Setting the Stage for a Post-Gamergate Future

What the movement's past can teach us about where it's heading, and how its legacy can become but a distant memory.

We’re almost seven years through since Gamergate was sprung into being, and it’s safe to say the media hasn’t fully learned its lessons yet. A movement that catalyzed the gaming community’s most misogynistic tendencies became a thread of critique later extended to the broader cultural landscape, one whose partisans deem to be deliberately hamstrung by political correctness–it is of intuition to deem the current state of political discourse but a natural progression from Gamergate’s foundational rhetoric, but arriving at such a conclusion always has become a convenience far-too-many are willing to take.

I’ve written about the movement plenty–back when its claws had become newly-sharpened in the wake of Alec Holowka’s suicide in August of 2019, the conceit had been that the movement never really died, and mostly goes in and out of slumber depending on if the cultural circumstances are opportune for its involvement. Adamant as I was in proving that this was the case, a recent emergent trend in reframing the conversation with the context of America’s long-standing systemic issues in mind forced me to reconsider–it doesn’t matter what online animosity against minorities manifests as and what banner it dons. Whether it self-identifies as being part of Gamergate or not, it is endemic of a much larger problem we’ve yet to address, which is the unchallenged omnipresence of hateful speech on the internet, all enabled under the false pretense of “free speech”.

It all starts with a misevaluation of what Gamergate is, often dubbing it as a behavior unique to its self-professed perpetrators, insulated to select key malicious actors in the nerd culture sphere–but what is considered to be Gamergate-y usually takes the mold of targeted harassment campaigns with intimidation as its primary intent, something anyone would be remiss to claim was only birthed in the summer of 2014. If it’s the harassment that is being described, it is part and parcel of everyone’s experience on social media, led by platforms that have no qualm with fanning the flames of conflict as a means to engage–it doesn’t mean that misogynistic and racist fervor didn’t find sudden renewed purchase, but it merely suggests that platforms’ avoidance of friction made for very fertile ground where views — no matter how extreme — could easily fester.

Weaving those threads together leads to a rather novel, but quite intuitive discovery–as much as there’s great desire to blame Gamergate on the malevolence of a few individual bad actors, the combination of platform complacency and refusal to acknowledge bigoted sentiment within the industry made for catastrophic outcomes that could’ve been very easily averted. Disputing that there was a rotten core lying beneath all the perfectly-executed combos, insane killstreaks and world-record breaking feats many performed was the perfect recipe for its eventual outburst, and whether we choose to dub it as “Gamergate” or not is besides the point–it’s behavior that anyone reserves the right to decry and work against institutionalizing in a democratic society, and it’s what coincidentally a lot of GGers-turned-QAnoners find themselves fundamentally at odds with.

To live in a “post-Gamergate world” doesn’t mean necessarily breaking from its deeply-dug scars–it’s to acknowledge that the sustenance of a years-old cultural movement can’t be equated to its defeat or triumph either way. Ideas gain or lose favor as political winds blow different ways, but the constant remaining true, is that Gamergate — just as was #MeToo for the left — is merely another front the culture war was fought on, with stakes reliant upon the furthering of whatever ideology it came downstream of. For GG, it’s being partial to a worldview that coercely reduces a woman’s worth to her body, an affinity for fascism at the expense of democratic forms of rule, and a quasi-libertarian mindset towards economics that merely substitutes “property-owners” for “gamers” despite the inherent conflict that the pursuit of profit has with their purported championing of consumer welfare.

When modern capitalism — and more specifically neoliberal strands of it — perceive backlash against it incoming, it would arm all and any willing participants to stave off reproach, even if it leaves its soldiers bled dry in the process. What has become of the Gamergate crowd are mere agents of the lower-case “C” conservative status quo–its sustenance under the guise of harkening back to some long-lost splendor isn’t too dissimilar from Trump’s erstwhile-resonant calls to “make America great again.” That’s why right-wing ideology strikes a deep chord with the crowd–they see cultural backlash as a way to blow open the coffin of an ugly legacy whose very first (yet unaccomplished) initiatives of burial began in the Civil Rights era back in the 60s; and even as Gamergate likes to portray itself a spokesperson for the little guy, resistance to it is patent rebellion against dominant prejudices of old.

To embody that spirit of revolution, one needs to look at its past. The most defining literature in our affront to systems of othering — classist or identitarian — began with a deconstruction of what watered their seeds, independent of how individuals react to and influence them. If a shift were to be spurred, its main incubator would be public discourse–it’s what Gamergate spent years poisoning to the point where some can only muster to think of all cultural tension as its consequence.

So would it be even fair to call our current reality a post-Gamergate one even if it does not fully adhere its necessary prerequisites? It’s fair to say yes, but not in the sense most would expect. While the seedings of Gamergate rhetoric remain as influential as ever — going as far as to dominate much of American public discourse in the years prior to and during Trump’s presidency — the cultural quest for moving backward even as society collectively decided to push forward is not new. There’s a new face to the madness every now and then, and even though they rarely persist, the conservative movement’s vying for undoing progress is ever-unyielding–that’s what should be challenged, and if Gamergate warrants affront still, it must be to its foundational beliefs; not figures whose moment in the spotlight can run its course faster than some silly internet memes.