NBI Talkback Challenge: What I Learned from Gamergate

It actually was about ethics. It was also about morality. Both of these things speak volumes about an individual’s character and what I learned was that there are many gamers out there without a very solid moral compass.

Like many have said before me, gamergate had very little personal affect. However, this lack of direct involvement did afford me the luxury of watching from afar and drawing some conclusions, not all of which will be very popular.

It Was About Ethics

First of all, ethics are important. They’re important if you’re running a worldwide charity organization, and they’re important if you’re contributing to a tiny gaming blog. They’re especially important if you have any amount of purchase influence either within or outside of your organization. This is why large organizations typically have some kind of policy in place detailing how to interact with (and what kinds of ‘gifts’ can be accepted from) sales vendors. These policies serve to remove the ambiguity inherent in dealing with sales vendors with massive budgets dedicated to wine-ing and dine-ing customer executives who have the most amount of purchase influence within their company. There is a constant ethical tug-of-war taking place between vendors and customers to which games journalism is not immune.


To those who say “it’s not about ethics in games journalism”, I would have to disagree to some extent. Once that question was raised, it was an important one to at least acknowledge as an issue within the gaming community. You don’t have to google very far to find problem after problem with inappropriate conduct between game creators and the journalists with community influence. To those who say “I don’t give games journalism any credence, so it doesn’t affect me”, I would also disagree. If others within the community are influenced, then the profile of a certain title is raised, increasing the probability that you will also be influenced, if not directly by the publication, than indirectly by the community.

So, yes, ethics played a part.

It Exposed Morality

The other big ticket item that I noted about the gamergate controversy was morality. While ethics refer to a set of standards impressed upon us by an external system, morals are individual principles that guide our beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. Ones set of morals determines whether it is acceptable to make threats to another person over social media in order to make a point. Many (myself included) were surprised to see just how far some gamers will go to passionately defend something they believe in. Mob mentality also certainly plays a part, but that mob has to start somewhere – with a person whos individual set of morals tells them that it’s OK to make a point BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY, even if that means sacrificing other people along the way.

In many ways, western society has brought this type of behavior on ourselves. Democratic nations are quick to tout the value of the individual. We take great pride in the influence of the individual person, and gravitate towards the “live and let live” philosophy of morality. We’ve surgically deconstructed the notion of universal truth in favor of individual relative truths, and yet we’re surprised when somebody else’s truth doesn’t align with our own. We hope that someday the world will be a better place when the majority points its moral compass in the same direction as ours – but what if that doesn’t happen? Consider the following:

Most people know that Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected US president in 2008. What most people don’t remember is what happened in Illinois following Obama’s vacating his state senate seat. In the US, when a state senator vacates his position, authority to appoint a replacement falls to the governor of that state. As it turns out, then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich took the opportunity to shop Obama’s seat around in exchange for various things, including important board positions for his wife. This, by the way, is very illegal. Despite recorded telephone conversations (“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f- golden. I’m just not giving it up for f- nothing!”)  Blagojevich continues to claim his innocence. In one radio interview that I heard, he even seemed to dismiss the charges on the basis of “It’s just how politics is done.” The numbers in Illinois do seem to back this attitude, as about 1500 people have been convicted of public corruption in the state since 1970.


What is the relationship between morals and ethics? If enough people’s moralities align, the result could be the basis for the next acceptable set of ethics developed for the “outside system”. Being in the majority of individual relative truths can also have influence on successful lobbying for bills and laws. Being on the “wrong side” of the moral majority could have far-reaching implications on your life.

I actually do think that Rod Blagojevich believes that he did nothing wrong. He was raised in an environment where the moral compass of many in his profession does not align with the ethics required of an elected servant of the people – or even of the law. This is the problem we can get into with relative truth. In the case of Illinois, politicians have defined (almost as a group) their own moral compasses and as long as they’re “no worse than the next guy”, they believe their behavior to be justified. Gamergate participants could use the same type of logic to justify harmful personal attacks or web vigilantism. Western society has provided an environment where truth and morality is in the eye of the majority.

So, what happens to the minority?

Ethics by Dan Mason on Flickr Creative Commons

Truth by Victoria Landon at Flickr Creative Commons

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