Guest Editorial by Jenn (@PhotoJennBo)
I was introduced to GamerGate via the Alison Prime/Steven Polk livestream on the Ralph Retort. Listening to the interviewee jovially stumbling through the conversation, juxtaposed with what I was reading and hearing regarding what led up to the event, it dawned on me that the matter was rather more serious than Steven seemed to realise. I learned that there was a fierce “battle” between two internet gangs, and that the person this duplicitous young man had pretended to be, had become a pillar of sorts within the GamerGate community. “Her” followers felt they could relate with Alison Prime and looked up to the character. The revelation that the beautiful Alison, was in fact a rather portly gent, made people angry and was seen as a critical blow to the credibility of GamerGate.
Added to his false identity were fabricated illnesses, non-existent historical abuse, made up friends and appeals to false sexuality. I felt sorry for Steven – his life was clearly an internet fantasy, his personal binary Narnia. As he reluctantly admitted lies, after much pressing, my pity turned to anger. Despite having been exposed as a fraud, he repeatedly attempted to shirk responsibility for his actions, spinning new lies during the conversation, apologising in the way a 3 year old does when they know they’ve done wrong, but want their parents to hug them instead of punish them. He should have just left it at “I’m sorry”, but he packed each admission of guilt with enough self-pity to make a hopelessly depressed alcoholic appear Prozac euphoric. I was concerned for the man’s safety and wellbeing, I’m soft like that, but I was incredibly livid at the complete dismissal of responsibility. My interest in the subject matter was thusly peaked and I began to learn more about GamerGate.
I have come to learn about some truly troubling movements within our society. Groups of people who want free speech censored to avoid hurt, who want to shout down anything they find oppressive or offensive. Voluntary, self-enforced censorship, on an Orwellian scale, is seemingly present in our society today and there is even the suggestion that social media have GCHQ style surveillance systems built into their networks, to analyse posts with potentially offensive triggers and automatically block people for voicing their objections. To my mind, his is a worrying and grossly authoritarian exercise against free speech, which a lot of people appear to have bought into with fervour.
Despite reading and watching a lot of material, from both sides, I don’t yet quite understand how GamerGate went from outrage at one individual’s alleged personal relationships with gaming journalists, to a war on gaming journalism as a whole. Professing my affiliation or allegiance to GamerGate at this early stage would be disingenuous. What I can say is that the public figures I have spoken with and whose critiques I have heard, have not matched the vile, despicable, racist, misogynistic, transphobic labels that have been thrown in their direction; quite the opposite, in fact! Yes, there are trolls on both sides of this particular internet “war”, plus plenty of dark humour, but also a great variety of really lovely people, with hugely differing socio-political views, religious beliefs, backgrounds, genders, sexualities, professions and cultural/regional/racial heritage. Beneath every stereotyped caricature, is an individual with a unique experience of life.
I want to help you to perhaps understand my perspective, so what follows is a little of my history. I’m a 32 year old analyst from the UK, formerly a boy, a cheap escort, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a self-abusing socially awkward outcast and a liar. Until the age of 19, I was prepared to make up almost any story, rather than admit that, since a young age, I’d wanted a vagina and boobs, instead of my 8in cock and chest so flat that NASA had tried to patent me as a frictionless surface. In my teens, I was perpetually high. I didn’t leave the house much and became so anorexic that dust particles would temporarily eclipse me on a regular basis, confusing my sister when she visited, causing her to start grasping the air frantically in fear that I’d been blown away by a draught. Not too long before I was out on my ass, I was sleeping on the floor, teeth rotten, bankrupt and alone. I’d sold all my stuff and genuinely didn’t care anymore, my right wrist looking like a game of Snakes & Stabby Ladders.
One day in Exeter, after leaving court, I walked into a bar, got blind drunk and told a complete stranger the 100% flat out truth about myself. I’d assumed this would end in jeers and abuse, but he didn’t ridicule me… he asked more questions. Apparently, the real me was a lot more interesting than the bullshit I’d been making up as cover… I told him about my past, how I’d done porn, that I was transsexual; he didn’t judge me. This was a revelation! From then on, I began to open up to everyone and, to my never-ending surprise, even those who initially took the piss, treated me with respect and even, at times, admiration.
