Gaming Culture and Women: #GamerGate again

The complainant Hans Schumacher objected to the characterization of #Gamergate in an interview about a documentary on misogyny in the gaming community. It’s best to be nuanced in describing the term. The host’s phrasing fell short but the interview did not violate policy.

COMPLAINT

You were concerned that statements about the online movement known as #GamerGate in the context of an interview on the Vancouver based afternoon show “On the Coast”, Segment 1 and Segment 2 about a documentary on misogyny in the gaming community were false, and misrepresented the movement and repeated “unfounded allegations.” You pointed out that the host of the program, Stephen Quinn, said “‘GamerGate was, of course, when anonymous players threatened to rape and murder female game developers’ when there is no evidence to support them.” You also objected to Mr. Quinn’s statement that “GamerGate was the full extent of the misogyny…”

You see a persistent pattern of portraying what you call a consumer revolt in a bad light. You believe that the women who have made the complaints about #GamerGate are unreliable witnesses and that there is no proof that anyone involved in #GamerGate indulges in harassment or threats to women gamers. You characterize the association of #GamerGate with harassment and misogyny as a “false and inherently biased narrative.”

You included comments and correspondence about other CBC mentions of #GamerGate as part of your complaint.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Director of Programming for Radio in British Columbia, Lorna Haeber, replied to your concerns. She told you that the interview was about a documentary airing at the DOXA festival in Vancouver. She added that the film entitled “GTFO” (Get the F Out) was not about #GamerGate and had in fact been shot two years before the #GamerGate hashtag appeared on the scene. The documentary, she told you, was about “some female gamers and the harassment they say the face.” She told you that in the course of the interview, no one woman was featured nor mentioned by name so your contention that some of the women associated with #GamerGate have been discredited are not relevant in this context. She explained that the reference to #GamerGate was in one question because the documentary included a postscript addressing the controversy:

Mr Quinn asked Ms. Sun-Higginson [the director] whether GamerGate was something she might have anticipated given all the interviews she did with female gamers. The listener is left with the impression the women profiled in the film were not representing sides or camps but simply were individuals sharing their experience in the gaming world...Mr Quinn did try to put the issue of GamerGate into some context for the listener describing it as “when anonymous players threatened to rape and murder female game developers”. You took exception to that phrase saying there is “no evidence linking GamerGate supporters to any such incidents.” Again, the interview was not intended to explore GamerGate, and the phrase was intended to remind people quickly what it was about so the question being asked made sense.

She also responded to your concern that you heard Mr. Quinn say “GamerGate was the full extent of the misogyny.” She explained that what he said was different:

What he said was “If you thought GamerGate was the full extent of the misogyny, stay tuned for more...” They have two very different meanings. The statement made by Mr Quinn indicated the story they would be doing would go beyond the one specific controversy that became known as Gamergate.

REVIEW

You have expressed concern on several occasions that CBC has adopted only one narrative about #GamerGate, and that the narrative is false. The narrative you consider true is that #GamerGate represents a consumer movement of people concerned about corruption and cronyism in the gaming industry and the video game journalists who cover it. I will repeat what I have written in at least three other reviews. You may claim that #GamerGate is a movement that stands for ethics in gaming. It is hard to know what a movement is, what it stands for and who speaks for it when it is actually a hashtag, a Twitter name that can be claimed by whoever is using it. That it is associated with the harassment and negative treatment of women is a fact. It has become a kind of shorthand reference for something that is more complicated.

Ms. Haeber told you that this interview was not about #GamerGate so there was no need to go into any detail or explore it more closely. In one way she is correct. But as I have also stated before, given the level of controversy, to state that “GamerGate is an online movement that harasses and threatens women” is too unequivocal. CBC journalistic policy demands clarity in its use of language. I strongly suggest that when harassment of women gamers is being discussed the language should be very precise and nuanced. Like many controversial issues, both sides point to definitive ‘facts’ or narratives to prove their point. This is far too amorphous for that to be the case. A mention that there are people who understand #GamerGate to be something different, or saying it is associated with the harassment of women, would be a more precise and accurate way to talk about it.

This was a single interview with a woman who had made a film about the experience of women who have been threatened and harassed in the gaming world. The broader context is a culture war within the gaming world. It is not some mainstream media conspiracy that women are attacked, harassed and made to feel unwelcome. Of course that doesn’t mean that every single gamer is a misogynist, but it is certainly a legitimate journalistic exercise to have interviewed Shannon Sun-Higginson about her film and how it fit into the context of #GamerGate, which launched in the social media world in 2014.

Here is what was said about #GamerGate:

Stephen Quinn: The film was finished before GamerGate and that was when anonymous players threatened to rape and murder female game developers, a couple of whom are actually featured in the doc. You did a postscript to address that and it didn’t feel out of place. I mean looking back on it was GamerGate, was that something you could have anticipated?

Shannon Sun-Higginson: The thing about GamerGate for me, and you know I can’t speak for everyone in the movie, but I think a lot of the women I spoke with and sort of caught up with after that, they sort of viewed it as one of a series of events, not a particularly odd or out of place event. It’s just the one that got the most media coverage um, but the point we tried to get across with the postscript is that you know this is just going to continue to happen and to continue to escalate if we don’t do anything about it.

In fact, Ms. Sun-Higginson does provide some context, positioning the harassment associated with #GamerGate in the broader context of the challenges facing women in the gaming community. It is the opposite of your concern that #Gamergate is referred to as the full extent of anti-female behavior. Ms. Haeber was correct in her explanation that you might have misheard what was said in the headline of the program:

…as well a new documentary on women and gaming is screening this weekend as part of the docs festival. If you thought Gamergate was the full extent of the misogyny well then you are going to want to stay tuned to find out more. The director of GTFO will be our guest coming up.

You are right it does associate #GamerGate with misogyny, but it also, like Ms. Sun-Higginson, is stating that it is not the whole picture, but a symptom of a larger problem. There is no journalistic violation in the headline.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman