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“Social justice warriors in the gaming community have formed brigades to torment gaming studios into firing employees that they deem guilty of wrongthink,” a new video from YouTube channel Hype Break claims. “All it takes is one bad tweet, one errant comment, a dismissive gesture, or a harmless joke to offend them into starting a crusade to ruin the lives of everyone involved for hurting their feelings.”
Hype Break is talking about an ongoing controversy over a transphobic joke from GOG.com’s Twitter account. On Monday, the gaming distributor tweeted “Classic PC games #WontBeErased on our watch,” making fun of a trans rights hashtag that emerged in response to President Donald Trump’s plan to remove federal civil rights protections for transgender Americans. GOG faced immense backlash throughout the gaming community after using the hashtag, and the response only grew after the company issued a non-apology claiming the tweet “was neither intended as a malicious attack, nor as a comment to the ongoing social debate.”
As the gaming community largely condemned GOG’s tweet, another controversy was waiting in the wing. Gamergate subreddit r/KotakuInAction shared Hype Break’s video, and it reached r/videos just one day later. The piece argues that “the grievance cops” are “bringing their harassment to the next level” by “doxing and harassing the families” of GOG employees. It also goes on to claim that “a new round of abuse” emerged on popular gaming forum ResetEra, hinting at a much larger culture war over right-wing and left-wing activists in gaming.
It’s a sensationalized video with a troubling agenda, and it’s the latest topic of the day in an alarming trend.
Hype Break was co-created by popular right-wing figure Ian Miles Cheong, and its videos regularly discuss such controversies as politics (or lack thereof) in Ubisoft’s The Division 2 and YouTuber Boogie2988’s removal from a Dungeons & Dragons charity stream over LGBTQ activists’ concerns. Cheong himself refuses to identify as “alt-right,” a decentralized far-right movement littered with white supremacists, but the language and political beliefs in his videos largely reflect alt-right beliefs.
For one, Hype Break’s video implies that GOG’s critics are all “NPCs,” an alt-right meme dehumanizing the far-right’s opponents as if they are lifeless and mindless AIs. There are several other dog whistles the video relies on too. “Wrongthink” is commonly thrown around to portray queer and feminist spaces as cults where people who think the “wrong way” are punished. And then there’s “no bad tactics, only bad targets,” which is a catch-all phrase used by Gamergate supporters to portray online activists as deranged harassers mobbing “targets” with no concern for collateral damage.
Cheong’s video goes on to claim that “the mob” doxed a social media manager, inviting harassment to the employee and their family. A source close to the incident confirmed to the Daily Dot that a GOG employee’s family members were receiving ongoing harassing calls since the GOG controversy began. However, that source could not confirm that the employee’s home address and phone number were posted on ResetEra.
In fact, it seems unlikely that ResetEra users actually posted a GOG employee’s family address or phone number on the site at all. In ResetEra’s thread on the GOG controversy, only two users posted personal information on a GOG employee: user “KoolAid” and user “Vela.” Based on quote replies referencing the removed posts, it appears both users posted a tweet from Twitter user bootsy, who uncovered GOG community manager and social media specialist Sean Halliday’s LinkedIn resume and his past writing on Anita Sarkeesian.
While this information outed Halliday as a GOG employee, bootsy’s tweet does not include any information on his “private phone number,” “email address,” and “family whereabouts,” which Hype Break claims were posted on ResetEra by admin Hecht_Era_. In fact, Hecht does not appear at all throughout the ResetEra thread on GOG, nor does the thread contain any immediate identifying information beyond Halliday’s name, position, career history, and hometown.
hmm— bootsy (@NO_BOOT_DEVICE) October 23, 2018
looks like the social media manager for GOG has some history, huh? pic.twitter.com/Mv3X8r7hMf
While speaking to the Daily Dot, bootsy said that she stumbled across Halliday’s LinkedIn by searching for the phrase “gogcom social media manager” on Google. She subsequently uncovered a past article he wrote criticizing Anita Sarkeesian and a link to his site from a popular GamerGate Twitter account, which were all publicly available. She denies having any connection to ResetEra or the ResetEra admin.
