Intel confirmed that it pulled its advertising from gaming website and community hub Gamasutra, after it received feedback from its customers. Intel takes customer feedback very seriously when it relates to contextually relevant content and placements, the company reportedly said.
However, the fact that Intel pulled its ads from Gamasutra is just one part of a story that involved a coordinated campaign dubbed “Operation Disrespectful Nod,” orchestrated by the supporters of #GamerGate. The campaign was directed against a group of writers, journalists and developers calling for social justice.
The story actually began this summer when gamer Eron Gjoni broke up with his girlfriend, indie video game developer Zoe Quinn. Gjoni created a website to air his grievances against Quinn, accusing her of infidelity. Soon after, other gamers started to target Quinn online — with accusations that grew increasingly ugly. Among them was the suggestion that she had sex with a video game journalist as a way to get good reviews.
Gamasutra became involved in the story when editor-at-large Leigh Alexander wrote a piece that criticized gamer culture, calling attention to the industry’s tolerance of abusive online behavior:Most people, from indies to industry leaders, are mortified, furious, disheartened at the direction industry conversation has taken in the past few weeks. It’s not like there are reputable outlets publishing rational articles in favor of the trolls’ ‘side’. Don’t give press to the harassers. Don’t blame an entire industry for a few bad apples.
Yet disclaiming liability is clearly no help. Game websites with huge community hubs whose fans are often associated with blunt Twitter hate mobs sort of shrug, they say things like ‘we delete the really bad stuff, what else can we do’ and ‘those people don’t represent our community’ — but actually, those people do represent your community. That’s what your community is known for, whether you like it or not.
When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum. That’s what’s been happening to games.Many gamers apparently were not open to the criticism and began to unite on social media, creating the Twitter hashtag #gamergate and spreading out to message boards on 4chan, Reddit and GitHub.
Their efforts were aimed at getting gamers to contact prominent advertisers on gaming sites that were seen as challenging the gaming culture status quo, such as Gamasutra. Intel responded by pulling its ad campaign from the site.
While there weren’t direct connections between what Quinn endured and what Alexander wrote, some have suggested that Intel basically picked the wrong side in this fight.
“They didn’t investigate it thoroughly; that much is clear,” said independent game industry analyst Billy Pidgeon.
“They saw backlash and reacted without thinking,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“If you thought this through, you wouldn’t take the action that they did. This could hurt them, and as a corporation they backed the wrong dog in that fight,” Pidgeon said.
A Gamer Cause
How did a spat between a former couple turn into such a major and very public issue — one that dragged in corporations and a large segment of the gaming community?
“The hardcore gaming community set an agenda,” Paul Semel, editor at Electronic Gaming Monthly, told the E-Commerce Times.
“One big takeaway in this was that Alexander, in covering this, said that hardcore gamers don’t really matter — and it appears some in the industry didn’t like that and picked up that facet of the story,” he observed.
“Alexander writes a lot about the role of society in games, and this one hit a nerve,” Semel said. “It was really like throwing a bucket of water on a bear after you already poked it.”
From there, the campaign evolved and became more than something about Quinn’s broken relationship.
“Gamers can be creative in how they kick back,” said Pidgeon. “They are technically adept and know how to use social media to amplify it. They may be a small crowd, but they have a very loud voice — and that could cause some companies to react without thinking.”
Deeper Issues in the Game Industry
Alexander questioned the makeup of the game industry, and called out the fact that it isn’t exactly inviting to women — was she wrong?
One need look no further than the floors of large trade shows such as the Game Developer Conference and the Electronic Entertainment Expo to see that this is an industry made up of a majority of white males — while scantily clad “booth babes” provide eye candy. On screen, the story is much the same.
“There is a lot of sexism in the game industry,” noted Semel. “It compares to comic books. There are strong, powerful women, but they’re in skimpy outfits and are the male fantasy. This is very true of the way male characters are depicted — muscle bound and simply ripped — but the females are certainly there to cater to the male fantasy.”
Often females aren’t even represented in games — at least not as playable characters.
“We saw this at E3 in terms of the discussion about Assassin’s Creed Unity, which divided journalists and thereafter developers over the importance of including playable female characters,” said Susan Schreiner, analyst at C4 Trends. “This came up when the Far Cry’s director revealed that female characters were considered and then dropped.
“Inclusivity seemed to end up on the cutting board — and the default is male,” Schreiner told the E-Commerce Times.
“People assume female characters don’t sell, and that the audience is mostly teenage boys. This controversy is slowly coming to the fore, but given the time it takes to develop a Triple A title, it likely will be a few years before a female breaks the glass ceiling in games,” she predicted.
“There are extremists on both sides,” added Semel. “The industry has a sexism problem, but it isn’t as bad as it could be — yet it is far worse than many people are willing to admit.”
Intel and Gamasutra did not respond to our requests to comment for this story.