts about gaming and #Gamergate.

What Video Games Mean to Me

My gamertag is aMusicVideoaDay, the same as my twitter handle, and this is how video games have affected my life:

Once upon a time, I was a little kid in France who dreamt about living in the far-away city where MacGyver was filmed. My brother was 6 years older than I was, which made us hardly ever play sports or spend time together. The only times my brother and I would bond as siblings were when we were playing games together like Speedball 2 on my Atari ST and Budokan on his PC. All the happy memories I have about my brother involve playing video games together.

That was just one of the many things I owe to gaming.

One of my favorite games of all time, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, is the reason why I started learning English—I never imagined how this would change my life.

I still play Speedball 2 quite often, and always love when someone brings it up.

My brother always helped me pass that guy with the tonfas.

Oui, c’est grace a Guybrush que j’ai appris a parler Anglais.

A few years later, on a different continent, I started college in Seattle. It’s hard for a kid to make friends in a new country, and even more difficult if you speak English with a funny accent, unless you start talking with your classmates and realize you both like the same games. The friends I made in college talking about and playing Halo with are still my friends today.

In the last decade, we’ve moved all around North America: my best friends live in San Diego, Chicago, Seattle, and I live in Vancouver (a few blocks from MacGyver’s houseboat), yet every Saturday we spend a few hours together, playing games; Halo still is a staple of our online hangouts.

If that wasn’t enough, I’ll never forget the day I was sent a friend’s request on PSN from an amazing girl I met a few days before. We talked for hours about our favorite RPGs: hers is Secret of Mana, mine is Fallout and, at the time, we were both playing Mass Effect 2 and talking about the different paths our Shepards were taking. I’m not sure when I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, I can’t remember where our first date was, but I do remember that the day I got her friend request, and I knew she was someone special.

Secret of Mana is an amazing JRPG released on the Super Nintendo.

Fallout is the very first game where I experienced complete freedom.

The Mass Effect trilogy has been as influential on my life as the original StarWars trilogy. The second Mass Effect is the pinnacle of the series.

Right now, as I’m writing about how games affected my life, all I can think about is how, without gaming, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with that amazing girl, wouldn’t have met some of my best friends, and my brother and I would probably be estranged by now.

So to answer the original question: all my life, video games have inspired me to pursue my dreams, not to be afraid of the unknown, and they taught me that no matter how challenging the journey is, in the end, the cake is very real.

The Context

Please bear in mind that this is a transcript of an email that was sent the day the “Gamers Are Dead” articles came out; I was morally exhausted, like many of us; English is my second language and I have dyslexia, so the email is full of typos. I’m not going to correct them here, just for authenticity’s sake (the original email is included at the end of this article).

Back in August, I didn’t know about Ben Kuchera’s friendship with some of the persons mentioned in this email, nor did I know about his shady reporting about Brad Wardell or the existence of the GameJournoPros list. I liked some of his articles, which were denuded of political ideology, like this article about The Elder Scrolls Online. I also liked Polygon for its offbeat features, like the one on Rob Weithoff, the voice of John Marston in Red Dead Redemption.

I naively emailed him to share my concerns about what was happening in the community, and how the press response to it was flabbergasting.

The Email I sent to Polygon’s Editor, Ben Kuchera, on August 28th 2014

Hi Ben,

My name is Christian and I’m emailing you because I like your articles on Polygon quite a lot; you have a very interesting voice that often reflects what I feel. So I wanted to have your opinion on what’s going on these days.

With all the nasty things happening in the gaming community, I was hoping that maybe you could write an article to give a voice to the voiceless gamers like me, who cannot stand the toxic lack of discourse that is happening right now.

Gaming is a passion for me; I’m a 34 year old who owe a lot to gaming: I met some of my best friends through gaming; my wife is a game developer whose worked on a couple of AAA games.

It’s already difficult enough to have people like Mika Brzezinski state that game makers are worse than Manuel Noriega; do we really need to insults each other within the community?

Why can’t we have a rational debate? Why does everything needs to be so polarized?

