One measures a circle starting anywhere, so let’s pick up where we left off. Vox Day, who got in on the ground floor, back when it was still called the Quinnspiracy, begins his description like this, in the first of two chapter fives:
In 2012, a fat and unattractive woman with blue hair and numerous piercings decided to play at being a ‘game designer’. She plugged forty thousand words into the Twine engine, a hypertext tool that allows people without any knowledge of programing to create interactive fiction games similar to Zork and other text adventures circa 1977, combined it with a ten-second piano loop, and called it a game.
It is ironic that the book should be called SJWs Always Lie, because he lies right there. He lies when he uses the same disaffected tone of factual declaration for “a hypertext tool that allows people without any knowledge of programming to create interactive fiction games similar to Zork and other text adventures circa 1977” and “a fat and unattractive woman with blue hair and numerous piercings,” as though these are both straightforward truths in the same way. He lies when he shifts the definition of game throughout; one moment she is a faux “game designer,” the next the not-games she not-designs are defined straightforwardly in terms of an iconic piece of gaming history. (And he gets it wrong for good measure; Zork was a parser game, not a hypertext.)
Day tears into the game at length – a critical savaging. “It’s even less fun than it sounds”; “soul-drainingly boring and more than three decades technologically out-of-date”; “I have never played a less entertaining computer game.” He brings a gun to a knife-fight, eviscerating the game with a level of contempt that raises the question of why he even gives a shit about it if it’s so self-evidently unworthy of attention. Of particular note; his citation of its 1.8 score on Metacritic, based on 308 ratings.
Eventually he reaches his point, saying that the game was a complete irrelevancy until “August 2014, when an upset young man who had finally broken it off with his cheating girlfriend created a WordPress blog called The Zoe Post that documented, in excruciating detail, his experience of having loved and lost.” Apparently the designer of this game cheated on a guy with some people who wrote for some websites that had mentioned the game in articles at some point. From this he casually spins out a conspiracy theory; “Given the very poor quality of Depression Quest, it seemed readily apparent to casual observers that the unusual amount of media attention garnered by the game must have been the result of the developer’s liberal distribution of her sexual favors.”
At this point, three pages into the chapter, entitled “Counterattack,” Vox Day makes a stunning reversal, admitting that “this does not appear to have exactly been the case.” And no wonder. The “very poor quality of Depression Quest” is, after all, a point offered on the evidence that Vox Day does not like it and it has a 1.8 score on MetaCritic. It is, however, worth noting that 307 of those 308 reviews on MetaCritic came in August of 2014 or later. In other words, the proof that the game is bad – a premise upon which all of the subsequent venom that he is about to justify depends – is a consequence of the very venom it justifies. The serpent eats its own tail.
Vox Day finds it amazing as well. “And that’s when everything started to get truly weird,” he says, and he’s honestly not wrong. Here’s how he puts it:
Game journalists reacted to the gaming public’s attacks on the game media by lining up solidly behind Depression Quest and its neophyte female developer. Unexpectedly, so did 4chan, a popular site with a sizable gaming contingency that had previously been ground zero for anything-goes channer culture. As charges of ethical lapses and corruption were thrown at the game journalists, accusations of death threats, sexual harassment, and doxxing were hurled right back at the gamers criticizing Depression Quest, its developer, and two notorious attention-seeking SJW fame whores.
It is not so much weird as Weird; a writhing mass of deception and tangled prose that evades all attempts to actually derive meaning or indeed factual reality from it, monstrous and malignant. The transition from “game journalists” to “4chan” elides the fact that by 4chan he means the owners of the website 4chan.org, as opposed to the “anything-goes channer culture” of the site’s community. Similarly, the list of “gamers criticizing Depression Quest, its developer, and two notorious attention-seeking SJW fame whores” contains a sudden swerve from one side of this embittered feud to the other, without a moment to stop and explore what was actually happening on the ground.
Mere sentences later, and with no explanation, there are three SJWs, “Literally Who, Literally Who 2, and Literally Wu,” named so to make “the point that neither they nor their identities were relevant to the larger point of corruption in game journalism.” Despite the apparent irrelevancy of their identities (a point that’s rather undermined by the fact that “Literally Wu” contains the subject’s surname), he emphasizes that they are “professional agitators” before talking about how Literally Who 2 and Literally Wu got mentioned in the New York Times and Playboy “after they followed Literally Who’s lead by claiming to have also been driven from their homes by similarly non-existent death threats.” There are no obvious grammatical antecedents to “also” and “similarly,” nor is any evidence proffered of the non-existence of these death threats. No matter; he transitions, in the next paragraph, to how “things heated up rapidly in the second half of August 2014” that take place in Ars Technica, Gamasutra, The Guardian, The Financial Post, Jezebel, and other sites. This marks another spectacular dishonesty; the New York Times and Playboy pieces post-date August 2014, rather than being causes of these events. And it is at this point in the discussion that “#GamerGate” gets introduced. Vox Day is 100% for it.
But more than the constant structure of lies and obfuscations that constitutes Vox Day’s argument, it is the petty sadism that stands out. From the opening pen portrait, with “fat and unattractive” as the first two adjectives used, almost every detail seems picked for its cruelty. It is not the degree of sadism that is striking – in truth it doesn’t particularly stand out among people shouting on the Internet. Nor is it the further disingenuity revealed – the nominal audience of the book is ordinary people worried about getting in trouble with their boss because they made an off-color joke or something, and yet its content is specifically tailored to Gamergate insiders who will appreciate the jabs. By this point it should already be clear that there are going to be lies all over the place. What’s striking is simply the fact that nobody commits such finely worked, labored over cruelty out of anything other than raw and searing hatred. So what is it? What drives Vox Day to be so incandescently furious about a little browser game? Or, perhaps less psychoanalytically, what does he consider the stakes here to be?
