Last month, I took my wife to Niagara Falls for the first time.
She had been living in the U.S. since February 2013, but we never had the time to make the trip.
She contacted a friend she had known in Lebanon (now married and living in Toronto) to see if her and her husband would want to meet us there.
They did and we agreed on a Saturday.
In making the 1.5 hour drive from Rochester, NY to Niagara Falls, we stopped off at a small gas station in Buffalo.
The attendant happened to be Lebanese as well and we discussed the old country and continued to the border.
The United States’ side of Niagara Falls is underdeveloped, industrial, and claustrophobic.
It is a place stuck in fading.
The American side of the falls, however, is beautiful.
But I enjoy the Canadian side more.
It doesn’t carry the smell of a stale and silent narrative.
It is dynamic.
On going through the border into Canada, the border guard asked me what I was there for, how long I was staying, where I lived, whose car I was driving.
After answering, he let us through.
We spent the day walking around, taking pictures of the falls, talking about the politics of Toronto.
My wife was happy to see her friend.
Around 3 pm, we all decided to say good-bye and head back home.
I was anxious.
I was anxious at reentering the United States.
I hated the American border guards. I hated their tactics of intimidation, their passive insistence of guilt.
Car parked in line to cross, my gut all wrapped up.
My turn came and I pulled up:
BG: “Passport and identification please.”
I hand my passport and wife’s green card.
BG: “How long were you in Canada?”
Me: “Just for the day.”
BG: “What were you doing?”
Me: “Just visiting the falls.”
BG: “What is your relation to her?”
She points to my wife.
Me: “She is my wife.”
BG: “Where were you born?” (addressing wife)
Wife: “Cote d’Ivoire.”
BG: “Where do you live?”
Me: “Rochester, New York.”
BG: “Whose car is this? Why does it have Wisconsin plates?”
Me: “My brother’s, he lives in Wisconsin.”
BG: “Where’s your brother?”
BG: “Why are you driving his car?”
Me: “He’s letting me borrow it.”
BG: “Why is he in Lebanon?”
Me: “Visiting family.”
BG: “With all the stuff that’s going on?!”
Me: “It’s actually not that dangerous there.”
BG: “Let me see the registration for the vehicle.”
Here I shrug, I don’t know where the registration is. I check the glove box and hand her the first paper I find.
BG: “Uh, this is the insurance, but it does have your name on it.”
I look again. I hand her the next paper. She looks it over.
BG: “Turn off the car and open the trunk.”
She steps out of her booth and walks to the back of the car, opens the trunk, checks, comes back around.
BG: “So what were you doing in Canada?”
Me: “Just visiting the falls.”
BG: “You mean to tell me that you drove all this way just to visit the falls for one day and come back?”
Me: “It’s not that far, just a little over an hour.”
BG: “You couldn’t find anything to do locally?”
At this point I’m stunned at the absurd level this is reaching.
I shrug and look at my wife. The border guard has a sarcastic smile.
Me: “I mean, she has never seen the falls before, I was just taking her to see the falls.”
BG: “But why today? Why today of all days?”
I sigh and shrug again.
Me: “My wife had off of work and we just decided to come out.”
She hands me back our papers and lets us pass.
I was frustrated and angry.
My wife and I talked about what happened. She said that she wanted to mention her friends, but thought better of it.
I’m sure if we had mentioned them, they would have pulled us over and held us for hours.
I was depressed for weeks after.
I was born in California. I had never been arrested. I work for a federal contractor.
I could not digest what had happened. I still can’t.
But one thing stuck with me:
America has a fear problem.
Conservatives fear the decay of religious morality and fervor.
Liberals fear a surveillance state being built without anyone’s consent.
The rich fear and deride the poor, no matter what political affiliation.
The poor fear the rich passively and actively killing them.
The middle class fears everyone.
The police fear civilians.
Civilians fear the police.
The world fears ISIS.
The U.S., for the first time in a century, has no idea what it’s doing.
Fear is infectious and polluting.
It drips all the way to the bottom, always seeking the lowest point, and festers there in the dark.
In an environment of fear, everything becomes a battle. Everything becomes difficult.
Everything becomes covered in fog.
And now that fog has settled on the games world.
This past week saw the loss of some very clear, relevant voices in games.
Their removal and silencing is the product of the ‘GamerGate’ controversy.
The ideas GG presents are nothing new.
There have always been concerns, legitimate and imagined, regarding the proximity between gaming media and developers/publishers.
So why now?
Because the gaming community has hit a critical mass of fear.
Self-identified ‘gamers’ are afraid their hobby and their core identities are under attack.
Without taking the time to understand, the gaming community was driven into a blind fury over Leigh Alexander’s piece on Gamasutra suggesting that ‘Gamers’ are over.
Fury burning fear as fuel.
It’s tempting to demonize en masse those active in GamerGate, considering the vile, toxic things they have done and said.
Supposing it all comes from fear, supposing at the core sits a hive anxiety about a lack of transparency in something they have emotionally invested in, then what is the right approach?
For myself, this is a difficult consideration.
I cannot approach them even-handedly after the damage they have caused.
After the misogyny, threats, targeting of women in games, elimination of diverse voices in games, too many lines have been crossed.
Their actions have made the gaming community smaller, staler, and more irrelevant to the larger world.
I cannot forgive that.
For anyone who can stomach it, the only way to fight fear is with engagement.
Cameron Kunzelman tried to engage with an actor in the GG hashtag on Twitter and managed to get to the center of that individual’s anxiety and misunderstanding of what’s going on.
It seems like the hashtag has become a repository for any and all anxieties and frustrations for many in the gaming community.
And not every fear and anxiety can be addressed.
At what point does an individual become responsible for his own fear and hostility?
At what point is it no longer the responsibility of others to have to reassure or explain themselves to the individual?
I believe that point is reached when it begins to ruin innocent people’s lives, which is exactly what GamerGate has done and will continue to do.
GG has become like that overzealous American border guard.
They only let pass with ease those who pose no threat to their imagined world and anyone else who might propose something different is interrogated, asked to prove themselves, and, while perhaps not being denied entry, are left feeling intimidated, afraid, ashamed, and guilty of something unknowable.
They pass their fear on.
It drips to the bottom.
And leaves everyone miserable and wondering: