E3 Doxing Victim Speaks Out, Laments Gamergate, and Urges Collective Action

The first public testimony of an E3 doxing victim is unlikely to be the last.

It didn’t take long for E3 Expo’s data breach to cause the harm everyone predicted it would. Alanah Pearce — ex-IGN journalist and current co-host on Rooster Teeth’s Funhaus — relayed yet another nightmare scenario where malicious actors got ahold of her phone number and email, and were all but treating their discovery judiciously.

For context, earlier this month, the Entertainment Software Association — more commonly known as E3’s organizers — had left the information of more than 2,000 journalists up for grabs in a publicly-accessible Excel spreadsheet, with no encryption or any protection in place to ensure access remains contained within the ESA establishment.

The conversation had initially around Sophia Narwtiz’s mishandling of the information by publicizing its existence before any trace of it could be purged, but the conversation has recently shifted into a potential threat to the ESA who did not only put the lives of journalists at risk, but also lost one of its last remaining attractions as publishers and console manufacturers have deserted the show to reserve greater control of the narrative. The point being here, is that any value E3 had left for audiences to connect with upcoming releases through the hard work of journalists, had now been squandered in a fit of callous irresponsibility that could’ve been very easily avoided.

Pearce cites a few instances of grave privacy violations that are almost certainly only the tip of the iceberg. Being a woman, those aimlessly lusting at the chance to make Pearce’s acquaintance in real life, had almost lost on themselves the complete irony of seeking the trust of another human being, all-the-while contacting them through means which were never meant to be public in the first place. Some, committed the impossibly-stupid sin of sending Pearce text messages telling her that she’s doxed–completely ignoring the problematic optics of such an action. Even more puzzling, is Pearce getting a call from Australia saying that her mom had been in a car accident in attempt to manipulate her so she may return to the country. This is but a small snippet of what Pearce chose to let in on, but it does not bode well for the rest of E3’s doxing victims, for whom the possibility of incurring greater damage is very much a reality.

Gaming as a culture tends to invite a sense of intimacy no other medium does. But it is that very intimacy, that a select few in the gaming community tend to misinterpret as a genuine desire by game journalists to rake in an ever-devastating flood of unduly harsh criticism, or worse yet, unsolicited inquiries about their personal lives that especially women in the field are most-often subject to.

The information breach was bad on its own, but having it fall into the wrong hands is a thing that journalists in games media were particularly apprehensive about, given the reputation of their fiercest enemy — Gamergate — and their propensity for violating personal space when conducting their oh-so-lauded crusade of ridding the media of its alleged corporate shills. Rob Zacny of VICE’s Waypoint noted that with E3’s legacy of being the only gateway to gamers now lost to the age of social media, Twitch and YouTube ruling over the gaming landscape, it was only fit for the ESA to be struck by a lightning bolt of its own desire and making. “If the marketing opportunity that E3 represented is no longer such an amazing marketing opportunity, then what is it that the ESA can sell people?” Rob rhetorically asking the question. He follows it up: “The answer is a spreadsheet that the ESA posted publicly to its website. On it are the names, outlets, addresses, and phone numbers of thousands of journalists who had their credentials approved to attend E3.”

And just like that, industry jocks like Alanah Pearce who might’ve previously come to gaming expos to celebrate along with fellow gamers, congregate around their mutual love of video games, now have to reckon with the constant worry that someone somewhere, is probing every single expo site upon a journalist’s entry just to scrape their information and weaponize it against them were they to tell an unfavorable read of a game, or a gaming pundit they might not like. Pearce talked in considerable detail about how the elusive threat of collusion with publishers is often not her main concern, but rather the horde of fans of a consensus on a particular IP that looms across the horizon as soon as they post an opinion contrary to what they might expect. It is that very prospect which the ESA was supposed to protect journalists against, but ended up instead empowering, severing them any goodwill they might’ve once been suspected to have.

Pearce concluded her stories with a collective call to action, to journalists who might’ve been affected by the data breach, urging them to get in touch with her so they can explore the viability of legal action against the ESA. It is clear now that the threat has far surpassed the theoretical threshold of “mild annoyance”.

But shortly before the camera was shut off, Alanah made a remarkably poignant observation about the current state of privacy in the age of the internet: “I feel like we’re already living in a cyberpunk future, just without the cool tech”. This is true. If the issue of toxic gaming culture infringing upon journalists’ personal spaces is systemic, and somewhat fundamentally related to the rise of organized harassment campaigns like Gamergate in the cultural sphere, it is also the way with which our newly-conceived warped sense of online interaction that has at least partly shaped the incredulous fashion with which some dare to border on the line of illegality when interacting with someone online. It’s unlikely we’ll hear the last of the ESA data breach chronicles, but what they’ll most certainly enforce, is a far shakier sense of stability for game journalists who’re even remotely aligned with progressive ideals, are anti-consensus, or have mild disagreements with a Gamergate figurehead. Every game journalist is now held over a barrel–it’s only a matter of time before the trigger will be pulled.