How did these things line up--were there justifications? Was there a particular spark of emotion that lit the whole fire? Conspiracy theory? What. After several days (and this interaction never really ends--it's part of the charm) of talking with the GG'ers, The Omnivore has some observations--a sort of "Toxicology Report" on the emotional framework of #GamerGate.
The Toxicology Report appears as follows:
- The initial wound was the "Gamers Are Dead" set of articles which upset a set of hard-core overly entitled, often bigoted (or at least using various slurs) gamers as a demographic that was shrinking in the Video Games markets.
- Being stung by the description (which, again, was not applied to any one person specifically) the GG'ers needed to both avenge themselves but also not validate the accusations. This led to:
- The Just Asking Questions approach also known as sea-lioning and
- Attempts to dismiss any accusations of bad behavior as fakes, lies, false-flags, etc.
We Didn't Start The Fire
Discussions with the GG'ers should not be used to over-generalize--but The Omnivore wants to be clear: he came into this exercise with a partial view of "stated goals" vs. "actual goals" that GG'ers seemed to exhibit. A place to start is with the genesis of #GamerGate. The foundational wound was a set of articles referred to as the "Gamers Are Dead" articles (they don't say that--but that's how they are referenced).
The Omnivore had known about these before, of course--but had not been able to talk to the GG'ers about their reactions to them. For the most part, they simply felt insulted--but there was a claim that was called out by few that seemed to "hit home." This was the accusation that Gamers were entitled (Overly entitled, to be specific).
The Omnivore is here to tell you: for this sample size, man oh man is that right. The dimensions of Gamer Entitlement are wide and varied (see 'Taking it personally that Diablo 4 was released as a Mobile Game' to 'All these critically acclaimed Walking Simulators will destroy our hobby!') but essentially the Gamers were told they were behaving like unpleasant brats . . . and they were. So they took it, as they say, personally.
The Shape of #GamerGate Argumentation
The evolving #GamerGate movement, springing from this wound, had some operational constraints built in: If you were accused of being overly entitled jerks--and you took it personally--how did you defend yourself without being . . . an overly entitled jerk?
The answer was obvious: Use Absolute Deniability as your shield and use "Just Asking Questions" as your sword. These are metaphors--but basically: hound people to debate with you about your bad-behavior--do it relentlessly and persistently--and complain if the mob is auto-blocked because "that's not fair"--it also means that all action that could be considered "over the line" must religiously be attributed to someone else. If these two things seem strange, well, they are. Let's look at each separately.
Just Asking Questions (Sea-Lioning)
One of the Sea Lions, despite not receiving a response for a while, followed around, trying to get other people to take up his "unanswered" questions. *
Furthermore, in addition to working up a lather of justified sea-lioning, there is also the wide-spread #GamerGate belief that, to reference a well known piece of nonsense, 'The Sea lion Did Nothing Wrong." The excuses for this are just as tortured: the Sea Lion is only (on Twitter) pursuing their targets in a public place (Twitter--but the sea lion is upset if he is placed on a block-list--because block-lists are inefficient! uh-huh).
In any event, the sea lion is in the right--he's been wronged--and he's being polite. In this case, the act of sea-lioning, which is defined explicitly as harassing--is said by the GG'ers not to be harassing (note: GGers in The Omnivore's interaction got upset when they felt they were being asked questions in a relentless fashion. The Omnivore weeps for the lost irony).
The other pillar of #GamerGate argumentation is . . .
A religious article of faith of #GamerGate is, necessarily, that they--the collective-they, in their movement has done nothing wrong. It's a consumer revolt of angels. Coming from the chan environments, this is prima facie bullshit--but it's also intricate. How does this work?
1. No One (But Us) Was Harassed. The first claim--and the most astonishing--is that no one was actually harassed. This means (a) SWATTING reports are likely fake (as though the local PD would not know) (b) what was reported as harassment was just, you know, snow-flakes being unable to take the heat, and, since no charges were filed, nothing "fitting harassment" by a legal-eagle definition happened--so clearly it's all lies!
Of course the documents make it clear that the #GamerGate targets did receive threatening and repeated phone calls, SWATTING attacks, doxing, and so on--but if you start by deciding that All Media Always Lies and The FBI Report Only Counts If They Pressed Charges (they didn't) then you can get most of the way there with your true believers.