I don’t want to make out that this led to an instantaneous and positive swing in my life. I’d amassed a lot of rent arrears, plus I was still taking drugs to make life feel a little more bearable, so it was too late to stop my downward spiral to homelessness. It was 2004 and I was a skinny, hairless, promiscuous, feminine blonde boy, who traded sex for chemical kicks. By August/September 2005 I’d exhausted all means of keeping a roof over my head and I was kicked out. I slept rough for the next two months, pissing myself for brief warmth and never needing an alarm clock, thanks to police and security guards (thanks guys…). It was at least mid-October before I was being driven up to Scotland, spliff in gob.
After a short stay with my dad and his girlfriend, I was out on my bony arse again in 2006. I didn’t know anyone in Kilmarnock and had already started to sell aforementioned arse, to fund the HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) that I was buying on the internet. While I held down a normal job for a few months, my main income came from escorting and benefits. I’d taken clients on privately to avoid the agency cut and was naïve and pretty stupid in my undertakings, resulting in a particularly nasty experience that made me reconsider my options. At the end of 2007 I got mugged by a ginger kid in a park (fucking Scotland…), leaving me agoraphobic. The increasing pressure and blackmail from johns, who wanted to pay me less because they knew I was desperate, made the situation worse.
So, what the hell does any of this have to do with GamerGate and why did I decide to abuse you with the reams of info about my personal life, you might be wondering… Well, my saving grace was a friend I’d made in EVE Online, who helped me to escape to Manchester in 2008, to make a fresh start. I’d been playing the MMO since 2003 and it had been a constant that I could rely on, a connection to other humans in the world outside. Whilst I might not have as much time to play games now, I’d likely not be here were it not for meeting Ryan in EVE, some 11+ years ago now. What non-gamers don’t appreciate is that the gaming community is a global network of millions of people, with complex societies, escapism to suit all personalities, a place where truly strong friendships are formed. Here you can learn to take shit from people, and games like EVE online even teach you about the internals of politics, business ethics, market trading and positive interpersonal relations. The friends that we make in gaming communities can help us through the most difficult bits of our lives, giving us an out for our frustrations, shared experiences and a global network of varied lives and common interests.
We all go through a lot of shit in our lives. Some of us come to accept that there are many things that we need to adapt to, and that includes people being dicks towards us, or the fear of rejection and hurt feelings. Taking away someone’s right to express themselves because you find their views to be offensive is counterproductive. If you have a disagreement, perhaps vocalise it in the form of a measured, critical and constructive response – you’ll end up understanding each other better and find some middle ground that you can build from. Ridicule in life is inevitable, there will always be idiots who just want to insult you. If you vet all your friends & acquaintances to make sure they agree with everything you say, or are malleable to your specified “Safe” specification, then you’re missing out on a great deal of valuable human interaction that will build up your strength as an individual. The world is not your sock drawer – you can’t throw away all the odd socks and arrange the neat remaining bundles into squares with plastic “safe space” dividers to protect them from each other. Try to be honest, thoughtful, direct, kind and ready to learn & be wrong. There are people out there who really want to cause harm – focus your energy at defeating them, not free speech.
Many opponents of GamerGate would have you believe that women and minorities within GamerGate are simply sockpuppets, either with internalised self hate/misogyny, or along for the ride because they want attention. This is simply untrue. Those who count themselves as part of GamerGate, and the Gaming community as a whole, are just as diverse in their mix of cultures, ethnic and social backgrounds, genders, sexualities and political affiliations as the rest of the population, if not more so. Try to stay objective and don’t allow ideological agendas, ad-hominem attacks or stereotypes to sway you from understanding the true nature of both sides in this dispute, as the issues they discuss are rather complex and important.
Unlike Alison Prime, I exist. My name’s Jenn and I look forward to getting to know you 🙂
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jenn will be on the Killstream this weekend to talk about the article, her experience with GamerGate so far, and the rest of the week’s news.)