I generally prefer Sun Tzu or Machiavelli, and I’ve read them more often and more recently than Alinksy, but Sargon’s video was a reminder that there’s some good stuff there and that Gamergate has actually done very well by Alinsky’s standards.
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect upon Gamergate from the Alinsky perspective and see where it’s done well, and badly, and where – perhaps – Alinksy is no longer quite so relevant or effective.
It’s important, before we start, to first frame what’s going on with Gamergate. Even though we all know.
Gamergate is a year-long, anarchistic and emergent campaign (99% online) against corruption in games journalism, against censorship of video games and against the politicisation of video games media.
Gamergate’s enemies are the status-quo games media (the large sites and commentators/critics), pseudo-academia (the soft humanities and agenda-driven cultural critics) and cultural authoritarians in general, including the mainstream media when it’s also pushing an agenda.
Gamergate is characterised by being a politically neutral, genuinely grassroots movement of game enthusiasts and consumers.
Gamergate’s enemies are characterised by being the existing, comfortable establishment even though they exploit and use a victim narrative and pretend that they do not have the power.
RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)
Gamergate has both the money and the people, hypothetically. Gamergate is much larger than its opposition and, as a consumer movement, controls a great deal of money in terms of advertising clicks and consumer dollars spent on product and merchandising. In theory, then, Gamergate should have the power in this situation, and it could.
Gamergate’s opposition, however, has power in strategic points and places which acts as a great force multiplier. If you only had games media and mainstream media to go on, you would have no idea what Gamergate actually is. Gamergate’s enemies control the narrative and gatekeep people’s access to the genuine Gamergate, preventing many from finding out what it truly is.
For Gamergate to continue, expand and succeed it must find ways to get around the enemy’s control of the mainstream media and to gain access to the wider array of ‘normal’ people.
RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don’t address the “real” issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)
Gamergate has, relatively speaking, the ‘common touch’. Jargon is light and what is there is well known in the gaming community, and gamers KNOW GAMES. When nonsensical news stories come up about lack of diversity in games, gamers know it’s bullshit and can rattle off thousands of counter-examples. When accusations of ‘privilege’ come up, again, from personal experience there are thousands of compelling counter-stories.
Gamergate’s enemies do not know or understand games or gaming culture to anything like the extent that gamers do and they’re strangely proud of that fact. Their ‘play’ is made at the corporate, reputational level and with mainstream ‘normal’ people by painting Gamergate as misogynistic, racist, hostile etc, though their jargon and lack of relatability lets them down.
Gamergate can get around the ‘shaming’ tactics that have served AGGro so well simply by continuing to do what it has done, to ignore and mock it. We don’t need to understand or adopt their argumentation when your average normal person fully understands racism to be ‘prejudice on the basis of race’ and NOT ‘prejudice plus power’. Examples like Bahar Mustapha and Rachel Dolezal have been great for Gamergate as your average person just squints at either like they’re crazy – which they are.
In short, it’s unnecessary to be experts on race/gender etc, only to speak in commonly understood – but decent – terms on these things.
RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
Gamergate already occupies an arena outside the expertise of the enemy and can make them look ridiculous whenever they try to talk about games or nerd culture at all. Every attack can be countered by greater knowledge. This is our default position, so this is not hard at all.
AGGro’s area of expertise is ‘social justice issues’ but this is a naturally small demographic of particular echo-chambers when taken to extremes. We don’t need to meet them in this area, but in the common understanding of these issues where they will flounder and look foolish.
RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)
Gamergate could do with doing more of this. Not a single anti-white or ‘uncle Tom’ message from the enemy should exist without a string of replies pointing out that it is racist. Not a single anti-male message should exist without a string of replies pointing out misandry, the same goes for the ‘damseling’ that goes on and the presentation of women as ‘weak’ which can be interpreted as misogynist. Not a day goes by that AGGro doesn’t make a mistake in this regard and they need to be vigorously pointed out as hypocrites.
AGGro has begun to use this against us, most notably with the attacks on Sargon. They are attempting to hold us to our own demands for ethics, even though we are – by and large – not paid journalists and (thus far) haven’t actually done anything unethical. It has been a tactical mistake to answer these accusations when they should probably, simply, be dismissed. After all, we’re not journalists, we’re not being paid to do that job and so are not beholden to journalistic ethics.
Of course, we should be reasonably circumspect, for PR if nothing else.
RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)
Gamergate wins massively on this score. Gamergate is FUN, Gamergate is FUNNY, Gamergate has the BEST memes and Gamergate as a collective entity is an expert at taking the piss. AGGro, on the other hand, have zero sense of humour, take themselves deadly seriously and this makes them vulnerable. Exquisitely so.
RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid “un-fun” activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)
To reiterate, this is somewhere where Gamergate shines. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s amusing. We need to find more fun activities and we need to make the less fun activities easier.
AGGro, by comparison, are not fun or amusing. They’re just mean and they think everything is terrible.
RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)
This is why ‘happenings’ are so important in Gamergate, they fuel engagement and re-engagement. ‘Ops’ need to come back too in a big way and in ways more innovative than ‘send email’.
AGGro have been repeating their same tactics since the start, so a refresh and renew on Gamergate tactics should be even more effective.
RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)
Gamergate was good at this initially but has begun to slacken off. This is a reiteration of the need to keep the heat on, to keep piling the heat on and to develop new tactics and operations.
AGGro do this, naturally, but they are not fighting just us. The pressure is a constant push from media outlets and pseudo-academia and needs to be met just as strongly every single time it appears.
RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists’ minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)
Perception is not reality and one major departure I have from Alinksy is his innate embracing of irrationalism. In the end reality is always what determines what happens, not perception. You need to know and have the reality AND to work the perception to the correct end.
Also Gamergate doesn’t want to be seen as a threat, we want to be engaged. Being seen as dangerous and a threat is counterproductive to the narrative that we want to sell. We also want to sell the narrative that it is the opposition that are dangerous and a threat – to fundamental human freedoms such as free expression.
RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management’s wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)
We are the underdog in Gamergate and we have been subjected to a great deal of brutalising treatment from doxxing and threats to brigading, jobs being threatened and so on. We’ve also been censored from even discussing the problems we’ve found in most remotely mainstream places.
Yet AGGro has successfully presented the narrative that Gamergate are the harassers, the monsters and so on. This needs challenging and countering constantly with concrete examples from topic bans and blockbots to documented cases of harassment.
RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)
We have our solutions. Alternative sources of media, truly egalitarian and meritocratic games, truly free expression. This side does, however, need to be pushed more. Since the start we’ve pushed ethics policies and we’ve made ground on that, but we need to go further.
RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)
Personally, I do not like this tactic. It’s an automatic ad hominem, but there’s no denying there’s plenty of awful people in AGGro who are easy to demonise from Butts and Harper to Sarkeesian and Joshathan McInjosh. There’s a steady flow of awful people doing awful things.
AGGro has done well in demonising certain people like Davis Aurini and smearing our whole side based upon them. They do a similar tactic with websites like 8chan and their constant accusations of paedophilia etc or trying to claim that Gamergate is inherently ‘conservative’.
I personally can’t condone this tactic, but there’s no doubting its effectiveness. What I could advocate is holding up certain AGGro personalities as exemplars of everything that’s wrong with the ‘Social Justice’ movement.
Those are the twelve rules but there’s something else in Rules for Radicals worth addressing and that’s building a broader movement and constructing alliances. We’ve been wary of doing this and of going beyond ‘ethics in journalism’ because of the lessons learned from Occupy Wall Street where bringing in too many subjects ended up breaking the movement and removing its power, turning it into a lunatic fringe.
I think it’s possible to expand Gamergate without becoming lunatics and that’s by building alliances.
- The moderate end of the Men’s Human Rights Movement are good allies with similar experiences, knowledge of tactics worth sharing, a higher media profile and an existing network.
- Skeptical Atheism has been through this same situation with Atheism Plus and has a good array of Youtube personalities and debaters that make good allies – ‘The Slymepit’ especially may make good common-cause fighters.
- The Sad Puppies pushback against PC culture in genre fiction is a cause worth supporting and allying with.
- There are similar disorganised pushbacks in comedy, music, pornography and elsewhere.
- Then there are individual causes and issues where the opportunity for broadening appeal and allies exists. Shirtgate or Tim Hunt being fine examples.
- The moderate right wing are not people we should be afraid of, nor the equity feminist movement. We don’t need to agree on everything to agree on something.
- Alternative publications, such as Spiked, which also occupies a left-lib position could be strong allies, as could groups such as the ACLU and the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund.
Reflecting on all this, my own suggested guidelines for Gamergate moving forward into a second year would be these…
- Come to a consensus on what Gamergate IS: We pride ourselves on disorganisation and consensus, but there are aspects to Gamergate that are more easily ‘sold’ to normies. A consumer advocacy group is a good selling point. Free expression is a good selling point. These are things people will reflexively support. Being apolitical is also a good thing, and probably why people try so hard to make Gamergate out to be ‘right wing’.
- Come to accept that PR matters: We all hate it, and yes, it shouldn’t matter, but it does. The Harassment Patrol needs to make a comeback and we need to be ruthless with trolls like Ayyteam etc. Disassociation from these kinds of people will disempower the harassment narrative and, honestly, we’re more often their target lately anyway.
- Challenge Everything, Expose Everything: We can’t let these things slide. Every attack is an opportunity to fight back. Every instance of racism, sexism etc by the opposition is an opportunity to build alliances.
- Mix Things Up: We need new operations and new tactics and to streamline existing tactics. Our email campaigns are effective, but would be a lot easier with form letters and mailing via a website. The less effort, the more effective, the more mails. We also need more innovative operations to bring our message to new places and to get around the bans on discussing Gamergate. New scandals and nastiness could probably be addressed independently without mentioning Gamergate and supplementary hashtags to use (without the Gamergate tag) would get around those who automatically write off anything Gamergate. Multiple accounts are also useful to get around blockbots, though that sails close to harassment.
- Broaden and Build: Gamergate can’t just be ‘ethics in journalism’ if its to succeed and continue. It needs to be a broader anti-SJW movement and a free-expression movement. These naturally combine together as it is, since they all interrelate in the issues anyway. We also need to signal boost, and be signal-boosted by, groups that can be our allies.
- Link, Share, Host, Spread: OpSkynet was very effective on bringing people into contact with each other. We need to use these networks to share and host material. Thumbs-up and reshare each other’s videos, reblog, host, pick up on good stuff and spread it around – without the tag necessarily so that we can reach more people with this material.
Gamergate’s message IS positive, so hammer that home.
- Your media shouldn’t lie to you.
- Your media shouldn’t preach to you.
- You should be free to make what you want.
- You should be free to buy what you want.
- You should be free to say what you want.
- You’re not evil.