The online movement 'Gamergate' claims to be about journalism ethics, but critics say it's really just an excuse for harassing and bullying women. The movement has splintered the gaming community into two sides of a vehement debate since August.
But what role do brands play in this movement – or should they play a role at all?
Gamergate activists have been pressuring companies to take a side in the debate by removing their advertising from certain sites deemed hostile to the movement. It's called "Operation Disrespectful Nod," and it's successfully pulled ad campaigns run by Intel and Adobe.
And a Fortune writer goes after the "normally chatty companies ... [who] have hit the mute button" as people have verbally attacked women gamers for criticizing the movement.
Fortune contacted seven top game publishers. Only one, Ubisoft, the company behind "Assassin's Creed" and "Watch Dogs," responded, denouncing the bullying campaigns that have become a part of Gamergate — but that's about it.
According to The Associated Press, Gamergate backers "have been harassing several prominent women in the video game industry and their supporters for criticizing the lack of diversity and how women are portrayed in games." Software engineer Brianna Wu said she had to leave her home after receiving death and rape threats online. In addition, feminist speaker Anita Sarkeesian canceled a speech at Utah State University after receiving an anonymous threat of a mass shooting.
A feminist gamer wrote an opinion piece earlier this week saying game publishers and other big companies have stayed out of the fray not because they're "cowards" but because they, in her words, "have interests that align with #GamerGate and so yeah, they aren't going to do anything to stop it."
But an article from AdAge argues brands should stay out of it because "like most political, cultural battles, responding is a lose-lose situation."
One example used in the AdAge article: Intel, who seemed to be siding with Gamergate after buckling to advocates' demands by pulling ads from website Gamasutra. That prompted backlash from Gamergate's opponents, and Intel later issued an apology denouncing the harassment of women.
So the "stay out of it" suggestion seems a bit difficult to follow because, in Intel's case, they were targeted before saying anything and attacked after they pulled their ads — brands are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Companies aren't the only one in a Catch-22. A writer at Bloomberg View says, "this battle is impossible for anyone to win ... the GamerGate War is making it no longer fun to be a geek on the Internet."