How to end Gamergate: A divide-and-conquer plan.

How to End Gamergate

How to End Gamergate

Decoding the tech world.
Oct. 28 2014 12:53 PM

How to End Gamergate

A divide-and-conquer plan for dissolving a toxic online movement.

Photo by Stockbyte/Thinkstock.
Gamers are people, too.

Photo by Stockbyte/Thinkstock.

Gamergate must end as soon as possible. The human cost in harassment, threats, stress, and sheer nastiness is too high. People, disproportionately women, are harassed and doxed on a daily basis—in a few cases, even driven from their homes under threat of rape and murder. The Gamergate “debate,” such as it is, currently boils down to people screaming “It’s actually about ethics in gaming journalism!” and “It’s actually about misogyny in the gaming world!” at each other on Twitter. People are forced to take sides or else get caught in the crossfire.

David Auerbach David Auerbach

David Auerbach is a writer and software engineer based in New York, and a fellow at New America.

It is imperative to stop Gamergate because it’s currently a troll’s paradise, providing cover for a whole host of bad actors, whether they’re pro-Gamergate, anti-Gamergate, or simply wantonly malicious. Whatever a troll does under the cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but on Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc. Even some of the anti-feminist members of Gamergate still try at least to appear reasonable in order to get their distasteful points across. It’s the psychos, the hateful teenagers, and the diehard trolls who perform the scariest acts, and both sides of Gamergate serve them well. As a thoughtful IGN editorial put it, “[A]dditional visibility only encourages those who want to use the Movement as a means to stop rather than start discussions.” (For this reason, I will not be repeating the grisly details of specific harassment incidents here.)

I recently spoke to a number of vocally anti-Gamergate people and asked them how they planned to end Gamergate. Nobody knew. The standard reply was, “Gamergate should stop harassing people,” which is not an answer. The best I got was, “Gamergaters will get tired of it eventually,” but that’s not good enough. These people are watching a house on fire and refusing to dial 911 because they’re trying to shame the arsonist into making the call.


(For those who think I have gone too easy on Gamergate, please imagine here the worst invective against Gamergate you can imagine, including comparisons to the Cultural Revolution, the Black Death, and Jeffrey Dahmer.)

You probably can’t kill Gamergate altogether, any more than you can kill misogyny. Even Gamergate’s own members can’t stop their movement, since there’s no central authority. They’re able to manage coordinated action to a point, such as with letter-writing campaigns and attempts to police harassment coming from their ranks. But they can’t stop trolls and lunatics from sending death threats. (Neither can the FBI, it seems, as Amanda Hess reports.) They can’t stop the frequent breaches in tone that go well beyond the bounds of civility. Because they can’t suddenly dissolve their movement, instead you need to reduce the number of active Gamergaters through a strategy of divide and conquer, until what’s left is too small and rancid to appear appealing or effective.

What I’ll try to present below is the quickest way to reduce Gamergate’s members from thousands to hundreds. It is a political plan, not an ideological one, designed to curb the harassment without promoting any particular agenda. You can educate people later not to be misogynists, once people have stopped getting hurt. This isn’t Stonewall.



Ending Gamergate will not happen by moral grandstanding. Let’s quickly go over tactics that have been tried so far to stop Gamergate, none of which have worked:

But how do you deal with an amorphous, leaderless, chaotic, and incomprehensible movement like Gamergate? There are no less than 16 factions actively involved on either side, by my count, each with their own particular agendas and resentments. At this point the sides are defined less by ideology than by a) antagonism toward some faction on the other side and b) the willingness to accept (or despise) the Gamergate label:

Loosely Pro-Gamergate Loosely Anti-Gamergate
  • Hardcore and “mantle” gamers
  • Revanchist movement misogynists
  • Heterodox social justice heretics
  • Disgruntled game journalists and devs
  • Heterodox feminists
  • Anti-identity politics liberals
  • Libertarians
  • Anti-librul media conservatives
  • “Middlebrow” gaming media
  • Indie gaming scene
  • Social justice orthodoxy
    (Tumblr, ShitRedditSays, etc.)
  • Gawker, Vice, and other “hipster” media
  • Progressive media (e.g., Vox, Verge)
  • Geek-culture celebrities
    (e.g., Joss Whedon, Wil Wheaton)
  • Gaming studies academics
  • Mainstream progressives   

