OPINION: Why have publishers remained silent over #GamerGate?

This last month has not been the most professionally inspiring for anyone who works in online games journalism.

And while most normal humans who don’t have to spend the majority of their waking hours online may be largely unaware of the gritty details surrounding #GamerGate, if you’re in the industry I’m going to presume you’re at least aware of it.

Actually, I’m going to presume you have a professional interest in it as the entire movement has united itself under your banner. Gamers. The people who have perpetuated this fiasco are associating themselves with your products and identifying as like-minded consumers of the items you produce.

Make no mistake about it – I’m not taking a balanced view on this. What happened throughout #GamerGate was abhorrent. I’m not talking about the conduct of journalists, who have no case to answer against the almost unanimously unfounded accusations that have been thrown at them. I’m talking about the vile strain of misogynistic anger thinly veiled under the fabricated guise of concerns regarding media ethics.

Taking that as a given – which I do – I’m of the opinion that the industry has resoundingly failed in its duty and obligation to stand up to the behaviour I and my peers have had to endure throughout this episode.

"In researching this piece I
contacted the UK offices of 12
publishers. 10 of them said they
were not prepared to offer any
comment and two didn’t even
bother to reply."

In researching this piece I contacted the UK offices of 12 publishers with three questions: Have they released an official comment on #GamerGate? Do they have an official stance? Do they think the industry has a responsibility to react?

The response? Ten of them said they are not prepared to offer any comment and two didn’t even bother to reply.

The closest I came to getting any concrete response was this from UKIE CEO Jo Twist: We respond to our members and the industry when they need us to do so. This is not a games industry exclusive issue, but one that society must police, and there are clear laws against harassment and abuse. We focus on promoting the positive, diverse, nature of games, the joy people get from playing games and the amazing careers people can have within the industry and we will continue to do that.”

Which I guess pretty much leaves it up to me to speculate?

Presumably, this unwillingness to confront this issue is due to one of two reasons.

Here’s the first – publishers are scared of alienating sections of the buying public. Despite the fact that said section comprises of mostly young men who feel entitled, or even obligated, to publicly air violently sexist views.

Remaining silent seems like the safest option, but leaves the morality of publishers open to appropriation,” journalist and YouTuber Matt Lees told me. If you aren’t on the list of developers and publishers that this toxic element think should be boycotted, then there’s a good chance these people see you as the good guys.

Hardcore fans are important for business, but publishers need to start thinking carefully about the brand ambassadors their silence is likely to create.”

Freelancer Leigh Alexander was less convinced of the industry’s direct responsibility to confront current behaviour, but did call it out for the role it played in creating it.

I don’t think companies who produce consumer products are necessarily responsible for moderating their community of buyers,” she told me. On the other hand, I think what we’re seeing is the result of actual decades of all of us, from content creators and game makers to web communities and sites, declining to curate our cultures in any way.

To an extent ‘we are what we eat’ – we have an audience that’s been explicitly catered to with expensive tech products about statistical gains, masculine power and capitalistic weaponry, where pesky narratives and values must never get in the way of the fun, and this may be the result.”

The second possibility? The games industry simply doesn’t care about the games press and is happy to watch it burn.

The rise of social media (and direct-to-consumer contact) and YouTubers (who are able to receive payment for the promotion of titles and STILL be defended by fans while the traditional press is accused of all sorts of absurd and unfounded evils) means that the press just isn’t as important any more.

In fact, maybe we’re even an inconvenience? All these calls for gender equality and unwillingness to let abusive behaviour slide and the active want to evolve gaming beyond simply a money factory producing BANG SMASH THUMP multi-million pound action titles.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But until the industry stands up and speaks out, we’ll all be left to guess – and to keep moderating the endless hate your fans throw our way.

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