11/26/2015 17:33 CST: I reached out to Bonegolem for comment on Johnathan Holme’s assessment of Deepfreeze.it. He came back with me with a number of corrections and clarifications that weren’t properly
One thing that I should clear out, both in regards to the perceived lack of feedback requests and since you touch on the topic. DeepFreeze was NOT conceived as a journalism site, but as an ARCHIVE. All the ~300 entries that were on the site at its inception came from public resources, such as the list of GameJournoPros members, the GamerGate wiki and the exceptional digging work of
@BoogiepopRobin (http://pastebin.com/dRYg8v95 ). I’ve initially not contacted journalists because the site was just reporting pre-existing material that it was assumed they were already aware of. This has sort of changed as DF became a relevant hub and diggers started coming to me directly.
For instance, Holmes’ entries came from the Wiki originally (https://archive.is/XoKwx#selection-705.0-709.12 …), then the same digger who put them there and warned me about them started sending stuff directly to me, and that’s when I started contacting Holmes before filing.
It should also be noted that if all journos were people like Holmes — whose conversations with me have been polite, pleasant and insightful and who is very ready to discuss stuff with me — I certainly wouldn’t have made a “sledgehammer” like DF for ’em. Most journos filed are people who have me blocked preemptively for wrongthink, say that the hundreds of entries on my site are all non-issues and adamantly repeat without a shred of proof that I and my fellow GG people are misguided reactionaries at best and monsters at worst. I’ve tried my best to build a dialogue with those people, but I would say that is not something they want.
Also, while the article mentions that Bonegolem “researches, curates, and records all information”, in actuality most of the research is done by the GG community as well as an invaluable team of volunteer diggers with Bonegolem verifying and cataloging.
Welcome to the final chapter of my rambling diatribe on the gaming industry. If you’ve managed to stick with it for this long, you have my thanks and I sincerely hope that your patience was deserved. When we last left off, we had just ran through a laundry list of ethical infractions and did some imaginative thinking in the hopes of providing context as to how someone can become so embittered towards their readers or flagrantly disregard basic ethical principles. This is the last stop, and it is here where we will discuss the possible far-reaching consequences of the reckless field burning actioned by a contemptuous media and a brow-beaten fandom. Let’s start with the people that have been harmed.
On Consequences and Dostoevsky’s Bull
First and foremost, it’s impossible to talk about #GamerGate without talking about harassment. The media has largely denounced #GamerGate as a misogynist hate-group tasked with chasing women from the industry, and unfortunately it’s the hurdle that a person sympathetic to #GamerGate must usually overcome before they can even talk about anything else. While there are questions as to the credibility of some of the threats against notable personalities, such as Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn, since some of them read like banter from a DotA 2 match gone sour, there is no doubt that these personalities receive a certain amount of hostility towards them and no small amount of contempt within certain circles. Regrettably, any movement can be hamstrung by the fiery invective of an unhinged supporter—whether it’s #GamerGate or social advocacy.
Allow me to introduce The Common Sense List™:
1. Professionals should be held to ethical standards and punished when they fail to meet them.
2. Racism is bad.
3. Sexism is bad.
4. Harassment is bad.
Nice and easy, right? I think you’ll find that most people would give it a cursory glance and agree wholly with it. Enter our friend “context.” His job is to completely screw everything up because a situation then becomes dependent on your interpretation. What constitutes harassment? What’s sexist? What’s racist? Is there a situation in which it’s excusable for someone to bend the rules? Do any of these things change depending on the personality of the person involved (e.g. One woman being pleased with a compliment about her appearance and another being offended at being objectified)? By moral relativism we judge these scenarios case by case. Things like gender, socioeconomic status, motivation, and all sorts of crap come out of the wood works to turn what should be unalienable truths into a subjective bloodbath.
Further complicating the issues are extremists who would utilize an event or a person to push their agenda. Extremists act as idea repellent, so ferociously incapable of listening to another person’s point of view that it borders psychosis. These hanger-ons have the unfortunate side-effect of being the most sensational, and thus, the most visible in an otherwise level-headed room.
Having never been a victim of harassment—or harassed so weakly that it failed to register as such—it’s impossible for me to explain what it must be like to be a recipient past some basic empathy. Empathy, you will find, is a commodity sorely missing in this controversy. When you make blatant attacks on people rather than their ideas, you’re setting the stage for people to regard you as a persona non grata, and believe me, they would much rather be able to dismiss you as a lunatic than actually have to address your concerns. Furthermore, by engaging in this behavior you spoil it for everyone because, unfortunately, cherry picking is a thing. Critics will gleefully find the most abusive thing you’ve ever said and use it as a tool to tear down your house. We no longer, or perhaps never did, live in a world where arguments can be analyzed piece by piece rather than as a whole. If one ingredient is bad, the entire thing gets thrown out in today’s hypersensitive society.
What is clear is that, as is often the case, law has failed to keep pace with technology. The few that attempt to touch subjects such as online harassment do so with the surgical precision of a mallet. We must be incredibly critical of any legislation that seeks to address the issue of harassment, as if the language is too loose or too narrow you have the difference between legislation that can be used to censor more than is intended or a completely ineffectual mess. Additionally, anyone who has ever observed a government attempt to solve a problem will quickly realize that not everyone will be happy with the outcome of their intervention, and not just the abusers. In fact, it will only be a precious, happy, few that would benefit at all. We’re talking live keno odds that it’s going to be you.