With such outsize personalities involved as ex–Occupy Wall Streeter-turned-neoreactionary Justine Tunney and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange (both pro-Gamergate), as well as footballer/gamer Chris Kluwe and #CancelColbert creator Suey Park (both very much anti-), each side has members who, under normal circumstances, would despise and loathe each other (and sometimes still do: there has been sniping between factions on both sides). The confusing online social justice movement has undergone a schismatic split during the conflict, with a heretical offshoot joining Gamergate—and there’s no way that LGBTQ social justice advocates want to associate with the likes of Breitbart News for a second longer than they feel is necessary. Then there are those—such as advertisers, gaming companies, game magazines, and much of the mainstream and conservative media—who have yet to take a definite side.

The key to reducing the movement’s size lies in the little known but surprisingly numerous species I call the Gamergate moderate (Gamergater moderabilus), which by my estimate constitutes well over half the movement. They are the people who make up Gamergate’s Harassment Patrol, which polices Twitter and has identified and reported some egregious harassers. Three of them appeared on HuffPost Live. Several talked with the Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama. They have spoken (mostly) respectfully to those with whom they disagree on Twitter, Reddit, and blogs, and they tend to self-identify as social and economic liberals (really!). A Gamergate moderate a) genuinely opposes harassment and does not commit it (except inadvertently); b) is upset primarily with the gaming press rather than women per se; and c) feels sufficiently disenfranchised to support Gamergate anyway. That last quality has led science-fiction writer John Scalzi to write that moderates are Gamergate’s “useful idiots,” building up the movement’s numbers and momentum while providing cover for harassment. I won’t comment on their politics, because they’re irrelevant for our immediate purposes. You don’t need to make them into progressive feminists—you just need to get them to leave Gamergate. Let’s make these idiots less useful.

You can see the moderate psychology on display in the two posts below, by trans lesbian gamer Sophia Eris and an anonymous Gamergate member, respectively. The dynamic is not male vs. female but consumer vs. media and victim vs. bullies. The moderates feel that they are unjustly maligned victims, and that Gamergate is their unfortunate port of last resort. It is possible to change that feeling without a cost to diversity and inclusivity in gaming and society: a non-zero-sum solution. The moderates started to fall into the movement’s self-reinforcing narrative when gamers en masse were deemed “obtuse shitslingers,” “misogynerds,” and other epithets in a dozen contemporaneous “gamers are dead” articles; every inflammatory comparison and slur since then (such as Gawker editor Max Read calling Gamergate members “neuroatypicals”) has boosted their numbers. Apologize for these exaggerations and they will start to fall out.

Courtesy of @hiddentranny via Twitter.
The psychology of a Gamergate moderate.

@hiddentranny via Twitter

Anonymous comment via Twitter.
Another Gamergate moderate.

Screenshot of anonymous comment, via Twitter

Above: A member of the gaming press thanking the Harassment Patrol.


The press has the most power to make Gamergate moderates drop out, because Gamergate moderates oppose the press more than they do any other element (yes, including women). The press has understandably not wanted to be seen as “giving in” to Gamergate, but reduced hostility hardly constitutes giving in. If the press acts in good faith and extends a hand to the moderates, they will break free of the Gamergate echo chamber and leave the movement. But the press may first have to admit that some Gamergaters have one or two valid concerns, even if they’ve gone about addressing them in a repugnant manner.


1. Talks with No Preconditions

As long as Gamergate members are demonized from all sides as harassers and nothing more, moderates and extremists alike will band together. One reason moderates are reluctant to abandon the Gamergate tag is because they’d rather be hated than ignored. But those aren’t the only two options.


Members of the press should actually talk to Gamergaters, as Hayley Tsukayama did. Be sincere, nuanced, wary, yet open-minded, as Sara Benincasa was in Playboy. Listen to what they say about harassment and what they’re trying to do about it. Help the Harassment Patrol if you have time (you don’t need to use the tag). Engage wise veterans of the gaming industry, such as Damion Schubert and Raph Koster—both anti-Gamergate, yet diplomatic about it—who have experience dealing with angry gamers and have already built (rickety) bridges with some of the moderates. Reflect Gamergate members, moderate and extreme, in the mirror of the media so that the movement and everyone else can see them.

