The Attitudes of Gamergate: A Study
Gamergate, a controversy from 2014, lives on as a movement of gamers who generally claim a desire to keep politics and the culture war out of their hobby and to ensure a level of integrity (both artistic and ethical) in the industry. Possibly the largest reservoir of this community is on Reddit, under the name r/KotakuInAction, at over 100,000 subscribers.
The community is not without its critics, who assert that “Gamergaters” are reactionary, conservative, white men who are resistant to the inclusion of women and people of color in the gaming community. Gamergate’s response to this is seen in their mascot, a red-haired lady in a striped hoodie, named Vivian James, usually depicted as an ordinary, plain woman who does not accept the narrative of their critics.
I thought a survey about this community would tell us more about what they think and what their values are. As such, I posted a Google Form there and got 102 participants. This was not a bad number, but many were hesitant to sign into a Google account to participate in the survey, and they expressed this pointedly in responses to my post there. With that said, the following observations are made based on those who were able to overcome their distrust of Google and participate.
The survey tested attitudes about their mascot, their political views, their feelings about gaming, and asked for demographic data.
The respondents were, for the most part, residents of North America or Europe.
It should then be no surprise that an overwhelming majority of participants identified as at least partly White/European.
In another lopsided statistic, they were also overwhelming male.
The age range showed a decent spread. For the most part, however, it seems that the participants were millennials, with Generation Z making up the younger fraction and Generation X comprising most of the older tier. None of the participants claimed to be minors.
If Gamergate’s enemies are being tested on their claims, they are at least right that this group is (mostly) a bunch of white men. Do they have negative attitudes toward women and minorities, however? Are they reactionary conservatives? Let us begin to look at their actual attitudes.
First, I wanted to see if Vivian James had a universal appeal or not. As symbol, did she at least form a common point of agreement?
A very solid majority indicated that they viewed Vivian James “as a symbol” favorably. Less than 4% expressed an unfavorable view, indicating that she does a decent a job of fulfilling her role as a mascot.
To see how strongly these gamers identified with her, they were asked if they saw a part of themselves in her person. Most stated that they did not, but a decent minority did affirm this fact.
When asked if she were viewed as a feminist icon, an even stronger majority stated that they did not. This might indicate that Gamergaters do not see themselves as aligned with feminism. That said…
…an analysis of those who said “Yes” to viewing her as a feminist icon were more likely to view her favorably, indicating some level of positive connotations for feminism in this group.
Qualitative data were acquired by asking participants to say what Vivian means or represents. The following comments reflected the general consensus:
Vivian James is the representation of gamers who are girls who don’t fit the narrative portrayed by the gaming media. She represents the reality as seen by other gamers.
Girls that game just wanna game and not have other people white knight for them.
Vivian is the every(wo)man. She just wants to play games.
For the most part, people said that she represented real gamers who are not caught up in politics and the culture war, be they male or female. She is the community’s refutation of the claims by critics.
By their self-description, the participants were fairly diverse in their political leanings, even if they leaned toward being left-wing or centrist. This implies that the labeling of this community as reactionary conservatives by their critics is off, since the right-wingers are not well represented here. That said, it is possible that a greater share of right-wingers abstained from the study, if we assume they are more likely to distrust Google. Still, an extra abundance of conservatives would have just made the picture more balanced, so already it seems shaky to pigeonhole this group as right-wing, much less alt-right.
A somewhat more meaningful picture is painted by more focused questions. Opinions were fairly split on the likes of President Trump and Senator Sanders, but a slight majority indicated support for Brexit, while an overwhelming majority disapproved of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The picture becomes a bit fuller as we go on.
When asked to check any Democratic Presidential candidates that they preferred or supported, responses were mixed. Almost a third did not like any of them, but more popular than that response was a preference for Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard. Yang’s lead in support, despite his currently low polling, is a very interesting data point, as is the preference for Gabbard.
What to make of all of this? Gamergaters are likely politically diverse. Their support of Brexit and of outsider candidates in the Democratic primary, paired with a virulent opposition to a figure like Hillary Clinton, indicates anti-establishment, center-gravitated, and often progressive political attitudes. Any stance that unifies them thus will not fit into the traditional, political spectrum very easily.
Views on Gaming
Participants were asked an array of questions, to gauge what their concerns on gaming were. These were separated into concerns about the industry and the culture.
Of the potential problems posed above, the big three that seemed to unite Gamergaters were (in order) poor journalism, virtue signalling, and microtransactions, while almost none thought there weren’t any problems. A similar question was asked, which asked people to choose, from out of this list, which problem was having the “most severe impact.” Let us see how that turned out.
The big three remained the big three, but the order was reversed. Microtransactions led, with virtue signalling remaining in second place, while poor journalism was #3, barely ahead of lazy design. Does this mean that Gamergaters feel more strongly about microtransactions, despite being slightly more likely to identify poor journalism as a general problem? An explanation for this result might come from controlling for political views.
