Sparks fly when Chris Kluwe meets Gamergate on Reddit

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The former NFL-punter met Gamergate on its own turf.

Earlier this week, former NFL punter Chris Kluwe scored his biggest goal yet when he used his lifelong hardcore gamer status to unleash the ultimate profanity-filled, insult-laden smackdown against the proponents of Gamergate. But he followed it up with the perfect field goal—the AMA he did Thursday on a noted Gamergate hangout on Reddit.

In the Medium post, modestly titled “Why #Gamergaters Piss Me The F*** Off,” Kluwe referred to Gamergate proponents as “paint-huffing shitgoblins” and “slopebrowed weaseldicks with zero reading comprehension skills and even less critical thinking skills” who “generally proved why the Internet needs to be burned to the ground and the ashes salted.” His manifesto came a week after gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian was threatened with a mass school shooting in Utah, an event which precipitated the #StopGamergate2014 hashtag. In the wake of the widespread public outrage on behalf of Sarkeesian and against Gamergate, Sam Biddle of Valleywag tweeted an ironicbring back bullying” in regard to silencing the proponents of Gamergate once and for all. 

Kluwe’s rant seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek attempt to do just that. It was an instant hit, and seemed to signal, finally, Gamergate’s effective demise after three long months of harassment of women online and off.

But then something unexpected happened: By way of protesting Biddle’s tweets, Gamergate proponents convinced Adobe to pull advertising from Gawker, a repeat of a similar strategy they pulled with Intel and Gamasutra earlier in the month. Wednesday, Gawker Media, facing a loss of ad revenue, issued a rare apology to the Gamergate community for Biddle’s tweet. Leaked internal emails from the company also showed Gawker founder Nick Denton encouraging staff to dial back the Gamergate criticism on their own social media accounts.

Gawker editor Max Read promptly responded to the apology with a caustic criticism of his own company, stating that “[Biddle], and later I, made the tactical mistake of publicly treating Gamergate with the contempt and flippancy that it deserves.” But with Adobe standing beside its decision not to renew advertising on Gawker, Gamergate proponents celebrated: They were back in business and winning the culture war once more.

Yet if prominent journalists aren’t at liberty to treat Gamergate with the “contempt and flippancy that it deserves,” Kluwe is a free agent with no such corporate muzzle. Kluwe has a strong track record of speaking out on issues of social justice, possibly even to the detriment of his NFL career, which ended in 2012 after he openly supported gay rights. On Twitter, he was equally outspoken about Adobe’s handling of the Gawker debacle:

Whatever Gamergate proponents might think about his exploits, Kluwe, a lifelong gamer whose Twitter handle is chriswarcraft, knows exactly how to get to them. So that’s exactly what he did. On Thursday he decided to host his own AMA on one of Reddit’s prime locations for Gamergate discussion, r/KotakuinAction.

Kotaku is Gawker Media’s gaming and geek culture outlet, and like other parts of the media conglomerate, it’s unapologetically liberal.  The KotakuinAction subreddit exists, like its fandom counterpart TumblrinAction, to allow conservative anti-“social justice” redditors to mock what they see as the excesses of the site’s progressive politics. Since August, when false allegations against a female game developer expanded into a full-fledged movement to harass other women in gaming and their supporters, KotakuinAction has been a prime hangout for Gamergate proponents. 

But could Kluwe actually create a dialogue if he participated there?

From the outside, the experiment appears to be a shit show, with the entire post receiving so many downvotes it has a score of “0,” and almost all of Kluwe’s replies in threads meeting similar fates. But even though many of the commenters eyerolled, many seemed to be at least nominally engaging in good faith. Take this exchange between Kluwe and redditor Phokus:

Phokus:

Thanks Chris, i’m actually a fan of your work for gay rights even though i don’t see eye to eye with you on Gamergate.

Do you acknowledge that there has been harassment and doxxing on both sides and that Gamergate supporters have been fighting against doxxing/harassment against anita/zoe/brianna and reporting it?

Kluwe:

Right, but this whole thing started with Gamergate. That’s the problem. When you get sucked in by a chan op to act as their shield, I don’t have much sympathy. If you’re going to support a cause, make sure you get ALL the facts.

Kluwe seemed to be referring to screengrabs compiled by Zoe Quinn that showed members of 4chan, now exiled to the more Gamergate-friendly 8chan, colluding in various ways to expand Gamergate into a wider movement in order to drive Quinn and other so-called “Social Justice Warriors” out of the gaming community. But since he seemed to be handwaving a long list of alleged doxing victims, he got downvoted.

