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Why Gamergate Debates Tend to Suck

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I hate to say it, but social media can be a terrible medium for rational, well thought out discussion.

You’ve more than likely heard this from those who don’t frequent social media, or from older people whose earliest experiences with collaborating about a particular issue were newspapers and verbal discourse. As much as it makes me sound like a crotchety old lady reminiscing about the ‘good old days’, the GamerGate controversy continues to show how social media can be utter hell on logic and reason.

And honestly, from all perspectives, it’s one of the biggest online clusterfucks of the 21st century.

Limited characters throw discussion out the window.

No matter how you look at it, 140 characters is in no way enough to promote discussion.

Twitter was never meant for the thousand word epistles you see on political arguments on Facebook while scrolling through your news feed, broken up into multiple posts. Since GamerGate’s base of operations is Twitter, that’s where you’re going to get more people talking about it. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can talk about an issue when you’re limited to a sentence at the most. If people disagree with you, the most they’re going to be able to do is post a knee-jerk response.

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Unfortunately, it’s that knee-jerk response, combined with other factors, that causes Twitter explosions. You’ve got thousands of angry, opinionated people throwing short sentences every which way, and rational thought tends to disappear once a post is taken entirely out of context. With Twitter, it’s far more difficult to rectify a mistake – you’re either going to watch your phone explode with angry updates for the next week and a half, or you attempt to clear up what you said through another post.

Either way, it’s part of the reason why few seem to be able to discuss issues that need to be discussed in detail – short, pithy comments aren’t going to cut it.

You can silence whomever you choose.

Don’t like what someone’s saying? There’s a block function, gift-wrapped and waiting for you in a ribboned basket.

Originally, the block feature on social media was, of course, to block harassers, stalkers, trolls, or others who might be an actual problem. However, it quickly became overused – now, the block function’s a quick and easy ‘off’ switch for anyone who doesn’t wish to be disagreed with.

Of course, some people, due to their own severe lack of an open mind, would prefer not to be disagreed with. The discussion is something that they actively avoid, posting their opinions, but dodging all questions and responses by blocking people and turning off comments. Only those who agree with them are allowed a place in their social media lives, and even their supporters are viewed with a high level of scrutiny.

Back when Zoe Quinn was the biggest thing to hate, several sites took this as their cue to actively shut down any and all discussion on the issue. At first, it looked as if only the more harmful, angry threads and posts were being shut down, as nobody deserves stalking and harassment on a global scale. You could even argue that they were protecting her to the best of their ability given that early on, we didn’t exactly have all the facts.

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But when threads that featured detailed and cool-headed discussions were being wiped off the site as well, we started to get a bit suspicious. When people were being banned every which way for so much as speaking up about the issue, we knew something was up.

No matter how uncomfortable an issue might get, shutting people down is never the answer. Even something as controversial as GamerGate needs an exchange of words.

People don’t like to read or source check.

The phrase, “Don’t believe everything you read/hear” seems to have vanished into oblivion ever since the Internet grew in popularity.

As soon as someone posts, “X said Y” on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, people go berserk. Reblogs, reposts, and shares explode, burying every comment from the people who actually bothered to go back and look for the truth. A handful of people are going to see the source checked posts, but you can guarantee that the other 10,000 aren’t even going to come across it in time.

It’s easy enough to lie on the Internet that people are going to get hyped over an event that either never happened at all or happened in a completely different way. While I’m not saying the claims of stalking and harassment through GamerGate are entirely false, it’s safe to say that there are people out there doing it to garner sympathy. Which, of course, really doesn’t make the problem any better.

Good points, terrible delivery.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that Anita Sarkeesian, problematic as she may be, makes some good points. Some.

But as you may have noticed, she’s not particularly skilled in delivering her points. Rhetoric matters, and it’s Sarkeesian’s choice of rhetoric that more often than not tends to come back to haunt her later on. Yes, there are problems with gender within the gaming industry and games in general that ought to be addressed. It’s also entirely possible to bring these problems to light without the smugness, pride, and arrogance that makes people want to tune you out.

It’s why people on the Internet in general tend to screw up when discussing the GamerGate controversy. Nobody on either side is completely right. Nobody in any argument is going to be 100% correct. Getting your point across properly requires careful thought and an even more careful choice of words. Instead of saying, “This is what it is,” try saying, “This is my take on the issue and what it says to me personally.” The phrase, “I feel that Bayonetta’s design is sexualized because X” sounds a lot friendlier and more open to discussion than, “Bayonetta’s design is sexist and here’s all the reasons why.”

Too many people resort to death threats and harassment.

I think we can all agree that videogames are not something to be threatening people’s lives over.

After Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her speech in Utah after some genius threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history”, there was some skepticism. The fact that we’re still not sure whether or not she fabricated her last stalking/harassment threat didn’t help.

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Still, threatening to shoot an entire school over the presence of one woman? Whether you’re joking or not, that’s a line of thinking that borders on the insane.

The biggest problem infecting GamerGate at the moment is the constant stream of stalking, doxxing, harassment, rape threats, and death threats on both sides of this online war. There’s never a need to put someone’s life in danger or even threaten to do so just because you don’t like what they said – and honestly, if this is your usual reaction to a disagreement, seek psychological help immediately.

There’s no way to entirely stop the GamerGate explosion in its tracks, not even with the best, most intelligent discussions. But games are something many of us care about and actively push to defend, and online GamerGate debates need far less vitriol and more listening. We don’t want future games to pander to an oversensitive crowd of social justice, but it’s also important to address problems within the industry that do exist – as tactfully and calmly as we can.

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About Deborah Crocker

Deborah is a 22 year old semi-hermit currently plodding through her senior year of college and getting her feet wet in game journalism. She has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with high fantasy, video games, novels, and Elder Scrolls. When she's not in front of a screen, she enjoys singing and a bit of beading. She's also currently on the hunt for the restaurant with the best cheeseburger.

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