“But where do you live mostly now?”
“With the lost boys.”
“Who are they?”
“They are the children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent far away to Neverland to defray expenses. I’m the captain.”
“What fun it must be!”
“Yes,” said cunning Peter, “but we are rather lonely. You see we have no female companionship.”
“Are none of the others girls?”
“Oh no; girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams.”
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
One of the reasons that the Campo Santo Quarterly Review is written by someone who doesn’t work for Campo Santo is that I can be free to criticise the company, or talk about the complaints that others have about them. As gigs go, it’s pretty straightforward, since literally the only complaints I’ve ever heard about Campo Santo have been these:
- “Firewatch looks amazing, why isn’t it out already?!”
- “Campo Santo should print more of Olly Moss’s Firewatch posters.”
- “I put my name in your draw for the chance to buy an Olly Moss Firewatch poster and was supposed to get an email telling me if my name wasn’t drawn, and instead you emailed me something called the Campo Santo Quarterly Review, which I certainly don’t want.”
I’m not kidding. That’s all anyone finds objectionable about Campo Santo: “I can’t purchase enough of your beautiful products.” Not a lot there for a critic to get his teeth into, which Campo Santo knows full well. “Your Ombudsmanship is a farce,” Sean Vanaman told me last year, his legs crossed and arms flung over the back of a sagging couch in his office. Nobody wants to hear that.
That was the situation, anyway, until last November. That was when these questions started to be asked, loudly, en masse, and with grand indignance: who does Campo Santo’s environment artist Jane Ng think she is, is she doing something illegal, and should she be fired?
If you’ve paid attention to the video game industry at all over the past nine months, you can probably guess the source of those concerns: an agitated, self-styled “consumer revolt” called GamerGate.
Arriving at a consensus explanation of “GamerGate” is a challenge, as the members of that “movement” reject definition for the reason that any honest summary of what GamerGate gets up to must be incredibly unflattering. The campaign eventually named and hashtagged #GamerGate began last August with a blog post/psychotic diatribe inveighed against the independent game developer Zoe Quinn by an ex-boyfriend. The post alleged infidelities on Quinn’s part with various figures in the specialist game press and wider industry in exchange for positive coverage and promotion of her free game Depression Quest. That such claims were verifiably false did not deter members of 4chan and Reddit from targeting Quinn for extensive harassment. Trading flattering press for sex would be a clear breach of journalistic ethics, so it’s suspicious that GamerGate’s attentions were overwhelmingly directed at Quinn over any of the male journalists named in the conspiracy. Which rather gives away the game that at its core, the “movement” is not about ethics in game journalism as claimed, but a campaign of retaliation instigated by men against a woman for the crime of betraying one of their own.
Beyond Quinn, GamerGate claims to stand for general objectivity and ethics in reviews and coverage of video games, which sort of sounds fine, but what it means in practise is that if a critic finds things about games or the industry to be sexist or racist, they should shut up about it. The stigma that GamerGate was anti-women stuck pretty easily, and GamerGate answered those charges by encouraging its adherents to make outspoken Twitter accounts for pro-GamerGate women and people of colour, and designing a sassy girl gamer mascot to be the face of GamerGate—a mascot later, inevitably, sexualised and drawn in porn by GamerGate’s members.
Jane Ng first spoke up about GamerGate on Twitter, after seeing students of game development with industry aspirations tout their affiliations with the hashtag as a banner of the persecuted majority rising up against the politically correct ruling class that wants games to be all about Gender and not Fun. “The way the pro-GG students talked about their position was so assholey that I thought Jesus, even if they have an actual point, the way they were trying to express it alone would make one not want to hire you,” Ng remembers thinking. “It seemed obvious that being an asshole about anything is not gonna be a very desirable trait especially if one is so publicly indignant about it.”
In November, Ng tweeted, from her personal account: “Sad to see some pro-GG students think not hiring them equals discrimination. Sorry but being an obstinate asshole isn’t a protected class.” The possible insinuation being that at Campo Santo, GamerGaters need not apply.
When women in the wider video game industry have been threatened with everything from professional boycotts to school shootings in the name of GamerGate, that sentiment coming from a woman is hardly something you’d expect them to be cool with. (“I know that’s sort of tired to point out at this stage,” says Sean Vanaman, “but it is actually infuriating.”)
To appreciate what Ng was up against, know that by the time of her tweet, GamerGate had mutated. It retained a sincere constituency at its core: sceptical about political correctness and feminist culture, and fighting to preserve video games as a safe space for white male fantasy. They, at least, were sincere, unlike the menagerie of allies anointed to serve as their champions, whose interest in the hashtag stopped and ended at selling a new audience snake oil corrective to leftist thought: men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, white supremacists, a disbarred lawyer who fought repeatedly to ban violent video games, and arch-conservative actor Adam Baldwin, who eventually shifted focus to asking what reason did Barack Obama have not to encourage the spread of Ebola in the United States?
