The Game Developers Choice Awards were held last night at GDC 2015, hosted by legendary game designer and Fantastic Arcade alumnus Tim Schafer (or was it Devin Faraci? There is a resemblance). The big winners included Shadow of Mordor, Monument Valley and Hearthstone, but the Twitter fallout had nothing to do with the awards.
It centred on a joke by Schafer, who opened the ceremony saying he wasn't going to talk about GamerGate, and that all of the GamerGate jokes would be delivered by "this sock puppet." Specifically, a cute yellow sock puppet, with little wobbly antennae to represent the Gamergate ant. It would continue to appear throughout the ceremony, but the joke that won it the most notoriety was the one embedded above and quoted below, in an intro to the Best Visual Art category:
How many GamerGaters does it take to make a single piece of armour? Fifty! One to do the modeling, one to do the materials, and forty [sic] to tweet that it's not your shield.
That's a pretty funny joke - certainly for an awards show. It operates on multiple levels, playing on GamerGate's mob tactics and irresponsibility, as well as on shields and armour. The response from the industry and many following this pathetic seven-month saga was generally a variation of "nice one." The response from GamerGaters was predictable, hilarious and demonstrative of the joke's accuracy. Despite a couple exceptions who apparently didn't even get the joke, the hashtag immediately erupted with outrage.
Yes: the harassment campaign so fond of telling its victims to "grow a thicker skin" was driven positively incandescent with anger over a joke delivered by a man's hand in a sock.
They claim the joke is "racist" and "sexist" because it makes fun of #NotYourShield, a major part of GamerGate's disingenuous narrative, wherein minorities supposedly separate themselves from "Social Justice Warriors" and defend their toxic movement. It's amusing enough hearing these serial abusers* suddenly cry oppression. But here's the thing about #NotYourShield: it's a shield. It's what GamerGaters invariably scream to deflect criticism. It's "some of my best friends are black" as hashtag. First conceived as pure "gotcha" tactic on 4chan, many of its Twitter adherents have been found to be sock-puppet accounts under false identities. Any actual minorities or women using it, while they may have genuine intentions themselves, are 100% being used as shields by the overwhelming white-male majority** of GamerGate. Like everything Gator, it's largely used by people wishing to harass from under a veil of barely-plausible deniability.
On that note, it's important to remember that while #GamerGate is a joke, the harassment at its core - the harassment that existed long before it had bullshit hashtags to shield it - is not. Another major announcement at GDC (which saw the unveiling of new game engines, VR headsets, and more) was the launch of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, a nonprofit organisation "dedicated to reducing and mitigating online abuse." It's founded by Randi Harper, creator of the astoundingly useful GG Auto Blocker, who is joined on the board of directors by Crash Override Network founders Alex Lifschitz and Zoe Quinn, and Design Direct Deliver CEO Sheri Rubin. OAPI will research the patterns of online abuse and put its findings to work, in association with relevant other organisations, to help mitigate existing and discourage further harassment. As with Crash Override Network (which functions as the triage to OAPI's preventative healthcare), it will be interesting to see the impact that the organisation makes in the coming months and/or years. It seems the one positive legacy of the Neverending August will be its unintentional foregrounding of abuse issues, resulting in actual, much-needed change.
For now, we can all rest comfortably, knowing that last night, thousands of game developers from across the industry laughed heartily at a joke - a joke that hopefully heralds GamerGate's inevitable spiral into history's footnotes.***
* No, not everyone in GamerGate is a serial abuser, but in a leaderless, anonymous movement defined by a hashtag, every single person using the tag represents the whole, by definition. Grow up, Goats.
** I say "overwhelming white-male majority" because the whole hashtag just screams of honky manbabies.
*** Down here, where it belongs.