For a few weeks now, the Internet—or one large and particularly nerdy corner of it, anyway—has been alight with furious debates about #Gamergate. The mercifully short version of this affair is this: a swath of predominantly male gaming enthusiasts, motivated by not much save for the crudest cut of misogyny, have decided to wage a campaign against women who are entering the gaming community, designing their own games, and otherwise contributing to the growth of the medium.
Because bigotry is best served glazed with a thin coating of fake moral outrage, these Nintendoed Neanderthals are arguing that they’re really out to salvage the ethics of gaming journalism, an argument they support by singling out one designer, Zoe Quinn, who they allege to have slept with a number of prominent gaming reporters and thereby gained favor for her work. It’s false hooey, but it was enough, when shouted by hordes of hacks, to get large companies like Intel to remove ads from gaming sites that ran pieces criticizing the culture of rampant chauvinism prevalent in contemporary video game culture.
Writing about #Gamergate in Jezebel recently, Jennifer Allaway, who researches the social aspects of gaming, shared her own sordid experiences of being harassed by violent trolls. She concludes her article by asserting that the #Gamergate crowd is nothing less than a hate group. “At this point,” she writes, “there is no dialogue, even though they still say they are trying to promote one. You simply can’t have a sane and productive conversation with someone who would be happier if you killed yourself.”
The worlds of Middle East politics and video games rarely coincide—although both are giddily violent and both have their share of fanatics—but reading Allaway’s article resonated with me on two levels. As a scholar of video games, I know that she’s completely correct about the unforgivably noxious nature of anti-women sentiments among the gamer community. And as a proud Israeli, I know that she’s also right on target about her assertion that dialogue is a silly proposition when the other side wishes you were dead.
Currently, those of us who support Israel’s right to exist and those of us who support women’s rights to partake in the gaming industry as players, designers, artists, and executives are faced with vehement opponents who rely on intimidation and who seek to silence any dissent. Rather than engage with the accusations of misogyny, the #Gamergate activists—like so many critics of Israel—took to the Internet to issue vile and violent statements. Wishing that a prominent Jewish journalist was stabbed to death and wishing that a young researcher committed suicide are both hateful, and both suggest a moral degeneration that should be resisted as forcefully as possible. The same is true for threatening boycotts: pressuring academic institutions not to collaborate with Israeli scholars, just like pressuring a large corporation not to advertise with publications that allow free and unfettered speech to your opponents, indicates a mindset fundamentally at odds with everything that we cherish as the foundations of an open and robust civil society.
#Gamergate, then, is another necessary reminder for all of us, from Zionists to Zelda fans: beware the spurious morality of bigots, expect some to cave in before their senseless rage, accept that civil exchange is lamentably impossible, and brace for battle. That’s how you win the game.
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Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.