Breaking The Chain: An Interview With William Usher

Hello again Nation. This past weekend I had the pleasure of speaking with William Usher, noted journalist and the man behind the recent leak of the GameJournoPros e-mail chain. We appreciate William taking the time to speak with us on his views of #GamerGate and where he feels gaming journalism is headed. There are many views out there on what #GamerGate is really about, why it started, and what it will take to clear the air between readers and the gaming media.

Below, William shares his insights into the gaming media and why he felt it was necessary to leak the GameJournoPros e-mail chain. We explore a number of topics, from what is at the heart of #GamerGate to how the involvement of individuals such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Adam Baldwin have affected the movement.

Find out what Mr. Usher has to say in our interview below:

APGNation: Let’s begin by telling our audience a little about yourself and your role as a gaming journalist. How did you get your start? What led you to become a games journalist?

William Usher: I never really classified myself as a games journalist. It wasn’t what I went to school for – it was actually information systems and programming – and journalism wasn’t a field I wanted to actively pursue. I was supposed to be a game designer, but due to happenstance my first job was contributing to a now-defunct site known as Console Game World, mostly because it was kind of tough finding work anywhere else at the time. I just sort of stuck with writing about games because it seemed productive to actually work, as opposed to wasting time trying to find work. 

APGNation: What games have you been playing recently, and are there any games on the horizon that you are excited to get your hands on?

WU: I haven’t really had time to play games for the purpose of enjoyment. Seems weird, right? Before all this started I was having some fun with Starbound. I’ve also dabbled with Road Redemption, a game in Early Access that’s kind of the second-coming of Road Rash. I love that game. On the horizon… I’m looking forward to Lords of the Fallen, Project CARS, Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

APGNation: The #GamerGate movement continues to go strong after nearly two months of being in the spotlight. What do you feel is the core problem facing gaming journalism right now? Some media outlets continue to focus on the idea of misogyny within gaming as the true meaning of #GamerGate. Do you feel this is truly the issue? If not, why do you feel this continues to receive so much attention within the gaming media?

WU: The core problem in games journalism is truth, disclosure, and transparency. No one minds a far-swinging opinion piece, but using editorials as a catalyst to influence news aggregation is dangerous. This is exactly what we saw with the “Gamers Are Dead” articles and the subsequent news from other outlets that parroted the talking points as if it was actually news.

As for misogyny in gaming? It’s a red herring. Is there sexism in the gaming industry? Of course. However, in one of the GJP threads Susan Arendt from Joystiq laid out a common sense observation when the group had rallied around a topic that labeled gaming as being more sexist/misogynistic than other hobbies, by simply stating that men are like that everywhere… not just gaming. If the hardcore white knights really want to fix the root issue of sexism/misogyny, they will have to fix men first.

Moreover, the game journalists are using the “misogyny” angle to deflect the conversation from their unethical behavior, which is what spawned #GamerGate in the first place. It’s also a way for them to control the narrative. It’s a classic PR move. It’s like when someone doing something shady says “Hey, look over there!” so no one notices them doing the shady thing they’re doing. That’s why as the truth continues to spill out, and the longer #GamerGate goes on, the more they have to lose.

APGNation: Recently, you leaked the GameJournoPros e-mail chain that brought a number of issues to light regarding unethical practices within gaming journalism. How long were you a member of this e-mail chain? What led you to leak this information, and do you feel it was the best course of action? Additionally, what do you feel the leaks have accomplished?

WU: I was a member since mid-February, 2013. I was only invited because of someone else on the list that helped me out with some pro-consumer articles that were published a year before. The individual tipped me off to the list when I did an article attacking gaming media after they blamed gamers for pre-ordering and buying Aliens: Colonial Marines instead of waiting for reviews. Anyway, I decided to leak the e-mails after I no longer had access to the list.

There were two reasons I didn’t leak the information sooner: First, I was still gathering evidence and information. The original leaker who sent Milo (from Breitbart) the info kind of threw a wrench in my plans and forced me to speed up my timetable. I had always intended to expose how they operated, but I wanted a very solid, irrefutable collage of their own words to use against them. The second reason is that Kyle asked those within the list nicely not to publicly discuss the private conversations. I knew I didn’t belong on the list; I knew I wasn’t one of them, but they still allowed me on the list. I felt I would honor Kyle’s request while I was on the list. This did not conflict with my original plans, as I knew that I would eventually lose access to the group one way or another. When the leak happened and my access to the GJP was revoked, I was no longer honor-bound to Kyle’s request, as my adherence to his request only went as far as my inclusion to being on the list.

Was this the best of course of action? Yes. Some of the members on that list actively used their platform to support and propagate a wide-sweeping media narrative based on lies and factual inaccuracies.

As the e-mails continue to leak it helps force the narrative away from “misogyny” and one on game journalism ethics. #GamerGate was always about the reform of game journalism, and the leaked e-mails revealed that many of gamers’ suspicions were true. Once the information about the GJP is added to the #GamerGate Wiki entry, it’s practically game over for the members of the press who utilized their platform for malfeasance. The list and leaked e-mails basically undermines their entire “gamers are misogynists” campaign, since the campaign was built on a biased, one-sided agenda.

