Ghosts and Phantoms: The Fear of Change

So I've talked about how #GamerGate is a bunch of astroturfing and how the terms nerd and gamer belie a sense of intellectual dishonesty and hubris that encourages mockery, but I haven't touched upon quite possibly the most important topic involved in this backlash against developers and critics: confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is when you see something because you want to see it, not necessarily because the evidence fits or is concrete. You look for evidence to fit a theory, rather than fitting a theory to the evidence. A prime example of confirmation bias is belief in the supernatural; when you already want to believe in ghosts, it's easy to interpret a bump in the night or a general unease as a ghost instead of the 17hz infrasonic noise it may actually be.

Circumstantial Evidence and Gossip

This becomes important when you are dealing with gossip and circumstantial evidence. When you already want to believe something, somebody can manipulate into aiding their goal through vague logic and evidence.

Take a personal relationship as an example. You are friends with Andy and Jamie, but they are not friends with each other. You are grumpy with Jamie because they ate your bag of cookies. Andy comes up to you and tells you that Jamie said "you suck." You are naturally inclined to believe Andy, as they are appealing to your natural confirmation bias; you are upset with Jamie, so you want a genuine reason to be upset.

This is why gossip from unreliable sources and believing solely what you are told is dangerous. It removes the burden of rational thought and reasoning and places it on the gossiper. If said informant has an alternative agenda, it's easy to feed bad information to play into your bias and confirm all your deepest darkest fears. This is exactly what is happening with #GamerGate

What You See Doesn't Always Exist

Sometimes a relationship is just a relationship.

Despite all of the words written by prominent critics and organizers in gaming clearly refuting all claims, the notion that there is some sort of widespread cronyism or corruption in gaming remains. Perhaps said refutation only furthers the thought that there is some corruption; after all, if they had nothing to hide and did nothing wrong, why are they hiding?

This is a fundamentally toxic way of thinking. You are welcome to be skeptical of people who write; skepticism is, in moderation, a very useful tool. However, when your skepticism feeds into your confirmation bias, you've lost control of your rational thought processes. You are seeing connections where none exist, conspiracies in professional relationships, and corruption in harmless interactions. You assume motives where you have no evidence, and concoct fantastic tales of plotting and manipulation to try and justify your fear.

Relation to Gamergate

This is the main problem with #GamerGate. It supposes, immediately, that game critics are corrupt. The people involved already wanted to believe game critics were corrupt; unscrupulous people took advantage of this to direct a shotgun blast of harassment and screaming at an institution they opposed. Thus, confirmation bias took hold, and no amount of pointing out that gossip and circumstantial evidence proves nothing will get these people to quiet down and engage in a genuine dialog.

This bias was born from the fear that gaming is evolving and, as a result, leaving its traditional audience behind. There's a very real, and very powerful, feeling of discontent behind #GamerGate, but that discontentment is fundamentally not with critics or developers. That discontentment is with the notion that the medium is maturing beyond the escapist power fantasy it originated as.

All you have to do to prove this is take a look at how many people praise Depression Quest while also backing #GamerGate; I've only seen a single person do both. Whenever games like Gone Home or Depression Quest are mentioned by somebody talking about corruption in gaming media, it's always "I hate these games, and the media praised them, so therefore the media is corrupt." It's not about ethics. It's not even really about the various writers and developers who have been attacked, although their harassment is certainly reprehensible. This is about destroying the people who would dare to change games; drag their names through the mud, destroy their careers, and annihilate this challenge to traditional gaming before it becomes any more prominent. It's about gatekeeping a hobby, and the underlying jabs at games like Gone Home only confirm this.

The funny thing is that the vast majority of veterans in this industry - developers and critics alike - support the evolution of games into something more diverse and open. An audience entitled to the sweat and blood of critics and developers want to hold this medium back, and their fear over change is what fueled the flames of this backlash.

The #GamerGate movement is purely reactionary, and feeds into a right-wing agenda of traditionalism and anti-intellectualism. They want to see a bogeyman because otherwise they'll have to accept that this medium is moving forward without them. When you want to see ghosts and conspiracies, you will; no amount of reasoning will shake that belief.

Don't fear change. Embrace it.

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