By now, you’ve read countless presidential election post-mortems that have struggled to rationalize how Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton when it was “her turn” to be president. Many of them predictably avoid placing any blame on the candidate herself (first female president!) and instead blame James Comey, or Russia, or Jill Stein. In reality, the president-elect trumped Hillary because of Gamergate and the vast internet army that the movement created.
— Hom-Ru-Beoulve (@rugliabeoulve2) November 14, 2016
That’s right: Trump was literally memed into the White House. Trump and his supporters dominated social media from day one, pumping out weaponized memes at a rate that Hillary’s campaign never could have anticipated. When the email scandal broke, the internet detectives who were just rookies at the peak of Gamergate used their experience to sniff out each and every damaging WikiLeaks revelation. Hillary supporters blame a “silent majority” of backwoods hillbillies for Trump’s victory, but they could have realized the tide was turning if only they looked online.
To understand how Gamergate inadvertently led to a Trump landslide requires a bit of backstory.
The Gamergate movement was born in 2014 when game developer Zoe Quinn released a game called “Depression Quest” to rave reviews from numerous gaming journalists. Quinn received criticism for allegedly getting too much attention from the press for a somewhat mediocre interactive fiction game. A year later, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, wrote the so-called “Zoe Post,” where he exposed a cozy relationship between Quinn and Nathan Grayson, a Kotaku journalist who was said to have helped Quinn secure positive reviews from his friends in the industry.
The Zoe Post kicked off a firestorm of controversy on sites like Reddit and 4chan, and Gamergate became such a heated topic of debate that it was entirely banned from the latter. Gamergate supporters migrated to 8chan to continue their quest against media bias and PC culture, which they claimed had infected almost every corner of gaming journalism.
Media outlets like Kotaku, Gamasutra, Polygon, and IGN found themselves in the Gamergate crosshairs for giving positive coverage to game companies and developers without properly disclosing relationships, both business-related and personal, between journalists and their subjects. They were also lambasted for publishing stories that painted so-called “gamers” as largely misogynistic, racist, and homophobic, often citing isolated incidents in an alarmist manner to dismiss the entire demographic as bigoted.
Gamergate led to the creation of a website called DeepFreeze that calls on users to “learn about corruption in game journalism, and form your own opinion on which journalists and outlets deserve your trust.” There, hundreds of examples of corruption in the games industry have been compiled and documented, leading to dozens of boycotts of compromised media outlets.
How big is the Gamergate movement? We can look at communities like the KotakuInAction subreddit, the de facto headquarters for the Gamergate movement on Reddit, to extrapolate the number. KotakuInAction has roughly 72,000 subscribers, while Reddit as a whole has over 234 million unique registered users. Since Reddit has about 1.14 billion monthly visitors, that means there are 4.8 visitors for every registered user, so KotakuInAction probably has something to the tune of 350,000 regular visitors.
8chan, another Gamergate bastion that is still in operation, has 2.99 million unique visitors per month. Together with KotakuInAction and other smaller Gamergate communities, we can assume that there is a silent majority of gamers out there who do not subscribe to the current state of the games industry. Silent majority – where have we heard that phrase before?
While Gamergate was ostensibly a movement about corruption in the gaming industry, it unassumingly morphed into something much more powerful. Pro-Gamergate people began to connect the dots: if unethical behavior could run so rampant in games journalism without anyone calling it out or realizing that what they were doing is wrong, doesn’t that mean that the same could be true about “normal” journalism? Gamergate, for many, was the moment that they took the red pill and woke up to the realization that they were being sold a fantasy vision of the world via the mainstream media.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 14, 2014
Gamergate is where people first discovered how the media treats those who disagree with its particular brand of scaremongering and gas lighting. Its followers were painted as women-hating, uneducated Neanderthals who are so backward that they could never understand the wisdom of the always-politically-correct, ever-so-inclusive, on-the-right-side-of-history camp.
You take issue with a game developer receiving preferential treatment from the press because she’s sleeping with a reporter? You’re a misogynistic, knuckle-dragging piece of trash, and also a violent rapist who sends death threats to women as a hobby. You don’t think that a game developer should be vilified for creating a white male protagonist instead of a nonbinary disabled plus-sized otherkin person of color? You’re a homophobic, ableist, racist, xenophobic, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, transphobic pig who deserves to get run over by a truck.
Words ending in “-ist” and “-phobe” were weaponized by anti-Gamergate media outlets and their supporters as a way to shut down anybody who threatened to disturb their ecosystem of corruption, or anybody who dared to question their singular vision of how society should think and act. It’s this outrageous treatment that was more likely to push gamers toward a pro-Gamergate philosophy, as many slowly realized that there was no way that the average gamer was actually as evil as they were made out to be.
Without knowing that they would eventually cause one of the biggest political upsets in history, the gamers fought back. They turned memes, which sprang into existence as a funny way to make jokes on the internet, into ammunition. When their opponents tried to derail their movement by overblowing supposed instances of sexism, violence, or what have you, the gamers responded with a flurry of memes, successfully exposing the anti-Gamergate crowd in a lighthearted, relatable way. Average Joes who were turned off by the sanctimonious, condescending, and latently hateful anti-Gamergate people could find solace in funny memes.
While the tensions sparked by Gamergate would eventually fade, the infrastructure that its followers created to challenge a media controlled by biased social justice warriors remained in place. When the election cycle reared its ugly head, those who had valiantly fought on behalf of the Gamergate movement felt a familiar calling.
Mark Kern, a pro-Gamergate game designer for Blizzard who helped to create the legendary World of Warcraft, embodies this shift from gaming to politics. He predicted a Trump victory months in advance of the election after witnessing the way that the media was treating him.
