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Gamergaters Are People, Too, Says Gaymer X's Matt Conn (Q&A)

"We can't have this civil war going on forever. I don't want it to be like politics."

iStock / HultonArchive

Matt Conn, the founder of the LGBT gaming convention GaymerX, is conflicted.

“I haven’t been able to sleep, and it’s not because I’m scared of being swatted or doxxed,” Conn said of Gamergate. “I want the community to get better, and I feel like now, I’m in a position where I can actually do something. And I don’t know what to do.”

In a recent interview with Re/code, Conn said that when he has talked to Gamergate supporters in person — including at this year’s Game Developers Conference, where a few attended a panel where he spoke about creating “safe spaces” in gaming — they’re “a lot less vile” than their anonymous and pseudonymous online personas. Rather, he believes, they misunderstand their “opponents” and are misunderstood by the rest of the world.

GaymerX recently entered the crosshairs for turning on GGautoblocker, a tool that automatically blocks supposed pro-Gamergate tweeters, for its Twitter handle, @GaymerX. But Conn said he’s troubled by the paucity of attempts at compromise and conversation from both “sides” since the online movement erupted in August.

The following Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Re/code: Where did Gamergate and other critics of social change in gaming come from?

Twitter / @mattconn

Matt Conn: We haven’t taken gaming seriously, and because of that, we’ve allowed gaming culture to become so toxic that it’s almost like system shock to a ton of people. We’re asking them to grow up very quickly, and I can understand why they can be upset and fight back against that. At the end of the day, we’re responsible for that. We allowed that culture to grow over the last 30 years. And we said, “It’s all fine. It’s just games.” And now, all of a sudden, we’re saying, “No, games are more important than that.” And we’re expecting everyone to change their mindsets immediately. I think that that’s irresponsible.

On Gamergate, they’re still people. Their ideas are not invalid because they support one idea that we don’t like. I don’t think these people are bigots. I just think that this change is happening very quickly, and they don’t understand why. It hasn’t been presented to them in a way that’s like, “Hey, here’s why this is happening.” To an extent, we’ve kind of written them off: “We know what’s best for you guys. And your input’s not important.” It’s tough. For the first time in a lot of these people’s lives, their opinion isn’t as valid because it’s not really about them.

So who should be the communicators of that message, that games and the people who play them are changing?

I think you’re seeing a wide divide between what the press and people in the industry are saying and the people on YouTube, who are a bit more “in the community.” People who are really speaking to the younger folks, like YouTubers, Twitchers, people who have these really engaged audiences of younger folks, they’re going to be more directly engaged in the gaming political scene. I don’t think they get enough respect because they’re young and their ideas are not fully fleshed out. As they get older, they’re going to be more and more disdainful towards this change that we all want to see.

I’m seeing people being very easily manipulated towards thinking certain things because it is happening so fast and strongly, and I can see how people can profit off of manipulating people towards certain things, which is sad. I’m also equally sad that people on the side of this change seem just as disdainful. [Gamergaters have] done some things toward some people that have been bad, but at the end of the day, they’re still people, and they’re still gamers. We can’t have this civil war going on forever. I don’t want it to be like politics. I don’t want there to be a Tea Party and a this party, and none of these people ever talk to each other.

Do you think the grassroots discussion on places like YouTube and Twitch is more significant than whatever the business side says?

You can’t have the “elite” saying this one thing, and all the consumers feel a different way. It is important that all the YouTubers or Twitchers or people who run Facebook groups or Tumblr blogs should be talking about it, and should have the resources for better discussion or better dialogue with people. Part of the reason why this Gamergate thing is so inflammatory is that even [among] people who are trying to be peacekeepers or have discussions, the dialogue is still very low-level. And I think part of that is the epidemic of people not taking gaming seriously. This is going to frame the future of video games. If we, as a culture, agree that video games are art, and [acknowledge] that games make the most money out of these art forms and that they’re going to keep evolving and aren’t going anywhere, then this is something that we need to address now.

What’s the next step for Gamergate supporters?

At the end of the day, a lot of [Gamergaters] don’t understand why what they’re supporting is disruptive to a lot of the positive work that’s gone into making gaming better. They don’t seem to be willing to take responsibility for a lot of the actions that have been done under their name. “It wasn’t us, it wasn’t us, it wasn’t us.” It’s like, if you want people to take you seriously, be an adult, take responsibility for that, and figure out how it’s not going to happen again. [Instead, they say,] “Well, we have a lot of people who feel similarly to us, and if we scream really loudly, we get attention,” which is true. But it’s not going to create any lasting positive change.

And what about Gamergate opponents? What should they do differently?

I want people who are good, awesome folks to feel supported, and I know suggesting compromise can make them feel like they’re not being supported. I don’t want to be argumentative, but I also know that taking a strong stance against this will help our community. Every time a company like Intel says, “No, this is wrong,” I think it helps empower people. … Gamergate has a ton of people saying “Zoe Quinn is this” and “Anita Sarkeesian is this,” but no one’s saying, “Actually, that’s completely wrong.” Which makes [marginalized] people start to think, “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these people are right. None of my friends are saying anything that’s contradicting them.”

When you see companies and prominent people saying, “No, you’re right, we’ve just been too cowardly in the past,” that’s really powerful. If [Hideo] Kojima and Sony and Nintendo and all these companies were just to be like, “This is wrong, and here’s why,” people would be able to have actual conversations. It’s not just these radical organizations, there’s more moderate people who I know and respect who feel differently.

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