GamerGate and MSNBC: Understanding the culture war

On a recent segment of MSNBC’s The Reid Report found here, they covered the #GamerGate phenomenon. It turned out to have nothing to do with #GamerGate, and instead developed into an info session about the death threats against an indie developer. Why is that TV coverage important? It is important because this two-month long event is turning into a giant cultural trench war, one that is pitting two opposing sides with separate agendas against each other, and is not looking to be ending anytime soon.

I watched a recent stream by the YouTube personality InternetAristocrat and he made a very interesting point about #GamerGate, aside from all the videos he did on the topic. He mentioned, and I’m paraphrasing, that sociology is one of the causes for the rise in social justice topics around the internet, not just in gaming. As a person who has a sociology degree, that comment caught my interest. Looking at what is happening right now, this is the social-conflict theory playbook being used to change a culture.

Whether a person likes it or not, gaming has a particular culture to it. It might be different in North America compared to Germany compared to Japan, but there is a similarity that links it all together; a love for games. It is no different than someone who is a staunch Yankees fan who loves his team. When a person loves something they will naturally defend it when they perceive it to be under attack. When it is a group of people that defense is bigger and potentially more vicious. Just look at any Yankees game when the Red Sox are playing. Those opposing fans hate each other with massive vitriol. It is no different in gaming. A gamer likes X, someone comes along wanting to change X, and either they are going to defend it or capitulate.

So what is social-conflict theory? Social conflict or group conflict occurs when two or more actors oppose each other in social interaction, reciprocally exerting social power in an effort to attain scarce or incompatible goals and prevent the opponent from attaining them. Thank Wikipedia for the textbook definition, but it is essentially the same wherever you look. In the opinion of this writer, the two combating goals are in such flux that talking about either side causes controversy. There have also been third parties cropping up recently with separate agendas than the two main ones. For example, some are currently choosing to get their kicks spreading hate. But how much power those third-parties and/or splinter groups have depends on how the two main forces support or combat them, which could lead to them dying out or potentially overtaking and co-opting one of the originals.

Knowing this definition is important because of the social aspect. This is not a war of guns and blades, but a war of words and pressure. Gaming has a culture, and like with every culture there are going to be people who want it to remain the same and those who want to change it for their own purposes. A good example is when Mortal Kombat and Night Trap were released, and the social backlash against those games from people in power which helped create the ESRB.

What we are seeing with coverage from a mainstream, multi-million viewer, and non-gaming news organization are agents from one side of this conflict trying to paint a one-sided narrative for their own gain. That is how the social-conflict game is played. The only difference here is the anti-#GamerGate people got there first. This is a natural escalation. The media in gaming has been tapped out, with almost all the major voices having picked a side. Now we are seeing agents from both camps expand outward to get other influential voices on their side.

The reason I am explaining social-conflict theory to you is if you have been following #GamerGate a lot or a little bit, you now have a better understanding of how this event is going to be played out over the coming days, weeks, and months. It does not matter which side, you the reader, is on. It will not end until there is a massive change caused by one of those sides. Gaming culture in North America, if not the entire west, is going to be different by the end of this event. If you think it is a good change, or a bad change, will be determined entirely by which side wins. Don’t be surprised to see more and more people outside of gaming get drawn into the conflict.

Disclaimer: This article attempts to explain the #GamerGate culture war as a practical example of social conflict theory. PlayStation Universe stakes no claim in the debate. We are aware that this is a complicated issue with many sides. However, as we are committed to covering topics of immediate interest to our audience, we feel it is important to provide space for this topic. We remain committed to the inclusive principle that games are for everyone.

Note – We changed some wording post-launch as the word "profiteering" could be misconstrued.