Stepping away from civics and harassment, let’s re-visit our example of The Witcher 3, in which Tauriq Moosa infamously complained about the lack of diversity. While, once again and until it’s said enough to sink in, it is the duty of a critic to broach subjects like race and equality, one must consider whether or not this was the battleground to do it on. Some critical examination would reveal that The Witcher 3 is a very Polish game. A little bit of historic research will reveal that like all cultures the Poles have a rich and varied history that ranges from their role as a defender of Christendom from the Ottoman Empire to a haven for Jews that escaped German flagellants in the 1300’s, only to be rooted out and nearly exterminated by Hitler a few centuries later. It’s also a game rooted in fantasy, and despite the criticisms of Moosa, you don’t have to look far to see the game attempt to approach issues such as race and inequality under its own terms (see: dwarves and elves living among humans). Moosa addressed all of these complaints in his review, but I feel that despite accusations of being colorblind, he lives in a very black and white world where things either are or are not, with little room for cross-over. Further, his critique reads less like a conversation about inclusivity and more like a near-accusation of racism on the part of CD PROJEKT RED. Tauriq would later elaborate, stating “I don’t think Witcher 3 is racist; I don’t think CDPR is racist. I think gaming culture has a race problem perpetuated by unconscious biases.” In other words, it’s no longer CD PROJEKT RED that’s racist, it’s the people that play their games.
I sympathize with Tauriq. If you managed to see through the red-haze that some of his ham-handed insinuations may incite, you can plainly see that he loves The Witcher 3. He loves gaming. He thinks his message is worthwhile. Some of his points are spot on, while others fall hilariously flat. The question is, when you denounce Slavic culture as “white” are you any less guilty of racism than the people you would indict? Are Poles so indistinctly white in their culture and appearance that they simply mesh into the background along with their celebrated history and culture? The fact is you’ve just marginalized somebody, and the fact that they presumably share the same skin color as the predominant privileged race on the planet does not excuse it. Had The Witcher 3 been made by a small developer, these accusations could have sunk them. Thankfully, The Witcher 3 has sold more than six million copies, but that’s evidently indicative of institutionalized racism on the part of the consumer.
What about the argument of artistry? Many Japanese games are coming over censored for fear of backlash from sensitive consumers, or are outright not being released to the west at all. If we have all these outlets making the attempt to push video game into artistry, then what does it say about us if we only allow the right kinds of art? What does it say about us if we’re so insulted by seeing some underboob—no more than we’d see on CW33—that we have created an entire industry where developers are afraid to make what they want? Where is their safe space? What if people came over and were like, “Look Paul Gauguin, we can’t have you painting topless islanders. It’s sexist and it’s racist. Look at how stereotypically she’s dressed!” “Sorry, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, stop painting sexualized pictures of sleeping girls with cats. Did you even get her consent?” “What’s the deal with all that bulging butt-flesh between the fingers of the attacker in The Rape of Proserpina, Gian Lorenzo Bernini? You’re enabling rape culture and hyper-sexualizing violence!”
Before I get called out, Impressionists were widely dismissed when they started out. In fact, “Impressionist” was originally an insult, implying that their paintings were only the impressions of paintings. Despite harsh criticism from art gatekeepers and critics, the public sympathized and came to embrace Impressionists, forever cementing their legacy in art and history. While the absurdity of imagining a pair of perfect breasts jutting defiantly at poo-pooing critics—never-you-mind comparing video games and pixelated tits to high art—goes without saying, it’s a hilarious mental image. That all being said, if you’re making the case that video games can be art, you should probably stop being so sanctimonious about what someone decides to create.
Conversely, if you look at a company like Rockstar they clearly don’t care what people think about their games and push them out uncensored. They’ve refused to compromise. Perhaps it’s a case of developers (read: PR departments) being fearful of being sank by criticism more than anything else.
Revisting Garrett Martin from Paste:
If you cast judgement on the types of games other people play, finding them not worthy, not fit for a real “gamer”, you’re contributing to the same type of bullying that might have driven you into games in the first place.
This was said within the contexts of defending casual games against hardcore gamers. Strangely enough, I think it fits quite well as a description of the sort of relationship that’s happening between progressive games media and gamers. The word “gamer” here is irrelevant; the implication that people judging the sort of games people want to play is bullying survives without a qualifier. Like it or not, if you want a place at the dinner table for art games, there’s going to have to be a placing set for entertainment. The argument is that there’s already a space for entertainment and it’s art games that are trying to get in, to which I openly wonder “Who’s stopping them?”
Gone Home is a poster child for progressive art games. Some would have you believe that it’s been widely harassed, but a glance at the steam store—a haven of scum and villainy and the maligned PC Master Race™—reveals that it has over 10,000 positive reviews and only ~2,000 negative. Surely those negative reviews must be the neanderthallic grunting of entitled gamers bashing their woman-clubbers against the ground of their mother’s-basement-cum-rape-dungeon in a fitful tantrum? The most-helpful negative reviews seem to largely pan the game for its $20.00 price tag and less than two hours of game play. The fact of the matter is nothing is preventing these games from being made. No one is denying creators access to the tools or funds to make them.