2. They Did It To Themselves / Had It Coming. The next circle of #GamerGate hell is the "They did it to themselves" theory. In this one numerous critics all got together to fake harassment so they could get sweet, sweet, pateron dollars in donations. A part of this also is that the targets were so objectionable that of course some harassment may have happened--but it was just natural and unrelated to #GG.
The False Flag theory is nonsense (the evidence of it: No Evidence!) and there are serious structural issues (would these people all come up with the same plan? Would families and such who were relocated go along with it? Would all major media outlets be in on it? (Yes! It's a Conspiracy!). And so on.
3. Okay, Maybe Someone Was Harassed--but Not By #GamerGate. One GG'er tried hard to get The Omnivore into a discussion of the SWATTING of one of the targets (referenced in the FBI report). The GG'er, after refusing to back off on repeated questions when asked to, finally wanted The Omnivore to go into the report and tell him Where This Allegation Of SWATTing Was!
The Omnivore assured him it was in there--and that he could go check. It was, of course--but that wasn't what the #GG'er wanted to verify. What the #GamerGater wanted to do was take a specific SWATTing incident (which definitely happened) and use the link to the archived /baphomet/ doxing/swatting page where gleeful anons wait for a pro-SWATTER to rain down misery or perhaps even death on a target and have chosen one who is disliked by #GamerGate so "#GamerGate will take the blame!"
Of course the target herself was identified by #GamerGate and they cast their ire at her--without them, she would not have been a SWATTing target whatsoever. Even if we grant that the posters on /baphomet (the board where the SWATTING was driven from) were serious about 'not being part of #GamerGate . . . how could we possibly know/) it is very, very hard to argue against the understanding #GamerGate picked the target and /baphomet pulled the trigger.
This (The Omnivore avers) wasn't the conversation the GG'er wanted to have. He wanted to trick The Omnivore into claiming that #GamerGate itself had definitely doxed and SWATTed the target--but all The Omnivore had ever claimed was that the people disliked by #GameGate got harassed (a claim numerous #GGer's also disputed--but with far less convincing evidence).
4. Okay--But It Was A Tiny Number. The final fallback position is that, sure--some people who affiliated themselves with #GamerGate might've done something--okay--but most of us didn't! This would make a certain amount of sense until you realize that it is basically just a protective convention. The #GamerGaters were certainly interested in making sure their targets suffered. They felt wronged--personally insulted--attacked--vilified.
Their organization is designed so that anyone and no one might actually belong (how do you know? There is no structure). The nature of the Internet message boards they flourished on (and were commonly kicked off of) are places set up to allow anonymous bad behavior. Yes, they also have My Little Pony and cooking channels--but those weren't relentlessly kicked off of one platform after another after another. #GamerGate and other bad-behavior movements (child pornography posting) did get groups evicted from 4chan, for example).
The Omnivore's takeaway from this is that #GamerGate is every bit the result of an ego-wound that the participants were eager to be a part of. They recognized their bad-behavior in the articles, justified it, and then attached themselves to the idea that they, personally were accused of any-and-all bad things. Armed with this justification to go-forth and sea-lion, they did so . . . and thus cemented their reputation in every major examination.**
* NOTE: The GG'er in question rationalized his persistence (sea lioning--even when this was pointed out to him) by claiming that he, personally had been accused of SWATTING people (this was clearly untrue--he used a set of logical hoops to try to construct the personal wronging). Thus, as he was personally wronged, he decided he was justified in seeking sea-lion-justice as his rightful redress.
Of course he also persisted after being told not to in asking questions relentlessly about a meme The Omnivore referenced (this was dropped from his later claims to others as it would undermine his I-was-wronged stance--but it was very clearly not about thinking he'd been wrongly accused of SWATTING).
** NOTE: Something that is notable--but out of scope for this article--is that #GamerGaters have a very strong inclination to "defend freedom of speech." This is presented as a high-minded idea. It's really a justification as to how they can't / shouldn't be banned from various boards, twitter, etc. for speaking their minds over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. As with the nazis (lowercase 'n') who "defend free speech" because they are going to use racial slurs, the #GGers are also pretty well versed in using racial slurs (even if many claim they 'wouldn't do it personally.')
Anyone going into a #GamerGate space may see slurs used (or be called one) and then, if they take offense, they are dubbed a censor--and an enemy of free speech. This is double ironic as the #GamerGaters were offended for far less (having a group they chose to belong to referred to as "entitled") and they didn't waste time defending the article's author's freedom from the consequences of their speech.
Someone should call Alanis Morisette.