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GamerGate: How Oppressed Gamers 'Rose Up' to Shut Down Outspoken Feminists

A brief history and analysis of Gamergate as an outlet for bigotry and internet radicalisation

Content Warning: Sexism and Misogyny

By the early 2010s the stereotypical “gamer identity” – that is, the young, straight, caucasian man with nerdy pursuits – was changing. For example, in 2014, the Internet Advertising Bureau found the UK’s gaming audience comprised 52% women. [1] Gamers were becoming a more inclusive identity as the wonderful hobby became more accessible to all. But not everyone was on board. In 2014, a small underbelly of the larger gaming community sought to preserve the old gamer stereotype. What followed was one of the most infamous online harassment campaigns and a case study in internet radicalisation: a war between the gamers and the “crazy feminists.”

What is Gamergate?

Gamergate was a decentralised online movement that meant many things to many people but its adherents were loosely connected under the banner of a few tenets: preserving ethics in games journalism, protecting games from “political correctness” and safeguarding the old gamer stereotype. Gamergate was filled with trolls, misogynists and bigots, grifters, political extremists and — most concerningly — gamers who were legitimately concerned with journalistic integrity. Importantly, Gamergate was born in, and mostly operated on, anonymous online imageboards like 4chan and 8kun. Van Badham describes these as “platforms to say the unsayable”; places run by “mob democracy.” [2]

Whatever Gamergate meant to its adherents, its history and legacy are undeniable. Gamergate started as a reaction against feminism, diversity and progressivism in the gaming industry, specifically against individuals such as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian and the non-binary game developer Zoe Quinn. The seeds of Gamergate were planted in 2012 when Sarkeesian asked for $6,000 to crowdfund a web series. The response? “She needs a good dicking, good finding it though,” among thousands of death and rape threats. [3] The harassment reached mainstream news and the increased attention meant Sarkeesian received $158,922. However, the harassment escalated as she became subjected to bomb threats at public appearances, doxxing and a flash game where players could bloody an image of Sarkeesian. Her only crime? Creating a series scrutinising games under an academic feminist lens.

Gamergate as we know it can be pinpointed to a 9,000 word-blog post by Zoe Quinn’s exboyfriend alleging that Quinn, a developer for the indie game Depression Quest, cheated on him with Kotaku reviewer Nathan Grayson to advance their career. This is despite the fact that Quinn makes no money from the game (it’s free) and Grayson never reviewed the game. [4] Despite the claim being debunked, the imageboard trolls, many of whom partook in the campaign against Sarkeesian, settled on a narrative: Quinn was an “evil witch” corrupting games journalism.

Over the next few years, Quinn was routinely subjected to defamatory statements, death and rape threats and doxxing attempts. Their boyfriend lost his job for being associated with Quinn and the couple fled their home after their address was leaked. [5] But it wasn’t just Quinn; for Gamergators, Quinn was ‘indicative of a broader political scandal or conspiracy, a la Watergate.” [6] As such, Sarkeesian reentered the crosshairs of Gamergate. When game developer Brianna Wu described Gamergate as a place where “estranged” individuals indulged in “online wars” against “fantasy creatures of SJWs”, the death threats got so bad she needed to live under an assumed name. [7] While Gamergate was purported to be about defending games journalism, the three biggest targets of Gamergate — Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu — were not games journalists.

Why Was Gamergate so Hard to Fight?

Because Gamergate was waged by anonymous online users, it was extremely difficult to hold anyone accountable. What would a prosecutor charge someone with and how could they prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? There was no way the state was going to dedicate resources to cases they had little chance of winning.

Social media platforms were anxious that tightening harassment policies would curtail free speech. Indeed this was a common Gamergate talking point and another veil of legitimacy they relied on: “we’re not attacking women, we’re protecting free speech.”

It also didn’t help that mainstream outlets failed to address that Gamergate’s adherents interpreted the movement differently. For some, Gamergate was always about attacking women and fighting against diversity. But there were many who subscribed to Gamergate out of genuine concern for games journalism. There are legitimate grievances that game reviewers and game news are glorified advertisements without any substance. Totalbiscuit, a Youtuber, aligned himself with the movement, criticising games journalism in measured tones but he downplayed the harassment as the actions of “lone wolves” who weren’t “real Gamergators.” [8] The complex nature of Gamergate made it very difficult to discuss and as the movement expanded, distinguishing between the socalled “real Gamergator” from actual bigots became almost impossible. The bigots now had plausible deniability.