If companies can take a hit or two, what about people? People like Stardock CEO Brad Wardell, whom was dragged through the press on accusations of sexual harassment. There were some outlets that reported matter-of-factly on the accusation without any evidence save for the accusation itself, with Ben Kuchera originally reblogging the article with the words “damning evidence,” only to change it later to “heavy allegations.” When the case was later dismissed with prejudice by a judge, there were no immediate attempts at an apology or a follow-up article addressing their mistake. Brad Wardell was disposable to them. His story drew in controversy-clickers, and when facts inconveniently sabotaged their presumptive articles, he was garbage canned without so much as a “Sorry for nearly ruining your life, Brad.” He was reduced to an outrage commodity, expended, and discarded. It wasn’t until #GamerGate happened that publications started to apologize for their fumbling—two years after the initial articles made the rounds.
While Brad Wardell, a prominent CEO of a game development house, made for a perfect target, the press would be reluctant to pursue the sex life of Nathan Grayson. After Eron Gjoni basically posted a gigantic revenge blog airing all sorts of dirty laundry between he and indie darling Zoe Quinn, questions of cronyism arose when it was implied that Nathan Grayson may have failed to disclose a relationship with a subject he mentioned in his reporting. Publications that had a field day with unsubstantiated harassment claims couldn’t be bothered to consider the implication that one of their own may have failed to disclose a relationship. The very question itself was so insulting that users found themselves banned simply for asking about it. By failing to address the concerns of their readership, however banal it may have seemed to them, journalism outlets were enforcing a prickly double standard that widened the gulf between journalists and their readers. Eventually EIC Stephen Totilo admitted that at least the question of ethics was legitimate well after the flashpoint, raising the question of whether it just took him that long to figure out there was a problem or if he was merely biding his time to see if the whole thing would blow over.
Many websites simply handled the situation by closing comments sections altogether, citing a hostile environment and #GamerGate. Supposedly writers were unable to work in these spaces, so comments were closed. Keeping in mind that, at the time, other sites like NeoGAF were actively banning users who so much as whispered #GamerGate, and Reddit was being actively purged by mass shadow-bans and entire subreddits being suspended. All of these things made it abundantly clear that these websites either no longer cared about what their users thought, or only cared about what certain users thought.
Destroying debate because you feel you have the moral high ground speaks to the notion that you are above questioning based off of your ideals rather than the strength of your argument. It’s the same logic that states having progressive values makes you an inherently good person, or that a woman’s argument should be taken at face value because of her gender or a scarcity of their opinion, or that a man’s argument can be dismissed based on the virtue of his masculinity (see: “mansplaining” and ponder the hypocrisy of someone saying it unironically in the same breath that they may comment on “men’s issues”). It’s a throwback to an antiquated notion of natural good and natural evil—that by somehow being a member of a certain gender or holding a particular idea dear automatically absolves a person of accountability. It extends insidious tendrils of academic laziness into the hearts and minds of the people and asks them to swallow dogmatic rhetoric without question for fear of excommunication from “the good guys.”
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. By willfully committing ethical violations or failing to correct them, these people are endangering not only their reputation, but that of every product or person they ever said something nice about. The great irony here is that perhaps in their eagerness to push an agenda or empower a disenfranchised group, they have actually meted out an incalculable blow to their cause. A game that may have timely social commentary, novel gameplay, non-traditional mechanics, or a diverse development team may be hampered by an enthusiastic journalists failure to disclose, or outright dishonesty.
Of course, there is their reputation we mentioned. In an age of information that never forgets and readily records infractions in Tumblr receipts or websites that serve as a who’s who of journalism’s bad boys, how long will it take to recoup the credibility that you’ve spent your entire career building? Years of good, honest work can be undone and cast in a doubtful shadow with but a single intentional blunder. Can your career survive that sort of black spot?
Perhaps your nagging or lack of adherence to ethical guidelines has completely alienated your fanbase. You may have lost them when you insinuated that the games they play are sexist or racist, and therefor they are sexist and racist if they support them. It may have been when you implied that people are too stupid to differentiate between fantasy and reality. While there are many mental illnesses that cover this exact phenomena, your average adult is going to look at gonzo, hyper-sexualized, vapid characters and realize that they’re just that—characters. They exist only within the dimensions of fantasy and escapism, larger than life in personality and likely proportions, and often heavily stepped in time-honored tropes that have done the heavy lifting in stories for years—perhaps even centuries. It could have very well happened when people raised questions about your integrity and you decided you were above questioning. It doesn’t really matter. The result is the same: you lost a reader, a fan, and as we may see in a moment, a potential defender because you bungled the way in which you chose to talk about sensitive issues or failed to provide context or explain why the reader should think the way you do past, “Ew, it’s gross.”
While we’re on the topic of reputation, we can revisit the Kotaku / Bethesda / Ubisoft situation. One can only wonder if Kotaku had been a little less barbed in their interactions with the community if gamers would be more willing to come to their aid. Has their contempt for people who do not share their views driven people who would have otherwise been sympathetic to their plight into a group that now revels in the schadenfreude of the situation? I suspect that many people will reject the notion that they’d act differently were it someone else, but can’t shake the feeling that, that is precisely what’s happening. Their failure to disclose or to be civil has basically turned their moment of need into The Battle of Ostagar: the horn was sounded, and reinforcements grimly turned their back. For the purposes of analogy and so I don’t have to come up with a better one, let’s assume this was a revisionist history and it was the King who turned his back on Logaine.
