I am coming to this #gamergate nonsense about a month late. But I read Arthur Chu's great essay about it this weekend and it sparked something. The meta-question of whole situation (beyond the sexism, doxing etc) is "why are gamers so apt to attack". What is it about this group of people that motivates them to spend so much time and effort in destroying anything that defends the sanctity of video games.
I think Chu nails it:
I sometimes say that if Jack Thompson had never existed we would’ve had to invent him. Maybe the fact that at one point in time the gaming community had a public enemy who pulled out all the stops—calling games “murder simulators,” demanding that game developers be imprisoned en masse—means that gamers have felt justified in employing total-war tactics in kind since then.
Jack Thompson first came into the video game players conscious after the 1997 Heath High School shooting. Thompson, than a lawyer, filed several lawsuits on behalf of the families of the shooting victims claiming video games, movies and pornography played a role in the shooting. The lawsuits later thrown out. From 2003 to 2008, Thompson filed several high profile law suits against video game publishers.
These cases were ultimately dismissed, but with each case he found his way into mainstream press outlets like The Today Show and 60 Minutes. Each TV and news interview game him a just enough credibility that video games remained in the fringe of popular culture. No matter how many copies of a game sell during its first or how big the industry gets, the mainstream press look down on the games and the culture that surrounds the games.
This drives gamers nuts.
Roger Ebert talking dismissing games as an art form makes gamers go crazy. "What does Ebert know? He is just an old guy. He is not one of us!" I cannot remember the number of times I was involved in some sort of argument about whether video games are (or could be) art.
This external criticism lead to a bunker mentality. Each time someone like Thompaon or Ebert (and it pains me to speak of them in the same breath) the medium gamers feel like they have to lash out. They believe they have to head this criticism off at the pass in order to prevent the criticism from getting lodged in the mainstream.
But its not just bullies on message board winding up peons. They are taking their cues from some of the most mainstream voices for video game culture. Over the last decade, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik the creators of Penny Arcade have openly attached their critics. In 2003, American Greetings sent Penny Arcade a cease-and-desist letter regarding their use of Strawberry Shortcake (dressed as a dominatrix). They pulled the comic, later running a comic that depicted American Greatings employees as Nazis.
Their distain for criticism peaked in 2010. In the month leading up their their PAX, their yearly convention, they released a comic where a character is "raped to sleep by dickwolves."
After being criticized for rape jokes, Holkins and Krahulik double down over and over. The more people companied and critiqued, the more Penny-Arcade staff dug in. They made shirts depicting making light of the situation. Writing about the controversy for Weird, Rachel Edidin wrote:
More people protested, and some companies and speakers began making noise about pulling out of PAX Prime. Finally, the dickwolves merchandise was removed from the Penny Arcade store. Krahulik made it clear that he objected to the decision to stop selling the merchandise, and would be wearing his dickwolves shirt at PAX to illustrate that point, even though he knew the dickwolves — and the sentiment they expressed — made many potential attendees feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
Making matters worse, Krahulik would say to an audience at PAX that he regretted giving into the bullies and pulling the dickwolves t-shirts.
Here the thing: in many ways Penny Arcade has been a force for good. Their conflict with Jack Thompson lead to the founding of Childs Play. The charity has raised $7.6 million for children's hospitals world wide in 2013. PAX has given independent game developers the opportunity to get in front of the largest end-user gaming event. Yet they reign from a bully pulpit. When Penny-Arcade or its events are criticized, their legions of fans lash out.