Donald Trump’s cabinet is coming together, and it’s become impossible to ignore some real and direct connections to the world of video games, largely centering on his controversial picks for chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Both men are among the most extreme right-wing selections for Trump and some of the most troubling. Bannon is accused of stoking white nationalism from his position in charge of godawful bullshit pit Breitbart and is credited with being the person on Trump’s campaign who decided the best way to deflect the “grab them by the pussy” controversy was to have Trump do a press conference with women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. Flynn, described by Politico as ”America’s angriest general,” has Tweeted that fear of Islam is “rational” and is really into conspiracy theories. Both men have connections to fringe parts of the gaming scene.
In the mid-2000s, Bannon was on the board at a company called Internet Gaming Entertainment, which was started by former child actor Brock Pierce. Pierce ran an online business that allowed people to purchase in-game World of Warcraft goods, many of which came from gold farms in China. Bannon was brought in to secure capital for the dubious venture, and secure capital he did. He convinced Goldman Sachs to put $60 million into IGE.
In 2007, however, the company got hit by a class-action lawsuit led by an irate World of Warcraft player who accused IGE of “substantially impairing” players’ enjoyment of the game, at which point IGE removed its hands from the grimy gold business and rebranded as Affinity Media. Bannon then became CEO, because that’s how that works, I guess. From then until 2012, he was involved with ventures like Affinity’s ZAM network of video game sites, which included hugely popular World of Warcraft resource Wowhead, as well as Lolking and TF2Outpost. It should be noted that while those sites are still around today, they’re now owned by Tencent. They’re also not racist shitholes, and even some of the people now running them seem surprised and upset about the Bannon revelation.
In 2012, Bannon became executive chairman of Breitbart News, and you might know where this is going. In addition to publishing all sorts of fun stories like, “the confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage,” “birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “the solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: women should log off,” “‘Islamophobia’ is a silly myth put about by left-wing journalists,” and dedicating a whole section to “black crime,” Breitbart worked tirelessly to stoke the flames of Gamergate.
Gamergate, if you’ll remember, led to sustained and ugly harassment of many women and minorities in games and tech in the ostensible pursuit of cracking down on journalism ethics. The group, which has also gone after Kotaku and tried to shut us down based on the comically farcical claim that we are against the people who like video games, used a lot of the tactics of trolling and online attacks developed in forums like 4chan and 8chan and brought them more into the internet mainstream.
Breitbart took things a step further: it legitimized those views and, in the process, legitimized Gamergate’s mob tactics and strategies for disseminating misinformation (and, you know, bold-faced lies) as well. Those tactics were ultimately adopted by some Trump supporters, and in a couple cases, Trump himself (really, so much of his Twitter feed spouting off conspiracy theories and attacking people reads like that of more active members of Gamergate).
Bannon recently boasted that Breitbart is “the platform for the alt-right.” While Bannon has described himself as an economic nationalist, as opposed to a white nationalist, the Associated Press has defined the alt-right “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism, or, more simply, a white nationalist movement” and compared it to neo-Nazism.
Deepening those Breitbart ties, Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, this month praised Breitbart’s best-known noxious diarrhea cannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, as “phenomenal” and “one of the most different, one of the most brave people that I’ve ever met.” Flynn’s dear brave boy Milo used Gamergate as a stepping stone toward infamy and fortune, blithely lying and harassing his way through games, tech, and ultimately Hollywood until he was (finally) banned from Twitter after encouraging abuse of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. These days, even some Gamergaters don’t love him.
What a lovely bunch. Here’s hoping they all make each other fucking miserable.