Mind you, like most people I wasn’t fooled by Totilo’s attempt to spin Kotaku as being some whistleblowing vanguard that was being bullied for doing their jobs. I don’t think the leaks they provided were dangerous, but I do believe that all their attempts to paint Ubisoft and Bethesda as racist or sexist did wonders for digging them a Kotaku-shaped grave in their PR departments. They played the game and they lost. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to celebrate, as Ubisoft and Bethesda have shown in the past that they’re hardly pro-consumer with Ubsioft and their inane DRM that does little to stop piracy and Bethesda trying to monetize mods that make their games playable. We can all marvel at the spectacle of a blood-sport between these entities for all the schadenfreude it’s worth. Erik Kain, Tycho from Penny Arcade, Breitbart, and practically every outlet has commented on the situation. To properly sum up my thoughts on it, I’d have to write an entirely different article. Suffice to say I have reservations on both ends. You can see a bulk of my thoughts on the subject on Twitter.
If you need further evidence of the consequences of failing to act with integrity, you need look no further than #GamerGate itself. How much of #GamerGate could have been mitigated by a simple admission of wrongdoing, an apology, an investigation, or God forbid, a disclosure? By relentlessly pursuing a position of absolute, infallible authority with all of these conflicts of interest in plain sight, attempts to wish, ignore, or insult #GamerGate away have only fattened the beast. It was a miscalculation made by minds that were clearly out of touch with their subscribers, and one that they pay for this very day. How long will the fires burn and the guillotines chime as the inquisition marches implacably on?
Now you’ve got a monster on your hands: a consumer revolt that feels you no longer represent them. They’re angry, and worse, informed. They know who they need to talk to, to put your business in peril. They know how to organize and propagate information. Worse, they’ve become sensitive to criticism. After so long of being beaten and lied to and treated like garbage, they’ve stopped flinching at the raise of a hand and have started biting. It does not take much to earn their ire, and they will stop at nothing to root out every stupid or out-of-context thing you’ve ever said on the Internet and bring it to bear against you. It’s a scary time to be a journalist, even an honest one. You dare not provoke, but it’s integral that you be able to talk about mature subjects such as race, sexism, gender, or inequality without getting a knee-jerk reaction that you’re some cultist trying to brainwash them. You have not only effectively burned your bridge with your audience, but everyone else’s as well. You’ve successfully made an entire demographic resistant to ideas because you wouldn’t shoot straight with them over divisive issues or simple disclosures.
This doesn’t seem to be a problem to games journalists, however. You see, they’ve already chalked you up as a casualty. Once you showed resistance to their accusations and ideology, you banished yourself from the light of their presence. The “Gamers are not your audience” blitz was indicative that they no longer consider you worth “saving.” They would rather play with words, such as “gamer,” and attempt to abolish it from the lexicon of the industry by smearing it over and over again. Like some sort of effigy that’s supposed to be representative of all the supposed wrong-doing in the games industry, they have sacrificed the term “gamer”—a term with a sordid history, but undeniably a perfectly functional description for video game enthusiasts—on the pyre in some fleeting hope that by destroying it, they have somehow exorcised gaming of all of its alleged shortcomings. You see, it’s much easier to play with semantics than to admit that maybe there’s a problem in video games that’s not rooted in sexism or racism. It’s a problem with honesty, and when your argument is built on a crumbling foundation, it’s incredibly difficult to believe the things you say, no matter how noble they are.
So what do you do when the traditional media no longer represents you? What options are available to someone who is constantly being shouted down? I’m happy to tell you that it’s not the end of the world, but it may be the end of an era.
Pulitzer May Own the World But He Don’t Own Us
What good would all this consideration be if we didn’t examine ways that we can fix this god-awful mess? The fact of the matter is that the moment #GamerGate blew up, people already started to naturally patch the hole in the roof.
If the traditional media no longer represents you, then you’ve little recourse but to take matters into your own hands. Enter the citizen-journalist, a concerned individual that takes pen in hand in an attempt to highlight issues that they feel may have been misrepresented or outright ignored by major outlets. We know them as bloggers—non-professionals that happen to be handy with words. Though a great deal of harm can be contributed to the blogosphere in terms of vetting their sources, they can be crucial in a continuing the flow of suppressed ideas.
The next logical step would be to create alternative outlets that aren’t afraid to talk about issues that others refuse to. Several of these websites have already cropped up, or been around for a while, and are now experiencing a flux of new readers thanks to #GamerGate. I’m not going to spend time giving you direct suggestions as to who you should read, but I will offer you a few criteria to look out for in selecting the outlet that’s right for you. Firstly, it’s imperative that they have a clear code of conduct and ethical guidelines. Second, it’s critical that they actually follow them. Third, you want a publication that’s not afraid to admit when they goofed and make active attempts at making things right with the community. This is not to be confused as pandering—they should be willing to stand by their statements if the facts line-up. Finally, a little bit of transparency goes a long way.