Well, he commissioned illustrations for SJWs Always Lie from a cartoonist working under the pen name Red Meat (no relation to Max Cannon’s classic webcomic), with whom he also did a brief series of editorial cartoons with on his blog. The first one is called Mount Gamergate. It depicts a young girl sitting on a rail gesturing up at a Mount Rushmore-esque carving of five faces. “Who are those guys, Dad,” she asks a smiling white man with an afro. “That’s Sargon, Milo and Adam, the Internet Aristocrat, and Ralph, honey.” And then the kicker – “five great men who helped save western civilization!” On the one hand, you can’t say it doesn’t answer the question. On the other, it’s madness.
A specific sort, even – the paranoid short-circuit of the conspiracy theory. Its signature move is displayed over and over again in SJWs Always Lie, easily discernible in the path we’ve traced so far: a stunning conclusion that’s always one reach, one crucial missing step away from being pinned down. This chain of implication from Eron Gjoni to the fate of western civilization is awe-inspiring in its scope, and yet visibly does not hold, is stitched together with nothing but cruelty and insinuation, disintegrating faster the more one stares at its details.
Can this even be said to constitute a weakness in the beast? The same tendency towards cognitive discorporation is, after all, a first line of defense, a move encapsulated in the evasion of “Literally Who.” Even Vox Day, a man whose first post on the Quinnspiracy came on August 21st, 2014, less than a week after the Zoe post, whose blog says #gamergate at the top, who has worked with Roosh V and Mike Cernovich and has a documented history of using Internet abuse as misogynistic right-wing activism, somehow remains an object of plausible deniability, the possibility of his influence a thing any Gator knows to disavow instinctively, without further reflection. Just like any abuse and harassment was done by some other Gamergate. Indeed, the movement is consciously organized around this defense. It’s nominally leaderless; as Vox Day says in an interview, quoting a then-popular slogan, “I’m the leader of Gamergate and so can you.”
Watch in the logic of the savior of western civilization himself, the Internet Aristocrat, whose video expose of Zoe Quinn was cited in the Adam Baldwin tweet that renamed it Gamergate. Over and over again, the video blazes past claims with scant or ludicrous evidence. Take his account of Eron Gjoni. The video explains that he’s Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, and that he made an “extraordinarily long” bloglist that consists entirely of “a laundry list of complaints as to why the relationship failed and why he’s upset. Now,” the Aristocrat declares, “these all seem to be valid to me. Things like lying and manipulation and infidelity, however at face value it’s nothing more than that.”
This last phrase exerts an obvious pull. An ex-boyfriend has put a lengthy laundry list of grievances on the Internet. This seems pathologically vengeful – its face value specifically low, its accusations projections. Gjoni even admits as much – look at the start of his post: “this is written almost entirely in shitty metaphors and bitter snark. It’s a post about an ex, and the tone reflects its intention as the starting post for forum threads entitled Cringe-Worthy Break Up Stories on Penny Arcade and Something Awful, because I figured it would be best to announce on friendly communities in innocuous ways. Penny Arcade and Something Awful deleted those threads, so now this blog stands alone. I will not take it down, because I know the information is important.” The post’s tone of wounded self-righteousness nauseates. He makes up sniggering nicknames for her, dumps turgid piles of private correspondence, all in a naked effort at revenge. It reeks of selective narrative. You can see immediately why its victim would want it to go away, and if (as alleged) she filed a slightly spurious DMCA complaint against a YouTube video talking about them (the incident that nominally prompts the Internet Aristocrat’s video, more on which in a moment), well, like cheating on this asshole, it would be hard not to forgive her. Hell, even the Internet Aristocrat can understand why Zoe Quinn might be reacting badly to this post. He ponders it as an alternative: “is she taking the videos down because she’s embarrassed about it?”
Pause here and consider the chain of implications. A dodgy-as-hell revenge piece against a woman is trusted on a warrant as flimsy as “these all seem to be valid to me.” Now the most obvious explanation imaginable is entertained for this phenomenon – a default assumption with explanatory power so thorough the mind reels to imagine what could possibly unseat it. How does the Aristocrat proceed? “No. She’s taking them down because of the people she slept with – that she cheated on him with during the relationship and who they are, and specifically what they can do for her as an entrepreneur. Gaming journalism has reached a low point.”
There’s no pause there. Just a cut to the barrister-wigged avatar the Aristocrat uses when he monologues in the video. That’s the extent to which this claim is justified, which is to say with nothing more than an angry emphasis on “cheated on him with.” (Actually, it appears they broke up and got back together, but Gjoni elides that fact, starting the movement as it meant to go on.) And the transition is bonkers.
But that’s nothing to what’s trotted out to support the claim about video game journalism. “Over the last five years. It started with pieces that had nothing to do with gaming or game reviews, nothing to do with software or hardware, nothing to do with events or expos.” This last phrase is uttered with a screenshot of a Kotaku article with the headline “The Games At E3 2014 Sure Had A Lot of Dudes (Like Always).” E3 being the Electronic Entertainment Expo. “Gaming or game reviews,” meanwhile, contains a Kotaku repost of John Scalzi’s blog post “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” a piece that is, in point of fact, built around an extended metaphor rooted in gaming.
The Aristocrat continues: “It started to travel off into the areas of social justice and feminism” (“Three Words I Said to the Man I Defeated in Gears of War That I’ll Never Say Again”) “and opinion pieces and op-eds that had nothing to do with gaming” (“Playing with privilege: the invisible benefits of gaming while male”). These are, in fact, all self-evidently about gaming. Perhaps not straightforward reviews, but surely part of journalism, as easily located within a historical tradition of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, who pioneered the journalistic approach of throwing yourself into the event and writing about it, or one of Karl Marx and William F. Buckley who reported from strong and explicit political perspectives.
