In January of 2014 well-known journalist, Nathan Grayson, featured the interactive game Depression Quest, developed by Zoe Quinn, in one of his articles. As a popular gaming journalist whose words carry significant weight among avid gamers and industry stakeholders, Grayson’s reviews are known to contribute to the success of newly developed videogames. Seven months after the article had been published, Quinn’s former boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, used his blog, TheZoePost, to reveal that Quinn actually subjected herself to a temporary sexual relationship with Grayson in order to receive a positive review of her game in his article, correspondingly breaching journalism ethics. Although both sides of the story were based in hearsay, and a few conversation screenshots courtesy of Gjoni, the blog post triggered a gaming community outcry. As a result, a string of misogynistic, anti-progressive, harassment attempts surfaced under the label: #GamerGate (Todd, 2015, p. 44-45).
Although the GamerGate movement launched as a response to a perceived breach in journalism ethics, the accusation of Grayson’s review commending Depression Quest in return for sexual favors has been debunked. Stephen Totilo, the Chief-in-Editor of Kotaku which is a videogame-focused news website that Grayson occasionally writes for, investigated the accusation against Grayson and found it to be untrue (Totilo, 2014):
Having spoken to Nathan several times, having looked closely at the numerous messages sent our way by concerned readers and, having compared published timelines, our leadership team finds no compelling evidence that any of that is true.
In the digital age, false or bias news is a growing concern as anyone with Internet connection and a platform are able to publish unrestricted works (Berghel, 2017, p. 80). The events leading up to the GamerGate movement only proves that digital literacy is more important than ever. Based on this perception, a vital fact to note in relation to GamerGate is that Grayson’s proposed review of Quinn’s game simply does not exist. There is an article he wrote on an alternate platform titled Admission Quest: Valve Greenlights 50 More Games, however as the title implies this post merely mentions Depression Quest along with 49 other games that the gaming company Valve decided to invest in (Grayson, 2014). Referring to this article as a “review” disregards its very definition. Yet despite the false breach in journalism ethics, Quinn followed by her friends and supporters were harassed as a result of the misinterpreted news. And once the misogynistic threats towards her and her circle consumed the Internet, it didn’t take long before the GamerGate epidemic targeted everyday minority members of the gaming community (Reamer, 2015, p. 133-4).
According to Cote (2016), the structure of online games which allowed the GamerGate movement to flourish, delves much deeper than a single isolated incident (156). Tensions within the gaming community have existed for years surrounding progressivism versus anti-progressivism (156; Beyer, 2012, p. 154). As new diverse players enter online platforms with the goal of molding an inclusive gaming culture, “hegemonic gamers” (majority-male and typically white) fear that they will lose their privileged position of dominance in the online gaming community (156; Cote, 2016, p. 155); thus are motivated to “deploy all forces at their disposal in order to maintain power” (156). Berghel (2017) shares related insights in regards to false news:
“Of course some of these stories were so widely discredited they were removed. But as with radioactive elements it would be a mistake to underestimate the effect of their half-lives” (81).
Based on Cote’s and Berghel’s articles, Gjoni’s accusations against Quinn were taken out of context, and despite being proven wrong, they were still used as a long-awaited form of justification for harassment against non-normative members of the gaming community (Cote, 2016, p. 155-6). By relying on Gjoni as a primary source of information, many readers of his blog post perceived his side of the story as the unbiased truth. He fed into this perception by defending himself when users claimed otherwise: “Everything in this blog is true. Why would I put myself through the legal risk of lying about all of this?” (Gjoni, 2014).
Despite Gjoni’s defense attempts, the concept of truth is subjective. He publicly released his personal experience regarding the events leading to the GamerGate movement, but he of course comes from a place of bias just like any other conscious being. The screenshots of the proposed conversations between Gjoni and Quinn skips past blocks of minutes, showing that Gjoni selectively chose to publish the portions of the conversation that proved his points- those surrounding Quinn being a deceptive and fraudulent individual (Gjoni, 2014). Based on the illusionary-truth effect, repeated stories, whether true or false, are more likely to be seen as legitimate (Polage, 2012, p. 245). So in the gaming community spreading and responding to Gjoni’s story, the perception that his post is completely truthful was held by many gamers (246).