There’s been some hub-bub about these sites. In their infancy, TechRaptor included, mistakes were made. Sometimes big mistakes. Critics have been quick to call into question our professionalism and suggest that we’re bumbling idiots that have no business talking about ethics. It’s a learning process, I’ll admit. I’m no journalist; I am a journalist in the same way that a coconut is a nut. The best I can do is try to support my ideas with evidence and not lie to the public. These are simple things, but simple things that all of these gigantic outlets that were supposed to be the professionals seem to have forgotten. What harm is there in amateurs giving it a shot if the professionals can’t even be trusted?
Besides, we have you. Queue “dawwww.” Really, though—every reader can participate in bettering the industry by staying vigilant for potential ethical violations. As I’ve said before, and will say until I’m blue in the face, it is the consumers job to be educated and to take the industry to task when they fall out of line. Always try to approach the publication first and give them a chance to explain themselves or correct the mistake. Give them the benefit of the doubt, even if it seems to blatant to be accidental. If it’s a clear infraction of the FTC guidelines, feel free to make a complaint.
I would suggest that you could turn to YouTube, but it’s fairly clear that even before #GamerGate, people already were. We’ve already talked about the fear of the old guard being replaced by new media, so we’re not going to beat it to death any longer. Suffice to say, there’s a YouTube channel out there for everyone.
You also have a tool in Deepfreeze.it, though it clearly has some ways to go before it can be fully realized as a potent industry watchdog. In its current incarnation, it serves as a list of individuals within games media and their crimes. I reached out to founder Bonegolem on social media and we had a very frank discussion about the site, how it works, and its future.
Bonegolem reminds me of an Old-God imprisoned in the aftermath of the Titanomachy, doomed to hew into stone the names and crimes of games journalists until the worlds undoing. Given that he is the sole source of output at Deepfreezeit—that is, he researches, curates, and records all the information that you see presented on the site with only a cursory double-check from the community—he has a large enough backlog to do precisely that. He’s articulate, passionate, but undeniably exhausted by the gravity of his effort. A humble farmer, he mentioned to me that Deepfreeze.it is a lesser incarnation of a resource he one day wishes to make for elected officials.
When I first approached him I was met with “I really hope you hate DF and want to tear me apart because easy questions are boring,” which is either indicative of paranoia or a desperate need to escape the drudgery and toil. I’m of the mind it’s the latter. From there, our conversation drifted into the nature of Deepfreeze.it as a watchdog, which he plainly admitted:
I don’t think DF is likely to become a successful watchdog. It’s a photograph of a terrible situation, but too small a venue to become a industry-wide watchdog. It would need staff, and a lot of corrections.
When asked what he would need to bring Deepfreeze.it to a level where it could be that watchdog, he replied “People,” and somewhat reluctantly a moment later, “Cash would also not be bad, as it would allow me to dedicate more time to it. I chose not to create a Patreon etc., though.” You can sense a palpable apprehension when it comes to money. Many earnest figures within the #GamerGate movement seem to find the notion of asking for money distasteful, perhaps as a result of the noted trend of their opposition having Patreon accounts replete with donations despite an implied lack of creative output.
A lack of creative output is not what I would use to describe the one-man show that is Bonegolem’s Deepfreeze.it, however. The creator mentions that he’s only just now getting around to the Wu media blitz of October, 2014. Despite the glacial pace at which entries are painstakingly researched, logged, and presented there’s still an incredible volume of information available given the fact that it’s the effort of a single person.
Critical to understanding the process of Deepfreeze.it is the site’s rules and guidelines, self-imposed by Bonegolem himself to ensure he has pillars in place to keep him from overstepping his own boundaries. He concedes that Deepfreeze.it would be better served if operated by a member of the SPJ, or some other ethics-oriented entity. As our conversation drifted from the running of Deepfreeze.it, to the development of a back-end that will hopefully allow him to bring more people on board and expedite some of the processes, we came to a critical question of the perceived bias that Deepfreeze.it has been accused of having for its “approved” sites.
He points to the fact that he filed Christopher Heeley, founder of GamesNosh, as well as Steve Butts, William Usher, and that the fact despite defecting from “aGG” Ian Miles Cheong has most of his infractions still standing. I asked the more pointed question of what about TechRaptor’s own Georgina Young and Andrew Otton. In the case of Georgina Young, he dismissed it as a failure to give right of reply, a journalism professional courtesy that led me to contact him to begin with, but one that is often neglected. “I’d have to file a quadrillion articles. I got the feeling no one even read the fucking description apart from squibbles.” With Otton, he states: “…if anyone in the comments had made a proper case I’d have filed Otton. I could’ve gone either way there.”
Indeed, much of what Deepfreeze.it files seems to be constrained by the work load it might entail. For instance, the site seems strictly geared towards games journalism. As an example, the site mentions how it has 40+ Kotaku infractions but only one for Jezebel, a fellow Gawker site. The reason being that the Jezebel author got caught up in a scandal with other games journalists.
My talks with Bonegolem gave me the impression that he’s well-aware of the shortcomings of his own creation, would love to change it, but has a lot of work to be done before he can even start to help himself. There’s even a hint that it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he’s crushed by the enormity of the task all together.