Even the claim of “the last five years” is nonsense. It’s a style that’s been around since the turn of the millennium, in pieces like Tweety’s classic tale of the experience of being a volunteer EverQuest guide “Try Being a Guide You Nutless Assmuncher” back in 2000, or in Rock, Paper, Shotgun founder Kieron Gillen’s 2004 manifesto “The New Games Journalism.” It’s the style that was on display in the seminal The Rantings of Lum the Mad since the heyday of Ultima Online. I should know – I wrote for the site in 2001 after Lum got hired on for Dark Age of Camelot. This has always been a part of video game culture, and it always will be, just like it is in the culture of journalism and criticism in every other significant medium. And yet all of this history is erased by the Internet Aristocrat in a strange and nonsensical claim about games journalism, itself presented as an unjustified alternate explanation of a woman’s perfectly understandable response to a pathologically vicious hit piece.
And all those lies and errors are packed into just one minute of the video. It’s all like this. “I don’t care,” he says, “that Zoe Quinn fucked five guys,” mere moments after his conscious, angry stressing of the fact that she cheated on Gjoni, the image cutting to an image of the restaurant Five Guys, in reference to Gjoni’s mocking nickname for her, emphasizing the very care he denies. A few minutes later, he casually refers to someone as “another person who, might I add, fucked her way into a position,” emphasis entirely his. When he gets around to asserting actual corruption – “a massive flaw in the fifth estate” – all he’s got is the fact that one of the people Gjoni accuses Quinn of cheating on him with is Nathan Grayson, who he flatly accuses of being “someone who has published positive pieces about Zoe’s game, who has given her publicity, and who has marketed her product while having sex with her” (always the emphasis on the sex bits) “and not disclosing it.” And this publicity? Two pieces, one in January and one in March of 2014, both before the dates Gjoni accuses her of sleeping with him, and neither of them accurately described as “positive pieces about” Depression Quest. There’s no substance to the accusation at all. And yet the Aristocrat goes on and on about it for twenty-five minutes, getting angrier and angrier as he goes, demanding that people be called “to the fucking mat” for these non-existent transgressions. It’s a fractal cesspool of spurious malice.
But let’s look at the beginning of the video – the instigating incident that the Internet Aristocrat cites to justify all of this – that Zoe Quinn supposedly filed a DMCA complaint against a YouTube video that included a fleeting screenshot of Depression Quest. The complaint, which the YouTuber, MundaneMatt, screenshotted and posted, is a bafflingly unprofessional thing – the company name is listed as “The Quinnspiracy,” and both legal name and job position are filled in as “zoe quinn,” lack of capitalization in the original. The postal and e-mail addresses are blacked out, which is on the one hand a rare concession towards not cavalierly targeting people for harassment and on the other makes it impossible to know if they’re actually Zoe Quinn’s.
I bring this last point up because, well, here’s the thing. There’s a guy named Andrew Auernheimer, who goes by the name of “weev” online. Auernheimer’s one of the few Internet trolls ever to manage to attain Wikipedia-level notability primarily by being a complete asshole to people. And one of his tactics, first used in 2007 against game designer Kathy Sierra, is accusations of fake DMCA notices. Now, to be clear, Aurnheimer hadn’t appeared on the Gamergate scene at the time of the Internet Aristocrat’s video; he didn’t proclaim his support for the movement until August of 2015. My point is merely that it’s a known tactic for harassing female game developers. Fake DMCA notices are really easy to do, especially on YouTube, where most companies file them by bot, with scads of false positives. YouTube’s approach is basically to automatically suspend a video when an even semi-credible one comes in and let the uploader assert fair use or whatever to get it put back up, a claim that’s generally rubberstamped if it’s at all reasonable. It’s a dead-easy way to make a small ruckus – file a fake DMCA notice, then cry censorship about it and watch people rush to your defense.
In other words, it’s entirely likely that Zoe Quinn never filed a DMCA takedown notice. Just like it’s certain she didn’t get any favorable media coverage in exchange for sexual favors. And fairly apparent she never cheated on Eron Gjoni. Literally all of this appears to be resting on lies. There might not actually have ever been even the faintest of real justifications for targeting Zoe Quinn in the first place. That would, frankly, be consistent with the amount of lies we’ve already seen. And even more consistent with what we’re going to see. You can’t know for sure; there could be one scintilla of truth somewhere in the quagmire of misleading insinuations and sexual shaming. But in the course of finding it, you’ll only discover another dozen lies. It’s a balance of probabilities.
Here’s another scrap of evidence for the scales: the reason Aurnheimer praised Gamergate was that it’s “the single biggest siren bringing people into the folds of white nationalism.” And Vox Day’s a white nationalist too – that’s what he means by Gamergate saving western civilization. Yes, yes. “Not all Gators.” Still, let’s take another face on that ridiculous “Mount Gamergate” cartoon, then: Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos writes for a site called Breitbart, named after a guy who rose to fame in 2010 when he caused a middle manager in the US Department of Agriculture to lose her job by selectively editing footage of a speech she gave to make it sound like she had racially discriminated against white people. These days it’s famous for shit like calling neoconservative Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew” for not supporting Trump.
Yiannopoulos offers a fascinating upgrade on the standard weaponized incoherence by couching it in his flamboyant homosexuality, deployed inevitably both to indiscriminately accuse critics of homophobia and serve as a shield by which to prove that Gamergate isn’t all straight white men. He is an unrepentant and unreconstructed gay diva, a role that has always at best been differently misogynistic than the bro-culture he pitches his act at. Put simply, he performs his site-obligatory Trump-worship by calling the Donald “daddy.”
