Article Review Anger, fear, and games: The long event of #GamerGate, by Torill Elvira Mortensen (2018)

Mortensen (2018) takes the reader through a story arc to define the event #GamerGate; however it has not come to a tidy conclusion yet (just type in the hashtag in Twitter). From the underground buzz where discourse began and how it gained momentum in mainstream social channels, to using a "swarm metaphor to describe its self-organizing nature" and gradually building to a crescendo with the declaration that #GamerGate is akin to hooliganism; defined by Merriam-Webster as "rowdy, violent, or destructive behavior." Mortensen explores #GamerGate and states that "it is a unique chance to understand more about games and their culture". The author explores the motivations behind the ugly and damaging vehemence of the GG’s supporters’ presence throughout this event.

Hayes (2019) states that "according to game theory, the actions and choices of all the participants affect the outcome of each". As in game theory, #GamerGate has its players, strategy, the payoff, and an information set, which is information available at a given point in the game. The players acted accordingly based on the information at hand, misguided and/or warped through a rousing game of telephone as it may have been, and often piggy-backing off of a few key players that were perhaps more prominent in the game. #GamerGate is to this day a polarized debate, with many different outcomes for its players based on their actions. Mortensen references gamers demonstrating very clearly what Leigh Alexander tried to say, "that gamer culture is extremely varied and often in conflict with itself" (p. 799). This will be illustrated in the body of the review, and is one of the key components to #GamerGate and helps to explain the pivot during the "buzz".

The Buzz | Game and Players

According to many sources, #GamerGate began in August 2014 with a manifesto written by Eron Gjoni accusing his ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn (game developer) of cheating on him with five men, one of whom was a game review journalist, and it was suggested that she received a favorable review for her Twine game "Depression Quest". This prompted backlash from the gaming community, to the point where Zoe's personal information was leaked online. This discourse simmered until it boiled over into the Twittersphere.

The topic of conversation then turned to the ethics of game journalism. As Mortensen reports, "the barrage of hate messages online and off-line increased when a group of journalists wrote articles questioning gamer identity", and this is where the pivot happened in the gaming community. The gaming community immediately got their defenses up and ultimately lashed out as they felt threatened. Their identities as gamers were being called out, and by females, no less - encroaching on their precious territory and in their minds forcing them to protect their gaming world as they knew it - and there was no room or tolerance for female perspectives muddying the waters.

This brings us to the swarm.

The Swarm | Strategy

Mortensen states that "it is vital to keep in mind that GG was not a unified group—the individuals of the swarm were not the whole". Some strategies that GG supporters used to defend their territory are documented in the article. An example highlighted by Mortensen was Joshua Goldberg, one of the more prolific participants in the GG discussions, who often uses double-sided arguments when posting in online forums, effectively muddying the waters himself.

Another example cited is that GG supporters as online participants are also quite astute at "doxing, revealing otherwise hard to find information about individuals, happened frequently to opponents or critics of GG". But, it was difficult to prove that they were behind the attacks due to the swarm effect.

Mortensen also characterizes gamers here: "Players of digital games are an active audience group, used to participate through gaming and in meta-discussions, and known to act out if annoyed". It is as if they had been training for #GamerGate, and they brought their tricks and bravado forward in full force. After all, doxing as a strategy has proven time and again effective in destroying the enemy.

This brings us to the payoff.

The Payoff

GG supporters, through their gameplay, received their payoff in a number of ways. It was reported that Zoe Quinn and Breanna Wu, due to threats made against them via doxing, had to leave home. This is a satisfying outcome for those who wish to silence their opponents and scare them into submission. There were also monetary benefits: "The Sarkeesian Effect is the work of Jordan Owen and David Aurini who received approximately US$8,800 a month for close to a year in order to create a documentary to criticize [Anita] Sarkeesian and demonstrate her supposed fraud (Owen & Aurini, 2014). It could also be argued that participating in online discourse, such as the tweet below, would be cathartic and a way for their voices to be heard while attempting to discredit the opposition (after believing that female gamers and the rest of their opposition were trying to take their identity away).

Tweet from July 19, 2019

Crescendo | Information Set

Mortensen states that GG...

...is a teaching moment for how ideals of freedom can facilitate harassment and silencing strategies, and a clear lesson in how certain online structures support tight, self-reinforcing echo chambers.

And, the cacophony reverberates. Mortensen reports that "GG’ers were channers, tumblerinas, and redditors. They produced endless videos and live streams." The barrage of messaging from GG'ers reinforces other GG'ers.

Van der Werff (2014) discussed United Kingdom-based games journalist Leigh Alexander (one of the journalists to write about the "gamers are dead" genre), and her theory about why the online backlash, primarily against female opponents, had gotten so vitriolic - and that is the changing nature of the video game industry itself.

"What I think is going on is that there's a cultural spasm happening that nobody expected that accompanies this mainstreaming of video games and the diversification of video games," she says.

Cunningham (2018) states that "the availability of software such as Gamemaker has allowed for the development of independent game design, which has opened up possibilities for women to be video game designers outside of the confines of the video game industry". With the democratization of game development underway, more women will be able to enjoy independent game design outside of the parameters of the video game industry.

Increased representation in the industry, along with male allies continuing to publicly support women, will hopefully move toward sustainable change in the system we live, work and play in, and make a difference in present and future online discourse about games, gaming and the opportunities therein. We need to change the conversation.

Article Review for: ETEC 565S

By: Melissa Lavoie


Cunningham, Carolyn M.. Games Girls Play : Contexts of Girls and Video Games, Lexington Books, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ubc/detail.action?docID=5331323.

Hayes, A. (2019, June 25). Game Theory. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gametheory.asp

Mortensen, T. E. (2018). Anger, fear, and games: The long event of #GamerGate. Games and Culture, 13(8), 787-806. doi:10.1177/1555412016640408

VanDerWerff, E. T. (2014, October 13). Why is everybody in the video game world fighting? #Gamergate. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2014/9/6/6111065/gamergate-explained-everybody-fighting


Image #1 by Vinson Tan from Pixabay

Image #2 by Parker_West from Pixabay

Image #3 by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Image #4: tjones. (2019, July 19). Untalented journalist @misstessowen at @vicenews using "outrage click-bait" to get views. #GAMERGATE was about gamer journos accepting bribes to write favorable reviews of new games. It also involved Zoe Quinn sleeping her way into favorable jobs in the industry. [Tweet]. https://twitter.com/Baddogonline/status/1152278121204371456

Image #5: Echo Chamber [Digital image]. (nd). Retrieved from https://me.me/i/alfred-english-25-mins-hey-hope-you-dont-mind-but-1458969

Image #6 by 11333328 from Pixabay

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Melissa Lavoie


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