Deepfreeze.it, of course, has many outside critics. Former Destructoid EiC Jonathan Holmes has expressed skepticism with Deepfreeze.it, namely that it only paints journalists negatively. I reached out to him for clarification on his article and received the following:
So here’s what I think about Deepfreeze.it.It seems like the site was a hobby project initially created out of spite and distrust for people who blog about videogames, and it doesn’t seem like it’s evolved a ton since then. As such, I tend to forget it exists until someone (such as yourself) reminds me that they’re still going. I think the folks running the site want to provide a fair service to gamers, but they seem way too driven by negativity to ever get there.I know they don’t want to be biased against game bloggers, but everything about the site, from concept to execution, is about demonizing people who write about videogames. Though they try to say something nice about a games writer every once in a while, the vast majority of the content on the site takes a hostile and punitive approach towards assessing their subjects. I’m sure the writers for Deepfreeze.it would agree, it’s really hard to fairly critique something or someone when you are charged with bias during your assessment.The whole idea that gamers and game bloggers exist in two different categories is doomed to fail from the start. If you’ve chosen to try to write about video games in a professional capacity, chances are you really like video games. I figure that would go without saying. Still, I get the temptation to slap a label on a subset of gamers in order to vilify or glorify them. It’s a terrible idea, but it probably feels good to imagine that the world is that black and white. The same goes for the way we assess games and game developers. Branding a pejorative stamp on a game, game developer, or games writer may feel justified in the moment, but it’s a surefire way to miss out on the big picture.If I were ever to take Deepfreeze.it or some other “journalism about game journalists” site seriously, they’d have to stop with the nonsense labeling, give detailed explanations [of] the situations surrounding their subjects, and most importantly, ask their subjects for comment and clarification before writing about them. No one at Deepfreeze.it has ever emailed me for comment or clarification about anything they’ve written about me. That’s led to everything they’ve ever written about me to be partially or completely wrong.They have reached out to me on Twitter a couple of times though, and they were very nice, but it’s clear that they aren’t willing or able to live up to the same journalistic standards that they hold their subjects up to. As a result, I don’t think they are worth paying attention to. I’d love for that to change, but for now, that’s how it is.
Bonegolem has mentioned that he would love to find a way to implement positive labels, and even held that very discussion with Holmes, but can’t seem to find a way to make it work without giving a foreseeable Deepfreeze.it administration too much power. I, myself, have reservations in rewarding journalists for upholding ethical standards seems a bit like giving my two year old a high-five and a sticker every time he manages to not pee all over himself, but understand that some recognition wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world.
Holmes brings up an interesting topic in Deepfreeze.it not offering right of reply and creates a sticky situation where if Deepfreeze.it tries to dodge the bullet by claiming to not be a journalist, it may very well be guilty of some of the things we’ve discussed today. I personally believe that, like many things related to Deepfreeze.it, it’s an issue of time and labor in an already lengthy and exhausting process. Which does not excuse it, but is certainly a consideration.
For the sake of argument, and since I had him on the line, I asked him if he thought there were ethical problems with the games press, to which he replied:
I do think some game bloggers have done some pretty unethical things. but don’t know of any of those things involving friendships with indie game developers, or most of the other stuff that seemed to have gotten Gamergate started.Most of the people who’ve questioned my ethics have lead with some evidence that I personally “like” some indie game developer. They seem to think that respecting and caring about another person is unethical, or at least, that it makes is harder for a writer to be ethical in their coverage the other person’s work.Sadly, it’s the opposite that seems to be most true. It’s when people don’t respect or care about other people that they are mostly likely to behave in a selfish and unethical way.I’ve met hundreds of game developers and publishers over the years, big and small. I’d guess that I like and respect 99% of them. That doesn’t mean I’m going to give them favorable coverage. That wouldn’t be fair to them, to our readers, or to me. If you like and respect someone, and the feeling is mutual, then it should be understood that you are not obligated to lie for that person, pay them false compliments, or put their career above your own professional integrity. I wouldn’t respect or care about anyone who expected me to compromise my ethics in those ways, and I think most game bloggers would agree with me on that.Instead, I think most of the issues relating to ethics in game blogging center on writers who don’t care or respect their readers, their subjects, or themselves. These are writers who may write an editorial encouraging people to self mutilate, knowing that their sensationalist post will get a lot of hits, but at the price of behaving like monster. They don’t care about behaving like a monster though, because all they care about is serving their own selfish pursuit of money/fame/hits. It’s that same selfish pursuit of power that often motivates bloggers to do anything to win the affection of AAA developers. It happens all the time, and it’s not hard to spot.Sadly, they also don’t really resonate with many people either. I personally don’t care more about watch-dogging game bloggers than I do about writing about actual video games, which is I why don’t spend my time in that way. If people do actually care about reporting on unethical games bloggers though, more power to them. I just hope they can gain some traction in their pursuit without glorifying emotional insensitivity and needless mockery of others in the process.So far, so bad.
Despite having 10 entries on Deepfreeze.it, Holmes comes off remarkably composed and even in this instance. Even the most rabid ethics-cuck can surely look past his violations and see a kernel of truth in people writing about the industry who don’t care about the subject, their readers, or themselves.
I want Deepfreeze.it to be the consummate games journalist watchdog, but admit that it certainly needs to find ways to refine its processes and more clearly define its criteria in order to achieve that goal. As it stands, however, it is the only source for consumers when it comes to questions of ethics involving games journalists, and as such its necessity may outweigh its shortcomings. Deepfreeze.it has every entry footed by the following disclaimer:
Readers are encouraged to take entries critically, and form their opinion independently.