By its nature Gamergate is long on opportunists, but few are as craven as Yiannopoulos. Prior to September of 2014, Yiannopoulos’s attitude towards video gamers was that they were “pungent beta male bollock-scratchers,” but once Gamergate took off he was quick to put his skills at writing vicious hit pieces to bad use. He is, if nothing else, a specialist – a Brit clearly raised on the classic reactionary tradition of the Daily Mail, whose sneeringly invasive style is best encapsulated by an article by Richard Littlejohn that literally drove a trans school teacher named Lucy Meadows to suicide. (The Daily Mail was also famously sympathetic to Hitler; Yiannopoulos’s own sympathies in this regard merely extend to denying that white supremacism has any influence in politics while writing extensive whitewashes of the alt-right’s racism.)
His first piece on Gamergate was published on September 1st, and demonstrates the perverse skill clearly – “It’s easy to mock video gamers as dorky loners in yellowing underpants,” he begins, heading off the obvious objection. “Indeed, in previous columns, I’ve done it myself. Occasionally at length. But, the more you learn about the latest scandal in the games industry, the more you start to sympathize with the frustrated male stereotype. Because an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers, are terrorising the entire community – lying, bullying and manipulating their way around the internet for profit and attention.” The sadistic details are worked even more finely than Vox Day’s, the luridly sensationalist thrill of “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners” followed by the assonant burst of “abetted by achingly,” all leading into the tabloid grandeur of manipulative terrorist profiteers preying upon the helpless gamers, who, notably, he does not actually back down from mocking, opening his second paragraph with a declaration of the “‘fact of life that the video games industry is awash with marginalised, troubled people who have found it difficult to manage their lives in mainstream society.”
It goes without saying that the grandiose claims are never actually justified. Yiannopoulos links the Internet Aristocrat video as “copious evidence in support” of the claims against Zoe Quinn, but by September 1st its major claims had long since been debunked, all the accusations of sex for favors proven to be chronological impossibilities. But what’s surprising is that Yiannopoulos barely bothers to pretend otherwise. At one point he mentions “a theory floating around that [Quinn] is planning to have herself beaten up at an upcoming conference. It’s an unconfirmed internet rumour, but it illustrates Quinn’s credibility to gamers.” It’s breathtaking – an admission that this is a completely spurious accusation being wielded as evidence of the accusation’s merit.
He goes on to criticize Quinn for complaining about death threats. He opens by voicing the “niggling suspicion that ‘death threats’ sent to female agitators aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” which is to say that they’re distinct from physical violence. It’s hard to disagree, but then, you’d expect that from the word “threats,” which is after all a concept basically defined by the fact that it is talk as opposed to actual physical violence. But because they fall short of actual violence, Yiannopoulos dismisses them out of hand, proclaiming that to complain at all about receiving them is to “play the victim” and that it’s “pathetic” to use such threats “to get sympathy.” He treats going to the police about such threats, which is to say attempting to seek legally enshrined protection under harassment laws, with utter contempt, calling such behaviour “monstrous.” And then he suggests that the only reason anyone would care is “because they get themselves laid if they toe the party line.” It does not even pretend to hold together – it is callousness wearing the trappings of reason like a skinsuit, dancing grotesquely within the fallen beast’s corpse.
The piece was a traffic bonanza for Breitbart, and Yiannopoulos doubled down on the topic. Ten days later he, in rapid succession, accused Zoe Quinn of embezzling funds raised via Depression Quest and Anita Sarkeesian (whose 2012 Kickstarter was the subject of a massive campaign of sexual harassment that was blatantly just the same tendency towards misogynistic abuse in online gaming before it got monetized by the right-wing press, and who had the misfortune of releasing a new installment of her video series a few days after Gjoni’s blog post was released) of falsifying a police report, taking to the website 4chan afterwards to boast. Both claims fell through within the day, revealed as the product of sloppy investigations, running and hitting “publish” on information that should have been followed up on more thoroughly.
This marks the second appearance of 4chan within our still egregiously narrow survey of Gamergate, the previous having been a passing mention by Vox Day, who described it as “a popular site with a sizable gaming contingency that had previously been ground zero for anything-goes channer culture.” It is, to say the least, not a hard topic to arrive at when talking about Gamergate. But Yiannopoulos’s relationship with chan culture run particularly deep. For instance, just over a year after Gamergate started Yiannopoulos posted an expose on a minor left-wing activist who had been a dogged critic of the movement. The nominal news story was that she had, a decade previously, made some tasteless jokes in an IRC channel, including some about being sexually attracted to an eight-year-old cousin of hers. On this breathtakingly thin basis Yiannopoulos proceeds to dig through her past, contacting her family, digging up old tax information, and illustrating the whole thing with an unflattering photograph of her pre-transition.
Spend a moment taking in the perversity and cruelty of this, because it’s actually going to get more horrifying. A nominally serious news publication whose executive chairman got poached to run the Trump campaign publishes a privacy-invading hit piece on someone whose claim to fame does not extend beyond the fact that she’d recently been quoted in the Washington Post, when the extent of the evidence it has is that she’d talked some shit on the Internet a decade ago. The story was thin enough that days elapsed between Yiannopoulos first gloating about its existence on Twitter and it actually seeing print, during which time Breitbart’s lawyers worked valiantly to find a way to make it not libelous. It is as though the phrase “a latter-day Richard Littlejohn” was simply sitting in the English language, waiting for Milo Yiannopoulos to come along so it could describe something; the exact approach that led to Lucy Meadows’s suicide casually applied to Twitter arguments.
