Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#GamerGate and Big Data

You Just Gotta Believe?
When talking about the 'essential nature' of a group, there is always a question of 'mission statement' vs. 'aggregate behavior' (for example; is Islam "The religion of peace?" It sure doesn't seem like it from the news today). There's also the question of intentional spin vs. actual agenda (does the Tea Party want small government--or are they upset at Barack Obama's skin color?).

The answer is always some of both. There was probably a Klansman in there somewhere who felt they were paternalistically protecting the 'decent' black people and the honorable Southern Way of Life (TM?). There just weren't very many.

A way to look at the question is with big-data and science. Presently people have done just that. There have been several "big data" deep-dives into #GamerGate trying to determine "what it is" vs. "what it 'says' it is."

What #GamerGate Says It Is About
GamerGate says it's about ethics in games journalism. Here are two lengthy discussions of what that might mean:
While it's hard impossible to get a concise, universally agreed upon mission statement, the claim is that (a) Gaming Journalism is corrupt and (b) #GamerGate is a reader-revolt aimed at punishing bad behavior in games journalism. As an addendum (c) progressive social justice is hurting games a lot of gamers ('gamers') like--but that's NOT necessarily part of the movement.

What Does The Big-Data Say?
Here's a round up:
  • Newsweek concluded: the vast majority of tweets they surveyed were targeted at two of the female critics and developers (Quinn, Wu and Sarkeesian) than at all the games journalists combined. The tweets were also more negative.
  • Andy Baio's analysis concluded that pro-GamerGate and anti-GamerGate users are two very separate groups--that the pro-GG Tweeters tended to be comparatively new to Twitter--and that the most re-tweeted users are pro-GG--but the most re-tweeted tweets are anti-GG.
So What Is #GamerGate About?
So here's what we know:
  1. The majority of the activity, under the Hashtag, is aimed at people who are not journalists or doing games journalism.
  2. There seems to have been a lot of people who signed up for the pro-GG / anti-Quinn-Wu-Sarkeesian side.
The picture painted is that of a core of GG-Supporters who, in the conversation space, are by a significant margin, dedicated to flinging textual-missiles (forget, for a moment about death-threats) at female game critics and developers who have almost no currency in terms of video-game journalism and are, all three of them, women.

Even if there were no death-threats and no serious harassment, the image of a substantial group (25% of GG tweets are from accounts created in the last two months) of people signing on to a movement which had high-profile targets of two indie game developers and one YouTube critic would make the idea that this is about journalism seem questionable.

Big Data suggests that the activity is far more culture-war related and that the culture war is one of the primary draws. This lines up with what Jesse Sengal observed in Gamergate Should Stop Lying To Journalists and Itself:
Then there was the Google Hangout. I was invited by Troy Rubert, a.k.a. @GhostLev. Just about everyone in there who spoke openly expressed how mad and frustrated they were that progressive politics and feminism were impinging on gaming, which they saw as an area they had enjoyed, free of politics, forever. They were extremely open about this. A day or so later, another gamergater, @Smilomaniac, asked me to read a blog post he’d written about his involvement in the movement in which he explicitly IDs as anti-feminist, and notes that while some people claim otherwise, he thinks GG is an anti-feminist movement. (He later added, via Twitter, “You're not distinguishing between feminism and 3rd wave radscum which is what ‘we’ dislike ;/ " — the clarification is appreciated.)

Looking at some of the grievances and noteworthy evidence:
  • A grievance list has (a) a personal feud between a game dev-group and a game developer (Fine Young Capitalists vs. Zoe Quinn) (b) allegations of corruption in the small-ball indie game-award scene, (c) articles in that were upsetting to gamers ("Gamers are over") and (d) allegations that #GamerGaters were all straight-white-men. Of these (a), (c), and (d) have relevance to anti-feminist. Exactly zero are about ethics in game journalism.
  • There is a list where journalists congregate to talk about games. Brietbart releases some emails showing that the various video-game outlets were supportive of Zoe Quinn (who was being harassed). Further discussion of support (which meant taking the focus off GamerGate) was further evidence of corruption.
  • A 'blockbuster' find was that game developer Zoe Quinn thanked Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson for help with her game (Depression Quest) in the HTML (hidden!) of her site. According to Kotaku, Grayson never actually reviewed her game, let alone gave it a favorable review--and did not write about her at all after their relationship began.
  • Because of GamerGate activity Disrespectful Nod (a tactically sophisticated public-relations attack on gaming-site advertisers) Intel pulled advertising from Gamasutra after they published an controversial "Gamers are Over" article. Mercedes Benz pulled ads from Gawker after some pro-bulling / anti-GamerGate tweets were sent from a Gawker writer. The first one is about gamer identity. The second is about bullying. Neither are about unethical game-review practices.
On the other hand:
Let's Be Real
If, indeed, people are flocking to Twitter in order to join the fray over something it isn't ethics in game journalism. That doesn't even begin to pass the sniff-test. As noted in the link above, automotive journalism is both (a) a bigger industry and (b) more lavishly corrupt than games journalism possibly could be. It's worth noting that in the early days of the automobile women drivers were ridiculed and discouraged. The music and film industry also has lavish release parties, junkets, and even celebrities to meet with. While we see complaints (and, uh, even a history of payola lawsuits) we don't see massive consumer back-lash. Either we must conclude that a huge swath of very diverse gamers are more concerned with ethical behavior than serious car and music guys--or that something else is going on.

What else? Well, the answer is that #GamerGate is a response to an attack on the identity of "gamers." The articles that drew fire were about women-in-video-games and Gamers-Are-Over ... not good reviews of Depression Quest. The actual events (early embargoes, firing reviewers for bad reviews, and restricting technical data) almost never come up in the general discussion (and did not spark outrage when reported on without the added gender / identity issues).

This shouldn't be a surprise. Policy and intellectual issues almost never drive emotionally intense behavior (outside of situations like it being your job to respond). Fire comes from "the belly" and getting upset is what ignites it. Sure, having game-media praise games that suck or feeling cheated can spark serious rage--but it doesn't tend to generate mass movements. That comes from feeling personally disrespected.

This is what the Big Data analysis suggests: the battle is joined mostly by newcomers (that is, people who felt insulted by a rise in identity politics rather than the on-going steady-state of journalistic practices), the targets are women, the carrier signal is about something universally defensible like ethics while the payload is a lot of 'angry' (negative posting).


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    1. While spam-a-riffic, I'mma leave this post here because [ reasons ]. I'll note that I was aware of these guys *years* ago. They're not new and they haven't changed their spiel.

      -The Omnivore

    2. Actually, it's about ethics in vid... oh to hell with it.

  2. [lone voice] "Can't we all just get along?"
    [everyone else] "NO!"
    [Butters Stoch] "Oh hamburgers."

    "[ reasons ]", eh? Bet there's a story there somewhere.

    -- Ω