(Trigger warnings for the Holocaust and sexual violence)
I don’t usually get recruited to join hate groups.
Being a Jewish guy, I’m out of consideration for the most of them. And on the other side, my secularism and interfaith marriage means that the extremist elements within Judaism don’t want anything to do with me.
So I’ve got a special kind of agita from Gamergate today. Because these guys don’t care about my bar mitzvah, but they could have looked at the geeky thirteen-year-old boy reading from the Torah and seen a potential recruit.
On some broad, unsettling level, these are guys like me. They’re men. They’re straight. They’re white. They’re about my age. They’re middle-class, educated, Americans. They like fantasy novels, comics, sci-fi, and Game of Thrones. They claim to speak for me. The hatred, rage, and violence espoused by Gamergate emerged out of my same world. Why is it them and not me?
This is going to sound like hyperbole, but to really answer that question, you have to walk back through the history of the Third Reich. I’ve heard of Godwin’s law—Internet arguments may all turn to Nazis eventually, but it doesn’t mean that it’s never warranted.
I don’t intend the comparison to be literal. You don’t have to tell me that Gamergate has yet to commit any genocides. But there’s a lot more to Nazi Germany than just our shorthand characterization of “the worst people ever”. They were, yes. But they had to get that way—a sophisticated, modern nation collapsed into Hell in just a decade. It happened for thoroughly human reasons, and there has never been a guarantee that it would never happen again. Much of the same psychology that turned Germans into Nazis turned geeks to Gamergate.
Gamergate is now a part of geek culture, and of our cultural legacy. We need to know that it is not unique, that it is working through a playbook that’s been handed down many times before. When we can follow those plays, we can keep ourselves—and our friends—from being sucked in.