On Divide and Conquer Tactics in #GamerGate

This was originally published late 2015 #GamerGate. Since then, the divide and conquer attempt has finished, and succeeded in causing considerable damage to consumer advocacy in gaming. The post will be preserved as-is as a historical record of what happened.

[Trigger warning: I’m not playing nice]

Late October of 2014, David Auerbach, a columnist who writes mostly for Slate, wrote an article on how to end GamerGate. It was quite a clever article in that it actually researched the state of the consumer revolt and produced solutions that I believe would have worked at the time.

As an examdxxlbw1ple, take a look at this chart from the article, and keep in mind he produced this over a year ago. It’s not perfect (it leaves a lot out) and perhaps even mediocre these days, but it reflects the makeup of things more accurately than the false narrative that some major figures involved in the revolt are currently pushing. It was certainly more accurate than anything most other “journalists” wrote at the time.

Keep this chart in mind, all of these groups have been with us for over a year now. Their presence is not new.

His plan to end GamerGate was in three parts, and took the form of a divide and conquer attempt. He himself admits that it would not work anymore , but that didn’t stop a series of events from happening (planned or coincidental, it does not matter) that mirrors his plan quite closely… but leaving gamers, the core consumers, in a much worse state than Auerbach’s article envisioned. It seems that some involved in the consumer revolt are willing to settle for medioctrity.

I will go over the steps in his plan, and how they ended up playing out in reality. You will see why the current division exists plain as day.

Here is a thing to keep in mind as you are reading this… Auerbach had a very specific definition of “extremist” in mind, but his definition was not useful to someone wishing to both end GamerGate while simultaneously defanging and declawing it. Every time you see the word “extremist”, think instead of “radical”. That is, those wishing for fundamental change, and those willing and able to affect it. Aurbach WAS thinking of political extremists when he wrote the article, but if you’re an industry shill, who you REALLY want to kick out is those that could alter your bottom line by changing the industry. The so-called moderates? They’re the ones who are satisfied with a feel-good public relations victory, they’re more concerned with appearances than actual change.

The Plan

(DISCLOSURE: I was involved in the Airplay scriptwriting and event planning process.)

1. Talks with No Preconditions

“Members of the press should actually talk to Gamergaters” -Auerbach

The first part of his plan was to stage a conversation between consumer revolt participants and the press. To stop demonizing them in the public eye, and bring them to the discussion table. In Auerbach’s view, what was keeping the “moderates” closely bound to the “extremists” was that they were equally demonized on all sides. That “[the moderates would] rather be hated than ignored”. To initiate the split between the two camps, you have to bring the moderates to the table and talk with them.

A portion of this leg of the plan has already been executed. It had a nice name to it, SPJ Airplay. But, compared to what Auerbach laid out in his plan, Airplay was infinitely worse. Why? Because while Auerbach’s plan called for talks with no preconditions, attendance at Airplay was filled with TONS of preconditions, not a single one favorable to the consumer revolt. I have linked a medium piece that covers many of them, but in summary…

  • Airplay immediately sowed the seeds of division by using a very unusual selection committee process, where each clique or social circle involved in the revolt pushed for their favorites to be the ones to represent the entire revolt. A revolt that, prior to Airplay, had no such hierarchy.
  • It framed the debate in a way that was beneficial to the media at large, by making the debate about “is it true or false that gaming journalists are unethical”. They undeniably were, as anyone with half a brain could see at a cursory glance. The much more important questions were forbidden from being brought to the floor. Questions like, what it means for journalism as a whole that things were able to get this bad in the first place? That damning and irrefutable evidence of massive problems in journalism was buried and not acted upon? That a massive web of lies servicing a specific political narrative was broadcast far and wide and excused under the pretense of laziness?
  • It propped up the “pro-gamergate vs anti-gamergate” narrative. The claim that there are two small but well-defined groups battling it out on the internet (one of which is pedantic enough to somehow care about ethics). This was put forward as an alternative to the reality that huge chunks of the gaming populace do not trust gaming journalism after being burnt time and time again, and that they are being actively fought against by people propping up and defending journalists at any cost, no matter how anti-consumer (or anti-truth) they behave.

And finally…

  • Since Airplay and the SPJ itself have no actual teeth, no actual consequences were suffered by a single journalist. It was purely lip-service to the concept of journalistic ethics, and almost universally ignored among those who were being criticized.

You can see more events like this being set up, both at SXSW and in Airplay 2.0, both of which are going to once again change the structure of the consumer revolt, and change the narrative in ways that may harm the consumer. We already see that SXSW has reframed the context of the debate to center around the harassment narrative, which, no matter how much you try to counter with “people in GG were harassed too zOMG”, is playing right in to the hands of internet censorship advocates, barely-pitiable e-beggars and scammers, and hypocrites bearing social justice platitudes.

