'Mass Effect: Andromeda' conspiracy theories show Gamergate is as big of a problem as ever
There was no shortage of outcry on the subreddit /r/KotakuInAction when Mass Effect: Andromeda first launched. The latest space opera RPG from BioWare quickly became a Venus flytrap for all sorts of misogynist right-wing conspiracies — mostly centering on the belief that the game was designed to force a liberal political agenda on players.
The subreddit's accusations of reverse racism and "agenda pushing" have little if any factual support — but that's not the point. Scapegoating Mass Effect and its developers is a convenient tactic trolls can use to openly harass minorities in gaming while claiming they're the ones being persecuted. What's more, it demonstrates that Gamergate, the three-year-old harassment campaign disguised as a plea for "ethics in journalism," is still going strong several years after it first emerged from the internet's darker corners.
/r/KotakuInAction proves that Gamergate isn't going away anytime soon
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Kotaku in Action is where a lot of this rhetoric gains traction. The subreddit is essentially interchangeable with the Gamergate movement, which has become a point of pride.
A cursory look at /r/KotakuInAction also reveals no shortage of buzzwords connected to Gamergate, including references to the red pill, a term that Gamergaters and alt-right affiliates like Paul Joseph Watson use to justify their bigotry. In short, /r/KotakuInAction is not a nice place to spend your time if you're not an angry white man.
KiA and Gamergate are so inextricably linked, in fact, that posting there at all is enough to get you banned from /r/Rape (an anti-sexual assault subreddit) and /r/OffMyChest outright.
They're targeting a person of color who works as a BioWare developer
One particular thread on the Gamergate-associated forum focused on the involvement of former BioWare developer Manveer Heir, a popular target for the anti-diversity gamer crowd.
Kotaku in Action often tries to expose Heir as an anti-white "racist," but this isn't the case. Heir likes to call out white people — specifically white men — for constantly co-opting conversations about race, and he's tweeting from a position of having to fight for a seat at a table that's long been dominated by white viewpoints and white values.
In response, Gamergaters started a petition to get Heir fired. BioWare initially stood by Heir, according to OneAngryGamer, but shortly before the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda it was revealed that he no longer worked at the company. It's unclear if Heir left by choice or was let go.
"Ugly" character models serve as fake persecution for Gamergaters
Another oft-repeated conspiracy theory about Mass Effect: Andromeda on message boards focuses on the "ugly" models for female characters, which supposedly serves as evidence that the game was designed to promote a feminist agenda. Some, like this GameFAQs thread, are (hopefully) intended as a joke. Others, like this one on IGN's message boards, don't seem like they're meant to be funny or ironic at all.
Although these allegations are fake, they have real consequences. In March, a female BioWare employee was accused of trading sexual favors for her job after being misidentified as the designer behind these animations and character models. It's the same garbage they've used since the original attacks on developer Zoe Quinn. These similar, untrue accusations are what launched the movement in 2014.
Gamergate believes it can influence BioWare's decisions with a virtual whiteout
In another Kotaku in Action post, Gamergate concocted a pretty unusual plan for encouraging BioWare to stop pushing what they call the "SJW diversity dogma" they insist they see in game development. The plan was this: prove that gamers don't want diversity by making the blandest, whitest heteronormative main character you could in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
They may claim that the goal is not to fight diversity in video games, but that's clearly exactly the case. Kotaku in Action can bloviate all they want about how they're not against diversity, but anyone who's paying attention will notice the games they're so keen to keep diversity out of are the only ones they want to play. Their attempt to paint themselves as victims is a joke.
In spite of Gamergate's accusations, BioWare is maintaining a commitment to better representation
Despite Gamergate's continued accusations, BioWare seems unfazed. The company responded to player disappointment about the lack of same-sex romance options and the bungled inclusion of a trans character in the game with a promise to address these concerns in upcoming patches. It's a small gesture, but it's a move in the right direction.
There are already more than enough video games and safe spaces for white nationalists and bigots in gaming. Between that and YouTube stars who've started to parrot casual gamer white nationalism, it's time to confront hate in gaming culture and demand that developers fairly represent the people who play their games by maintaining a commitment to equality and diversity. Until we do, Gamergate and the hate it espouses clearly aren't going away.
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