Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Death of Video Gaming

Even if you aren't into video games you've probably heard about a major brouhaha going by the hashtag #GamerGate. I am not going to go into the details of what it is, how it started or who did what to whom. There's an overabundance of information out there to confuse and entertain you for weeks. This is not about GamerGate. This is about perception.

I have been playing video games since the mid-70's and working in the computer field, primarily as a programmer, since the early 80's. Back in these early days, a term was coined; “hack.” The term was used to express the elegance or coolness of a particular piece of code. You might hear the phrase, “That was an awesome hack.” Therefor, those of us who hacked were called hackers and hacking was what we did. Initially, the term was used in a very positive way. The goal was always about making the programs run better, more efficient, easier to use.

Now, there have always been those who would use their programming prowess for nefarious endeavors. They created viruses, broke into systems, and stole data for fun and profit. Since they felt their code was of the highest caliber, they also started calling themselves hackers. Those of us who opposed their actions spent much time and effort to try and make the distinction between real hackers and those doing illicit things understood. Then the mainstream, non-technical media heard the term. From then on, we were tilting at windmills. Now, every virus, every data breach, every celebrity nude that hits the Internet is perpetrated by hackers. There is no way that we, the true hackers, will ever get our moniker back.

Hackers equals bad guys. Period. It has been irrevocably poisoned.

This is the state that the GamerGate tag has found itself. It is now completely associated with negative actions and attacks. The New York Times has said so. It doesn't matter that many in the GamerGate world are good people trying to do good things. It doesn't matter that there are those maliciously attacking said people. It doesn't matter what anyone, anywhere says or does.

GamerGate equals bad guys. Period. It has been irrevocably poisoned.

Right now the video game industry has just started to break out of the stereotypical “antisocial teen boys wasting their time” stigma. Educational gaming is growing. You can get a degree in game development. You can even get a varsity letter in sports playing video games for your university. But if the GamerGate tag continues to show up in articles and editorials in mainstream media, all of that progress will be lost.

And that would be tragic.

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