Returning to the subject of rewarding journalists, as if on queue the SPJ Kunkel awards have recently been announced. Featuring five categories, the public is invited to nominate any journalist they feel deserves recognition for SPJ members to vote upon. All of this came about from the SPJ Airplay panel organized by Michael Koretzky and is a direct result of #GamerGate.
Unfortunately, none of these things help bridge the current chasm between disenchanted reader and contemptuous author. It’s going to no doubt require a bit of healing facilitated by everyone doing their best to be a little less accusatory, a little less reactionary, and a little more civilized when trying to convey and understand ideas. It will be a slow mend, and one that will certainly leave a scar.
How to Build a Better Wall
Hopefully by now it’s clear to everyone that ethical practices are the responsibility of everyone. Journalists should do their best to adhere to them, and readers should make sure they’re not complacent in allowing corruption to fester and spread. At the same time, it’s absolutely critical to the advancement of our species that we be allowed to discuss intimate topics such as ethnicity, diversity, sexuality, gender, and politics without fear of losing our jobs. A prescription of thicker skin all around would be a great start to facilitating discussion further down the line.
This is not to say that critics should be immune to criticism, or above all, ethical conduct. To put it plainly, if you fail to meet entry-level ethical expectations, you are inviting ruin not only on your own house, but those of the ideals or people you may have attempted to expose. Your failure to conduct yourself with the utmost respect for your craft may end up further marginalizing the people you intended to empower, degrade the art you wished to elevate, destroy the reputation you spent years building, or ruin the lives of the unjustly accused.
It was expected for outlets and editors to be skeptical of accusations against their colleagues, but the amount of time it took for them to respond and the manner in which they finally did was frankly unacceptable. The quicker you address questions of integrity and resolve them, the better off you are. Swiftly addressing these concerns tactfully and factually goes a long way to fostering trust in the community, as opposed to dragging your feet and issuing a contemptuous, sanctimonious, dismissal that you’ll later have to apologize for. We no longer live in an era where feigning indignation at having to answer tough questions should be an appropriate or adequate response. We should be better than an antebellum belle, fainting at insinuations and storming off in a flurry of skirts and an “Well, I never!”
As much as I would love it if #GamerGate were simply a matter of ethics, the fact is it isn’t. There may be individuals who are only in it for the ethics, but #GamerGate has grown to be a reflection of the soul of a globalized community embattled with itself over divisive issues such as harassment, diversity, political correctness, gender, cultural Marxism, racism, outrage culture, politics, and artistry. Given the recent events at Universities, it would appear as though #GamerGate is simply one front in a massive war between an ill-defined “us” and “them.” It is a trying time to be a moderate, as failing to prescribe to one particular ideology or another may see you disowned by both and discounted as a victim of your own lack of conviction.
It’s easy to see why someone would simply ignore #GamerGate altogether for fear of being taken out of context or getting pulled into the vacuous nature of the conflict. Yet, ignoring #GamerGate isn’t the answer, as I’m sure the last year or so will illustrate. Channeling the spirit of Rasputin, it has resisted death-by-insistence and sits as a rather vocal elephant in the room. On some days it trumpets louder than others, but ultimately it’s just sitting there waiting for its concerns to be validated.
And yet like it or not, #GamerGate has effected change on the gaming landscape. Does a website now have a prominently featured ethics page? #GamerGate. Did an outlet just issue an apology or a correction for something they did years ago? #GamerGate. Is there now an award for ethical conduct in games journalism? #GamerGate. Those boring disclosures either in bold at the top or tiny italics on the bottom? #GamerGate. FTC cracking down on a website? #GamerGate.
#GamerGate has achieved tangible victories in the realm of ethics, but it’s difficult to forecast what it hopes to achieve in the future. As a decentralized movement that abhors leaderships, perhaps owed to its anonymous imageboard heritage and the old mantra of “not your personal army,” there is no manifesto; no list of demands; or head to cut off. It is a nebulous, ever-changing movement that sheds and gains momentum relative to important happenings in the industry. It seems a beast of necessity that perhaps in time will die as a result of achieving its goals or a lack of efficacy in doing so—and not simply because someone engages in some fanciful, wishful, thinking that it’s dead.
Even if the tag were to decline or evaporate altogether, it’s unlikely that the ideas that were forged in this consumer revolt will be forgotten. It is, after all, just a tag. What it stood for will burn much longer in the hearts of those who witnessed and participated than any trending hashtag.
My personal wish for #GamerGate is for it to, ha-ha, “Level Up” and go all the way to the top. David Auerbach wrote extensively about how the corrupt journalists that we now see being dragged through social media are the low-hanging fruit in a industry that has operated on some basic level of polite corruption for years. They were simply so inept and bungling at hiding their skeletons that it was only a matter of time before the public caught on. Corporate corruption and unethical media is a problem that extends well past the boundaries of gaming, and is long overdue for a reality check.
