Gone Girl: Sympathy for the GamerGater

This post contains spoilers for the film “Gone Girl”.

I managed to catch Gone Girl during its last days in the first-run theaters. I feel glad that I did; it’s a stylish film, what I think of as a Fincher/Reznor collaboration (per The Social Network) where the latter’s synthesized instrumental score is nearly a character unto itself, stepping into the foreground during the tensest scenes, playing as important a role as the actors’ spoken dialogue. I liked that.

The film’s content, though, I feel less unqualified admiration for. Maybe this is informed to some degree by the coincidence of the title’s initials, but it struck me as a film quite in step with GamerGate’s anti-feminist, even gynophobic philosophies. Gone Girl’s story takes place in a world where women actually do the awful things that GamerGate accuses its own female harassment-targets of. I couldn’t help but see it as a window into the mind of men who are petrified with contemplation of the life-upending terrors they fear women as having the power to perpetrate.

Gone Girl introduces us to a woman, a creative professional, who wishes to redefine her marriage to a less successful writer — a fellow who, various faults and infidelities aside, seems a decent enough guy. Through a convoluted plot, she fakes her own abduction, leaves a trail of false evidence implicating her husband, then reappears with more lies about escaping, torn and battered, from the dungeons of a rapist (who was, in fact, another wholly innocent man). She immediately becomes a news sensation, rewarded with global attention and adulation for her bravery. This she uses to strong-arm her unwilling, beleaguered husband — now tarred with suspicion in the public eye — into living with her forever, raising a child he doesn’t want, trapped unhappy and afraid in a permanent panopticon of sympathetic media built from his wife’s constructed fame.

She has no motivation, other than perhaps a lust for attention. While her celebrity as a children’s book author appears in backstory, as far as the film’s plot is concerned, her only real career is that of a full-time con artist and master manipulator of public opinion.

Given the events of the last few months, I found it unavoidable not to see the film as uncomfortably parallel with GamerGate’s worldview, specifically its continued suspicion that the various “Literally Who” victims of its own harassment have been just making it up all along for attention and sympathy and positive game reviews (even though, for the most part, GamerGate couldn’t care less about the actual games they made).

Through this lens, we can see Affleck’s character as the every-gater: just some poor guy who only wants to be left alone to enjoy his shooty-games in peace, before a crazy lady swoops in and tells him how to live his life. Against all sense and sanity, she wins, because she gets the media on her side through a careful campaign of fake documentation and blatantly false assault accusations that nobody with power questions. Only the poor, disempowered man and a handful of his trusted friends know the truth, but this knowledge is useless against the tide of public opinion. Poor Ben Affleck’s character!

I have no reason to believe that the filmmakers set out to create antifeminist propaganda, and I won’t even go so far as to say that they did anyway. My reaction to this film is my own, leavened with my observations of the GamerGate saga, as well as my first-hand experiences as organizing an indie game competition amidst this environment. Looking at it positively, I can say that it’s given me another ounce of empathy for the majority of self-identifying GamerGate proponents who do not actively participate in harassment, but are also blind to the culture-poisoning all around them. Not only do they view social progress and artistic critique as assaults on their identity, but — as the unwitting parable of Gone Girl helps me understand better — GamerGaters see themselves as increasingly powerless to do anything about it. Nobody will listen to them.

And that’s a shame.

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