APGNation: As a journalist, you understand the importance of dialogue between journalists and their readers. How do you feel communication can be improved between these two parties? Do you feel #GamerGate could have been avoided if media outlets provided a higher level of transparency to their readers?

WU: #GamerGate would have ended early had Kotaku’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo, suspended Nathan Grayson without pay for two weeks and modified their policies to promote disclosure and transparency between journalists and those they write about. Additionally, had Kotaku setup an easily accessible page about their journalism ethic policies – similar to what The Escapist co-founder, Alexander Macris, did for the Defy Media websites – there probably wouldn’t have been a reason for gamers to pursue the matter much further.

As far as communication goes… right now it won’t be improved and shouldn’t. First and foremost, the guilty individuals of impropriety need to take accountability for their actions. The mass wave of censorship, the public attacks from professionals on their own audience, and the culturally damaging articles all require public apologies from those involved. Until they concede and admit to their wrongdoing – in the same way that #GamerGate supporters are constantly having to take responsibility for anonymous and random trolls who harass and attack others – there’s really nothing to communicate about.

APGNation: How do you feel the support of individuals such as Adam Baldwin and Milo Yiannopoulos have impacted #GamerGate? What advice do you have for supporters of #GamerGate to get their message heard?

WU: As a gamer, I’m extremely grateful that we have such prominent individuals as Adam Baldwin, Milo Yiannopoulos and Dr. Christina H. Sommers standing up on behalf of #GamerGate. Without such figureheads the movement wouldn’t have had enough credibility on its own to maintain solvency. While #GamerGate itself is leaderless, the figureheads help maintain a strong morale boost. It’s easy for the average person to feel helpless and voiceless when being attacked by the media. However, individuals with strong public appeal can help mitigate some of the tension and pressure that the media tried dumping on the movement, which is a good thing.

The best way to help spread the word is to take #GamerGate to the gaming communities who don’t know what’s going on. One way or another, the end-results will have an affect on the industry in the long run and it’s important gamers are at least made aware of what’s going. It’s unlikely active gamers wouldn’t want to support #GamerGate if they only knew about it. Funny that the censorship and one-sided stories help suppress #GamerGate from getting out there.

APGNation: Where can our readers find you and your work? Any big projects you are currently working on that you would like our readers keep an eye out for?

WU: You can find my gaming stuff at a few places, but mostly a gaming section on a movie website and a small blog called One Angry Gamer.

APGNation: Is there anything we didn’t cover here that you would like to add? Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?

WU: I want to make it very clear that I understand the plight of the journalists… I really do. I understand what it is to write some significant piece for a website that no longer exists and you have to try to explain to a potential employer about the importance of your work at a place that no longer exists. I understand the constant fight for clicks, and dealing with native ads and “commerce journalism”. I understand weighing click-bait versus honest reporting. However, at the end of the day, the journalist is a slave to facts and a servant to the reader. And if the game journalists are creating a rift with their current product between them and their readers, then something has to change.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is also an information war. Remember that information dictates how we view history. The history of gaming can be shaped on how people view the culture and the industry. The anti-#GamerGate people have basically sold the public on a story that the gaming industry is probably the absolute worst place available for a woman to work or play. They’ve labeled gamers as sexist, misogynistic and as the most vile human beings you could encounter. It sets a very bad image on the historical value of game culture itself, especially coming off the recent spats with disbarred lawyer Jack Thompson, who tried to have violent games banned, censored and removed from store shelves.

The game industry is not above critique, chiding or criticism. However, seeing a grassroots movement of radicals attempt to infiltrate various forms of media and begin to utilize the platform to control who gets coverage and who doesn’t (as seen with The Fine Young Capitalists) as well as content-shaming developers into censoring their work, is the exact sort of thing that will eventually bring ruin to a lot of creative potentiality within the industry. Most gamers simply want to play games and most game developers simply want to create games. I would like to see the industry organically grow with a wide range of voices and visions for interactivity, without a self-appointed moral-police-squad there to dictate what games people are allowed to play or how developers are allowed to explore artistic avenues to create games.

Once again, we thank William Usher for taking the time to speak with us. His insights bring to light many issues that continue to plague the gaming industry. Through honest and transparent journalism, faith can be restored in the gaming media.

Well Nation, what are your thoughts on what Mr. Usher had to share? Do you feel the #GamerGate movement is making strides in the right direction? Let us know in the comments below!

Don’t forget to check back and follow APGNation on Twitter for all the latest gaming news and information.

Until next time Nation!

Sean Winnett
Written by
Sean Winnett is a Marketing and Public Relations professional based in Boise, Idaho. He is also a video game journalist covering everything from gaming industry news to video game reviews and eSporting coverage. He received his degree in Mass Communication & Journalism from Boise State University in 2010, and has spent time working for some of the largest Marketing, Advertising & PR agencies in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to gaming, Sean is a diehard fan of College Football and spends his free time playing guitar, acting as the commissioner of a college football fantasy league and keeping up with his favorite TV shows (Doctor Who, The League, & The Walking Dead).

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