PR firms and marketing departments have long attempted to woo the games press, and have established glorified mouthpiece news outlets that will say exactly what they want them to say. You can’t blame the developers. Most of them want to make a good game. You can, however, blame the shareholders, executives, and PR departments. You can blame the man behind the curtain pulling the strings. You’ve heard the stories before—horrifying crunch times, developers laid off as soon as a project ends, lack of financing, unrealistic deadlines, corporate bafoonery where they try to meddle with the vision of a game because some suit—like a kick-flipping grandpa with a backwards hat and sunglasses trying to sell Doculax to teenagers who thinks he’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s hot with the kids these days. The lavish hotels, expense paid trips, unsolicited gifts, rooftop parties and exclusive access … these are just some of the more obvious tools that have been used in some hope that they’ll buy themselves a friend. They’ve become more enamored with winning over the press than they are with winning over you, if DRM, on-disk DLC, and pre-order bonus’ are any indication.
Practically all enthusiast hobbies see these questionable relationships, from car nuts to hunters. We’ve become so desensitized to these practices that we hardly bat an eye at them anymore, and may even excuse it as all being part of the game. After all, can you stop the next Call of Duty from selling a couple million copies? No. People will shell out for new entertainment, and they know it. If Guitar Hero must be remembered, let it be remembered as a living embodiment of “Yes, we will sell this to you over and over and over again until you no longer buy it.” It is the same exact mentality that lead to the crash in ’83.
When I first set out on this journey, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t arrive at some sort of half-assed hand-holding ceremony where I would proclaim that we’re not all that different from one another and insist on a group hug. It’s so comfortably middle ground that I’m not surprised that I, a devoted fence-sitter and chronic flake, can’t reconcile the idea of coming to such a wishy-washy, non-committal closing. It feels cheap. There is, however, something to be said about the persistence with which #GamerGate supporters try day in and day out to spread their message and the obvious parallels it has with social advocates who’ve been pushing their agenda for years, but that may very well be the only commonality between them. It’s unlikely they’ll be meeting up for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean that both camps don’t have a few valid points, nor does it mean that they’re not infested with disingenuous leeches looking to get fat off of controversy, victim hood, and bandwagoning. It is worth mentioning, however, that while I can readily disagree with one side of the controversy, the other has me on an automated block bot that prevents me from being able to even engage in a basic discussion.
Perhaps it’s cheating of me to share my hopes of this article with you. I hope that it makes people think about the importance of ethics, first and foremost, though it’s unlikely it reached the people it needs to. #GamerGate knows about ethics, and the people who don’t care about them will likely never see this. Maybe if I’m lucky someone who didn’t really think about them before gives pause for consideration. To that end, perhaps it was masturbatory to discuss, and merely an exercise in establishing a record.
What, then, could I hope for? Maybe for people to look at the discussion I had with Jonathan Holmes and realize that, despite being accused of ethical missteps, he still has some points worth consideration. People like Jonathan, who may have some violations but haven’t shown to be hell-bent on razing the entire gaming community because it doesn’t bend to their whims, can be redeemed if they don’t mind the implication that they may have made a few mistakes and are willing to make a foot-forward effort from here on. Others that have displayed an almost unnatural disdain for their audience, a complete lack of respect for the industry they work in, and an overall devil-may-care attitude when it comes to ethics or arguably basic human dignity should be fittingly racked up as a casualty of war. This asks for a lot of forgiveness on the part of gamers, but in the way that a spouse may reluctantly forgive a cheating partner and resolve to move forward, yet never forget the past.
As a self-described moderate, it’s unsurprising that I would hope for moderation or a deescalation of hostilities. So, in spite of myself, I’ve arrived at the Little House on the Prairie conclusion I was trying to avoid because honestly, the alternative to not coming to a compromise is the utter eradication of discourse and the continued reign of extremists.
As I come to a close I can’t help but feel a little morose and drained by the realization that such a divide has been driven between the gaming community that it’s very difficult to see a time in the future, barring some ultimate evil that threatens us all, where it will be whole again. Perhaps it was never whole to begin with, but rather, a series of satellites that have drifted further and further apart into the orbits of venomously opposed ideologies. I can’t help but feel as though we’re building ourselves a wall, so doggedly divided by our politics and beliefs that we can only unify in an effort to never speak to one another again. If journalists insist on avoiding the question of ethics or continue in engaging in dangerous self-gratifying indulgences with little regard to their readership, that only leaves us with an unassailable culture war made so for the fact that—for now, and God help us all should it ever change—ideas and words cannot be slain in this age of self-proliferating information.
It makes me envious for a time when a gentleman, or his manservant, could elect for a duel and settle their differences once and for all by a bullet. While undeniably barbaric, it did have the admirable quality of bringing a sense of finality to an argument—something I feel the controversy that is #GamerGate will be bereft of for quite some time.
In these tumultuous times in which the relationship between developers, publishers, and consumers is strained to the breaking point, I can only look across an industry that has been through so much in this past year, yet changed so very little in way of its mentality, and think to myself:
Damn. I just wanted to play video games.
This was the first and last time I’ll speak about GamerGate in an article. Hopefully I got it right the first time. Let me know down in the comments section. Follow me on Twitter @theamurikan if you want to watch one mans descent into madness as he becomes increasingly at odds with his own generation.
I’ve reached out to David Auerbach for further comment, but haven’t received a reply. I’ve also reached out to Bonegolem in regards to Holmes’ assertion of holding itself to the same stands it judges journalists by. Any further developments will be properly notated and amended with an update at the top of the article.