When I first ran across Gamergate, I thought it was a joke. It had to be. What kind of person gets upset when women get better representation in video games? Also, there was no evidence that the game industry was under any kind of threat from governments, feminists, or anyone else. It’s not like you got stopped at the airport for carrying a play station vita or anything like that.
The more I heard about Gamergate, the more dismayed I became. The harassment, the doxxing, and the terror threats were bad enough. What really crushed my faith in humanity was that so many more people were willing to believe that all of the threats against female developers were just a fabrication of a vast feminist conspiracy. One or two deranged wackos is one thing, but to have thousands of people building and supporting the narrative that makes all this insanity possible? It makes you want to quit the internet entirely.
If only it were that easy. Last week we saw the results of another internet-borne narrative with the attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. ISIS, the terrorist group claiming ties to the attack, is famous for its internet video propaganda, which media outlets are only too happy to spread.
So what can we do? If we start banning speech from the internet, we go back on our most basic democratic values. If we just let people listen to stuff like this, they can just stay in their echo chamber until shooting up a newspaper sounds like a great idea.
The only thing we can do is make more speech. Make OUR speech. The thing that Gamergate and ISIS have in common is that they both used the internet, the most advanced communication system in history, to make themselves heard. And the key word here is USED. They created forums, tweets, youtube videos, wikis, anything and everything possible to make sure that their word was the only one out there.
We have these tools too. We simply choose not to use them. Maybe it’s a lack of technical expertise. Maybe we tell ourselves that we have better things to do. Maybe we are just afraid no one will hear us. The truth is that when we post online, even if it’s something simple like “I like artsy Japanese video games”, we create knowledge. In this case, I am acknowledging the existence of artsy Japanese video games, and that I, being the person that I am, like them. It also creates a safe space, however small, for anyone else who likes artsy Japanese video games.
The point of this is that I am exercising a small bit of control over what other people can see and hear. The reason that movements like Gamergate exist is that their members produce enough content for someone to get completely immersed in their message. If we are creating our own messages that carry our own values, we can break that immersion. Media is not just for consumption any more. We decide what is on our screens now. We control the values, we control the content, and we create polite society.