2. Cleaning House

 From the beginning, no one has really contested the idea that much of the gaming press is crap. The notion that Gamergate is really about “ethics in journalism” is laughed off in light of the harassment and misogyny that’s been witnessed over the last two months—not because those ethics concerns are invalid, but because the movement has no credibility to be arguing over those things. Still, the ironic fact remains that moderates remain in the movement because of those concerns, not because of their misogynist tendencies. This wouldn’t mean a thing, of course, except that addressing those ethics concerns will get those moderates to leave Gamergate. That is why journalistic ethics are important.

 So as much as it may pain you to do so, consider the problems plaguing gaming journalism. The corruption is well-known; arguing over the particular trumped-up incidents that instigated Gamergate is a waste of time when games journalism is already a joke. Polygon writers, for example, are allowed to accept gifts from the companies they cover. Kotaku lets their writers donate to developers for “access” and expense the donations. Way back on Aug. 30, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier admitted to valid criticisms of the gaming press: that “games reporters loathe their audience; that games reporters are too close to the people they cover; that games reporters are too unwilling to see multiple angles of an issue.”


So would it hurt to do something about all this? One site, the Escapist, did issue new ethics policies and allowed civil discussion of Gamergate early after the start of the controversy, and Gamergate members, shockingly, seemed satisfied, as the Escapist did not make the Gamergate community’s boycott list, even after the Escapist subsequently ran 10 interviews with anonymous female game developers, many of whom were sharply critical of Gamergate.

Gaming site Destructoid’s founder and owner, Yanier Gonzalez, allegedly disclosed a former employee’s private medical information and bad-mouthed her at length while attempting to respond to controversy surrounding the firing of a different employee. Gonzalez deleted all her work from the site as well after firing the employee. ("Backing up her work is not my problem.”) Gamergate moderates have wondered, not without reason, why this unprofessionalism has gone unaddressed. The editor-in-chief at gaming site Gameranx, Ian Miles Cheong, who had lost previous Reddit moderator positions due to corruption, has admitted to saying, “Hitler is my idol ... Why didn’t the Holocaust kill your parents? Jews are nothing,” blaming it on the influence of the “toxic gaming community”—yet no one has asked if perhaps he puts a bad face on gaming journalism or might be an adverse influence on gamers. Major gaming forum NeoGAF has banned Gamergate discussion, yet hosts pedophilia discussions on non-age-restricted boards and has a sexist owner, Tyler Malka, who admitted to sexually assaulting a woman. 4chan owner Christopher “moot” Poole banned and then later unbanned Gamergate discussion while racist slurs, non-Gamergate doxings, and celebrity nudes flowed freely.

Gamergate supporters have wondered about the selective outrage—again, not without reason. Everyone on either side of Gamergate can agree that these people need to go. Doing something about these hypocrites is not giving into Gamergate—it’s doing the world a favor.

 It’s not just the gaming press that lacks the moral credibility to condemn Gamergate sincerely. While Ars Technica was quick to publish a “gamers are dead” article on Aug. 28, it has shown a curious reticence to cover Reddit scandals (both are owned by the same company, Advance), to the point of making no negative mention of Reddit in any article on the Fappening until 10 days after the scandal began, preferring to pin the blame on 4chan alone. Gamergate members are not unaware of these lacunae, which reinforce their own conspiracy narratives; it’s all too easy for Gamergaters to conclude the press is not acting in good faith and that they should stick with the movement—even though this in no way justifies the harassment given birth to by the movement.

