Inside Gamergate: An Interview With James Desborough
It’s been three years since the online movement known as GamerGate first started to raise their voices in response to a media narrative that many of its proponents roundly reject. Much has happened during that time, and James Desborough’s new book Inside Gamergate: A Social History of the Gamer Revolt was recently published offering an insider’s view of the enigmatic movement. So, we decided to have him in for a brief interview.
So tell us a little about yourself. Your background, political leanings, and what drew you to become involved in GamerGate.
I’m a, somewhat controversial, tabletop game designer and author and have been for going on 20 years, 15 of those working for myself. I come from a tiny little village in the middle of nowhere in Southern England and from a family that has always embraced knowledge, teaching and technology. Politically I’m a left-anarchist as a utopian ideal, but pragmatically a democratic socialist, of the Fabian-society type and a cultural libertarian, of late something more of an Anarcho-Technocrat, which is a rather obscure political movement which would probably bore most people to tears. In crude terms I’m a far left libertarian, (small ‘l’).
I became involved with Gamergate because I’d seen this culture war play out in my own tabletop industry and I had been a victim of censorship, online mobs, lies, misrepresentations and so forth myself. I have also played computer games for a long time and I saw common ground with the people arguing for better journalism and against censorship in general. The enemies of Gamergate very much reminded me of those who had prosecuted The Satanic Panic against D&D in the 80s and 90s and – of course – Jack Thompson.
Further, I’m a sufferer of depression and had used Depression Quest to try and help people understand it. I had supported Quinn, most notably when she was mugged, and I was worried I’d been supporting and boosting a terrible person. She may have had little to do with Gamergate overall, but the revelations around her and the censorship of discussion certainly did and that’s what involved me from the very start.
How would you define GamerGate itself?
An uprising of Gamers who had finally reached the end of their tether. For years gamers had been lied to about games, there had been financial and other corruption going on. Gaming isn’t a cheap hobby, systems are expensive, games are increasingly expensive. Everything’s hyped and you can’t trust anyone to give you the straight dope on a game at any stage of the chain from production to games media. Indie games were supposed to be different and certainly acted like they were moral exemplars, to the point of grandstanding, moralising, hectoring and lecturing. Combine that with the new ‘games are problematic’ narrative, like the old ‘games make people violent’ narrative and you had a tinderbox ready to blow. It only took one spark.
To me it’s like the pushback against the Comics Code, or the way the CARPGA was founded to fight against Pat Pulling and the ‘D&D is Satanic’ crowd, it’s just this is an age of social media and emergent protest. The other big difference is that this time the industry had bought into a lot of the bullshit. The enemy wasn’t just outsiders any more.
The third anniversary of GamerGate has just passed. Would you say the atmosphere within the community has changed?
Do you think there is any merit to the common media narrative surrounding GamerGate?
Why did you decide to write Inside GamerGate?
Were there any specific hardships you faced while writing the book worthy of note?
The editor also pulled out… which means its a bit rougher around the edges than I would have liked.
What about now that it’s been published– what kind of reception have you been getting from either the pro-GamerGate or anti-GamerGate camps?
So what do you plan to do moving forward?