But we haven’t even gotten to the question of how Yiannopoulos came into the possession of the ten-year old IRC logs of a Gamergate critic. The answer is that he read them on an 8chan thread, where they were posted by people who hacked her old server to obtain them. 8chan, as the name suggests, is a spin-off of 4chan founded by some people who were dissatisfied with its moderation policies. Its main claim to infamy is that it has a board devoted to pedophilia in which sexualized images of minors are routinely shared. Yes, you read that correctly – the story that a minor Twitter activist had once said some stupid shit about pedophilia was sourced from an imageboard with a sizeable pedophilia section.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of Yiannopoulos’s affinity for chan culture, though. Despite the gobsmacking ethical issues with his 8chan-sourced hit piece, Yiannopoulos only increased his reliance on the site in the months since, to the point where at the time of writing the stories published under Yiannopoulos’s byline were actually constructed by a team of forty-four interns, many of them unpaid, and a lot of them recruited from, you guessed it, 4chan.
It’s actually a weirdly perfect image. 4chan, after all, was the birthplace of the hacktivist movement Anonymous, whose name came from the fact that users could post without an account, their posts appearing as “Anonymous.” The entire point and indeed joke of Anonymous is that it is not actually a group of hackers, but merely a name under which hacktivism may be performed. Anonymous, for its part, tends to be leftist, getting involved in Occupy Wall Street and activism on behalf of rape victims, but its aesthetic of active facelessness is, fittingly, shared widely. And so the discovery that 4chan effectively has a sockpuppet who’s a flamboyantly gay right-wing troll journalist feels in hindsight almost inevitable.
What’s important to realize, though, is that the use of facelessness is one of Gamergate’s default tactics, a fact that was hilariously exposed by Zoe Quinn herself five days after Yiannopoulos entered the fray when she revealed that she’d been lurking in some Gamergate IRC channels and released a bevy of screenshots. Not only do these screenshots show things like Eron Gjoni actively coordinating with Gamergate activists who were boasting openly about trying to hack Quinn’s e-mail and dox her (both things Gamergate was elsewhere claiming Quinn had done to herself or faked), they give a tremendous level of insight into the basic operations of Gamergate, with messages like “I think all the sleeper cells are hard at work, there was a bit of organizing last night.”
Perhaps the most revealing moment, however, is when the #NotYourShield hashtag comes up. This hashtag, proposed on 4chan as a “culture jamming op,” consisted of Twitter accounts purporting to belong to women and racial minorities expressing support for Gamergate and expressing outrage at being used as a “shield” by SJWs. But the truth of this is alluded to when a user called DepressionFries notes that “I already joined [the hashtag]. As a Latino. :3,” the smiley at the end suggesting strongly that DepressionFries is not, in fact, Latinx. Indeed, further investigation of the accounts used by #NotYourShield revealed that many of them were sockpuppets that had previously been deployed in a pre-Gamergate 4chan op called Operation: Lollipop that sought to “infiltrate feminists [sic] movements with twitter accounts,” and then used them to do things like push a fake hashtag #EndFathersDay in order to make feminists look ridiculous. (Other similar hoaxes have included “freebleeding,” which tried to invent a trend of women refusing to use menstrual products, and the self-explanatory #WhitesCantBeRaped.)
The fuller chatlogs (perversely released by Gamergate out of the deeply misguided belief that this would somehow make them look better) deepen the picture. At one point there’s an extended discussion of how to generate a large number of accounts with credible reputations among SJW circles for “long-term psyops,” with suggestions like using bot-created SJW content or stealing accounts for their own purposes. At another someone asks, “what kinds of false flags can we spread posing as SJWs?” But perhaps most intriguingly suggestive is the constant paranoia of false flag attacks being launched against them in turn. It’s simply assumed by default that Quinn and Sarkeesian must be running multiple sockpuppets, and that any evidence of harassment they produce is just SJWs false flagging. Indeed, dismissing anything embarrassing for Gamergate as really being the work of nefarious SJWs is essentially reflexive – as one user says in response to the news that the iCloud hack that made public nude photographs of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence was being blamed on 4chan due to a post there taking credit for it and asking for bitcoin donations, “we just say it’s a false flag. Boom.” (That one was, in point of fact, actually Reddit.)
The instinctiveness of this defense is revealing, in the way that people’s paranoias often are. How you assume people will organize against you is naturally indicative of one’s own tactical instincts. And so within a culture where identity is an aggressively unfixed property it’s hardly surprising that default tactics and worldview are that everyone is constantly misrepresenting who they are and what they want. Or, as one person in the chat logs puts it, that “this whole mess is triple, quadruple, n-degree false flags. All the way down. From the very start. This is PR warfare in a post-social media landscape.”
The problem, of course, is that there are actual people involved who do have identities. One of the most heartbreaking things to come out of Gamergate is a video from a guy using the handle GameDiviner that was livestreamed during what can only be described as a mild breakdown. This was a year into the movement, when it had little to do but turn on itself, and GameDiviner found himself on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse when he took a more moderate stance suggesting that the movement admit that there had been harassment on its side and seek to be less insular. The thing that most unsettled him, however, was the way in which he couldn’t tell whether people he’d considered his friends were attacking him under other names, or whether the identities he’d befriended them under were even real. At one point, audibly choking up, he talks about how the only thing keeping him together right now is that his son is playing under the desk while he records, and he can reach out and touch something that he knows is real. It’s at once tremendously moving and distressing, and, of course, he was widely mocked for it, with the Ralph Retort taking particular glee in writing him off as a “two-bit nut” whose “epic meltdown” was flatly hilarious.