There are problems in the community and there is a lot of trolling happening: I’m a straight male yet cannot play Call of Duty for 10 minutes without being called a bitch or a fag by some strangers. Ignoring toxic trolls is always the fastest way to get rid of them.

As much as those insults are misogynist or homophobic, I’m not sure if the people behind the insults are or if they are just trying to destabilize me; I’m pretty confident they don’t believe what they spew.

Let me cut to the chase here: I have no sympathy, for people who send death/rape threats or publish personal information of people they don’t like to hurt them or their families; these are not trolls, they are criminals.

Lately the gaming press has been taking a stance to blindly defend a few people in the gaming community and to insult everyone who didn’t stand by their side.

According to a bunch of articles published today (Polygon, Gamasutra, etc.) if I do not agree with Anita Sarkeesian or Phil Fish, I’m a misogynist immature asshole.

Sorry, not sorry, I’m not!

Why can‘t I criticize Anita Sarkeesian’s work? Since when does claiming to be a feminist shields you from any critic?

Anita makes a few valid points in her videos and these need to be highlighted.

However, her demarche and her discourse have a biased spin, and it can be counter argued: in one of her video she explained that Miss Pacman was the perfect example of a misogynist creation; meanwhile Buzzfeed had a video showing how Miss Pacman was a feminist icon; furthermore in that same video some of the comments she made can be seen as xenophobic as it portray the Japanese culture has inferior to Western culture. And these needs to be pointed out too.

What upset a lot of gamers like me is that someone who openly said that she doesn’t like video games and had a very negative opinions of people playing games set herself on a mission to show that video games and people who make them are misogynist.

Anita says Miss Pacman is a mysoginist trope.

BuzzFeed says Miss Pacman is a feminist icon.

Anita says she doesn’t play games, doesn’t like them and doesn’t like gamers.

How can anyone offer a fair portrayal when prejudices are the predicate of their thesis?

What good was gonna come from insulting people and their passion?

She is smart enough to understand what negative reactions she was gonna get and use it to promote herself and use the very loud minority that trolls represent to give them way more importance than they have, generalize their behaviors and validate her hypothesis. For every troll comment she’s getting more exposure and a credibility she doesn’t deserve as she is being protected more and more from any critic; it’s smart on her part.

But is it really a reflection of the gaming community? She promotes the myth of the male teen living in his parents‘ basement when really according to all the most recent studies this isn’t the case anymore and hasn’t been for a decade.

I question her definition of feminism and sexism: in the Miss Pacman video she focuses on the bow in the character’s hair as a device used to convey her gender and deems it as sexist; Miss Pacman’s bow is the same as Mario’s mustache in an age when there wasn’t too many pixels it was technically easier to draw a bow to portray the character as female than earrings which Anita was wearing in that video, so I’m guessing, to her, earrings aren’t a misogynist trope.

Misss Pacman has 2 gender identifiers: lipstick and a bow; only one of them is sexist according to Anita; guess which one?

A long time ago, character sprites used very few pixels, it was much easier to give Mario a moustache than a mouth.

Anita wears lipstick and earrings so these are fine, but she doesn’t wear a bow so bows are sexist. Coincidence? I think not.

For every troll harassing her she’s getting more exposure and a credibility she doesn’t deserve as she is being protected more and more from any critic.

Some of her comments about Mass Effect female characters were very vile towards women: when criticizing the bra size of one character or another is she implying that voluptuous women cannot be smart or educated enough to be doctors? Is anyone that isn’t a carbon copy of her a misogynist trope?

Dr. Liara T’Soni is an acclaimed Asari researcher who has spent the past 50 years of her life studying Prothean technology and culture, but according to Anita, Liara being busty makes her being a Doctor, unrealistic.

Lara Croft is a scholar and archaeologist who ventures into ancient, hazardous tombs and ruins around the world; and who, according to Anita, is unrealistic because women who wear short shorts cannot be academics.

According to Anita, the Scythian is the pinnacle of feminist characters; I’m sure it has nothing to do with being androgynous, dressing modestly and having long dark hair, like Anita herself.