It may surprise no one that leftists were the only group where a majority cited microtransactions as being the most severe. This is the side that tends to be critical of capitalism, after all. They also stood out as seeming far less concerned about poor journalism in the industry, even though they also tended to recognize it as an extant problem. Similarly, it may surprise no one that libertarians, who are known for their love of free markets, had the least concern for microtransactions.
So do we conclude that Gamergaters are most concerned about microtransactions? While this is decent evidence of that, such a conclusion would be premature at this point. As we will recall, this survey was non-random, in large part because several potentials distrusted Google too much to join in the study. If this came at the expense of libertarian activity, it would explain why the leftist data pulled the aggregate in the direction that it did. If microtransactions are Public Enemy #1 for Gamergate, it is to a lesser degree than we see here. The main takeaway is that microtransactions, combined with virtue signalling and poor journalism, are the definitive concerns of the community, implying a general attitude that the gaming industry is more interested in easy profits than it is in quality products or honesty with its consumers.
When asked questions about problems in gaming culture, no obvious trends emerged. Several disagreed that the culture even had problems. Perhaps the most salient finding was how generally unconcerned Gamergaters were about sexism, racism, or bigotry in the culture (less than 6%). This is not a surprise, given the other data already presented, but there was no obvious agreement on any specific problems, as it stands. Ergo, I shall avoid drawing any further conclusions.
When asked what they believed to be the good things about gaming in the current day, the only view that received a majority of agreement was the rise in independent developers and amateur creators. This is very consistent with the previous data that suggest anti-establishment views. One that still received decent recognition was the immersive environments, implying that the community is partly enjoying the strides made possible by new technology.
Gamergaters were asked to state which of the major companies in gaming has had the most positive impact on the industry. In another lopsided result, Nintendo won with 72.5% of the votes. This may be because Nintendo, unlike the other two, is more fundamentally a gaming company and has therefore always been more in touch with its consumers wants and desires.
Some non sequitur questions (which were presented as “Calibration Questions”) were introduced.
When asked if the Friends characters Ross and Rachel were on a break (a reference which fans will understand), two-thirds claimed to be uncertain. For those who had an opinion, most believed they were on a break. Was there an influence on the decision?
Political centrists, interestingly, were the most opinionated about this, defying the trend of uncertainty, while also being the most likely to believe that Ross and Rachel were, in fact, on a break. Is this what people call “radical centrism”? Furthermore, leftists and those who claimed “none of the above” as a political alignment were the only ones not to believe that they were were not on a break.
When asked to select women’s hair colors, redheads won with 44.1%. Does Vivian James possibly have a connection to this?
The data imply that she does. Those who viewed Vivian favorably were more likely to choose redheads at 48.8%, while a majority of 53.8% of those who claimed to see a part of themselves in her person chose that color.
Participants were also simply asked, “Mario or Luigi?” A majority chose Mario, but Luigi was not without his supporters.
When separated politically, results were not hugely different, but leftists were much more likely to choose Luigi at 37.5%. Rightists were almost the least likely to choose him and were the most likely to choose Mario at 64.3%. Is this a classic case of liberals preferring the meeker underdog and conservatives favoring tradition and familiarity?
While the non-random nature of the study makes it difficult to gauge the true political make-up of Gamergate, the results are nevertheless informative. Different political groups had three near-universal concerns: microtransactions, virtue signaling, and poor journalism. Where politics seemed to matter, it was on emphasis of these three. This calls into question the assessments of their detractors, that the Gamergate is rooted in the reactionary conservatism of white, male gamers. Nevertheless, the respondents were primarily white males.
Other trends, such as positive attitudes toward outsider political figures, the favorability toward indie-devs, and the mass-abstention of those distrustful of Google indicate that this group is primarily defined by a distrust of establishment entities and an ethos of individualism. While racism, sexism, and general bigotry may be found within Gamergate, these data do nothing to indicate that it is necessarily more common than among their critics.
A more precise profile of Gamergate will depend on something that can achieve a random sample and ensure that participants only respond once. Even noting that, there was more to the picture than I was able to summarize or that I found interesting. Readers are encouraged to view the results themselves and see what else they can find. Any feedback is most welcome.
Some of the initial feedback to this has focused on my statements which speculate that right-winger Gamergaters may have had lesser participation due to distrust of Google, which has a reputation lately of siding with the SJW left. This is merely a possibility, not a hard conclusion. It is an attempt to explain weaknesses in my study. Some have also pointed out that anti-corporate leftists might be deterred by Google. This is also very possible.
The point is not and never was to imply that conservative Gamergaters are malicious actors, merely human beings who have been given rational motivations not to sign into a Google account and do the study.
My goal here is not to catch anyone in the act. I rather dislike those who must constantly assume ill intent and double down when shown otherwise. I’ve been burned by the SJW left myself, even betrayed by people I thought I could trust over political correctness and phony moral posturing. The last thing I want is to throw anyone under the bus who has suffered the same.