The latest of GamerGate's "operations" has launched and it's a website cataloguing factoids on games journalists and their outlets. Which is actually not a bad idea, something I suggested in my prior post on why GamerGate hasn't gone away.
On Twitter it has been suggested by those supporting GamerGate that if people have issues with the project they should lay out their concerns, rather than resorting to rhetoric and angry dismissal. Again, not a bad suggestion!
The problem is you don't even have to dig very deep to start finding serious problems with the DeepFreeze.it site.
First and foremost, who is running the site? There is no indication anywhere on the site on who, specifically, is backing this. Is it an individual, group, company or extradimensional being? The site is supposed to serve us as a reference on who can be trusted in the industry, yet we have no way of assessing the trustworthiness of the source? I expect the usual excuses of "muh privacies" or "muh safeties" to be trotted out here, but when setting oneself up as an arbiter of truth it is simply not good enough.
A quick whois search turns up "Stefano Eracliti" as the owner of the domain, which I assume is some form of pseudonym, since the name does not return results on Google, Twitter or Facebook. Or it might be one of those rare, truly unique names that has yet to appear online. Either way, it does not inspire confidence.
Another glaring issue is the lack of any mention of behaviour which could be considered ethical or beyond reproach. Simple things like whether they disclose the provenance of games they review, or whether trips and accomodation were paid for, would be easy to add. Such things may not seem of great import next to other entries on the list, but it would present at least a facade of evenhandedness.
This wouldn't be a problem if the stated goal was to create a list of unethical or otherwise questionable behaviour, of course, but they've gone out of their way to state objectivity as a thing they strive for. If the goal is to include factual information gamers might want to know before deciding whether to trust a journalist, why are all the entries I've checked only credited with "ethically dubious" notes?
Now it may be that over time such listings will be added. If they are genuinely trying to do the job properly, I would expect nothing less. Yet you would think a site aiming to be an important, objective, resource would have spent some time investigating some at least neutral factoids to include on profiles before going public. They've gone to the trouble of creating profiles for people whose only "credit" is being part of the GameJournoPros mailing list, after all.
And on the flipside, they've created an empty profile for Lauren Wainwright, someone who was actually run out of games journalism over ethical concerns.
Conversely, a number of pro-GamerGate commentators are conspicuously absent. John Bain aka TotalBiscuit is not mentioned, despite having a much higher profile than many of the others on the list. He can't even escape that one with the "not a journalist" line since there's plenty of those on the list. Other notable absences include Erik Kain, Milo Yiannopoulos and Stardock CEO Brad Wardell.
I'm not for a moment suggesting any of those men are involved in any sketchy activities, just there's a seeming double standard. Maybe they just haven't gotten around to those guys yet, just as there's no listings for Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu...
Some pretty conspicuous absences, don't you think? There's not even entries awaiting further details, as is the case for a number of others.
Perhaps most tellingly there are a number of entries on people's lists for presumed use of the GG Autoblocker for Twitter. Yet the creator, Randi Harper, does not have her own page. A place where, for example, you could cite her as the creator of the thing you're making note of on other pages.
Obviously such a listing will never be wholly complete. You have to start somewhere. But to parade around as an objective source on the trustworthiness of journalists and to be trumpeted as such, you need to be above reproach. And DeepFreeze seems far from achieving that, to the point of me being dubious they're genuinely trying.
Also, you list people's names in alphabetical order based on surname, not first. Der.
It's become the punchline among industry professionals to the movement widely known as GamerGate, and it's kind of vexing me that nobody is taking it seriously.
Oh, not the wider "movement" or the disgusting behaviour being exhibited by many in and around it. No, it's deeply concerning that nobody seems to be taking the notion of ethics in our field seriously.
When asked to cite the genesis of the movement most will posit it was either the beginning of Adam Baldwin's involvement and the creation of That Hashtag, or they will point to the bitter ramblings of an ex-lover and the assorted accusations arising from it. Both have certainly served as nucleation points for the whole fizzing mess, but the truth requires digging a little deeper.
The common thread between both supposed starting points is that of alleged unethical behaviour within the gaming industry. What people initially latched on to was the belief that Zoe Quinn garnered undue attention for her game (Depression Quest) by sleeping with an assortment of men in advantageous positions.
That it was probably untrue never mattered to a lot of gamers. It was the impetus people needed to start digging, looking for further confirmation of a long held belief that games journalists and developers are colluding with one another in a dishonest fashion.
You see, GamerGate may have got its label and a level of coordination due to recent events, but the sentiment behind it has been boiling away for more than a decade. You could see it expressed in comments sections across the internet, where professional journalists would be accused of accepting kickbacks for positive coverage of a game, even when the games were generally well received.
And why? Well, partly we have ourselves to blame. A large segment of the gaming commentary community (journalists, critics, bloggers, et al) are in the business because they're gamers. It's almost an extension of our hobby, even when we're getting paid for writing about it.
And that's kind of a problem. Because it's primarily a fan based medium and the barrier to entry is so low, there's essentially no oversight. There's no central authority checking that everything is above board and nobody to lodge a complaint with, should anything suspicious be noticed.
Equally, there's no central body "we", the commentators, can approach for a tick of approval. We can't pin a badge on our online presences to indicate a respected authority has approved of our standards, nor is there a centralised set of standards we can sign off on upholding.
None of that means we're all unethical scumbags, of course. Far from it. As interested parties I'd argue we're actually less prone to corruption, since we don't want to see it happening any more than the general public. There'll be instances where people accept things they should not or are unduly influenced, but largely the people talking about games do it for the love of gaming rather than money or material goods.
Yet this is why GamerGate persists. For as much as people want to paint the sideshow as anti-women or anti-minorities or anti-gaming, the core concerns run much deeper and have been around for much longer than you might think. And we're probably not making our best effort at addressing those concerns.
Ultimately, it really is about ethics in game journalism. And I think we can do better than sweeping it under the carpet with a shared chuckle.