Gawker Media, in particular, needs to overhaul not only their approach to Gamergate but their entire journalistic reputation, especially if they would like Gamergate members to stop writing to their advertisers asking them to drop Gawker. (It appears that BMW and Mercedes have already dropped them.) Owner of Kotaku, site of the initial “scandal” that sparked Gamergate, Gawker has led the charge behind the demonization of Gamergate. Yet Gawker has been terrorizing celebrities—especially female celebrities—for years, helping to foster an online culture of misogyny and exploitation. Gawker claims to be about journalism, but they’re actually about harassment. Gawker published stolen nudes of Olivia Munn and Heather Morris, outed Peter Thiel, slut-shamed Christine O’Donnell, violated Amanda Bynes’ privacy, and used the tone-deaf headline “Gooks don’t get Redskins joke.” (And let’s not forget Gawker’s initial reluctance to address Jezebel’s rape-GIF problem.) Gawker-owned Jezebel dubs Gamergate a “hate group” in an article by Willamette sociology undergraduate Jennifer Allaway, even as it offers $10,000 for unretouched pictures of Lena Dunham and links to stolen nudes of Christina Hendricks. Now Gawker is stirring up a new bogeyman for clicks, not social justice, defending women only after its revenue streams are threatened—a ploy some advertisers evidently see through. Gawker, if you want to claim any moral authority on Gamergate, I would first issue a public apology to all you have wronged—from Asians to Heather Morris to Amanda Bynes—issue new clear guidelines to guard against any backsliding, and change the company name to mark a clean break with the toxic Gawker brand. Failing that, Gawker publisher Nick Denton should at least turn the site over to a journalist with a pristine ethical track record.

Steps like these will show moderates that the press is aware of its deficiencies and is working to address them, and thus the ostensible goal of their movement is not sufficient to justify its continued existence.

3. Declaring an Amnesty

 So here’s the deal: After gaming journalism, tech journalism, and Gawker have begun to clean up their acts, after there’s some real admission of bad faith and hypocrisy on the part of some of these journalists, and after there’s some good conversation going with the moderates, the movement will start to fracture, as moderates will feel that a) the press is coming to terms with its own shortcomings and b) there are some unpleasant extremists in Gamergate. At that point, the only force keeping moderates in the movement will be inertia.

That’s when the gaming industry should declare an amnesty. Set a date before which using the Gamergate tag will not be cause for blacklisting, disqualification, or other prejudice in the industry. With any luck, some trust will have been forged between moderates and non-Gamergaters, and the moderates will be willing to leave the company of men’s rights activists and hateful teenagers to rejoin mainstream society. A few conciliatory apologies and “Things were said …” editorials would greatly help matters. (You should also lay off the “misogynerd” talk during this time, and preferably forever. That’s not critique—that’s name-calling.)

 You may be understandably hesitant to make such an offer to people who have been associated with the Gamergate movement. But if South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission can do it, I don’t think I’m asking so much. The particular flashpoint of Gamergate will recur in different forms, and you want as many people on the side of decency as possible.

 It would behoove the press and other observers of Gamergate to recognize that the movement’s flaws are, for the most part, flaws of the Internet, of online discourse, and in a larger sense, of humanity, and that the miasma that floats around Gamergate deserves to be attached to society at large. Every invocation of ISIS or the KKK wielded against Gamergate makes it that much clearer that the movement is a contrived bogeyman whose genuine danger has been exaggerated beyond its real but all-too-common levels of malice. Saying that “#gamergate is a movement that wrecks into cars and then gets out to beat the victims while screaming about how great it is to drive,” as one gaming journalist did, is beyond unprofessional, revealing more about the author’s mental state than Gamergate. When I wrote about online anonymous culture, I found that verbal abuse, racial epithets, doxxing, and death threats were ubiquitous. The media’s discovery of this abuse does not exempt them from doing the real work of researching it, reporting on it, and most significantly, not making it worse, especially when they are part of the story.

When Polygon editor Ben Kuchera tweets, “The legacy of the hashtag will be in its ability to prove how terribly this industry treats women,” he makes no sense. Gamergate is mostly made up of consumers, not industry members. (Developer Brianna Wu has pointed out that Gamergate is merely a symptom of a much larger problem.) Through sleight of hand, Gamergate absorbs the sins of gaming companies and media organizations. It’s a neat trick, making Gamergate a convenient target of ostracism that serves to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves and non-Gamergate elements of society. It has led to the endless flame wars that do nothing but prolong harassment, rather than solutions that would end it, in the hopes that if people scream loud enough, Gamergate will go away. In truth, we bear collective responsibility for these larger problems. Not just gaming, not just the Internet, but society itself has a sexism problem, a misogyny problem, a race problem, and a harassment problem. America is Gamergate. Start admitting that, and Gamergate starts dissolving.