The so-called culture wars began in the US in 1990, when left/right fissures that first appeared during the 1960s grew even wider, and opponents clashed passionately over hot-button issues like feminism, abortion, gay rights and pornography.
Thanks to their near monopoly on media and education -- and their strategy of fighting using vocal, unified "group identity" battalions armed with the cudgel of "political correctness" -- progressives tended to win these battles, imposing their views and vocabulary on the rest of society.
For the less informed among us, our first visceral experience with this long march of leftist cultural authoritarianism began with the assault on video games -- depicted by many gamers as the last bastion of freedom -- by gender feminists, social justice warriors, and the other shock troops of identity politics.
This supposed "battle of the century" has been taken up by the supporters of GamerGate, who don’t "fight on the beaches" and "in the streets," but on internet forums and Twitter. GamerGate started as a movement concerned with ethics in game journalism, before culminating more generally in a debate over video game censorship in the name of "political correctness."
For those for whom GamerGate has been their first exposure to censorship, Annabel Patterson's 1984 book Censorship and Interpretation helpfully provides one historical example of censorship after another. She hopes an examination of these examples "might fit into a much larger investigation, not only of censorship throughout Europe in the early modern period, but also of the cultural impact of censorship since then, in Eastern Europe, for example, or Latin America."
Look, I’ll save you the history lesson and fast forward to the Misty Poets of the 20th Century whose censure culminated in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Looking to more recent events, there’s the censorship of cartoonists from depicting the Prophet Muhammad, or the lack of liberal concern for the proposed censorship of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
In short, cultural authoritarianism and the various issues involving censorship have been around for centuries. This is nothing new, and gamers certainly aren’t either novel or even particularly noble warriors of freedom, especially when they fail to defend "freedom" in other areas of society.
For example, true freedom fighters would defend feminist Anita Sarkeesian’s right to criticise video games within democratic discourse, not attack her ad hominem. To add to the galling hypocrisy, supporters of GamerGate often evoke Martin Niemöller’s famous poem, "First they came..." They seem oblivious to the fact that comparing a controversy about video game content with Nazi Gleichschaltung is beyond ignorant, certainly melodramatic, and possibly stupid.
In touting the world historical importance of their anti-censorship battle, gamers point to their own sheer numbers. In a column for Forbes, John Zogby cited an analytics poll that showed "the great significance that video games play in the lives of young people." This is an attitude echoed by Nick Shore in an article published in the Harvard Business Review, called "Millennials Are Playing With You." (The term, Millennial, being used as a categorical term for those roughly between the ages of eighteen to thirty-four.) In that piece, Shore cites a 2011 study where half of Millennials said, “People my age see real life as a video game.”
Looking at these statistics, I wouldn’t be wrong in assuming the majority of video gamers are Millennials, which isn’t surprising given their position as "the largest population demographic in the U.S." Additionally, Verizon’s 2014 report on Millennials & Entertainment shows, "More than half of Millennials are either regular or avid gamers, compared to less than a third of non-Millennials."
Millennials are often accused of having a deep disconnection with history, literature, and essentially anything that doesn’t reflect a 21st century cultural trend. And when it comes to the Millennial supporters of GamerGate, I can see why.
Arguably, Millennials are a generation informed by "The Harlem Shake," "Gangnam Style" and the narcissism of reality television. In these circumstances, I often recall the vignette of an English professor tasked with the job of teaching Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In that classroom, the ninth graders were less terrified of his imagined dystopia, and more impressed with the idea of eugenics, and the ease of education via hypnopaedic processes.
Sometimes, I feel like video gamers have taken this Millennial attitude to the other end of the spectrum in the form of GamerGate, myopically seeing themselves as the only hope for humanity. These supporters really do perceive “real life as a video game,” complete with an imagined evil that needs to be overcome -- in their case, this evil manifesting currently as the "Feminazi."
Of course, supporters of GamerGate continuously comparing gender feminism to the people who built Auschwitz doesn’t help dilute this image. In fact, I’d always assumed that particular comparison was a staple of nonsensical, leftist thinking – perhaps I was wrong.