Why can‘t a gamer criticize her work or don’t share her views without being insulted and called a misogynist?

To change mentalities humor goes way farther than hatred; that’s Moliere’s philosophy, and I completely agree with it.

The same goes with Phil Fish: Why can’t I criticize Phil Fish without being called immature or an asshole?

Why is it ok to say I don’t want to watch Ender’s Game because I do not want to give money to Orson Scott Card who uses his money to actively help organizations I disagree with and why is it wrong to say I don’t want to buy Fez cause I don’t want to financially support an abusive game developer who insults every single person who criticizes him?

Talented game designer who has for habit to insult anyone who dares to criticize his work.

Gifted sci-fi writer who actively funds anti-LGBT organizations.

Brilliant filmmaker who fled America after drugging and raping a teenage girl.

I’m totally cool with people wanting to watch Ender’s Game or purchase Fez.

Why can‘t we accept people with a different opinion than ours? Isn’t that the basis for respect?

I love game developers and appreciate their work but that doesn’t imply that I have to condone their derogatory behaviors.

I do not understand why him being an indie game developer or having made a good game absolves him from his wrong doings.

Or where does this stop? Are game journalists going to become like film critics with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski?

Can we talk about Fez without talking about Phil Fish and can we talk about Phil Fish without talking about Fez?

I don’t want to talk about the other indie game developer that was harassed; harassment is always wrong.

The same way what happened to her is a personal matter, if people don’t want to purchase her game that’s their personal choice and there’s really no difference between people insulting her and insulting people who openly say they don’t want to purchase her game.

The harassment Zoe Quinn was the victim of, was unfair; want to blame someone for her game coverage? Blame Nathan Grayson.

However, the harassment she got, doesn’t absolve the fact that she, herself, is an abuser.

The first time I played Doom online it was with someone from another continent and we were just happy to have found someone to play with; if you played games, every one else playing was accepting you; no one cared if you were a boy, a girl, straight, gay, white, black; you were just a soon-to-be friend.

Master Chief’s ethnic background doesn’t matter, Clementine’s gender isn’t the reason why you care for her and Mario’s sexual orientation has no relevance with his karting abilities.

The only thing I care about are compelling stories with complex characters I can relate to; not stereotypes defined by a single prominent trait.

The love gamers have for the master chief comes from his valor and courage; not the skin color hiding behind his helmet.

If you’re the kind of parent who thinks you would love your child more if she/he was of the opposite gender, you’re a bad parent.

Wether Mario is straight or mushroomsexual, his sexual orientation has no agency when it comes to steering a kart.

What happened to this accepting and friendly community?

What can we do to fix it?

Can we talk about what brings us together as a community rather than what divides us?

Is there still a community or has gaming became an umbrella term for all people playing games who hate everyone who doesn’t share their pov?

I don‘t want to take a side in this ugly toxic mess, and we’re a lot who just want to play good games, have a good time with other people who want to have a good time and stay far away from these moral crusades who never bring anything good.

Thanks for taking the time to read my email.

First Email from Ben

20 minutes after I sent my email, I received one back from Ben that stunned me; I wasn’t sure how to respond to it.

Second Email from Ben

I was still thinking about how I could respond, when I received a second email from Ben which was much more interesting; so I decided to gather my thoughts, sleep on it, and email him back in the morning.

My Second Email

When I woke up at 5am, I decided to re-read my original email, try to see where my words might have gone further than I wished, and how I could engage a dialogue. I tried to synthetize what I felt in the best way I could, and what I heard from many other gamers. Unsurprisingly, Ben never emailed me back.

Almost a year later, a lot has changed, yet my feelings towards the gaming press, the disaspora, and the ideology they blindly serve, haven’t changed:

A lot of passionate gamers are sickened and feeling alienated by the screaming match between a loud fringe who displays the worst the gaming community has to offer and a moralist group who rejects anyone with a divergent opinion.

Understanding what #Gamergate is:

There are as many ways to define #Gamergate, as there are opinions about it. Some you might agree with and some you might find preposterous, so let me try to be as broad and complete as I can.

