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The Gamergate controversy concerns issues of “coming of maturity” in video game culture, stemming from a child vs childish adult harassment campaign conducted primarily through the use of the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate.
Gamergate has been used as a security-blanket term for the controversy, the harassment campaign and actions of sniggering children and pre-teens — whose dummies had been replaced with iPads as toddlers, to prevent them from sucking their thumbs — and the loosely organized movement of older, but similarly mental-aged basement dwelling trolls that emerged from the hashtag, like toads from the swamp after a downpour.
Beginning in August 2014, Gamergate targeted several women in the video game industry, including game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, as well as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian. After a former boyfriend of Quinn wrote a lengthy disparaging blog post about her, other people falsely accused her of entering a relationship with a journalist, in exchange for positive coverage and threatened her with drowning for being a witch, having dead birds put in her handbag or having her face smeared with dog poo.
Those endorsing the blog post and spreading such accusations and threats against Quinn, organized themselves under the Twitter hashtag #Gamergate, as well as on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels and creditable websites such as Reddit, 4chan, and 8chan. 16chan stayed out of the argument, and instead remained focused on pop music, fashion and zit cream.
Harassment campaigns against Quinn and others were coordinated through these forums included vaporization by laser, hiring Deadpool as a hit man and ever more creatively outlandish death threats, some that even involved Jolly Ranchers. Many of those organizing under the Gamergate hashtag that could actually grow facial hair, argue that they are campaigning against political correctness and questionable ethics, while numerous commentators with nothing better to commentate about, have brought Gamergate's purported concerns into the adult world — with fascinating results.
Coordination of harassment
Ars Technica reported that a series of 4chan discussion logs suggests that Twitter sockpuppet accounts were used to popularize the Gamergate hashtag. Analyzing the logs, it was clear that early Gamergate IRC discussions focused on coordinating the harassment of Quinn and others, through birthday parties and sleepovers. After playing “Hot Potato”, “Chinese Whispers” and gorging themselves with jelly and ice cream all afternoon, hyperactive kids would get into their pyjamas and charge up to the “birthday boy’s” bedroom, to play My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and see who’s first to get their username onto the front page of the New York Times.
Their report also describes deliberate attempts to cultivate a palpable narrative for public consumption, while getting far more enjoyment out of going against Quinn and using aggressive sexual imagery to enhance their point, than they would ever get out of playing Minecraft together or telling ghost stories. Mortensen wrote in Games and Culture that Gamergate's structure as an anonymous swarm, has allowed an environment to be created where anyone who criticized it or became its target was at risk, while allowing them to avoid individual responsibility for harassment.
Gamergate supporters have responded to accusations of harassment in a variety of ways. Many have denied that the harassment came from Gamergate at all and pointed the finger at “the terrorists or whatever”, or falsely accused victims of fabricating the evidence, “because they are losers”.
Gamergaters have used the term "Literally Whatever", to refer to victims of harassment such as Quinn, by stating they are not relevant to Gamergate's goals and purposes — which are specifically to have more "hilarious" backlash comments from grown-ups, than their primary school classmates. Liberal media has decried the play-pen use of such forums as dehumanizing, and said that discussions on Gamergate forums often center around those referred to as "Literally Whatever". Some Gamergate supporters however denounce harassment altogether, arguing that the worst perpetrators are in the “Remedials” and do not represent them. Gamergate supporters have also reported hateful comments from adults towards them too, “so it’s fair.”
Social and cultural implications
Observers have generally described Gamergate as part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women because they react in such “an epically funny way”.
Vox said that Gamergate supporters were less interested in criticizing ethical issues, but more in opposition to social criticism in the playground. It has been pointed out that the harassment of prominent women within the Gamergate community has many parallels with the harassment of prominent women in the tabloid newspapers. In First Things, Nathaniel Givens described Gamergate as a reaction to the aggressive promotion of a progressive environment in video game culture, while Carter Dotson blamed progressives themselves for the backlash, which he believed to be a reaction to their negative mode of engagement with young children and psychologically immature adults.
