On Seeing Yourself In GamerGate, And Why That Hurts

GamerGate has a lot of thinkpieces going up lately, and with reason. And it does need to stop. But it needs to stop for more than just the obvious reasons.

First, let’s get this out of the way: Misogynist cowards harassing women is a perpetual problem on the Internet, and some aspects of GamerGate are just the same old story being reenacted. A hate group has lit upon a new mask to wear, and we should treat it accordingly, by ripping the mask away. They may play games, but the people driving Brianna Wu out of her house and calling in shooting massacre threats to Anita Sarkeesian speeches are not gamers. They are cowards, and should be referred to as such.

But what about the other part of the movement, about how being a gamer is an identity and that any sort of criticism of it is a hate crime? It’s easy to mistake this as just a cover for misogynist stupidity, which in some cases, it assuredly is.

In others, though, it’s a separate problem. There are gamers, often young, often with personal problems they don’t want to deal with, that are defining themselves entirely by their hobby. And, speaking from personal experience, that is a bad, bad way to be.

For a while, I’d say between the ages of about 17 to 24, video games were pretty much all I had going on in my life. I did other things: I went to college. I was a resident assistant. I taught myself how to juggle. I had my first real, legitimate long-term relationship. But mostly, what I did was game. All that other stuff was just… obstacles. Main quests. Stuff I had to get done so I would be left alone to game.

So, whenever gaming got attacked, I took it personally, because that’s what I based my sense of self on. Any perceived attack on gaming was an attack on me, and I fought back, angrily, viciously.

I look at GamerGate, and honestly, so much of what I see is myself from that time, that same lack of perspective, that same fear that if my hobby gets “taken away” or changed at all there will be nothing of me left. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes it makes me angry.

But mostly what I feel is regret. I get it. I get it completely. Who doesn’t want to spend as much time as possible in a world where personal growth is objective and defined by actions easy to understand? Where once you know how somebody reacts to something, you can count on them to do the same thing every time? Where things make sense and everything really is built on merit?

It’s an odd and socially acceptable form of being utterly selfish and self-involved, and it’s not limited to video games. There’s not much fundamental difference between GamerGate and football fans being outraged that somebody might think there’s something rotten in the NFL.

And that’s why GamerGate needs to stop, why this echo chamber needs to be broken. There’s nothing wrong with loving your hobby. I still game, of course, but I don’t take Brad Bushman being unscientific as a personal affront anymore. I’m not just a gamer.

What too many in GamerGate want to hear is that it’s OK to have no perspective, that it’s OK for your hobby to eat your life, and it truly isn’t. Who you are shouldn’t be defined by what you buy, no matter what it is.