GameDiviner’s disastrous attempt at a moderate position was briefly supported by another of Vox Day’s civilization-savers, Sargon of Akkad, one of Gamergate’s many quasi-famous YouTube stars. Sargon was quick to toss Munoz under the bus, but saw the writing on the wall and announced a month later that he was “done” with Gamergate. This was in no sense a claim that he was done with the basic set of issues; he continued for instance, his “Why Do People Hate Feminism” video-blog series, which is currently up to nine parts taking up just over three hours.
He is not always so prolix – one of his videos is entitled “Anita Sarkeesian Debunked in Under a Minute,” and is at the very least half-true. It offers a pair of incompetently spliced clips of Sarkeesian talking about her passion for games for some promotional videos, then running a jumbled set of excerpts from her introducing a fanvid and talking about how she had to learn a lot about video games to make it. This takes up thirty-eight seconds of the forty-nine second video before Sargon chimes in over an image of the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article for “Confidence trick” and declares these positions mutually exclusive, asking which one sounds like a genuine moment as opposed to a scripted one. This question is in practice simply a discussion of their two contexts, i.e. scripted videos versus an off-the-cuff presentation. As for the supposed contradiction, if you guessed that the quotes were actually from years apart, you win: the second set of clips is from two years earlier than the first, and is actually her talking just about AAA games in the context of a snarky video of clips of male video game protagonists edited together to Flight of the Concords’ “Too Many Dicks.”
The dishonesty – and note in particular the way in which the accusation that she’s a con artist actively trying to defraud people is made entirely implicitly by overlaying an image over audio that’s actually saying something completely different – remains consistent regardless of length. Take the first part of “Why Do People Hate Feminism.” It is, from its basic framing, ruthlessly misleading, structuring itself as an ironic address to feminists answering their apparent question of why people hate them. This question is poised in the form of a clip of Emma Watson speaking at the UN about how feminism “has too often become synonymous with manhating,” followed by a cut to further in the speech where she asks “why is the word such an uncomfortable one,” after which he cuts in to say that “you know, feminists, I feel inclined to help you.” Never mind that the question was a rhetorical one that Watson went on to answer herself, which means that Sargon of Akkad is literally talking over Hermione Granger via a three hour video to mansplain why feminists are hated, though. What’s staggering is the low quality of the answer given.
Its first example is a clip from a Pantene ad, which Sargon runs for a full thirty-three seconds, of women apologizing in various hastily sketched situations – to get a word in edgewise, upon being jostled, as a greeting when entering an office. He then goes back through it over the course of literally more than a minute and fifteen seconds, looking at every scenario and declaring that the woman was in fact correct to apologize, sometimes with an explanation, though often an inaccurate one such as a false claim that the pictured woman was “sitting with her elbow on the next chair.” At which point he plays the second half of the commercial (another twenty-five seconds) in which the women respond to the situations more assertively, then says in the most exasperated tone he can muster that this amounts to the women being “passive aggressive bitches” and points out that the women are only doing this to men. Mercifully, he does not then run through all of the examples to detail how the woman is now behaving rudely, but this gruesomely facile account of how a random ad for hair products demonstrates feminism’s ideological commitment to misandry manages to stretch across four minutes of a fifteen minute video. (And if you were wondering whether Sargon expresses even the barest wisp of contemplation over whether or not an ad whose message is “hair products will make you confident” can be called feminist… you weren’t actually wondering that, were you?)
The remaining examples are a Verizon ad, the SCUM Manifesto, the existence of the #killallmen hashtag, and a 1998 Hillary Clinton speech. So by the end we’ve at least made it into territory that vaguely looks like it might be connected to what Emma Watson was talking about in front of the UN, but equally, the best evidence he can find is one paragraph of a minor and nearly twenty-year-old speech, and even then the extent of man-hating he can find is the claim that “women have always been the primary victims of war.” As an explanation/illustration of why people hate feminists, it’s a ridiculously scant case told over excruciating length.
There’s an obvious and necessary comparison to make at this point, which is to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. This is, after all, fairly self-evidently what Sargon of Akkad is imitating, at least on a structural level – the use of an uncontextualized video clip as an opener, the brief monologue introducing the specific trope being illustrated, and the sequence of clips and commentaries to provide examples. In fact, recognizing this model helps explain some of Sargon’s stranger rhetorical decisions such as the otherwise inexplicable decision to open with a random ad for Pantene in order to illustrate feminism, which makes marginally more sense when you realize Sargon’s mimicking a video series about pop culture analysis.
But for all their structural similarities, the contrast is sharp. And I don’t simply mean this in terms of who’s right and who’s wrong (though this is obvious). Nor do I mean simply in terms of basic production values. Sarkeesian’s wildly successful Kickstarter gives her a per-video production budget orders of magnitude larger than Sargon’s that allows her to have all sorts of whiz-bang graphics and crisp editing, whereas he has audible pops in his sound editing when he sutures two takes of his monologue together (and he’s one of the better Gamergate video makers). But what’s really striking is his basic structure and timing. Recall that Sargon took 3:49 seconds to get through his introduction and first example. In contrast, at the 3:49 mark of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Women as Background Decoration: Part Two,” the video she had the misfortune of releasing exactly a week after the Internet Aristocrat’s video), Sarkeesian’s recapped the previous video’s argument, gone through five examples of her trope in video games, and offered a quickfire set of examples of the trope outside of video games for context. That’s as many examples as Sargon makes it through in his entire fifteen minute video, and Sarkeesian keeps the pace going for 28:32, ending with a positive case study illustrating how video games can handle trauma more maturely than the cavalier uses of sexual violence she’s been talking about for the last half hour.
