Thursday, 10 September 2015

Elevatorgate and Gamergate - on the gatekeepers

As humans we like to organise things. Our ability to recognise patterns ultimately allows us to organise things in ways that make sense to us, whether it's books on shelves, or animals in nature or even chemical compounds. It's something that we're good at to a rather insane degree coming up with a pattern and then organising things to that pattern.

It's something we also do to fellow humans as well. Whether it's the harmful effects that underlay, and underlie, racist ideas or just simple things like "these people like football". This is where the gatekeepers come in. These people, self-appointed in these cases, take advantage of this fact and use it in a way to gain a sense of power.

Elevatorgate can quite simply be described as a shitstorm that resulted from people being stupid in various ways over Rebecca Watson being offered coffee while in a lift in Ireland. If you want a more detailed view, you'll want to look at Freethought Kampala's excellent article on it. My initial thoughts on the Rebeccapocalypse (an alternate, and still better name IMO) at the time was that I didn't care. Turns out I never posted those thoughts outside of a draft. But as the war dragged on so to speak, I did come to care.

The part that's relevant began with Jen McCreight's post "How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism" which was a cry for a new wave of Atheism which would ultimately result in the formation of the hilarious group of fail known as Atheism+. My original thoughts were written here. This "new new Atheism" was jumped upon by the members of Freethought Blogs who promoted it with gusto. Especially Richard Carrier, who took a strong "with us or against us" view.

Carrier's view, which would be echoed by the early adopters of the A+ forums, show that this was a push for power. Back in 2012 Freethought Blogs was at its height. PZ Myers was generally seen as the "Fifth Horseman" to the "Four Horsemen" of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris. Jen McCreight was a rising star and becoming prominent in the Atheist/Skeptic movement and Greg Laden was viewed far more favourably then he is now.

When Elevatorgate happened and Dawkins blundered massively by posting the "Dear Muslima" letter in a Pharyngula comment FTB effectively made a putsch. They would force out the old guard that made up the leadership of atheism and take control, moulding it in their image of what they think an atheist should be. No longer would an atheist be defined by their lack of religion, they would be defined by political and social values. They would they would drive out the heretic and make the movement a better place.

It didn't work. This new "wave" that was Atheism+ collapsed through favouritism and the hypocrisy that arises from that, and the rampant thought policing driving away people who had slight disagreements. The movement was ultimately denounced by McCreight and became more insular. The attempt at gatekeeping by FTB ended with a massive loss of influence for them.

Fast-forward three years later and #Gamergate was on the scene. Having danced the dance the first time it was a recognisable tune. The histrionics and attacking of people who disagree, the othering and lies. It was the same tune, but the gatekeepers seemed to differ.

This time the self-appointed gatekeepers were mainly the gaming media themselves.

Now the gaming media have generally held a gatekeeper position for a while, being the place people would go for gaming info basically allows such a thing to exist. Get no coverage and you're probably going to fail. The unethical cronyist practices that have been discovered since the start are an aspect of this. By cozying up to the gatekeepers through close friendships and relationships you can ensure your success and also minimise the damage when the gatekeepers decide to attack certain "problematic" elements.

But from what I can see, with the push back against Gamergate is not just the protection of corrupt practices from the journalists, it's also a push to take control of who is allowed into the hobby.

The biggest difference between the formation of Atheism+ and the push back against Gamergate is that the gatekeepers did not want to make their own "gamer+". Attempts were made with "player" and "gamr" but neither of those would stick. That's simply because they weren't put forward by the people who wanted more power. But why would they?

By making their own gaming with social justice and thought policing, they would have lost. While the scars of Elevatorgate still run deep in the atheist community, the event ended when the gatekeepers made their own thing. Gamergate is a long and (metaphorically) bloody fight because neither side will make their own thing. It's all or nothing, and the gatekeepers stand to lose the most.

Despite all the vilification received and proclamations by the gatekeepers to the contrary, Gamergate is effectively fighting for diversity in gaming. Beyond the "hardcore v casual" debates and the whole "are cow clickers and candy crush players 'gamers'" thing Gamergate ultimately fights to keep the ideal of a gamer being someone who enjoys playing games alive. That's it.

The pushback with the "gamers are dead" and the "everybody is a gamer" articles is simple. To effectively gatekeep you need control of the identity, and by destroying it in that way you can rebuild it and apply the "ideals" that you want and along the way keep the power from being corrupt and cronyistic.

Fighting for a more ethical press destroys the established power they hold, since who would pay attention to such people? While keeping the open, apolitical ideal of who is a gamer destroys the chance to gain more power.

Interestingly such loss there would have a follow on effect, groups like the IGDA or even Feminist Frequency have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. A more ethical press would take a more critical look into such organisations and possibly ask too many unsettling questions. Questions like, "why do you support blacklisting devs?" Or "why does this popular game not face criticism for the supposedly harmful tropes used?" Or even "what evidence do you have to show that video games cause sexism?"

Those groups are trying to be gatekeepers as well, but they rely on other gatekeepers to help them. Take out the linchpin and other groups have to adapt or die.

And the loss of power may be too great a negative for any such group.

Fresh coat of paint.

It's been over three years since I last wrote something for this blog. I just wasn't really motivated to write something. But now I am, and so after clearing up some stuff and fresh coat of paint I'm ready to write something that will probably be the last thing for ages.