Gamergate or GamerGate (GG) was a loosely organized misogynistic online harassment campaign and a right-wing backlash against feminism, diversity, and progressivism in video game culture. It was conducted using the hashtag "#Gamergate" primarily in 2014 and 2015. Beginning in August 2014, Gamergate targeted women in the video game industry, most notably feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian and video game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, among others. The harassment campaign included doxing, rape threats, and death threats. Gamergate proponents ("Gamergaters") stated that they were a social movement, but lacked well-defined goals, a coherent message, and leaders, making Gamergate difficult to define. Gamergaters claimed to promote ethics in video games journalism, claimed to be protecting the "gamer" identity, and opposed what they asserted as "political correctness" in video games.
The controversies and events that would come to be known as Gamergate began in August 2014 as a personal attack on Quinn, incited by a blog post by Quinn's former boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. Called "The Zoe Post",[b] it was a lengthy, detailed account of their relationship and breakup that included copies of personal chat logs, emails, and text messages. The blog falsely implied that Quinn received a favorable review of Depression Quest in exchange for their sexual relationship with Nathan Grayson, a reporter for the gaming websites Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun. Gjoni later said that he had "no evidence" of a sexual conflict of interest on Quinn's part.[c] Grayson never actually reviewed any of Quinn's games, and his only Kotaku article mentioning them was published before their relationship began. Nonetheless, as reported by The Daily Dot, gamers online used Gjoni's blog to accuse Quinn, without evidence, of trading sex for professional advancement. A link to the blog was posted to 4chan, where many users had previously been highly critical of Depression Quest, which led to renewed attacks on Quinn.
After Gjoni's blog post, Quinn and their family were subjected to a virulent and often misogynistic harassment campaign. Online attackers of Quinn at first used the label "Quinnspiracy", later adopting the hashtag "#Gamergate" after it was coined by the actor Adam Baldwin,[d] whose nearly 190,000 Twitter followers helped the spread of the hashtag. Harassment of Gamergate targets was coordinated via Internet Relay Chat (IRC), spreading rapidly over imageboards and forums like 4chan and Reddit.
Gamergate expanded to include renewed harassment of prominent feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who had previously been a target of online harassment in 2012 due in part to her YouTube video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which analyzes sexist portrayals of women. After a new episode of Tropes vs. Women was released on August 24, 2014, Sarkeesian received rape and death threats, and private information including her home address was leaked; she was compelled to flee her home. At the XOXO arts and technology conference in Portland, Oregon, she said, in regard to the accusations that high-profile women were making up the threats against them, that "one of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences". "The perpetrators", Sarkeesian went on to say, "do not see themselves as perpetrators at all [...] They see themselves as noble warriors".
Sarkeesian canceled an October 2014 speaking appearance at Utah State University (USU) after the school received three anonymous threats, the second of which claimed affiliation with Gamergate. The initial threat proposed that "a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as the students and staff at the nearby Women's Center", alluding to the École Polytechnique massacre, a 1989 mass shooting motivated by antifeminism. USU's president and provost released a joint statement saying that USU, in consultation with state and federal law enforcement agencies, had assessed that there was no credible threat to students, staff, or the speaker. Requests for additional security measures were declined because of Utah's open carry laws, leading to the cancellation. The threats drew the attention of mainstream media to the Gamergate situation. Nick Wingfield of The New York Times referred to the threat as "the most noxious example of a weeks long campaign to discredit or intimidate outspoken critics of the male-dominated gaming industry and its culture". The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated the threat to attack Sarkeesian and other Gamergate-related threats. The investigations, which were plagued with jurisdictional issues, ultimately closed with the FBI failing to identify the perpetrators of some threats and declining to prosecute others.