Given the origin, the collective abuse lobbied at Ng over Twitter was about as weird as you’d expect. If we take it at face value, we are to understand that Ng is a Marxist, post-modernist, misandrist hipster McCarthyite communist racist blacklister who wants to make freedom of speech illegal and deny insurance coverage for prostate cancer. Many agreed she would have a hard time explaining herself when the matter went to trial.
I’d find these attacks on Jane to be funnier if her attackers weren’t sincere, and proven capable of inflecting serious distress. “I didn’t get any death or rape threats, amazingly, but just a lot of insults and general harassment,” she says. “It did kind of fuck me up a couple of days; one just isn’t ever ready to see [that] amount of hate and anger directed at you [especially] when you are doing some horrid shit they are imagining.”
The whole idea that Campo Santo has a GamerGate blacklist, then—that’s imaginary? I asked Ng and Vanaman to explain. “Let’s say [you] want to work here in the future, when, hopefully, we’re looking to add one or two people to the team in the coming years,” Vanaman says. “Let’s say you think the gaming press should do a better job in informing consumers about what’s going on in the industry and what’s in a particular game. Great. Articulate your opinions and be thoughtful. Let’s say you think the harassment, doxxing and hate brought onto others under the umbrella of GG is awful and don’t associate with that part of the hashtag. Let’s say you’re able to articulate that very clearly. The problem is, your stalwart association with a hashtag shows a glaring blind spot in your ability to understand and empathize with other people. It shows you don’t get that labelling your opinions with something so compromised makes you careless at best and an asshole at worst.”
Ng, adding to Vanaman’s comments, says: “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t have the empathy, emotional intelligence or common sense to get why that hashtag is hurtful to many people. It doesn’t matter if skill-wise that person is literally the best on earth.”
GamerGate seemed convinced this was illegal, so not being versed in employment law myself, I asked three HR and employment experts, and one senior corporate lawyer, if Campo Santo was in the clear. “Absolutely,” said the HR manager of an international hedge fund, who is a woman, and after learning the subject of this article, asked that her name not be published. “You need to feel like your employees represent you, that they’re not going to be a risk. In the financial services industry we do background checks, we certify that someone’s an honourable person.”
That may be the case in practise, but legislation regarding social media is underdeveloped. “It’s a grey area,” she says. "You wouldn’t say [to an applicant], ‘I’m not hiring you based on what you said on social media,’ you would find other reasons, like, ‘we found someone more qualified,’ or, ‘we don’t have the budget to fill this position right now.’ You can always come up with a [valid] reason not to hire someone.”
That’s not something you do just because you disagree with an applicant’s beliefs. “If you can find a real cultural reason not to hire someone, you can ground it in something else more quantitative,” said a specialist in recruitment training—once again, a woman who preferred to remain anonymous. “People don’t realize the impact of the whole individual on getting a job. If just how qualified you were was the most important thing, then it would be so easy to recruit—but recruitment policies can include psychometric tests, they can include sit-down interviews. And it’s about the whole team. If you can’t work with the people around you, you’re basically worthless.”
Everyone I spoke to confirmed that the law is pretty well on Campo Santo’s side, even if, as the experience proved, it’s not the safest sort of thing for a company to be saying out loud. And there’s another, much stronger, impression that I got about the nature of GamerGate’s grievance, which is this:
It’s so dumb, and the further outside the industry that you take it, the more apparent that is to anybody sensible. The only reason we take it seriously is that while the ideas are dumb, the threats are real and terrifying. Which basically is GamerGate in microcosm.
Ng, when I spoke to her, was actually positive about her experience. “Harassment had been happening to marginalized devs for a long time, so in a way, GG was not new. It just was never recognized widely as a problem, and thus the toxic elements of gamer entitlement were often dismissed as not really that bad, or that victims were just ‘too sensitive,’ etc, etc. I really believe that progress can only be made when the majority acknowledges/witnesses/experiences what the minority has suffered in the background. I think we are at that point in the industry.”
For her part, Ng considers it a responsibility to be more vocal, and has upped her presence online and at industry events. “I used to enjoy just being a dev, not a gendered dev. I was happy to be Jane, not Jane the non-white lady dev. It used to make me uncomfortable to think of myself as ‘different’ because I just like to be judged by my work. Now? I don’t shy from it as much. It doesn’t define me but it is important for other people, other non-white women in particular, who want to walk a similar path.”
Vanaman doesn’t fully share Ng’s optimism. “I think it’ll be hard to move beyond ‘the GG era’ without remembering a lot of the awful shit that has been done and levied at genuinely decent people. That’ll personally be tough for me.”
Which is sort of where the subjects of Ng’s original tweet find themselves. Afforded the most charitable interpretation possible, these are students with eyes on game development careers, who signed up to what they genuinely thought GamerGate stood for—freedom of expression, the right to enjoy video games unfettered by political correctness, whatever—while disavowing all of the bad shit, who got hustled by a bunch of men trying to punish a woman, and have yet to fully realise how much damage they’ve done not just to others, but themselves. But sympathy is hard to come by.