The implacable enemy

Max Read, the former Gawker editor, admits that #GamerGate was the much-hated organization’s most effective enemy in New York Magazine:

If you can mobilize and engage even a fairly small number of people, you can create an impression of enough outrage to destabilize a business. As Gawker was imploding in the summer of 2015, a group of teenage ­video-game enthusiasts was throwing gasoline on the already-raging fire. These were the Gamergaters.

Of all the enemies Gawker had made over the years — in New York media, in Silicon Valley, in Hollywood — none were more effective than the Gamergaters. Gamergate, a leaderless online movement dedicated to enforcing its own unique vision of “ethics in journalism,” had first taken up with Gawker Media the summer before, in 2014. Earlier that year, a writer for Kotaku had had a brief fling with a well-known video-game developer. In August, the developer’s ex-boyfriend, a 24-year-old computer programmer, wrote a 10,000-word blog post about her, spawning rumors that she’d traded sex for a positive review of her game on Kotaku. That no such review ever actually appeared on the site should tell you a lot about Gamergate’s relationship to the truth; that Gamergaters believe this is how sex works should tell you a lot about the Gamergate demographic. But none of the specifics of the story really mattered, because ultimately Kotaku was being targeted less for specific ethical violations than for its critical coverage of the portrayal of women and minorities in video games and the sexism of the gaming community. The teenagers behind Gamergate were young, obsessive, deeply resentful of women, and had no sense of social boundaries, and now they finally had a rallying cry —“Ethics in journalism!” — and a common enemy — or, really, enemies, among them the developer in question, Zoe Quinn, and feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who became the object of both sustained harassment and violent threats.

That fall, Gamergate began waging a hugely annoying, and sometimes genuinely menacing, war against Kotaku. I personally came to the attention of Gamergate in October 2014, not for a fearless act of journalism, but because I was messing around on Twitter and I stepped in it. Sam Biddle, one of Gawker’s best and most notoriously aggressive writers, had tweeted that the lesson of Gamergate was that nerds should be bullied into submission; this in turn led to a flood of tweets and emails to me demanding that he be disciplined; I responded in a mode that seemed appropriate: I goaded and dismissed and largely treated the people complaining with a great deal of contempt and flippancy.

In retrospect: This was extremely stupid. Even in 2014, Twitter had already become a mechanism by which indiscreet people lost their jobs. Still, it was very difficult for me to believe that anyone genuinely thought that “pro-bullying” is a stance that anyone has ever adopted, or that Sam Biddle’s tweet was a statement in support of bullying. But what I believed, or didn’t believe, didn’t matter. I wasn’t messing around with irony-fluent trolls but with teenagers and college students who seemed unable or unwilling to understand context or sarcasm — exactly the kind of people who might actually believe that Sam Biddle would get a raise for bullying gamers (a myth that still floats around the various Gamergate communities).

More problematically, it would turn out, I was also, unconsciously, messing with the only group even less able to grapple with irony or context: brands. What I’d missed about Gamergate was that they were gamers — they had spent years developing a tolerance for highly repetitive tasks. Like, say, contacting major advertisers.

On Reddit, a campaign was launched to contact every advertiser Gamergaters could find on Gawker’s site — and not just the marketing departments of advertisers like Adobe and BMW, but specific executives. If you can bug a chief marketing officer, it doesn’t matter that your complaints are disingenuous: He just wants to stop being annoyed.

And so Gawker went into full-on crisis mode. Our chief revenue officer flew to Chicago to meet shaky clients; someone I hadn’t spoken with since high school Facebook-messaged me to let me know that her employer, L.L.Bean, a Gawker advertiser, was considering pulling its ads. Nick asked me to draft a non-apology apology — a clarification, basically, that we did not, institutionally, support bullying. Sam was compelled to tweet an apology. Joel, then the executive editor, published on Gawker, over the objections of the editors, another clarification. I then published, without Joel’s knowledge, an apology for the apology. Perhaps tellingly, it was the first time I’d ever really been confronted with the business side of Gawker besides small talk at parties.

Then it all went away. Gawker had taken a hit — thousands of dollars of advertising gone, at least. But in the weeks we’d been hemorrhaging advertisers and goodwill, stories in the New York Times and other outlets — the real media—and a segment on The Colbert Report made it clear that the Gamergaters were the bad guys in this case, not us. The sites went back to normal.

But of course it didn’t go away. Gamergate proved the power of well-organized reactionaries to threaten Gawker’s well-being. And when Gawker really went too far — far enough that even our regular defenders in the media wouldn’t step up to speak for us — Gamergate was there, in the background, turning every crisis up a notch or two and making continued existence impossible.

A lot of his characterizations of GG are complete nonsense; many of us were not teenagers, just to give one example. And Literally Who was literally bonking several game journalists, whether or not a review of it appeared on Kotaku. The corruption about which GG was complaining was, and is, absolutely real and the ongoing fallout from consequences of that corruption continues today.

But #GamerGate provided the model for the Rabid Puppies and for a new generation of right-wing cultural activists, from which we can learn several important lessons. If the #AltRight is to be successful, it must learn from the example set by #GamerGate.

And what is the single most salient aspect of GG? Persistence. This is the key phrase: “a tolerance for highly repetitive tasks”. Conservatives tend to fail because they are always looking for the one big engagement that will settle the matter once and for all. They have no stamina. They have no taste for ongoing struggle, continuous conflict, or systemic revolution. They are ill-suited for cultural 4GW.

That’s also what sets the Evil Legion of Evil and the Dread Ilk apart. For us, life is not struggle, struggle is life. We are not drained by conflict, we are energized by it. We crave victories, both small and large, and one merely gives us the taste for more and inspires us to go in search of the next. We are always winning because the game never ends and there is no clock to run out and save our enemies from us. And we know that levelling up only means the next enemy will be harder.