Gamergate harassment was coordinated primarily in 2014 and 2015. The harassment was orchestrated largely through anonymous message boards such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, particularly the "KotakuInAction" subreddit. Ars Technica reported that a series of 4chan discussion logs suggests that Twitter sockpuppet accounts were used to popularize the Gamergate hashtag. Early Gamergate IRC discussions focused on coordinating the harassment of Quinn by using astroturf campaigns to push attacks against her into mainstream view, while initial organizers attempted to cultivate a palatable narrative for public consumption, internally focusing on personal grudges against Quinn and aggressive sexual imagery. Gamergaters circulated a blacklist of publications along with email templates and phone scripts to use in lobbying companies to pull advertisements from sites critical of Gamergate. Media scholar Torill Mortensen wrote in Games and Culture that Gamergate's structure as an anonymous swarm allowed it to create an environment where anyone who criticized it or became its target was at risk, while allowing them to avoid individual responsibility for harassment.
There has been considerable discussion of self-policing and the responsibility supporters of Gamergate share when the hashtag is used for harassment. A number of websites have blocked users, removed posts, and created policies to prevent their users from threatening Quinn and others with doxing, assault, rape and murder, and planning and coordinating such threats. In September 2014, 4chan founder Christopher Poole banned all discussion of Gamergate on the site as more attacks occurred, leading to Gamergate supporters using 8chan as their central hub.
Many Gamergate supporters have denied that the harassment took place, or falsely accused victims of fabricating the evidence. Gamergate supporters have used the term "Literally Who" to refer to victims of harassment such as Quinn, saying they are not relevant to Gamergate's goals and purposes. Several commentators have decried the use of such terminology as dehumanizing, and said that discussions on Gamergate forums often focus on those referred to as "Literally Who".
By September 24, 2014, over one million Twitter messages incorporating the Gamergate hashtag had been sent. A Newsweek and Brandwatch analysis found more than two million Twitter messages between September and October 2014. Software developer Andy Baio also produced an analysis of #Gamergate tweets showing a discussion that was polarized between pro- and anti-Gamergate factions. One quarter of the tweets sampled were produced by users new to Twitter, most of whom were pro-Gamergate.
While the number of Gamergate supporters is unclear, in October 2014, Deadspin estimated 10,000 supporters based on the number of users discussing Gamergate on Reddit. According to The Washington Post, "Both mainstream gaming critics and many Gamergate supporters insist the brutal trolls are just a small, vocal minority. There's plenty of social science to back that up, too: We know that people are more aggressive, more argumentative and more nasty when they're permitted to comment on something without using their real name."
Jesse Singal, in New York, stated that he had spoken to several Gamergate supporters to try to understand their concerns, but found conflicting ideals and incoherent messages. Singal observed Gamergate supporters making a constant series of attacks on Quinn, Sarkeesian, and other people, while frequently stating that Gamergate "is not about" them. Chris Ip of the Columbia Journalism Review said that Gamergate supporters espousing critiques of ethics in journalism could not be separated from harassers. With anyone able to tweet under the hashtag and no single person willing or able to represent the hashtag and take responsibility for its actions, Ip said it is not possible for journalists to neatly separate abusers from those seeking reasonable debate.
Jon Stone, as quoted in The Week, said that "[Gamergate] readjusts and reinvents itself in response to attempts to disarm and disperse its noxiousness, subsuming disaffected voices in an act of continual regeneration, cycling through targets, pretexts, manifestoes, and moralisms". Polygon's Grant said that as of October 2014, Gamergate had remained amorphous and leaderless so that the harassment can be conducted without any culpability.
Early on during Gamergate, software developer Randi Harper started the "Good Game Auto Blocker" or "ggautoblocker", an expanding list of known Twitter accounts that were tied to the Gamergate hashtag which could be automatically blocked, therefore reducing the degree of harassment received. In November 2014, Twitter announced a collaboration with the non-profit group "Women, Action & the Media" (WAM), in which users of Twitter can report harassment to a tool monitored by WAM members, who would forward affirmed issues to Twitter within 24 hours. The move, while arising in the wake of the Gamergate harassment, was due to general issues of the harassment of women on the Internet. In May 2015, WAM reported that of 512 reported harassment instances by the tool during the month of November 2014, 12% of those were tied to the Gamergate controversy based on the ggautoblocker list, with most harassment occurring from single-instance accounts targeting a single person. 2b1af7f3a8