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Gamergate: What it is and why it matters

The hashtag #gamergate gets thrown around a lot on Twitter, YouTube, and press sites. What's at the heart of Gamergate?

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Online buzz and consternation around the term “Gamergate” may leave some wondering what it means and where it came from.

Two months ago, the hashtag #gamergate emerged in the wake of discussions online about the integrity of video game journalism. Those conversations – playing out on Twitter, YouTube, and online forums – were instigated by allegations of a conflict-of-interest by a games journalist at Kotaku, a popular gaming news outlet. The reporter was allegedly in a relationship with the developer of a game he reviewed. Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo confirmed that the two were in a relationship, but added that the reporter had not written anything about the developer since it began – and the writer has never reviewed one of her games for Kotaku. 

However, once the allegations were made, Gamergate took on a life of its own. A subset of the movement escalated the discourse to threatening behavior toward some of gaming’s outspoken critics. 

Recommended: Why so few women in tech? Seven challenges and potential solutions.

Some self-declared Gamergaters have used the campaign as a reason to lash out at those they don't agree with in the gaming industry. For example, YouTube culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who was scheduled to address Utah State University this month, withdrew from the event because of violent threats directed at her and the university. Ms. Sarkeesian is known for her critiques of how women are depicted in video games.

As more voices speak out in the Gamergate debate, it is difficult to determine how many of them are peacefully advocating for integrity in games journalism and how many are aggressively bullying the opposition. Those pushing for the former have secured small victories. Mr. Totilo posted a statement addressing “potential undue influence of corporate gaming on games reporting,” including a new policy of not allowing Kotaku writers to contribute to the development of games via crowdfunding services (think services such as Kickstarter and Patreon). 

Still, with most media coverage of Gamergate illustrating the darker side of gaming (particularly online bullying and a lack of empathy among gamers), Gamergate does bring to light a conversation about gaming culture that's increasingly relevant as gaming becomes a more widespread hobby.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans play video games, according to a study released in April by the Entertainment Software Association, a video games trade group. Of those gamers, 77 percent play with others for at least an hour a week. Without a welcoming community, the growing reach of gaming could stall – hence the importance of civility.

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