I watched the whole GamerGate debacle unfold, but I kept silent until Felicia Day’s moving piece on how it’s affected her. Because when Felicia Day talks about gaming, you shut up and you listen.
Or, alternately, as has been reported elsewhere, you doxx the shit out of her in an attempt to silence her.
The latter option is pretty much what we all expected of gamergaters. GamerGate is, at this point, a terrorist movement, using fear and threats to achieve their ends (however ill-defined and misleading their stated ends are). I’d like to take this opportunity to again remind people that, on the one side, we have a bunch of mostly white men who feel that their preeminence in an art form is being threatened. On the other, we have people receiving death threats, rape threats, driven from their homes, harassed online and off, and threatened with a mass shooting if they appeared in public. At the very least, the disparity should tip us off.
Then I read Arthur Chu’s Salon.com article, “I’m Not That Creepy Guy From The Internet.”
Arthur Chu never excuses, justifies, or makes apologies for the misogyny and terror undertaken in the name of “ethics in gaming journalism.” But he does something none of you have done, and neither did I – he empathized. The last person I saw do that with GamerGate was Felicia Day.
Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.
As I went through Chu’s psychological analysis of the inside of GamerGate, it brought up feelings I’d either buried or rechanneled into other, more acceptable forms. I recognized the frustration, the distrust, the sense of failure at basic life skills, the escape into art (in my case, literature as well as video games). I saw the defensive misogyny, the depression, and the alienation.
And it reminded me of something. Of someone.
It reminded me of Harold Lauder.
Harold Lauder was a character in Stephen King’s The Stand. People hate Harold. He’s an outcast in his small Maine town when the book begins and the superflu hits, a greasy, acne-ridden, overweight slob. Arthur Chu writes: “People felt uncomfortable around me, disliked me instinctively.” King writes about Fran, the best friend of Harold’s older sister: “[she reacted to him] as if she sensed by low-grade telepathy that almost every thought Harold had was coated lightly with slime.” Harold is a loner.
He compensates for this by affecting a kind of jaded cynicism – he’s the sort of guy who sighs with ennui when someone else fails, as if he’d always known they would. He treated the death of his own parents in the most horrific plague to attack the human race with a cynical, casual air. He talks over the heads of his interlocutors when he feels threatened, and cultivates a self-image of an “unrecognized genius” and tortured poet.
Harold has his good points – he’s intelligent, hard-working and resourceful. Harold Lauder solves problems, and solves them well. But he can’t seem to get a grasp on how to cope with people, least of all Fran. He develops a nasty case of Nice Guy syndrome towards her, and when she falls in love with (spoiler alert for a thirty-four year old book) Stuart Redman, he sees in Redman every jock that shoved him in a locker and in Fran every good-looking girl that ever turned him down.
For context, the superflu has eliminated 99.4% of humanity. Everyone Harold has ever known is dead, except for Fran. He’s an adult in a strange new world, and one valued for his intellectual strength and problem-solving, and feared for his mental instability. If ever anyone had the opportunity to leave high school behind, it was Harold Lauder.
He keeps a Ledger, because he has “debts to settle.” He tosses around words like “bullying” and “clique.” When he reaches Boulder and joins the Burial Committee and does his fair share of the hard, horrific work of burying the plague victims, his workmates nickname him Hawk. His first thought is that they’re mocking him, like popular kids in the cafeteria.
Of all of King’s characters, I’m most scared of Jack Torrence (The Shining) and Harold Lauder. Because I recognize both of them, in embryonic form, in myself.
Geek culture, I’m Roscoe Mathieu and I’m here to tell ya: We are Harold Lauder.
We are Harold Lauder’s inability to let anything go. We are Harold Lauder’s intellectual snobbery. We are Harold Lauder’s superficial charm. We are Harold Lauder’s imagination and resourcefulness. We are Harold Lauder’s misogyny and objectification of women. We are Harold Lauder’s affectation and his studied, superficial charm. We are Harold Lauder’s depression, anger, and immaturity.
We are Harold Lauder. He lurks inside geek culture, the seamy underbelly from which 4chan can recruit gamergaters by the score. What Paul Atreides said, Harold might say to us: “Try looking in that place you dare not look! You’ll find me there, staring out at you!”
In The Stand, Harold’s romantic frustrations, pettiness, and resourcefulness lead him to construct a shoebox bomb in his basement. GamerGate is expressing their romantic frustrations, pettiness, and resourcefulness in the forms of threats and harassment, because unlike the Boulder Free Zone, modern America has actual police if you start assembling fuel oil and fertilizer in your basement. Both response are violence – Harold’s is physical, GamerGate’s is institutional and social. Both responses miss their real targets – Harold kills neither Fran nor Stu, and no matter how many people you threaten to shoot if Anita Sarkeesian comes to your school, it won’t make the girl in Biology ask you out.
Arthur Chu recognizes where gamergaters are coming from. He recognizes Harold Lauder. And he helped me recognize him, too.
GamerGate is the expression of dark impulses that are always lurking in geek culture. The common experience of alienation from our peers in school, and the wonderful rush of a treasured hobby (Star Trek or cosplay or video games), and the subsequent acceptance by a group of like-minded fellow fans – the geek experience, if you will – can easily turn sour. We can become hard in our alienation, elitist in our acceptance, and hidebound in our hobbies. We can intellectualize and rationalize our petty grudges, rather than dealing with them. And we can become violent, in cold and clever ways, against the people we feel rejected us. Failing that, against people who resemble them.
We may be smart, but we’re still human.
I mentioned when Harold’s work crew nicknamed him Hawk. He realizes that they mean it sincerely – he’s impressed them with his work ethic and his stern stomach. He’s being accepted at last, on his own best merits. But, by that point, he is too involved in his revenge and too much under the influence of the dark man. He plows ahead on his quest to kill their leaders and betray their secrets to someone who wants nothing more than to annihilate them all.
Harold Lauder will always be with us, staring out at every geek from the dark place where we fear to look. The threat of GamerGate, or something like it, of geek culture lashing out violently against imaginary foes (especially if they’re women), will always be there. Don’t forget, GamerGate got started when one asshole lied about what a whore his ex was.
Arthur Chu asks us to take risks, to break the cycle of alienation and suspicion and reach out to others. “The people who try to break the cycle, who open the door to trust, who invite weird, creepy, lonely guys to come out to dinner just because they’re fans … they’re rare. They pay a heavy cost for taking that risk, sometimes. To some of us, they’re heroes.”
Be those people.
If we have enough of those people, we may see a lot less Harold…and a lot more Hawk.