Another exchange addressed the much-vaunted, and much-debunked, claim that Gamergate isn’t really about systematic attacks on women in gaming like Quinn, Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu, but about “ethics in journalism.” 

fearghul:

So, journalism graduate here. I’d like to ask your opinion on a matter of journalistic ethics.

What do you think about a journalist writing a story about a close friend or associate?

Kluwe:

I think, if you’re that concerned, FOX News, MSNBC, and some major newspapers might be your first targets.

Here again, since Kluwe didn’t actually address the core issue—which as a follow-up commenter in the thread pointed out is that gaming sites, unlike Fox or MSNBC, are small enough to change—his response was downvoted.

Kluwe had a bit more success on more contentious threads, like this one inquiring what he thought about women who participate in Gamergate. Kluwe’s response:

I think that they’re overlooking the misogynistic core of the movement, and it’s troubling. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen women wearing Ray Rice jerseys, so it’s not unexpected. If women in Gamergate are truly serious about changing video game ethics (or whatever the goal is this week), find a new hashtag.

When asked to explain what he meant by “the misogynistic core of the movement,” he replied, “Look, if everyone around you is saying that you walk like a duck, quack like a duck, and flap your wings like a duck, at some basic level, do you not start to wonder if maybe, just maybe, you are indeed, a duck?”

When followed-up with the question of how gamers could keep “legitimate trolls and fringe misogynists” from latching on to that proposed new hashtag, he responded, “Establish a clearly defined way to hold people accountable.” Later, he elaborated, “Band together, create a movement with clear goals, a roadmap to get there, and a way to hold leaders and members accountable (RL meetups to protest, etc.). Otherwise, it’s just a mob.”

But plenty of people on the AMA thought Kluwe was the one bringing the “mob” to their door. The aptly named commenter Anti_People protested, “AMA is a waste of time from this guy. Brings his entourage in, shits up the thread with half answers and snark.” And indeed, on the neighboring subreddit r/GamerGhazi, whose denizens are staunchly pro-progress in gaming and anti-Gamergate, Kluwe stopped by to note that he was utterly unsurprised at the lack of welcome he was receiving on KotakuInAction. He picked up plenty of accolades from gamers supporting his efforts, and noted, “They don’t seem to realize that I’m a bigger troll than they are, and I’ve been doing it for far longer.”

Still, in the middle of all the talking at cross purposes, one constructive moment came from Kluwe’s AMA. He posed a list of questions to the KotakuinAction partipants, inviting them to explain what their goals were and elaborate about how they thought they could be achieved. The responses he got are worth reading, especially if you want to understand the arguments for those who claim Gamergate is about media reform. Sylphied answered:

My end-game is for the games press to come together and unanimously put forth and enforce a code of journalistic behaviour that is consistent with the concept of impartiality, transparency and accountability. To be (perhaps inappropriately) blunt, I want to know that the game review I’m reading wasn’t paid for by a developer or publisher, wasn’t written because the developer and writer are shacking up together, and isn’t misrepresenting the game based on the reviewer’s personal agenda. I plan to get there by persisting with the tools available to me as a consumer, that of a consumer revolt. Once trust is restored between writer and reader, I’ll be willing to put it on good faith that if any breaches of this policy arise, they’ll be exposed and dealt with.

But another answer from feroslav makes it clear that regardless of what lofty ideals the “movement” has, it comes down to a political agenda for many people. As part of a much longer response, the user noted: 

No SJW review scores. SJW ideology and SJW themselves will be subjects of criticism as anything else, not the sacred untouchable thing like it is now.

The “SJWs” here are, again, progressives, particularly feminists, being derisively labeled by gamers as “Social Justice Warriors.” Much as gamers reacted negatively when Polygon reviewed a game unfavorably because of its rampant sexual objectification of women, the idea here is that any intrusion of progressive values or priorities into hardcore gaming has to go. 

As Kluwe points out in his original Medium post, that’s not likely. Gaming culture is diversifying and expanding, whether hardcore gamers like it or not. But you don’t get to be a hardcore gamer by quitting halfway, and the proponents of Gamergate show no sign of stopping any time soon. Chris Kluwe’s AMA ultimately probably didn’t change many hearts or minds, which is bad news for anyone tired of the harassment and vitriol that accompanies it.

Still, nobody can fault him for trying.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.