Let’s start the easy way: #Gamergate is a Twitter hashtag used by members of the gaming community to argue about the state and future of gaming as a medium and art form.

To me, #Gamergate is the gaming ideological battleground of a culture war between the authoritarian self-proclaimed progressist left, composed of people on the fringe of the gaming industry (indie developers and gaming press) and left-leaning libertarian gamers who just want to play good games without being subjected to political propaganda, whichever it may be.

The self-proclaimed progressists believe that the sole purpose of art should be to promote the ideology that they deem progressive; that pieces not serving this purpose should be censored or banned, and the creators not abiding by their ideology should be basically shamed, slandered and silenced.

The libertarians believe that creators should be free to make and sell any game they want; that, if a game is good, it will find its audience and that the press should judge games based on objective criteria, and not by the political alignment of their creators.

To most of the AAA developers and publishers, #Gamergate is a mess: it’s a clash between the people who buy their games and the very loud gaming press, who wish to dictate the creative content of games. Anyone who dares to utter a comment, one way or another, is attacked by people on both sides. The only safe and sane thing to do to not have your career livelihood threatened, is to remain silent and let all the parties involved argue in their corners, despite secretly being comforted that customers care about creative freedom and are not oblivious to the yellow journalism plaguing the industry.

According to the fauxgressists (term coined by David Auerbach), #Gamergate is an harassment campaign, started by Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, to spread false allegations and smear her character. It has evolved into a hate movement, the sole purpose of which, is to drive women out of the gaming industry. Anti-Gamergaters relentlessly talk about Zoe Quinn’s harassment, as well as developer Brianna Wu being driven out of her home after receiving death/rape threats, and media critic Anita Sarkeesian being forced to cancel a public appearance after a bomb threat. They will also claim that all the members of #Gamergate are paranoid, uneducated right wing teenage straight white male nut-jobs living in their parents’ basement, who wrongfully believe that someone wants to take away their games.

This presentation of #Gamergate is not only factually inaccurate, but also intellectually dishonest: everything posted on the ZoePost has been corroborated by Zoe Quinn herself. Furthermore, claiming she’s the victim of a jilted ex is referred to, in psychology, as DARVO (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender), a technique used by bullies and abusers when being caught.

Photographic evidence has proven that, while Brianna Wu was parading in interviews and claiming that she was hiding, fearing for her life, she was actually in the comfort of her own home office. If this wasn’t enough to debunk her claims, after a public spat on social media, her local law enforcement and prosecution claimed that she never filed any report of any incident.

When it comes to Anita Sarkeesian’s claim that a severe bomb threat forced her to cancel one of her appearances, the Utah law enforcement offices dismissed evidence of any credible threat, and the Utah State University has publicly stated that the cancellation was neither due to a bomb threat, nor due to them fearing any security issue—the cancellation was requested by Sarkeesian herself, after her demand for the USU Students Bill of Rights to be amended, was denied by the university.

This isn’t to say that these three women haven’t been harassed or haven’t received threats; it is highlighting that the gravity of these threats have been greatly exaggerated for the sole purpose of marketing their personal crowdfunding campaigns, which is an insult to all the victims of harassment, who don’t get any media coverage, and don’t turn their victimhood into lucrative careers.

Also, let’s not forget that a Twitter hashtag can be used by anyone, so claiming that these threats are coming exclusively from #Gamergate supporters, and not from third-party trolls, is a fallacy. Many #Gamergate supporters have also been victims of harassment. Pretending that the victims are only on one side is a disingenuous misrepresentation.

The biggest piece of factual evidence debunking the harassment campaign myth comes from a Newsweek article in which, despite a dishonest editorial, data proved that harassing or threatening tweets were not only marginal (less than 1.2%), but also not coming from accounts actively involved with #Gamergate.

Finally, despite being dismissed as a crazy conspiracy, Anita Sarkeesian and her cult following are the ones who started petitions to ban the sale of Grand Theft Auto V from Australian retail stores and the game Hatred to be pulled from the digital sales platform, Steam.