I’m a fantasy author, so I spend my fair share of time hooked onto the internet – both for work and as the source of the majority of my writerly and fangirly socialising time. It’s a truly amazing and inspiring place, encouraging, amusing and fun, as well as an endless source of knowledge and research about how far blood spurts from a decapitated head. And then stuff like this happens…
GamerGate. It’s not mandatory that fantasy authors are also gamers, but in this case it’s true. I’ve been a gamer since I could stretch my fingers to the keys as a kid – Commander Keen, Monkey Island, many an afternoon networking Duke 3D and Doom 2 with my brother and my dad. Pharaoh, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and Need for Speed as a teenager, on into Final Fantasy, MMOs, Assassin’s Creed, Portal, and anything produced by Bioware. I’m a gamer. I’m a woman. Do I think women face harassment from the gaming community? You bet we do. Do I think female developers have a rough time, especially if they try to speak out in favour of equality and positive representation for women in media? Hell yes. It takes a lot of courage to speak up and stick your neck out as a woman, BUT … and there is always a but … that isn’t really what the #GamerGate fiasco is about anymore, as little as it’s about ethics in journalism.
Humans are naturally tribal, it’s the way we work and the reason why racism exists – as in what we look like is the easiest way to differentiate “them and us”. The same thing applies to sexuality, gender and any other situation that polarises people. It is part of our social conditioning that we pick sides in a divorce, make rude comments about the supporters of certain sports teams that aren’t our own, and stringently defend our choice of political ideology (you know, all the things that shouldn’t be brought up at a dinner party if you want everyone to get along). Because they are team choices, picking sides, them and us – “If you’re not with us, you’re against us”. And often there is no rational discussion, just a response of anger that someone dares to challenge your belief or choice. We don’t like to be wrong, and in fact we are fast fostering a society where the very WORST thing we can ever be, is wrong. Being wrong or making a mistake immediately gets you crucified.
John Grisham is the latest example of this. Here is a well-known and well-respected author and lawyer with a history of campaigning for changes to the US criminal justice system. In the interview that blew up over the internet he was talking about over-criminalisation – the fact that there are a lot of people in jail, in the US especially, who really don’t deserve to be there and that other options should be put in place to deal with petty crime. He also touched on the racial bias of drug charges. All in all he was making very relevant points about important subjects that need to be discussed. He then told a story about a friend who ended up in prison for three years on charges related to viewing child pornography and, especially when taken out of context, all the following quotes became damnable. But he was still making a good point worthy of being heard, he just chose his words poorly and we as a society piled on and hacked him to pieces without mercy, without taking a moment to consider the intention behind the statements. Because:
1) “Famous author supports child pornography” makes better news and generates more clicks than “Famous author campaigns for change to the US justice system”
2) It feeds our “OMG he’s wrong, throw rocks at him” tribalism.
And that brings me back to #GamerGate. I skimmed through a tonne of bile on twitter yesterday with this hashtag, but it wasn’t one sided. Yes the rape and death threats and the misogyny is fairly one sided, but the anti-GG peeps are as stringent and venomous in defence of their team as the pro-GG peeps. And most of the people, individuals and news reporters alike, haven’t bothered to research the primary material and find out what is really going on, they are just picking a side and starting to sling mud pies. Exactly like what happened to John Grisham. Deliberate editing and selective reporting of the issue meant that the hardly anyone has actually read the quote in context let along the whole interview.
I was all ready to get furious about these issues – and I am angry that female gamers and game developers have to put up with ridiculous amounts of hatred from the online community – but more than anything I am just sad that this is fast becoming ‘normal’ behaviour. It is no great surprise when our beliefs are constantly reinforced by our social groups. We tend to befriend those with similar views and end friendships over disagreements. This is especially true of social media where we ‘like’ things we agree with, ‘unfriend’ people who post things we don’t like, and skim the rest. It’s making us selectively tolerant and sapping our empathy, because even the pro-GamerGaters are real people with real feelings and real problems, and responding to their internet-spilled bile with anger isn’t right either. Nor is it likely to work. Anger makes people defensive and closes their minds. There are always going to be those whose minds you cannot change no matter what you do or say, but if you don’t respond with respect and patience, what are your chances of getting respect and patience in return?