In this week’s #FeministFriday, Lindsey tackles #GamerGate and the law of unintended consequences.
How does Intel change a funny-sad failure of character into a still-funny-sad but also funny-good response to the machinations of #GamerGate? By turning a 180 from their initial quailing in the face of “customer feedback” and dedicating themselves to improving the representation of women and minorities within their own company, hopefully resulting in “full representation at all levels” by 2020. As an explanation for why Intel is focusing on this issue now (its previous goal was to get conflict materials out of its products) CEO Brian Krazanich cited the “issues” that have faced technology and gaming — including, of course, #GamerGate.
For those of you who don’t remember the history for this issue (or who, like me, have been purposefully blocking it from your memory so that you don’t Hulk out), it all started in August, when a Very Upset Ex-Boyfriend named Eron Gjoni decided that the best way to handle his breakup with game developer Zoe Quinn in an adult and mature manner was to accuse her of sleeping with reporters in order to get a good review for her game, Depression Quest. Specifically he accused her of sleeping with Nathan Grayson, a reporter for Kotaku. The editor of Kotaku, being an actual legitimate reporter and not an angry man with a keyboard, quickly investigated the accusation of a breach in journalistic ethics, and after sifting through articles and messages, discovered that while Zoe Quinn and Nathan Grayson had begun a relationship shortly after he had written about her stint on a failed show, not only had he never slept with her in exchange for a positive game review, he had never reviewed her game. However, armed with a hashtag courtesy of Adam Baldwin (I expected better from you, Jane), a cry of “ethics in journalism!” and a misguided idea of concepts like “facts,” the GamerGaters rushed off into the internet, striking blows against the enemy — anyone who dared suggest that “gamers” are no longer a misaligned niche group (Leigh Alexander), anyone who suggested that maybe, possibly, games have a gender issue (Anita Sarkeesian), and basically anyone who had a vagina and dared to say that #Gamergate was worrisome (Felicia Day. Seriously, you guys picked on Felicia Day?). It was a bad time to be a woman in gaming, or a woman in geek culture in general . (For full disclosure, #GamerGate was actually one of the first things I was asked if I would be interested in writing about for this site. At the time, my propensity for Hulking out over/lose faith in humanity because of this issue was still way too high, and I said no. I’m going to get a heart attack at fifty at this rate).
In the midst of all of this, the sterling minds of the #GamerGate community looked at an article by Leigh Alexander and seriously misunderstood the line between “member of a community leveling legitimate critiques at that community” and “super mean lady who is oppressing and insulting us.” She may, in point of fact, have been a bit insulting. But after watching #GamerGate drive Anita Sarkeesian out of her home, having Alexander call #GamerGate individuals “obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers” just made me laugh with glee. Rather than respond to these criticisms in a nuanced, thoughtful way, #GamerGate members hatched a “brilliant” plan: take the bad lady’s money away. And Intel helped them. After hatching “Operation Disrespectful Nod” (really, they need better people in charge of naming their operations), members of #GamerGate flooded Intel with complaints about Gamasutra, the site where Alexander’s article was published.
I honestly don’t know what they put into the complaints — “Help, help, the mean lady is pointing out that I’m a misogynistic asshole with an outdated sense of privilege and it hurts both of my feelings” maybe — but the end result was that Intel caved pretty much immediately and took down their advertising campaign from the site. It took them about 24 hours for the regret (and shame, I’m hoping there’s some shame in there) to hit, which is probably about as much time as it took them to actually read the article in question, read a couple of blogs about #GamerGate, and realize the gigantic clusterfuck they just put themselves in the middle of. They released a mea culpa, apologizing for offending people, claiming that they believed men and women should be treated equally, that they were devoted to diversity in their own workforce, and that they didn’t support anyone who discriminated against women. They didn’t, however, reinstate their ad campaign, which on the spectrum of “taking responsibility” puts them slightly above the “mistakes were made” people and maybe somewhere around the “sorry if anyone was offended” ones — as if taking offense and giving offense were totally unrelated.
However, Intel does seem to be backing up their apology with actual action, and badly needed action at that. Over 50% of its employees are white males, 20% of its Board of Directors are female, and only 13% of its top executives are female. (Congrats, guys, you’re ahead of Wikipedia for female representation! Aim high.) I’m absolutely thrilled that Intel is dedicating itself to improving diversity to the tune of $300 million. Sure, it’s kind of an undefined plan: what is that $300 million going to do? Are they just bribing female workers from other companies to come work for them and doing a few diversity seminars, or what? Nevertheless, I’m glad that such a big company is taking such a public step to overcome what has become an entrenched problem of white male dominance in the tech field.
It really sucks that it took something as painful and ugly as #GamerGate to make diversity a priority, and it doesn’t make up for Intel’s ridiculous and disappointing reaction to the pressure of #GamerGate members. Lack of diversity in tech was a problem long before #GamerGate, and feminist and minority activists complained about it until they were blue in the face, with no one paying much attention. Feminist activists have lobbied game makers, sponsors, and advertisers to disassociate themselves from harmful messages, with said entities often shrugging. It’s as if they’re saying “What do you want us to do, not create/support/write about a game where you kill hookers for money? The fans will never go for that!” In the minds of many in the gaming world, especially on the producing side, “the fans” still constitute a single homogeneous mass of privileged white men for whom “feminism” is still (bizarrely) a dirty word. And it is the concerns of this particular brand of privileged white men that get attention.
The irony of the Intel situation is that Intel would likely have put off this kind of focus on diversity for years if it weren’t for their interactions with #GamerGate, because the complaints from #GamerGate members came from what Intel still sees as the core audience. Yet in taking down their advertisements, Intel was suddenly faced with the new guard: a gaming and tech community that actually cares about diversity. In their attempts to rectify the situation, Intel is lending its power and support to the very thing that #GamerGate members don’t want to see: a gaming and tech community that is equally staffed and controlled by women and men alike. This can lead to the kinds of institutional changes that actually do force a culture shift.
TL;DR: #GamerGate won the battle, but diversity will win the war.
Lindsey Hanlon is a writer and librarian living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. When she’s not being sarcastic on the Internet she studies gender in comics and popular culture.