It’s not, to be clear, that Sarkeesian is being sloppy with her examples, nor that she’s moving through material at an unusually fast clip. It’s that Sargon’s videos are torturously slow, resembling nothing so much as those lengthy “One Weird Trick” videos, repeating the same not-quite-claims over and over again in a paranoid recitation of the big bombshell revelation that’ll be coming if you just watch to the end of this next video. In those videos the point is explicitly to fish for rubes, identifying people who will sit through a tedious and badly made video on the assumption that they’ll be easy marks.
And while Gamergate usually doesn’t have a product to sell in quite the same literal way, it’s worth noting how, for instance, two doors down from them is someone like Stefan Molyneux, whose output amounts to 30-60 minute Powerpoint presentations consisting of a by-now familiar sort of low-content dissembling, and whose business endgame is literally a cult. We might also think back to Andrew Auernheimer identifying Gamergate as a tool for white nationalist recruitment.
But the difference between Gamergate and a free samples scam or a cult is as significant as the comparison. There are plenty of pro-Gamergaters pulling healthy profits making this crap, Sargon among them, but for the most part it’s neither that profit-focused nor that celebrity-focused. It’s cultish and scammy, but the “ish” and “my” matter there. Yes, Gamergate stokes its members to spend hours upon hours every day tending their garden of Twitter sockpuppets and spreading dank memes about raping Anita Sarkeesian, but what’s surprising is the extent to which they manage to sell ideological gratification as its own reward.
Vox Day’s “Gamergate will save western civilization” claim is the most grandiose version of this, but it’s striking more in its apparent indifference to how ridiculous it sounds than its extremity. This has been a feature since the beginning, with the bewildering inflation of Zoe Quinn’s alleged infidelity into a vast web of corruption in video games journalism. And it’s utterly central to the entire enterprise. The Gamergate narrative has always required a vast quasi-conspiracy to function – some story whereby feminists/SJWs/cultural Marxists exercise near-complete control over video games and video game journalism.
This is perhaps, no surprise. At the end of the day anything that’s trying to claim that much of people’s lives is going to need pretty massive ideological stakes. (That or make it fun, which is the approach taken by video games, and would also serve to explain Gamergate, though it’s frankly just as nightmarish.) But perhaps more importantly, this sort of sweeping claim is simply what’s necessary to portray a world upside-down enough that Anita Sarkeesian making YouTube videos about sexism in video games is a vast existential threat in a way that the pervasive sexism she demonstrates isn’t. In other words, here too we come back to that sclerotic dependence on blatant falsehood.
By this point, however, the mad scale of the thing impresses more than the lies themselves. Recall the frothing paranoia over false flag operations. This isn’t your garden variety MRA conspiracy theory, which tends to be characterized by a myopic focus on, for instance, the ability of women to deny heterosexual men sex to the exclusion of things like political and economic power. Rather, it’s a world in which the basic ideas of “culture” and “society” are assumed to be shams, constructed to deceive and propagated by unknown agents to advance arcane agendas within some elaborate game of 4-D chess.
And it’s in this context that we can finally understand how something as self-evidently harmless as Depression Quest can somehow be viewed as an existential threat. It is, after all, a manifestly unthreatening game. Even the poison pen of Vox Day visibly struggles to find much of an angle on it, ultimately having to settle for the fact that it’s not trying to technologically compete with AAA releases that have multimillion dollar budgets and that it’s not fun, which, let’s face it, would be a pretty weird thing for a game about depression to aim for. Even if one is pathologically opposed to lo-fi art games that are actively disinterested in providing a nice cosy Skinner box for their audience, portraying them as a large-scale threat to culture at large is downright bizarre. We’re not even talking about something like Battlecruiser 3000 AD, Daikatana, or Duke Nukem Forever that squandered vast amounts of investment and engaged in a relentless hype cycle before delivering a substandard product that wasn’t worth people’s money. We’re talking about a free web game with a tip jar that takes a couple of minutes to play, and that got passing mention on a couple of gaming sites that were talking about the artistic fringes of the medium.
But looked at from within the context of Gamergate’s specific paranoias, the stakes become altogether clearer. Fundamentally, Depression Quest is a game about validating identities and making human connections. Its goal is to communicate the lived experience of Zoe Quinn’s depression to players and to facilitate empathy and understanding. It is an exaggeration to even call this identity politics. Sure, there are political implications to it surrounding the treatment and stigmatization of mental health, but these aren’t foregrounded in the game. It’s simply a game about saying “this is what it’s like to be me.” But to a worldview that depends on the assumption that individual identities are fundamentally disingenuous and exist only as props to craft larger cultural narratives, the act of saying “I exist; this experience is real” is a genuine threat.
The contrasting worldviews are perhaps best expressed by Gamergate’s mascot of choice, Vivian James. The character stemmed out of a PR stunt whereby Gamergate supporters ostentatiously donated money to a group called The Fine Young Capitalists, which was nominally a “radical feminist” game design studio, but in practice a front organization created to aid crowdfunding for an obscure Colombian game studio called Autobótika. The cynicism of this was matched by Gamergate, which reckoned that such a donation would, as one 4chan user put it, make them “PR-untouchable,” while in reality The Fine Young Capitalists were chosen because their “spokesman” (in reality the executive producer atAutobótika) had been one of the first people to actively try to court Gamergate for financial gain by reigniting a previously settled feud with Zoe Quinn, who had previously criticized The Fine Young Capitalists for exploitative labor practices and transphobia. But the donation meant that 4chan got to design a character for the game in question.
