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Monday, October 20, 2014 

Poisoning national life? That'll be two years.

Gosh, was it really but two weeks ago some of the internet world was up in arms over the apparent suicide of Brenda Leyland, aka Sweepyface, aka one of those meanies still obsessed with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and still insisting her parents might have had something to do with it, or at least bear some responsibility?  Unpopular opinions certainly, but not illegal, and probably not really deserving of a doorstepping from a Sky reporter.

How fast things move these days.  Just as we saw in the aftermath of the riots, when some judges took it upon themselves to hand down harsher sentences to those who didn't riot but suggested they might than to some of those who did, so now Chris Grayling promises the maximum sentence for "trolls" will be lengthened from the current six months to 2 years.  Anyone would have thought we don't have a prison system in crisis, one where the debate over whether Ched Evans should be allowed to play football again ought to have been delayed until he'd served the full 5 years he was given after being found guilty of rape, but no, space can always be found for those who "poison our national life".

Apparently Chloe Madeley was last week subjected to "online terrorism".  I say apparently as I really, truly, don't care enough to look any deeper.  One suspects the rape threats she received amounted to what they usually do, a handful of people, sometimes not even that, reaching for the most obvious weapon in their verbal arsenal, either sexual assault and/or death.  Back in the day, we called the people whose first response to getting bested in argument was to say the equivalent of "I'd beat u up m8" internet tough guys.  Because in the majority of examples, that's all they are: cocky and arrogant online but likely to shit themselves if someone took them up on the offer and arrived on their doorstep.

This isn't always the case, as #gamergate has (somewhat) demonstrated.  Madeley doesn't seem to have had her personal information posted online, as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian have.  #Gamergate has also now been going for two months, an incredibly long time by internet standards for a drama to still be developing.  For those who've missed the whole farrago up to now, in microcosm #gamergate is either one of two things: a crusade against corrupt videogame journalism, or a dying, backwards community trying desperately to keep its domain in aspic, without politics, especially left-wing politics and feminism, gaining a foothold.

As you might expect, in reality it's neither.  Both sides doth protest too much: despite how gaming journalists have tried to argue there was no truth behind the claims of corruption from Quinn's ex-boyfriend, who detailed how she had slept with journalists and others in the wider industry while still in a relationship with him, there has long been a problem with cronyism at best and outright corruption at worst in gaming media.  Rather than face up to the initial outcry following the spreading of Eron Gjoni's allegations, one of the first responses came in the shape of multiple news and review sites declaring the "gamer" label itself dead, all on the same day.  You know, exactly the sort of collusion and refusing to listen the old media used to indulge in and still does, albeit on a smaller scale than before.

Then again, you can't exactly blame them considering some of the abuse directed their way.  Think the trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez et al except multiplied many times over.  Nearly everyone with even a passing role has been "doxed", items really have been sent through the post, and so on.  It has also been to a certain extent orchestrated, one internet subculture organising for all out war on another.  Their enemy is "SJWs", social justice warriors, imposing their values and standards on others whether they like it or not, and anonymous most certainly does not like it.

You'd think being something of a left-winger, believing wholeheartedly in equality and so on I would be in alliance with those criticising games and gamers for their continued Neanderthal ways.  And I would be, if that first response hadn't been so woefully constructed, the backlash against the mere asking of questions so vehement.  The reason this has gone on so long without burning itself it out is precisely because those on the side of Quinn and Saarkesian have risen to the bait over and over and over, just as Criado-Perez and those supporting her did.  Moreover, just as the coverage of the banknote campaign and its aftermath made clear how journalists themselves ramped it up due to how they knew those involved, or indeed, how they were being targeted themselves, so any semblance of objectivity went almost immediately.  It's shone a light on the vulnerabilities and insecurities of both sides, highlighting groupthink and the way narratives are constructed in this extremely new media landscape.

There is of course no defence for threats, for "doxing" people, for scaring them to the extent they feel compelled to leave their homes.  Concerted, sustained trolling has to be tackled in some way, and if that means involving the authorities, so be it.  You don't have to be a cynic however to note it's only some victims the media cares for, and there are plenty of journalists who have never taken to their writing becoming so open to criticism.  We've already seen people imprisoned for making tasteless jokes, or given community service for daring to make angry political statements. Handing judges the power to impose longer sentences for going beyond what we consider the bounds of free speech, will, as it always does, encourage them to use it, just as publicity also makes them believe they have to set an example the next time a spotty herbert with a miserable life and a hateful online alter ego appears before them.  The only people who ever truly poison national life are those in positions of power, and the vast majority of keyboard denizens have none.

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those on the side of Quinn and Saarkesian have risen to the bait over and over and over

As opposed to what, saying "thanks for those interesting and perceptive comments about cronyism and groupthink in the industry, although another time we'd prefer them without the death and rape threats"? Although I suspect even this wouldn't be conciliatory enough - how dare they smear and distort the many people who support the legitimate GG critique by focusing on the few (hundred) threats they've received? Have they really received all these threats? (See Rock, Paper, Shotgun.) Do they know they were from GG people? What about all the threats made by anti-GGers, why aren't we hearing about them? And so on, and on.

It seems to me that, firstly, Zoe Quinn's sex life is nobody's business but her own & her partners', and the way she's been victimised for it is genuinely vile; this matters, because it's what kicked this whole thing off, and I don't see how one can be pro-GG but anti-'Quinnspiracy'. Secondly, talking about 'rising to the bait' only makes sense if there's an obvious better alternative to what ZQ, AS et al have done; it seems to me that, at this stage, there's literally nothing they could do to shut the GGers up.

PS Qualified agreement to the main point. The law does need to get involved at some point - think of the FBI response to the death threat sent before Anita Sarkeesian's (cancelled) talk, which basically amounted to "nothing new here, she gets this stuff all the time". But, in this country at least, the legality border was already drawn far enough into the territory of free speech, if not too far.

I agree to a certain extent. At this point it's not clear what GG is about anymore, just as those involved in wars soon forget what the overall cause is. You obviously can't link everything the anti-GG people have done back to Quinn and Sarkeesian, but the whole #stopgamergate thing is a perfect example of how not to go about it to give just one example. My answer, which I know isn't an answer and of course also to an extent gives in, would be for those targeted to just shut up shop for a while, or begin ignoring it. The place where GG started up from has tried to ban all discussion of it, and to an extent has been successful, for instance. It's just gone elsewhere true, but I'd say it's had an impact.

On the "Quinnspiracy", I'm torn. Yes, private lives should be irrelevant, until that is they spill out into the public and have an impact on others. Does that apply here? Maybe, maybe not. We can talk about "slut shaming" and so on, but there's an element of double standards at work; when we have a whole stream of writers making a living out of "confessionals", even if the majority don't name names, some of the response to Gjoni has been hypocritical to say the least. Did he raise legitimate concerns? I'd say yes. Could have done so without it turning into this shiftfest, which seems to be exactly what he wanted? Also yes. Do I think gaming culture has probably the longest way to go of any modern medium to address sexism? Certainly. Will GG help? Nope. Is Bayonetta 2 a great game but one that could do without the frankly tedious and yuck-inducing leering? Well, duh.

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