Monday, October 6, 2014

Operation Disrespectful Nod: Results versus Rhetoric

At its heart, GamerGate is a movement to reform the games industry and apply strict ethical standards to the journalists who cover it.  Attempts to discuss this issue at many games journalist websites were censored and outright banned under the guise of preventing harassment and sexism.  Without a venue to effectively redress their grievances, gamers in support of GamerGate called for a consumer boycott of those websites, collectively called Operation Disrespectful Nod.

This was a call to contact the advertisers of those websites which censored discussion and ask that they remove their ads.  By doing so, GamerGate would deny those sites much-needed ad revenue.  By cutting into their bottom line, they would essentially force the websites to enact reforms or face ever-thinning revenue streams.

When analyzing the potential effectiveness of something like Operation Disrespectful Nod, it's important to consider every possible reaction, no matter how remote.  By doing so, we can get a clear, all-encompassing picture of all potential outcomes.  At a rudimentary level, there are three  possible opinions that an advertiser can hold:

  • Support #GamerGate
  • Remain Neutral
  • Oppose #GamerGate

Additionally, there are essentially two actions which an advertiser can take in response to those opinions:

  • Continue advertising on controversial websites
  • Stop advertising on controversial websites

Thus, there are a total of six theoretical outcomes for when an advertiser is approached by GamerGate and asked to drop their advertising campaigns.  Each of those outcomes has either a negative or positive affect on the objectives of GamerGate.  Below is an analysis of all six outcomes and either their net positive or net negative effect on GamerGate's goals:

The outcomes highlighted in green contribute positively to GamerGate's goals, while those in red contribute negatively (additionally the most likely outcomes are at the center of the table, with the least likely on the ends).

One question most likely being asked right now: "Why is an advertiser supporting GamerGate and continuing to advertise considered a net positive?"  The reason for this can be explained very simply by taking a look at what drives GamerGate as a movement.

In most traditional boycotts, a group of activists is attempting to convince a company to change their business practices on ideological grounds.  Consider the boycotts against Fruit of the Loom in 2009 for their actions in closing down a production plant after the workers became organized.  In this instance, the Activists were trying to convince the Company to adopt a more expensive business business practice by arguing that it was more ethical.  This is inherently an uphill battle, as the Company is going to opt for the practice that generates the most profit.  It was only after intense pressure in media and through extensive boycotts that the Company changed practices; the cost of the boycott in PR and in revenue outweighed the cost of bowing to the Activists demands.  The choice was purely economical, since the company would have continued their old practices had no boycott occurred.

However, the GamerGate controversy is unique in that the Activists (GamerGate) and the Company (games media sites) are both fighting over ideological differences: GamerGate wants to reform games media, while the opposition seeks to maintain the status quo.  It is unique in a boycott for the status quo to be defended on ideological grounds rather than economic ones, and this difference informs how defenders of the status quo may react to an advertiser showing support for the Activists.

GamerGate's goal in Operation Disrespectful Nod is simple: get advertisers to stop advertising on certain websites.  How that advertiser feels about GamerGate as a movement is irrelevant: if the advertiser leaves, that's a net positive, whether that advertiser is ultimately opposed to GamerGate's aims or not.

However, those defending the status quo seem far more likely to apply a "litmus test" to advertisers on ideological grounds.  Consider their reaction to Intel's decision to pull ads from Gamasutra: immediate accusations of inadvertently supporting misogyny, harassment, rape culture, and demands that they return their advertising dollars to the website immediately.  There was no consideration for Intel's past practices, for their verifiable opposition to the problems they were accused of inadvertently supporting, or the fact that they had advertised at Gamasutra for years not explicitly supporting the status quo, they were at once labeled as part of the opposition.

Given this information, it is not difficult to imagine what would happen if a company, advertising actively on Gamasutra, or Kotaku, or any other site, came out in vocal support of GamerGate and their efforts to reform games journalism.  There would likely be swift condemnation, accusations similar to those leveled at Intel in the wake of their departure, and pressure for the sites themselves to remove the ad campaign of that company.  Thus, it is reasonable to assume that any advertiser who voiced support of GamerGate's goals would most likely find their ad campaign stopped regardless.  It is this difference that allows GamerGate to stand to gain from 4 out of the 6 possible outcomes.

At the moment, Operation Disrespectful Nod is Results-Driven: get advertisers to stop advertising.  Their goals are factual: they have clearly defined end states (reduction in ad revenue) that can be quantified, measured, and compared to past data.  While the end state is ideological, the path towards that state is firmly grounded in economic realities.

Meanwhile, the opposition is Agenda-Driven: their goals are rhetorical (reinventing "gamer culture") and are difficult to define in quantitative or even qualitative terms.  Their attempts to do so require them to begin dividing people and organizations into separate camps to be counted and measured against each other.  Thus Intel went from the "For" camp to the "Against" camp despite the fact that their official statement made no mention of GamerGate, and despite the fact that, if the absurd anti-GG rhetoric can be believed, Intel opposes GG's supposed commitment to sexism and rape culture.

Given this information, it's not hard to conclude that Operation Disrespectful Nod is poised to continue seeing success as long as it maintains the energy it does now.  Websites and companies which are the targets of GamerGate may wish to fight on ideological grounds, but their reality is heavily rooted in economic ones.  They have infrastructure to maintain, personnel to support, and commitments to their shareholders to produce revenue.  You cannot pay content producers in rhetoric, and you cannot power a server with ideals.

Meanwhile, GamerGate is not burdened by infrastructure, has no payroll, and relies only on the energy of its supporters to maintain its effectiveness.  At worst, the movement ends and GamerGaters feel as if they've wasted some of their time.  At best, they have everything to gain, and by my analysis the odds seem to be in their favor!

Update (09OCT14): Submitted for your approval, some direct evidence to substantiate my claim that"it is reasonable to assume that any advertiser who voiced support of GamerGate's goals would most likely find their ad campaign stopped regardless."  

Meet GaymerX, an organization that crowdfunds gaming conventions aimed at the gay and lesbian gaming community.  They were asked what they felt about the ongoing controversy and, as many outside groups have, decided that it was in their best interest to not get directly involved, and instead try to maintain an air of neutrality, or at least disinterest.

We don't defend them. We want nothing to do with them.

If GaymerX were an advertiser, this would put them squarely under the "Continue Ads; Support" category.  In their updated statement, you can still see the offending portion of their apology:

A lot of people see #GamerGate as a hate movement. Others see it as being about journalistic ethics and integrity. The fact is that #GamerGate is a complicated, multi faceted, emotionally charged issue. No matter where you stand, a lot of feelings can get hurt within the space of 140 characters
 This attempt at neutrality only fueled the fire.  It becomes clear when reading the ensuing arguments on twitter that this stance is totally unacceptable:

...defend them is exactly what you did in your apology. You're just afraid to piss them off. Toughen up.
Your language legitimizes a hate movement that thrives on obfuscating their goals. By humouring it, you're helping them do that.
Every. Single. One. of [GamerGate's supporters] contributes to the same misinformation shielding those hateful aspects, just like you.
If you do not oppose gamergate, you do not support queer women. Period.
In the end, GaymerX caves spectacularly, asking that the offended writer the organization's apology for them:
If we said something, about how we really feel, what would you want it to say?
The result of this pressure is clearly seen on their updated apology, in which all attempts to appear neutral are themselves neutered in order to appease the frothing twitter mob.

It is not unreasonable to expect this kind of treatment to continue for anyone who wishes to engage the gaming community directly while GamerGate continues.  And every time the antt-GG crowd insists on applying their litmus tests to potential supporters, it will only end up serving GamerGate's interests.

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