Bootsy also refuted Cheong’s claims that personal identifying information like phone numbers or home addresses were ever shared on ResetEra.
“The maximum amount of personal information posted on this person that I’ve seen is: 1. his name, 2. the fact that he works [at GOG], 3. any of the other stuff in the thread, if that even counts as personal?” bootsy told the Daily Dot. “The issue is, this person had put into their bio that they were GOG social media. They weren’t trying to hide, it wasn’t private info. The idea that this constitutes doxing is questionable at best.”
Hype Break acts as if all ResetEra users are bloodthirsty harassers waiting to strike against an innocent GOG employee. In reality, posters largely avoided interacting with the personal information shared by KoolAid and Vela, and mod BronsonLee actively policed the thread.
In other words, while there’s a grain of truth to Hype Break’s video—a GOG employee’s family supposedly faced harassment amid the controversy—Hype Break dresses up this statement with unsubstantiated claims in order to convince gullible users that a “social justice mob” is on the hunt for fresh meat. In reality, it’s entirely unclear if anyone posted a GOG employee’s personal information online. It’s just as likely that a small group of trolls reverse engineered an employee’s personal info and engaged in harassment.
There’s a trend here. Far-right figures like Cheong regularly turn to YouTube to create misleading and manipulative videos filled with dog whistles intended to rile up a far-right crowd. Cheong isn’t alone there, and the idea itself began in gaming.
After Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series began in 2013, critics quickly turned to YouTube to criticize Sarkeesian in droves with angry response videos railing against her third-wave feminist beliefs. A wave of up-and-coming right-leaning YouTubers latched onto the format, but it didn’t really stick until the gaming world’s biggest online controversy arrived one year later: Gamergate.
In 2014, popular right-wing YouTuber Mister Metokur (then known as Internet Aristocrat) published a video series on Gamergate’s initial spark, the so-called “Quinnspiracy.” The controversy began with “the Zoë Post,” a blog entry made by Boston programmer Eron Gjoni that accuses game developer Zoë Quinn of, among other things, repeatedly cheating on him with men in the games industry. Internet Aristocrat’s videos sensationalized Gjoni’s story and the series exploded. Soon enough, actor Adam Baldwin’s stumbled across the video and gave birth to the now-infamous hashtag “#GamerGate.”
Gamergate turned into a breeding ground for right-leaning YouTubers. Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin, one of Gamergate’s most popular advocates, published videos defending Gamergate and claiming the games industry is creating “propaganda” against the hashtag. Sargon quickly jettisoned further and further into the right, and he’s since moved on to videos arguing talking points like “[Brett] Kavanaugh did nothing wrong.” Another popular Gamergate video essayist, PSA Sitch, began by “explaining” Gamergate and has since moved on to claiming trans people are “mentally ill” and “playing pretend.”
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While the personalities around these videos vary, the format remains the same: cherry-pick the truth, call your enemies manipulative ideologues hell-bent on ruining the world, and create an us-vs-them mentality that convinces viewers to keep watching for the next “happening.” This week it’s gaming, next it’s Brexit and Steve Bannon.
See, these videos aren’t just about video game forums. They’re created to rile up a right-wing base and hook in unsuspecting visitors who receive a recommendation or two from YouTube’s sidebar. It’s all entertainment, and the more clicks on your video, the more money you can squeeze out of your growing subscriber count.
In Hype Break’s case, the truth is more complicated than a “social justice mob” banding together and swarming GOG employees. But don’t expect Cheong or any other right-wing figure to tell you that. After all, the truth isn’t entertaining, and it rarely works in their favor.
Update 11am CT, Oct. 26: When reached for comment, Cheong tweeted “I don’t talk to fake news outlets.”
Correction: Bootsy independently came across Halliday’s LinkedIn and past writing via a Google search.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.