Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 27, 2015
Rashomon and Gamergate

So the TV series Law & Order SVU did an episode based loosely on last year's Gamergate affair. That of course caused the conflict to flare up again, until even the grandfather of MMO blogging Lum the Mad chimed in. But what I found far more interesting is that both sides in the Gamergate conflict are unhappy about the Law & Order SVU episode, both not liking the way they are depicted on TV. So lots of people are saying bad things about that episode, about it being stupid, not realistic, bad writing, whatever. I think they are missing the point here.

I very much recommend watching the film Rashomon if you haven't done so before. It teaches us that there is no such thing as absolute reality. Different people experience the same events in different ways, and in consequence their memory and perception of these same events differ. Even if you wanted to make a documentary instead of a TV show, you would be unable to retell the story of Gamergate in a way where everybody agrees with the facts. You could even say that not agreeing on the facts is one of the core features of Gamergate.

The people actually involved on both sides of the Gamergate story are few in numbers. Even if you count everybody ever using that hashtag or a related one on Twitter, you end up with just a few thousand people. But the story hit many major newspapers and national TV. Which means that millions of people who were not involved in Gamergate ended up with some perception of those events. The TV episode of Law & Order SVU is based on that *perception* the outside world already had before the episode was shown. Of course then it propagates that perception, but it barely changes it. If both sides on the conflict look bad on TV, it is because that is how both sides already were perceived before.

TV is not the most subtle of media. But that is because it is a mass market media, and the perception of the public of events tends to be not very subtle. There is no simple causality of "TV is stupid and makes people stupid", but a far more complicated story of sometimes very intelligent people deliberately dumbing down the narrative because they think that is all their audience can handle. Is the Law & Order SVU episode a simplified narrative with some artistic interpretation instead of a documentary? It sure is! Is it "stupid" or "unrealistic"? No, not really. Given the same public sources a different team of writers for a different TV show might well have produced something very similar. In Rashomon terms it is the woodcutter's version of the story, the one where neither one of the participants comes out looking very good, the version of the story from the person who doesn't have skin in the game, the independent observer. It is likely to be the version that will be shared by most people, and the one that is going to be remembered.

The TV & Film industry has more skin in the game than both sides of the Gamergate divide summed together. They're about as independent as a Roger Goodell investigation. The Games industry is a threat to the TV & Film industry; therefore, the latter exploited the easy opportunity to shit on the former from a great height.

Gamergate is simply a power struggle between the reader/consumer and writer/media on who decides the narrative. When a media stops representing the consumer, starts representing special interests and their narrative, and the consumer becomes aware of it, the consumer will revolt. It's not complicated: this dynamic is as common in human history as corrupt politicians in elected political systems.
If the 'perception' is Grand Guignol, whereas in reality there seems to be no credible evidence of any physical violence at all, doesn't the media have some questions to answer?
doesn't the media have some questions to answer?

There seems to be no credible evidence of a global nuclear war. But it is a scenario used frequently as a starting point for all sorts of films and games, e.g. Fallout. Would you want to forbid that?

A threat of violence (of which there are numerous instances of proven evidence) opens up the possibility space of actual physical violence and makes a scenario including that viable. Aren't you confusing TV shows, which show a fictitious story for entertainment purposes, with news channels, who should stick to reality (but not always do)?
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