Gamergate shows how lies can be used to demonise women, LGBTQ people and other minority groups and quickly, individuals questioned how to politically weaponise Gamergate. As the chairman of Breitbart News (and later President Trump’s advisor), Steve Bannon was acutely aware of the effectiveness of gamers in orchestrating social movements. [9] As such, he approached Milo Yiannopolous, a commentator infamous for belittling women and picking fights, to write about Gamergate. Yiannopolous wrote articles like “Feminist Bullies Tearing the Video Game Industry Apart,” which labelled Quinn as a “professional victim” and pushed the narrative that gamers needed to rise up against the oppression created by feminists like Quinn, Sarkeesian and Wu. [10]

Yiannopolous’ outrageous behaviour — such as saying Islamophobia is “rational”, calling women “dickless wonders,” and opposing the Australian marriage survey a month after marrying his husband — meant he wasn’t taken seriously. Many overlooked Breitbart News’ real goal which was to galvanise the bigots and anti-feminists in the gaming community and push them towards their extreme political beliefs. [11] After all, if gamers were this passionate about defending “gaming”, what’s stopping them from defending, for example, racial inequality? In an article in the Montreal Gazette, it was claimed that many who identify with extreme ideologies often begin with the “gateway drug” of “misogyny.” [12] If this is the case, then Gamergate was not just a hysteric mob of bigoted gamers but a recruitment tool for what would become the modern alt-right. [13]

Gamergate’s Impact

Gamergate was a reaction against the expanding pocket of the gaming community but because no reasonable person would openly agree to an anti-women crusade, the banner of “ethics in journalism” was heralded to give the swarm plausible deniability. While Gamergate meant different things for each individual, it undeniably marginalised women, non-binary people, trans people and other outgroups that didn’t fit the traditional gamer mould.

Most unsettlingly, Gamergate shows how misogyny can be a gateway to radicalisation. From the start, the claim that Quinn was sleeping with game journalists was easily debunked. But for bigots, the creation of a conspiracy run by feminist villains was more compelling. When Gamergate fizzled in 2016, imageboards created another narrative involving children locked up in the basement of a Washington DC pizzeria. When an armed shooter broke into the store and found no evidence of sex trafficking, online users redeveloped the story and gave rise to QAnon: the same movement that pushed the stolen election narrative and waved their flags in the 2021 Capitol Insurrection.

In 2019, a terrorist murdered 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand. In preparing for the attacks, he posted regularly on the website 8kun, whose users watched as the terrorist streamed the murder of men, women and children praying. 8kun is notorious for hosting child pornography, QAnon boards and for being mentioned in the manifestos of two white nationalist and antisemitic terrorists in the US in 2019. Five years prior, 4chan, the birthplace of Gamergate, deleted all Gamergate content; Gamergators fled to 8kun. [14] It is highly likely that at least some of those same Gamergators have been radicalised further.

The online world is spilling into real consequences and real violence against vulnerable groups. And remember, Gamergate started because some individuals didn’t like what others — mostly women — had to say about video games.

[1] Keith Stuart, ‘UK gamers: more women play games than men, report finds’, The Guardian (17 September 2014) .

[2] Van Badham, QAnon and On (Hardie Grant Books, 2022) 48.

[3] Ibid 63.

[4] Stephen Totilo, ‘In recent days I’ve been asked several times about a possible breach of ethics’, Kotaku (20 August 2014) .

[5] Keith Stuart, ‘Zoe Quinn: “All Gamergate has done is ruin people’s lives”’, The Guardian (3 December 2014) .

[6] Michael Salter, ‘Gamergate and the subpolitics of abuse in online publics’ in Crime, Justice and Social Media (Routledge, 2016).

[7] Leigh Alexander, ‘“Gamers” don’t have to be your audience. “Gamers” are over’, Game Developer (28 August 2014) .

[8] Van Badham, QAnon and On (Hardie Grant Books, 2022) 76.

[9] Shawn Boburg and Emily Rauhala, ‘Stephen K. Bannon once guided a global firm that made millions helping gamers cheat’, Washington Post (4 August 2017) .

[10] Milo Yiannopolous, ‘Feminist bullies tearing the video game industry apart’, Breitbart (1 September 2014) .

[11] Noah Friedman, Josh Barro and Michael Salter, ‘Here’s how Steve Bannon used Angry White Gamers to build himself up to Trump’s chief strategist’, Business Insider (22 July 2017)

[12] Editorial, ‘Alt-right in Montreal: Shining a light on local neonazi network’, Montreal Gazette (20 May 2018) .

[13] Kristin MS Bezio, ‘Ctrl-Alt-Del: Gamergate as a precursor to the rise of the alt-right’, (2018) 14(5) Leadership 556.

[14] Van Badham, QAnon and On (Hardie Grant Books, 2022) 76.


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