Continuing in the general vein of “crass PR that would probably be more effective if it weren’t plotted by idiots on a public message board,” and 4chan rejected suggestions such as “a guy who hates women but likes tits” and “dick butt” in favor of a suggestion to make the character “an average female gamer to troll everyone,” specifically “the tards in the media” who would expect 4chan to offer something blatantly offensive and vaguely pedophilic. Being 4chan, this resulted in a moe anthropomorphization named Vivian James (homophonic to video games) wearing a 4chan clover in her hair and dressed in green and purple (a reference to an old 4chan meme about rape; come on, you weren’t actually expecting any better, were you?). Also being 4chan, there was immediately porn of her. Which was part of the package of images sent to The Fine Young Capitalists.
A typically rousing PR success, in other words, but James quickly became a mascot for Gamergate – she appears in the header of the main Gamergate subreddit /r/KotakuInAction, for instance, and is the source of their green and purple color scheme. But what’s astonishing is not the degree to which Gamergate can fuck up even the most seemingly simple of tasks. Baffling stupidity can hardly surprise us at this point. The bit that still stands out as weird, even after looking at this for as long as we have been, is the attempt to conceptualize this piece of idiot propaganda as a human being. The post announcing her design says the following:
Plenty of excited discussion around personality was had, but that’s something I think you should be free to work around. The only thing we’d like you to keep in mind (should relevant situations ever come up) are the things that are obvious from her designs and our board’s attitude towards the controversy:
Tough-loves video games
Loathes dishonesty and hipocrisy
Low-affect, grumpy, perpetually fed up and tired.
This is, it’s important to stress, the same announcement that sent pornography of the character to The Fine Young Capitalists, so the scope of the excited discussion is pretty clear. But what stands out are the bullet points at the end – that this “average female gamer” is an adolescent girl with no defined character traits other than her love of video games and her agreement with her creators (whose dishonesty is obviously tolerated), and who is in fact specifically depicted as a sort of passively irritated zombie that may be projected freely upon past that.
It’s a grotesque inversion of identity – not so much a description of lived experience as some sort of unperson undoing unthings. She does not even play video games – the nature of her blankness means that she is the rare gamer who doesn’t have favorite games. There’s not even so much as a preference between consoles and PCs. They’ve literally managed to create a fake geek girl. She loves video games without desiring anything of them, which is to say utterly unlike the way in which any piece of art has ever been loved by anyone.
And Gamergate as a whole is scarcely better. It’s always been notable for its near-complete lack of actual discussion of videogames. When it does tackle them, the content of the discussion is bewilderingly scant. (Milo Yiannopoulos’s attempts at “gamer” metaphors are infamously cringeworthy.) Even their supposedly most passionate topic, ethics in video game journalism, is unfathomably selective, with the news that Kotaku, a major games publication, was being blacklisted by companies in retaliation for bad reviews. This sort of bullying for favorable coverage, in an industry where bonuses are routinely calculated based on aggregate review scores, is blatant corruption of exactly the sort that Zoe Quinn not having an affair with a games journalist whose scant coverage of her free game couldn’t have been influenced by it anyway is not. And it’s certainly more corrupt, in that it actually involves trading free copies of the game for favorable coverage unlike the things Gamergate objected to, such as writing a review of something you backed on Kickstarter, i.e. actually paid for yourself. And yet in the face of this corruption – a problem that’s been observed about video game journalism since 2007 when Jeff Gertsmann was sacked by GameSpot for not giving Kane & Lynch a high enough score – crickets. Indeed, given that Kotaku is one of the sites Gamergate most widely views as pro-SJW (recall the name of their subreddit), the high-profile demonstration of massive corruption in video games journalism was for the most part celebrated.
Like Vivian James, it is the negation of any sort of desire. It is a vision of video gaming reduced to passively accepting the products of big-name developers on the terms that are offered, without any sort of opinion or personal identity involved. That this reduces video gaming – a medium that has, since the heyday of the NES, in point of fact included countless women and minorities in its tens of millions of players, and currently shows a clear majority of women among console gamers – to a monoculture is irrelevant. They don’t care about the history of the medium, to the point of targeting an academic focusing on video game archiving for harassment because he publicly stated that anxiety about Gamergate was making it harder to get funding, widely declaring that the work he did was unimportant anyway. Not even a monoculture then – an anticulture, with Vivian James ironically its perfect representation. It’s a desire to befit their worldview, its adamance dwarfed only by its fundamental emptiness. There’s nothing there. There’s never been anything there.
Except, of course, the trail of devastation left behind. The utter sludge of human misery brought down upon victim after victim over the course of this ghastly farce. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Sarah Nyberg, Randi Harper, Phil Fish, Alison Rapp, Veerender Jubbal, and so many more, an unmeasurably vast ledger of people subjected to the movement’s brutality, every one of their stories with more weight and substance and meaning than the entirety of the movement that’s subjected them to an unceasing torrent of harassment and hatred. And all they’ve done – all any of them have done – is to be people. Ordinary people, with all the flaws and strangeness that implies.
But as Vox Day bluntly puts it, “we don’t care.” And it’s impossible to argue with. They clearly don’t. By any reasonable interpretation, that most basic of human cognitive functions is literally the single biggest thing they are opposed to. They are insatiable because there is nothing they want. Nothing save for for nothing; as far as the eye can see. And so their blind eye twitches helplessly around, staring endlessly at the random shapes and colors that dance upon its cataracted lens and believing that they can see it all. Howling apophenically into the void to try to get everyone else to see it too – the vast conspiracy that’s all around them. Finding victim after victim to abuse in the name of this gruesome folly. Measuring their circle. Starting anywhere.
For more attacks on Gamergate, stop by again on Monday for the latest installment of The Super Nintendo Project.