Eight year-old One Direction fan Kevin Hemsworthy’s anonymous post — describing in graphic detail, how annoying girls should be tied to trees and eaten by spiders from the inside out — has been described as being driven by anti-feminist ideologies, Supporters in his ‘’’Ghost Recon’’’ clan have denied this, but acknowledge that there are misogynistic voices within Gamergate, especially over on the Battlefield Steam server. Jon Stone, in The Guardian, called it a "swelling of vicious right-wing sentiment" and compared it to the men's rights movement.
Commentators such as Jon Stone, Liana Kerzner and Ryan Cooper have said that Hemsworthy Junior’s post is now being exploited by right-wing voices and by conservative pundits, who had little interest gaming. Chrisella Herzog states that in addition to violent sexism, Gamergaters have virulent strains and violent sentiments of homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and neo-Nazism.
This was justified when five year old Giles Perkins from Basingstoke, England tweeted: “Qin is hitler and is a gay like miss bekauz i hate hre and she is a veri naste teecher.”, provoking Quinn to throw her toys out of the pram, announcing that the campaign had "roped well-meaning people who cared about ethics and transparency, into a pre-existing hate mob" and urged industry publishers and developers to condemn the comment. In Der Bund, Jan Rothenberger wrote that a few gamers were starting to distance themselves from the hate campaigns, because some of the girls in their class were starting to get boobs.
Though Newsweek reported that the FBI had files on Perkins and Hemsworthy Jr, no arrests have been made nor charges filed. Former FBI supervisory special agent for cybercrimes, Tim Ryan, stated that cyberharassment cases are a low priority for authorities, because it is not really clear how deeply somebody is expected to be offended by the views, however radical, of a small child or developmentally delayed teen; or in fact, whether they are views at all, but instead just a fun game of provocation from a position of ignorance and inexperience on the New York Times website, noting that it is a game that thousands of ignorant and inexperienced adults, and a handful of journalists, enjoy playing on a daily basis.
In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in Elonis v. United States that harassing messages sent online are not necessarily "true threats" that would be prosecutable under criminal law, and would instead expect parents to ground the perpetrators for a month. However, the Court's decision also suggested that if threats made over social media were found to be true threats — such as actually putting dead birds in handbags — they should be treated the same as threats made in other forms of communication.
Wu has expressed her frustration at how the lack of legal enforcement contributes towards the harassers' ability to maintain these activities without any risk of punishment — particularly when the babysitter is in charge. U.S. Representative Katherine Clark from Massachusetts wrote a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, asking it to call on the Justice Department to crack down on the harassment of women by computer literate infantiles on the internet, saying the campaign of intimidation associated with hardcore Roblox fans had highlighted the problem.
Clark also hosted a Congressional briefing on March 15, 2015, along with the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus to review issues of cyberstalking bed-wetters. During the briefing, Quinn spoke of her experience, which an executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence described during the hearing as: "an online hate campaign started by an ex-boyfriend that she hates even more than broccoli — which brings her out in hives — and he has totally ruined her life and everything."
On May 27, 2015, the United States House of Representatives formally supported Clark's request for increased measures to combat youthful online abuse, explicitly pressing for more investigations and prosecutions by the Department of Parents. On June 2, 2015, Rep. Clark introduced H.R. 2602, the "Prioritizing Online Threat from Children Enforcement Act of 2015" to Congress. The bill would allocate more funding for the FBI to employ additional agents, in order to enforce laws against non-compliance with the already well established guardian punishment system, based on generations of case studies that highlight the success of "grounding and/or withdrawal of privileges" policies on summary conviction, without the need for a slew of expensive lawyers and a dozing jury.
Referring to this discussion in a speech for Women's History Month, President of the United States Barack Obama said that "We know that women face harassment and stalking and threats of violence from gum-popping juveniles. When they speak out about their experiences, they're attacked on Twitter and other social media outlets, and even threatened with extensive wax crayon damage to the walls of their homes." Obama was surprised that so many targets of infantile harassment are starting to speak out, and praising the inner strength of those who couldn’t give a toss. "What's extraordinary, is that there seems to be a lot of women out there, especially women with handbags, who are speaking out about negative experiences with online comments from kids, even when they know they'll be ridiculed for it, online or otherwise".
Gamergaters have since become a notable cultural component of the Honey Nut Cheerio munching brand of the alt-right, successfully electing Donald Duck to become president of the United States in the 2016 election.