A few more of these “Talks With Preconditions” alone could bring about an end to effective consumer action, replacing it instead with a false sense of righteousness as the industry trundles along, remaining a PR machine pushing pretty looking products on the populace

2. Cleaning House

“Steps like these will show moderates that the press is aware of its deficiencies and is working to address them, and thus the ostensible goal of their movement is not sufficient to justify its continued existence.” -Auerbach

This second portion is much more simple – According to Auerbach, the gaming press is obviously (and I quote) “crap”. He states that both gaming journalism, and the press as a whole, need to clean up their act. Once the concerns about journalistic ethics are satisfied, it will be easier to convince “moderates” to leave Gamergate.

Auerbach was quite clever in this portion. He was being quite tongue in cheek, taking every criticism of the consumer revolt and turning it around and applying it to the press (and he confirmed he was doing as much on Twitter). This created several amusing suggestions, such as the idea that Gawker should go through a rebranding (which it almost did) in the same vein of the many cries to “change the hashtag” that were ever so popular in those days.

Even with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, the advice that he provided would have been very solid and substantive reforms of several major outlets. He made bold demands, stating that “Gawker Media, in particular, needs to overhaul not only their approach to Gamergate but their entire journalistic reputation”, for example.

Big changes. Drastic changes. Still, not enough to satisfy me as a consumer. All of Auerbach’s advice could be followed, and gaming journalism could continue to go on being an accessory of the industry, an accessory whose primary purpose is to operate as an extension of the corporate marketing arm of publishers.

… and yet, we are already seeing victory declarations on the ethics front at this point in time, when even Auerbach’s much more limited demands are nowhere near being met. A lot of febreeze has been sprayed around to make the rotting garbage that is gaming journalism (and journalism as a whole) smell a little better, but the house has certainly NOT been cleaned.

This condition has been satisfied in the minds of many. It is satisfied in the minds of enough of the prominent figures within the consumer revolt that the topic of journalistic ethics is barely discussed anymore, even as new emblems are added to DeepFreeze at a steady rate. Welcome to your new house, gamers. Just ignore the putrid trash and the black mold, it doesn’t smell anymore.

–YOU ARE HERE–

Are you ready for part 3? Hang on to your butts gamers, this is what you’re seeing right now, and if you don’t weather this one it’ll all be over and YOU, the CONSUMER, will lose.

3. Declaring an Amnesty

“[T]he movement will start to fracture, as moderates will feel that a) the press is coming to terms with its own shortcomings and b) there are some unpleasant extremists in Gamergate. At that point, the only force keeping moderates in the movement will be inertia.” -Auerbach

Auerbach’s plan is a bit more drastic than what you are actually seeing play out. But that quote alone should demonstrate the general gist of it. Auerbach’s plan was to use a metaphorical giant stick to convince people to leave the hashtag, and as a result, the consumer revolt. Basically, if you keep participating after a certain date, you will be subject to “blacklisting, disqualification, or other prejudice in the industry”.

Obviously, that would not work now, and could even be in questionable legal waters. But what you see being laid out now is a much more covert, much more insidious method of separating the “moderates” (the storytellers and pretty faces) from the “extremists” (those with the unpleasant habit of actually changing the industry).

The moderates are being offered outs. One out after another, in rapid succession. Some organically, such as the various victory declarations that were planned… Offering a carrot by declaring that the hashtag has served its purpose and that it should end on a positive note. (DISCLOSURE: I was involved in one such plan. It did not end well.) Some much more structured, such as the concept of “cultural libertarianism”, a similar alternative that people can shift to, without the nasty reputation that GG has built up over time (and discarding all that pesky “consumer advocacy” stuff that comes with a consumer revolt in the process). A third and more drastic strategy more closely resembles Auerbach’s stick, but with a twist. The good guys, the “moderates”, are the ones who deserve to KEEP the hashtag. THEY are the TRUE “gamergaters”. Everyone else? Well, those extremists are anti-GG! They act like SJWs (once you redefine the term SJW to turn it into a meaningless dog whistle)! They are the REAL harassers. They are too extreme in their ideas and methods. They’re all just edgelords. A frequent tactic is to use hasty generalizations or composition fallacies to group up a portion of the consumer revolt that is perceived as problematic. In order to divide and conquer, one must first define the groups between which division should occur.

Conclusion

So, here you stand, gamers. At a crossroads, one with many choices. You have many outs you can take. You can go back to the rotting and filthy house that the press has prepared for you. You can keep doing media tours that feel pretty damn good while affecting little to no change. You can accept the harassment narrative as one you’ll allow, and snuggle up as governments and corporations gradually wrap you in a nice safety blanket as they monitor and filter your communications. You can still feel like you were a PART of something, right? That you made all these nice friends and that made it worth it! You can let things drift back to how they were before, because that’s the gentle route and consumer advocacy is hard!

Or, you can consider these various outs, and raise your middle finger to all of them. If someone presents you with a false choice, you can always walk away. YOU are the consumer here, and not just any consumer. You are a very vocal and active part of the gaming community. Find a strategy you can execute to make YOUR victory come true, and do it. And keep doing it until you win.

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