By members of the gaming community perceiving Gjoni’s story as the whole truth, cruel misogynistic threats have been directed at female gamers by males who feel threatened by the presence of gamer minorities (Mantilla, 2013, p. 565). As a result of failing to properly assess Gjoni’s article, countless attempts have been made to drive minorities off of videogame platforms through gruesome harassment attempts (Beyer, 2012, p. 158-9). And because readers blindly believed that Quinn and Grayson broke codes of ethics without even questioning the existence of the proposed review that triggered this accusation, chat functions in online games during and after the GamerGate movement have been increasingly used to vocalize hegemonic superiority and degrade players who deviate from the norm (Kontour, 2011, p. 212). As part of the GamerGate movement, players who have been heavily invested in hegemonic power pinned themselves against progressive gaming journalists and critics, ironically deeming themselves “social justice warriors” (Reamer, 2015, p. 139).
As Quinn supporters, online female gaming personalities Anita Sarkeesian, Felicia Day, and Brianna Wu each felt the harsh negative impact of GamerGate firsthand (Reamer, 2015, p. 135). Sarkeesian, as a vocal feminist gamer, faced vile comments, rape threats, spam reports, and hack attempts (Mantilla, 2013, p. 564). She was even forced to cancel an appearance at Utah State University based on a mass-shooting threat if she were to arrive (Todd, 2015, p. 64). As demonstrated through these extreme threats, the anonymity of online gaming and the Internet as a whole “encourages libel, slander, defamation, and lies” (Berghel, 2017, p. 82; Polage, 2012, p. 249). This is the arena in which false news, especially that which is distributed through social platforms, live and flourish (Berghel, 2017, p. 81).
“Though disclosed and anonymous sources are capable of disseminating distasteful content, disclosed sources are shielded by the First Amendment, whereas anonymous sources are hiding behind secrecy and the resultant lack of accountability.” (Berghel, 2017, p. 82).
False news has existed alongside its legitimate opposite, and it will continue to exist as long as people believe what they want to without questioning whether or not the sources they come across are reliable (Berghel, 2017, p. 83-4). The GamerGate movement exemplifies the frightening consequences that biased opinions, false news, and anonymity inflict in the digital age.
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Beyer, J.L. (2012). Women’s (Dis)embodied Engagement with Male-Dominated Online Communities. In Gajjala, R., & Oh, Y.J. (Eds.), Cyberfeminism 2.0, 153-170. New York: Peter Lang Pub.
Cote, A. C. (2016). Changing the Core: Redefining Gaming Culture from a Female-Centered Perspective. (Doctorial dissertation). DeepBlue. (133417).
Gjoni, E. (2014). “Why Does this Exist?” The Zoe Post. Retrieved from https://thezoepost.wordpress.com.
Grayson, N. (2014). “Admission Quest: Valve Greenlights 50 More Games”. Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved from https://archive.is/NeJis.
Kontour, K. (2011). War, Masculinity, and Gaming in the Military Entertainment Complex: A Case Study of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. (Doctorial dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (3453838).
Mantilla, K. (2013). Gendertrolling: Misogyny Adapts to New Media. Feminist Studies, 39(2), 563-570.
Polage, D. C. (2012). Making up History: False Memories of Fake News. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 8(2), 245-250.
Reamer, N. D. (December 2015). “I Don’t Take Kindly to your Invasion of this Fine Gaming Culture”: Gender, Emotion, and Power in Digital Gaming Spaces as Demonstrated through Dead Island. (Doctorial dissertation). OhioLink. (bgsu1447453218).
Todd, C. (August 2015). Commentary: GamerGate and resistance to the diversification of gaming culture. Women’s Studies Journal, 29(1), 64-67.
Totilo, S. (2014). “In recent days I’ve been asked several times . . .”. Kotaku. Retrieved from http://kotaku.com/in-recent-days-ive-been-asked-several-times-about-a-pos-1624707346.