“Gamergate laid the groundwork for resisting false SJW mob rule,” he tweeted in January. “They showed you can fight back against the lies and hate. It’s working.” In February: “Trump really reminds me of how EVERYTHING, no matter how small, was the END OF GAMERGATE.”
In September: “Press now making up all sorts of stuff to ‘prove’ Hillary was right to call Trump supporters deplorable racists.” Also in September: “Fascinating to see the parallels of false narrative and audience/voter smearing between GG and elections.”
Before, the corrupt media had a distinct demographic that it had to quell in order to preserve its status quo. Gamers were an easy target, as anti-Gamergate forces were working against a subset of society that already had plenty of negative connotations surrounding it.
This time, however, the leftist media found itself with a most unenviable task. They had to sell Hillary Clinton – a candidate who had to rig the primary to win against Bernie Sanders because absolutely no one could muster any excitement for her – to an uninterested electorate. They had to weasel out of covering the litany of scandals surrounding the Clinton Foundation, her private email server, and the downright creepy members of her inner circle (Spirit Cooking, anyone?).
So the media grabbed its playbook and turned to a very familiar page, the same one that it consulted during the Gamergate controversy. Trump was slapped with every “-ist” and “-phobe” word in the book, just like the gamers were. He was dismissed as a blithering idiot who was too unenlightened to coexist with the Safe Space generation, just like the gamers were. His supporters were painted as utterly backwards individuals who only backed him because they hated literally every minority ever, just like the pro-Gamergate crowd was.
The internet denizens who saw Gamergate unfold knew exactly what was happening, so they unleashed the memes.
Like clockwork, the prominent figures who backed Gamergate also began jumping onto the God-Emperor bandwagon.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart journalist whose very existence as an openly gay Trump supporter continues to cause cognitive dissonance in SJWs everywhere, was also the first person to break the news about the gaming journalist elites’ secret mailing list. While he was virtually unknown back in those days, Milo has now become one of the movement’s key figures. His rise to fame has been met with a predictable character assassination on the part of the mainstream media, but Milo doesn’t seem to mind, especially now that people are genuinely pushing for him to become the White House press secretary.
— EVE (@EveilCharm) November 13, 2016
Gamergate may have also led to Trump picking Steve Bannon to serve as the White House chief strategist. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which was the only prominent media outlet to cover Gamergate as it unfolded. Sure enough, the media has been quick to scaremonger about the decision, depicting Bannon as an anti-Semitic white nationalist. The New York Times even called him a “voice of racism,” which should sound like a familiar aspersion.
GamerGate in the White House. Is that what you want? https://t.co/eGHKcxnTsP
— Robert Caruso (@robertcaruso) September 1, 2016
There’s also Vox Day, the author and Rabid Puppies founder who penned the book SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police as a “guide to understanding, anticipating, and surviving SJW attacks.” He was among the first wave of a Gamergate supporters, hosting the GGinParis meetup in July 2015 along with Milo and Mike Cernovich, yet another Gamergate figure who emerged as one of the most famous pro-Trump memeologists.
It was Cernovich who popularized the hashtag #HillarysHealth, with Cernovich suggesting that she had “both a seizure disorder and Parkinson’s disease.” Just like that, rumors of Hillary’s lack of fortitude began to swirl around the internet, and the hashtag reached national trending status. In a interview with the New Yorker (in which the author can barely contain his smarmy, passive-aggressive attitude and laughably refers to the alt-right as “a loose online affiliation of white nationalists, neo-monarchists, masculinists, conspiracists, belligerent nihilists, and social-media trolls”) Cernovich outlined how meme magic is made.
“Here’s what we’re gonna do tomorrow,” he said. “We have to think of a good hashtag, and we have to have all of our memes lined up… We can control the narrative on Twitter. Mainstream media we’ve lost.”
“The left likes to talk about power structures, right?” Cernovich added. “Well, the media still thinks of itself as speaking truth to power. What they don’t realize is that someone like me is perceived as the new Fourth Estate. Maybe they should check their structural privilege… It makes journalists crazy, because they used to be in control. They can’t control people anymore. Everyone has a voice now.”
Cernovich, along with other pro-Gamergate and pro-Trump luminaries, envisions a flow of information that is not subject to corruptible mainstream media gatekeepers; networks like CNN, which brazenly colluded with the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, seem eager to control what their viewers think.
Moments like these are what brought the Gamergate crowd over to Trump’s side en masse. Tired of being told what to think by the thought police and irritated by getting slandered as a bigot for daring to dissent from Team Hillary, gamers saw a vote for Trump as the same sort of rebuke of corruption that the Gamergate movement represented.
A few stragglers on the left have pieced it all together, realizing that the gamers had a more profound effect on the election than anyone could have ever predicted.
Breitbart played a key role in Gamergate. Congratulations, America, you put Gamergate in the fucking White House.
— sarah jeong (@sarahjeong) November 14, 2016
What they have failed to understand is that their conclusion is upside down. America did not put Gamergate in the White House; Gamergate put Trump in the White House. Without many of them even realizing it themselves, gamers were the force that took God-Emperor Trump from the world of memes and made it into a reality. While the Clinton campaign was accepting foreign donations and channeling the occult to secure a victory, Trump promised the gamers that he would drain the swamp and they made meme magic happen for free.
Just like the rest of this election cycle, the fact that gamers chose the president proves that truth is stranger than fiction. The mainstream media tried to insult and shame voters into backing Hillary but got outed as corrupt in the process, activating the internet legion that had been burned by corruption once before.
The election was basically a “Choose your Character” screen, and gamers were holding the controller.